I hope it has become clear how hypertext undermines the traditional notion of canon. It does so because it undermines traditional notions about reading and writing generally. Hypertext challenges presuppositions of print culture such as: (1) authors can be distinguished from readers; (2) a text is the property of its author; (3) a text is (or should be) fixed, unchanging, unified, and coherent; (4) a text should speak with a single, clear voice; (5) a text has a beginning and an ending, margins, an inside and an outside; (6) the center of a text (or of anything) is (or should be) fixed, stable, and single; (7) a text is (or should be) clearly organized in a linear, hierarchical structure; (8) typically, an author writes by himself, and a reader reads by himself; (9) the act of writing or reading is ethically and politically neutral. By calling into question all of these presuppositions, hypertext does not merely call into question the notion of canon; it announces the end of the Late Age of Print and the dawning of the Electronic Age.
What then should the Westar Institute, or any other group of committed, responsible biblical scholars, do? I have two major recommendations:
(1) Create and sponsor networks of texts
The print publications of Polebridge Press beg to be networked in a hypertext, perhaps on CD-ROM, or perhaps through the Internet. For example, it would be wonderful to have all the texts and commentary in The Complete Gospels/63/ in hypertext. The hypertext could start out with hundreds of links in place, but readers could then add their own links, connecting any of the texts they wish, any way they wish. With sophisticated hypertext software, it ought to be possible to put into the hands of every user the capability to create her or his own electronic gospel parallels of whatever gospels she or he desires. I can imagine a hypertext gospel parallels that would have the flexibility to illustrate either the Two-Source Hypothesis, or the Griesbach Hypothesis, or any other hypothesis the user wishes to entertain.
In a more whimsical spirit, there is no reason to limit ourselves to ancient Christian writings. In what we might call The Docuverse of Christian Classics we would want to include all the Christian classics of all time. Who decides what goes in? Easy--if you want something in the docuverse, then you put it in. Then it is up to other people to decide whether or not your addition is worth using. They may add their own commentary to your contribution, or they may link your text to a text they have contributed, either delighting or irritating you. But this is the electronic "marketplace of ideas"--digital democracy. You say you are of an ecumenical or inter-faith bent? Fine, then you contribute some Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist classics and link them to the Christian classics. That should make for interesting inter-faith conversation! For myself, I would insist on including 'post-christian' texts, eco-feminism, Wicca, post-colonial fiction and criticism thereof, marginalized voices of women and persons of color, postmodern science, liberation theology, and the complete corpus of Doonesbury--it all goes in. And remember: this is digital electronics, so it isn't just written words that we are talking about; it is also digitized photographs, graphics, sound, video, and animation.
(2) Create and sponsor networks of persons
The second important step that the Westar Institute can take is to network persons. Much excellent work has already been done in this area--it just needs to be brought into the Electronic Age. I believe that the most important achievement of the Westar Institute and especially the Jesus Seminar has been to bring thoughtful, informed debate over matters biblical out into the public arena. The informed, open, public process that lies behind The Five Gospels/64/ is far more important than the particular decisions that were reached. Bringing together laypersons ("associates") and credentialed scholars is especially commendable. But let us recognize the severe logistical constraints of holding a Westar meeting twice a year in various parts of the country. Few scholars or associates have the time or money to attend a Westar meeting.
However, electronic technology can help to mitigate the constraints of time and space. Westar could do what the rest of the world is doing, namely, connect to the Internet. An electronic discussion group could be established to facilitate conversation and debate around the clock, 365 days a year. This would operate like an electronic bulletin board: individuals would "post" their informal comments for all to read and respond to. An alternative would be to set up a MUD or a MOO/65/ in which a number of people could participate simultaneously in a formal online seminar discussion. Thus, the Jesus Seminar could "meet" in formal sessions online as often as members wish, perhaps much more often than the current two meetings a year. Furthermore, instead of the laborious, expensive, and slow process of mailing printed papers to Sonoma, having them photocopied, and then mailing them back out, papers could be distributed electronically, quickly, inexpensively, and easily. Forum or The Fourth R could be published electronically in addition to, or instead of, print. And we need not fret about a lack of standards or quality control--electronic discussion groups or seminars can easily be "moderated" by their acknowledged leaders, and electronic journals can undergo the same peer review process now in place for print.
I can imagine Westar serving the church and the academy by staging and moderating on the Internet what would surely be a raucous debate over the notion of canon. And if Westar makes available, electronically, the texts that would ground the debate, Westar could ensure, for example, that all early Christian texts receive due consideration. I do not see it as a useful role for Westar, however, to decide the contents of a canon. In the Electronic Age, that is best left to local initiative. If Tip O'Neill is right and "all politics is local," then it is all the more true in the Electronic Age.
Of course, Westar members should participate in the debates that lead up to 'canonical moments,' those times and places in human affairs where ethical and political decisions must be made. Eventually we all have to decide what authority we will look toward for a sense of personal and communal identity, as well as norms and values to guide belief and practice. But as we participate in those debates, we would be wise to ask ourselves some hard questions: For whom or what is this 'canon' intended? Against whom or what is this 'canon' intended?/66/ What "contingencies of value"/67/ are at stake? I am willing to ask and answer those hard questions for myself, in dialogue with family, friends, neighbors, and the occasional opponent, but I am unwilling to presume to ask and answer those questions on behalf of persons living in Soweto, Sarajevo, Solentiname, South Los Angeles, or Sonoma. They need to speak for themselves--I cannot speak for them. I can, perhaps, establish a conversation with them, facilitated by electronic communication. Once we are in touch, and once we share common electronic tools and texts, we can strive for a meeting of minds. More than this I dare not hope for.
I close with the following statement by Jay David Bolter, which has been widely quoted both as an epitaph for the Late Age of Print and as a welcome banner for the newly-arrived Electronic Age:
The printed book, therefore, seems destined to move to the margin of our literate culture. The issue is not whether print technology will completely disappear; books may long continue to be printed for certain kinds of texts and for luxury consumption. But the idea and the ideal of the book will change: print will no longer define the organization and presentation of knowledge, as it has for the past five centuries. This shift from print to the computer does not mean the end of literacy. What will be lost is not literacy itself, but the literacy of print, for electronic technology offers us a new kind of book and new ways to write and read./68/
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