The Monist Interactive Issue discussion on Gender and Postmodern Communication ran from 22nd June - 15th July 1996. The participants debated about the form of this programme during August 1996. An accurate rendition of the discussion is difficult, however, because any formalized presentation will fail to capture the interweaving free-flow of comments and ideas that takes place on the Internet. Moreover, by giving the debate an artificially imposed structure, some issues will necessarily be omitted from the ``official'' discussion and other points will, by contrast, be given more emphasis than was originally the case. As a result, some of the flavour of the live discussion will be lost. Thus, to the extent that the final, published account does not wholly reflect what took place, any formalized presentation will have an element of fiction to it. Hence the decision to offer the discussion in the form of a play.
There are a number of advantages to presenting the debate in this way. Firstly, it allows the participants to speak for themselves. It is true that this could have been achieved simply by selecting passages from participants and by presenting the formalized article as a live discussion. However, in practice, free-flowing discussions are difficult to restructure as a series of points nicely leading on one after the other. For, just because such debates are free-flowing, these debates interweave and interact rather than being linear in structure. Thus, one advantage of presenting the debate as a play is that the stage director can change the scene of the play (i.e., the topic of discussion) without the audience (here: the readers) needing to see why or how such a shift takes place.
Secondly, by presenting the discussion as a play a greater variety of forms of discourse can be brought into view. The scuffle portrayed in Act 2, Scene 1, for instance, did have an impact on the nature of the discussion and it is a typical element of many net debates. It could not be reported in conventional format (it would be deemed irrelevant) and yet it is nevertheless a crucial factor in the way in which net conversation unfolds. The scuffle also brings up some interesting philosophical issues of itself (e.g., how free- flowing should a discussion be allowed to be? Does the postfeminist view mean that even disruptive discourses should be accorded equal respect?). By presenting the discussion as a play, more of the truths and issues inherent in the debate can be brought to life.
Thirdly, putting forward a play and its programme as academic expression challenges and exposes the limitations of traditional academic linear prose (and this latter is itself often claimed to be a style that pertains to a specifically male paradigm). Thus the play is itself an active manifestation not only of postmodern communication (insofar as it permits - more so than traditional academic prose does - a variety of discourses), but it is also a manifestation of a discourse that is friendly to both genders. That is, the play format itself is about Gender and Postmodern Communication. Similarly, the poetry breaks even in this format lie outside the main (i.e., traditional) scenes of the play. The poetry is relevant and yet it breaks the continuity and linearity of the officially reported conversation (hence poetry ``breaks'' rather than ``intervals''). The current format nevertheless enables such marginal forms of expression to enter in as a valid contribution. Readers may like to ponder further other subtelties to the format.
Finally, a play is generally understood as something that is performed before an audience. Although the debate was not precisely ``performed'' (thus suggesting that the analogy between the play and the discussion is not a strict one), the discussion did have an audience. The audience consists of the people who are not seen in the play itself, but who were nevertheless there at the live debate. By presenting the report of the debate in the form of a play, the audience is thereby also understood, just as those participating in the actual discussion are often themselves at least to some extent aware that they do indeed have a live audience.
Strangely, then, and aptly by postmodern views, the fictionalization of the debate as a play reflects more of the truths of what took place than a more traditional, ostensibly objective report would do. The stage director has edited some of the participants' speeches, so it would not be fair to say that what is presented here is a direct representation of what participants said - although all actors have agreed to the way in which their arguments are portrayed in the play.
The times and dates of participants' lines have been cited. This should enable easier reference back to the web site where the original speeches are archived. By referring back to the original discussion readers will have the opportunity to immerse themselves directly in the problematic status of the reported discussion as a fictional/real representation of what truly occurred. Since the aim of the Monist Interactive Issue was in part to introduce a new way of doing philosophy, readers should understand that it likewise requires a new way of reading and engaging with that philosophy.
The citation of the times and dates also illustrates the contrived nature of the play - for Lydie now responds to Michael before Michael has even made a comment (Act 2, Scene 1). This breaking down of the discussion to an area that lies beyond linear time both helps to give an impression as to the peculiarity of cyberspace by analogy with time (for crossing cyberspace is not a problem, just as in the play crossing time is not an issue) and it illustrates once more the non-linear mode of this postmodern discourse.
Where appropriate, references to web sites have been provided for particularly abbreviated contributions. This itself serves as an indication that there lies more beyond the words than what is written on the page. It is hoped that these references will encourage readers to engage more fully with the text which is not located merely on these pages alone.
One of the major advantages to the discussion has been the sharing of information from people from a variety of backgrounds. Thus at the end of the discussion readers will find a bibliography of works referred to during the course of the live discussion. Similarly, there is a list of web sites which were referred to during the debate and that may be of interest to the current audience.
We hope you enjoy the play.