Having spent so much of our class with Clarissa considering how we engage and represent different histories, I found it intriguing to follow the trajectory of Neal Stephenson’s article from 1996 in Wired. Considering the material and socio-political aspects of what it means to be “wired” seems a useful extension to Blanchette’s A Material History of Bits, and I am curious about how the more recent instabilities in Egypt and Libya might have impacted this infrastructure. As a nineteenth-century scholar, I always claim a particular valency for my own period but “Mother Earth Mother Board” offered a particularly convincing parallel narrative that suggested a crucial originating point in the 1850s with Kelvin’s brilliance. While we were also entertained with the history of Alexandria and its ill-fated library (to quote Thomasina in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia: “How can we sleep for grief?”), my absolute favorite anecdote was the following tidbit:
In 1870, a new cable was laid between England and France, and Napoleon III used it to send a congratulatory message to Queen Victoria. Hours later, a French fisherman hauled the cable up into his boat, identified it as either the tail of a sea monster or a new species of gold-bearing seaweed, and cut off a chunk to take home. Thus was inaugurated an almost incredibly hostile relationship between the cable industry and fishermen. (28)
While we go on to find out this relationship has been staged between two industrial juggernauts (trawlers are hardly helmed by kindly Jacques from Brittany and his cabinet of curios), it is welcome throughout this article to be offered such a sense of the individual human actors and, as Trouillot reminded us, subjects and agents involved in the wiring of the world. It’s hard to feel we are in a post-human age from the perspective of a hacker tourist who puts the dirt in the digital.
For all those who might have had trouble following the technical details, here is a helpful video. I leave you with a question, however: Why are Nemo and his dad in this simulation but there are no such digital avatars for the human figures we glimpse in the live footage?
Initiatives such as #dhpoco attempt to avert the reification of dominant cultural narratives through tools that can only fulfill their democratic potential through specific corrective action on the part of their users. And thus we again turn to the digital archive and its role: how can information and sources be presented in an accessible fashion, not merely to educate the archive’s users, but to allow them to become actual users i.e. creators of knowledge through navigation, construction and analysis? This is an aspect of my own project that I am very keen to focus on: I anticipate that my designed tools will be a springboard for analysis not merely perhaps by other scholars but by a range of interested users (amateur and professional creative writers, for example). While I plan to offer an example of what insights the manipulation tools I desire can allow one to produce, I am also, as I sketch out (quite literally!) my proposed website, considering how it might include a wiki-style repository of user-produced analyses.
Charlene Mires describes the conception of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia as “a process of civic engagement” that might allow “shared authority” (Frisch 1990)—particularly in utilizing the knowledge of public historians and the interests of activist organizations that represent marginalized populations—over a community’s history. The project’s leaders have thus endeavored to address the silences in historical production that Michel-Rolph Trouillot is so concerned about in Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, and demonstrate a clear acknowledgment of the expansive range of historical actors and narrators that Troillot foregrounds. However, I was intrigued by Mires’ final, rousing articulation of “a three-fold mission: to connect the past with the present, to build community, and to create a legacy” (23). Such a mission might be said to exemplify the problems of what Trouillot calls “the storage model of memory-history” (14) in which the fantasy of collective remembrance is necessarily undermined by the fact that “the constructed past itself is constitutive of the collectivity” (16). Mires and her collaborators appear to have leapt upon this paradox unquestioningly, forming a new community rid of all its tensions through the act of making its history. We are reassured that there are many scholarly and academic gate keepers but the structure of power implicit in such an assertion does not appear to have been fully considered. The website itself is remarkably successful and its planned expansion would seem to achieve more than its stated purpose but I do wonder why its creators feel such a need to market this resource as politically and socially utilitarian. The British academy’s highly controversial need to demonstrate “impact” for the Research Excellence Framework comes to mind, with the accompanying shudder from this self-professed Ivory Tower inhabitant. Knowledge seekers, regardless of provenance, are welcome with open arms, but I bring down the portcullis in preparation for the advance of the knowledge consumers and those that would bow down to their appetites.
