On Rob Pope’s Textual Interventions

As I suggested in the first lecture for the week, the big difference between a textual intervention and any other form of rewriting (textual hacking and remaking) we’ve encountered this semester is one of purpose, of intent. Whereas the intent of a collage, a remix, a mashup, a cut-up, or an assemblage is to use an existing text or set of texts to make something new, the purpose of a textual intervention is to use rewriting as a means to analyze the original text. In that sense, textual intervention is, as Pope calls it, a “critical-creative” practice. It uses the creative processes of intervention – textual hacking and remaking – as a tool for analysis. As he explains in the “Review of Theories and Practices” section of Textual Intervention, “Textual intervention is the catch-all phrase used to designate the various creative-critical practices used in this book. All of them have to do with challenging and changing texts so as to recognise their distinctive strategies and preoccupations; and actively generating differences so as to establish firmer grounds for critical preferences” (185-86).

One of the key elements of textual intervention is that it involves an act of doing and making, an act of “work” as opposed to mere “thinking”1 As Pope explains, all the theories upon which he has developed this concept of textual intervention might be called “theories of practice and performance or, more formally, praxis” (183). Inherent to all of them are the ideas of “experience constituted through experiment, re-creation constituted through reflection and research, and dialogue as a form of dialectic” (183).

The other key element is of textual intervention, as Pope explains, is the need to accompany a textual intervention with commentary, which is what makes it a critical-creative strategy rather than simply a creative compositional strategy. Textual intervention, he explains, “always involves critique through transformation as well as interpretation and analysis; re-coding as well as de-coding; gratification through re-production as well as consumption; and re-creation in a genuinely active sense rather than ‘recreation’ in a sense of more or less passive leisure” (186). In “Re-writing Texts, Re-constructing the Subject: Work as Play on the Critical-Creative Interface,” Pope argues that the commentary which accompanies a textual intervention is what makes the critical-creative process of textual intervention explicitly different than other forms of rewriting. In the commentary, you bring together traditional means of literary interpretation and analysis and your textual intervention to analyze the original text:

“The commentary is the space set aside for critical analysis and comparison of the text as you found it with the text as you re-made it. It is also an opportunity for the explicit marshaling of research, and for reflection on the problems and possibilities encountered in the process of re-writing as such. Its particular function here is cultural and historical: to focus upon what this, the most recent moment of re-production, helps show about the nature of the text in its initial moment of production. More generally, if the re-write is at the implicitly ‘creative,’ performance-based end of the interpretive spectrum, the commentary is at the explicitly ‘critical’ end. In fact, the whole enterprise of ‘re-write + commentary’ results in a clearly differentiated yet distinctly hybrid discourse: creative-critical, theoretical-practical and academic-pedagogic. (106)

As I noted in the introductory lecture for this week, many of Daniel Anderson’s assignments we looked such as the playlists and the image collages based on William Blake’s “The Tyger” are, in fact, forms of textual intervention because he asks his students to include commentary which explicitly discusses the original texts in light of their new creations. Likewise, as I suggested in that same lecture, we have a larger range of possible textual intervention strategies than those listed by Pope. All the rewriting strategies we’ve encountered so far this term – collage and cut-up, remix and mash-up, patchwriting, glitching, remediation, deformation, and assemblage – aren’t just compositional strategies to create new texts. We can use all of them as tools for critical-creative purposes, as textual interventions. (And, in fact, we can find some of these earlier strategies, especially those used by Anderson, amongst the strategies Pope lists.) This is the case, of course, because, once again, the difference between rewriting as a compositional strategy and rewriting as a critical-creative strategy is not in the technique we use but the purpose to which we use the technique.

  1. Here I am, of course, directly invoking Mark Sample’s discussion of Peter Stallybrass’s distinction between “work” and “thinking” in Sample’s “Building and Sharing (When You’re Supposed to Be Teaching).”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *