What we believe we are witnessing is not just the birth of a new cognitive or theoretical framework (the birth of a new scholarly terminology or even of a new set of metaphors, a new interpretive rhetoric) for the Decameron, but the birth of the virtual community of readers, interpreters and learners which takes shape in this process. The small, experimental community of e-literates, of which we are part and promoters at Brown is, from this point of view, only a mirroring of a potentially much broader community to come of readers, students and scholars of Boccaccio's Decameron, across the boundaries of countries, languages and disciplines.
Hyper-reading is, we believe, a non-hierarchical communicative practice, although, perhaps, a practice now limited to new generations of e-literates (the new elites somewhat ironically envisioned by Kaplan). It seems fairly clear, though, that in this new technological environment we are forced to abandon our essentialist prejudices toward textuality and instead adopt a more open functionalist or pragmatic approach: the ultimate question therefore is not what the Decameron as a hypertext virtually is, but what it can virtually become. It is thus possible to envision a new intentio operis, to adopt Eco's terminology, involving the active (interactive) cooperation of the text and its readers: we might call it an intentio operis virtualis.
What now works as a limited historical memory of a course taught at Brown University, a course archive so to speak, is already branching out to the WWW, thus turning a didactic experience into an ongoing dialogue of readers online: this evolution might represent the first step forward toward a (communicative and didactic) literary practice of a new type. It might well be that in the course of this experiment the Decameron, like a talisman in the hands of apprentice sorcerers, will apparently lose its architectural compactness, as its foundations as a book seem to crumble - but at the same time its inner dialogical structure will expand into a "textual multiverse" of a new kind.
(M. R.) Umberto Eco, The Role of the Reader. Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984).