I begin this post with (to quote the title of Jeredith Merrin’s monograph on Moore and Bishop) what I hope is an enabling humility, having just read Matthew’s two-part post on his proposals. The modesty topoi continue to abound but I am keen to become enthused by Matthew’s engagement rather than daunted. Since Tom Scheinfeldt from the Digital Media Center visited us in class last week, I’ve been thinking about the goals and timeline for my own project, including a revelatory wrestle with my reluctance to tinker with tools. My priority for the Temple Trio is, to borrow Tom’s term, “proof of concept” as I have much larger ambitions for what the Poetic Palimpsests approach might achieve, particularly if I can apply for access and funding (especially in the shape of a computer programmer!) for overcoming some very pressing needs for digitization and manipulation of multiple instantiations of poems/texts in the scholarly community. (For Matthew and I, Marianne Moore continues to loom large.)
Thus, while I retain my interest in investigating various platforms, the majority of my energies will be devoted this semester to an offline imagining of my website, which I hope to document through a reflective paper as well as visually present to Fiona (and hopefully you all) in May. What this means immediately is that I have been working on transcribing and theorizing the multiplicity of textual instances of Temple’s poems. I’ve had to rely on Microsoft Word to play around with adapting the transcription conventions of the Shelley-Godwin Archive for Temple’s work and the next step will be to investigate how I can mark up these transcriptions in TEI as well as use the reading texts I’ve created to explore how useful Juxta might be in comparing versions. I’ve also been reading more of Temple’s publications, particularly the 2003 Collected Poems which has helped me wrestle with poetic chronologies. My blog post’s title is taken from the 1980s poem, “First Throw” (107), in which Temple considers self-censorship in publication (specifically, “evagination”) returning to haunt one and his “Author’s Note” reflects on what it might mean to “privileg[e] 2002 over 1964” (n.p.), while his editor still feels the need to offer details of “abandoned revision[s]” (8) in the book’s footnotes. While I will not be able to provide the functionality for another scholar to perform such analysis through a website by May, I plan to demonstrate what initial insights I might gain through playing with text and image in software such as Photoshop, as well as previewing my design of such a website.
Apologies for being unable to attend class tomorrow (I’m in the UK for family reasons) but I look forward to hearing all about the show-and-tell and workshops!
I’ve made coy references to my own pursuit of a digital project on this blog but now I’d like to share the details of my proposal as I look forward to beginning the hard work of figuring out how my ideas can become reality, albeit a digital one. (My apologies for the alliterative title but part of me is keen to actually use it once the website starts taking shape!)
As those of you who have read my blog and sat in class with me will already be aware, several key questions have arisen for me over the past weeks. How can we use digital tools to represent the multiplicity of material instantiations of what we know as a “text”? What visual and textual analysis tools are appropriate? How can scholars re-imagine the relationships between these instantiations beyond a progressive narrative of revision or a regressive narrative of originality? My intention is to pilot a new approach—what I am provisionally calling Poetic Palimpsests—by using a specific trio of poems by the little known British poet, John Temple, for whom relevant papers for one of his books are held in the Dodd Center.
Having digitized the multiplicity of instantiations of these three poems (with many thanks to the Dodd Center staff!), I wish to provide users of my digital project with the tools to manipulate these images and the associated text transcriptions in different ways, including juxtaposition and superimposition. I anticipate new understandings of the relationship between author and editor, as well as the various individuals and forces at work during the printing process, will be possible through this fluid text approach. For example, are galley proofs merely corrected by a poet or are they taken as an opportunity to further revise? How does publication in book and magazine format differ? I anticipate that I will be able to play with the materials as the archivist and suggest some initial conclusions in an introductory section of the resource while also inviting others to take these investigations further.
To give you a flavor of what I mean by “the multiplicity of material instantiations”, all three poems I have chosen are represented in authorial and press typescripts, corrected galley proofs and two published texts. There are also the typescript and published versions of one poem that appeared in a magazine, and typescripts sent by Jeremy Prynne to Andrew Crozier of the other two poems. Annotations abound.
I look forward to updating you all on my progress soon and hearing any suggestions for developing the project.