I continue to be most interested in digital scholarly/critical editions and enjoyed exploring different projects this week which utilize visualization technologies (maps, graphs, word clouds….) for digitized archives in different ways: for example, the offer of a walking tour of physical locations alongside a comparative look at evolving editions of a Whitman poem. I had previously been enthused by John Bryant’s approach to fluid texts (most notably in his edition of Melville’s Typee, which includes images and transcriptions of manuscripts and corresponding print editions as well as a dynamic text that allows one to explore all this!) but I appreciated Ryan Cordell’s article on Hawthorne’s “The Celestial Railroad” for offering a way of thinking through not only a genetic or variorum edition but what is described there as a “social text”. In the case of this short story, this includes looking at re-printing as re-authoring for a specific readership and analyzing paratextual materials, especially in periodicals.
If anyone else is very interested in digital editions, this blog about the Mark Twain Project Online was insightful. When I visualize my own digital edition, a recurring motif for me is the palimpsest, beautifully theorized with reference to (among others) Freud’s magic tablet here. While usually a palimpsest unites otherwise unrelated texts through a shared material object (i.e. vellum used for manuscripts), I am intrigued as to how one might create a cultural palimpsest of different versions of the “same” text. If only I had a full edition of Adobe Photoshop, I’d love to play with layering manuscript versions (such as a Dickinson poem) and trying out different transparencies to see “through” these different materials.
So how might one go about beginning such a project? Lisa Spiro’s introduction reassuringly emphasized the modular and constantly beta nature of many digital projects, which made me consider the different sections/elements of the projects I’ve already mentioned. I particularly liked the approach of a mapping project such as this one on 19th century Brazil, which includes a search engine to explore a census database; maps, graphs and text visualizations; and primary sources. The apparatus or paratexts offered by its creator are key, of course, in providing an initial analysis but such a resource is most successful in how it enables the analytical work of others to be performed.
I’ll stop musing at length quite so publicly and self-indulgently now but I wanted to conclude with some poetry. Blanchette’s “A Material History of Bits” locates our desire to think of the digital as immaterial in the philosophical tradition of Cartesian dualism. My favorite riposte to such a binary understanding in the literary world is Billy Collins’ “Purity” in which he strips off his flesh and becomes a skeleton (with or without a penis!) at a typewriter “so that what [he] write[s] will be pure, / completely rinsed of the carnal”. The poet’s body has always fascinated me but how might we begin to also think about the body of the typewriter here?