(part of a larger discussion on Tragedy & Electronic Literature)
..It's easy to get lost in these discussions. We use a word like "agency", and the conversation becomes a confusion of term. The following is just a short list related to Tragedy, with a few Electronic literature questions thrown in:
- The theoretical potential of a character in the fictive setting. Can Oedipus delegate the task to Creon and go to his ranch to clear brush?
- The formal potential of a character in a work. In the Tragedy Oedipus Tyrannus, can Oedipus really avoid poking out his eyes, if it's to be a Tragedy?
- Whodunnit? The philosophical impetus of a character in a fictive setting. Did Apollo really make him do it (1330)? Plato's sockpuppet Socrates was very worried about the effects of unleashing these questions on society.
- What does agency mean in plays consisting primarily of dialogue, which were only just beginning to develop techniques of presenting action on stage?
- Does agency look different in electronic works consisting primarily of narration?
- In electronic works, can reader actions influence what happens, where 'what happens' is an abstraction readers create from the dialogue and narration? If so, what are the implications? (Nick Lowe would have things to say here).
- In plays such as Agamemnon, the commenting/narrating chorus does nothing; it fails to intervene to stop Aegisthus and Clytemnestra from killing Agamemnon and taking over the city. How does inaction work in electronic literature (time locks, option locks, but what if it's a hypertext?)
- What options do you give readers? No really.
- How do readers find out their options? Is ignorance a bug? Or are Rumsfeld's distinctions useful to writers?
- Known knowns
- Known unknowns
- Unknown knowns
- Unknown unknowns
- What are the relationships among reader knowledge, narrator knowledge, character knowledge, their statements, their narrations, and their "agency" within the work?
- How much of this is up to the writer, how much is up to the reader, and how much is up to the software developers in systems? In a world-modeled IF, the software developer leaves a lot to the reader, but writers' power in this is dependent on the software. IF authors often take pleasure from unexpected things players do with stories based on world models. But it is false to think that Hypertext gives authors hegemonic control over options. This mistake is made by people who naively think that hypertext is just links and lexia/nodes. Just as IF systems aren't just a set of preset If-Then clauses, hypertexts are not just links and nodes. Card Shark & Thespis(literary Adaptive Hypertext) are the World-Modelling equivalents in hypertext writing, enabling works based on rules and objects rather than solely author-predicted structures. Emily Short notes this in her fourth installment of IF in the ACM literature.
This list is merely an example of how a simple word such as "agency" could be understood in many different ways. These are very different, if related issues, which is why it's important to know what we're talking about. This ability to draw distinction permits us to find the overlapping areas more accurately.