The new version of the Electronic Literature Directory is now available. The Directory indexes over 2000 original works by some 1100 authors. According to Rob Kendall, “the new version offers a Spanish language interface, a new design, and a number of new features that have been in development for some time now.” Rob also notes that this is a beta-release, and there are some known bugs and inconsistencies.
The Directory is an enormous boon to those of us who teach in this field. Last spring I gave the following assignment to a graduate-level class, with great results:
Choose a single selection from either the short fiction or the long poetry section of the Electronic Literature Organization’s Electronic Literature Directory:
Write a 5-7 page paper that performs a close reading of the work you have selected.
Not all works in the Directory are equally interesting or equally accessible, so you should spend some time looking around and try to choose wisely; don’t be afraid to abandon your choice and look again if the first work you selected isn’t panning out.
For a brief explanation of close reading, see Jack Lynch:
A few additional words about the goal of the assignment. Though unfashionable in the current day and age, a close reading exercise will allow us to take seriously the notion that words on the screen can be subjected to literary analysis that is every bit as rigorous and rewarding as words on the page. However, Lynch’s guideposts above—diction, verb forms, word order—are necessary but not sufficient for close reading on the screen. Some other aspects of the text to consider might therefore include: images, sound, links, motion/animation, code.
The most successful papers will be those that eschew general musings on the nature of electronic literature and instead dive right into a detailed close reading, filled with examples and quotations, perhaps even screenshots, of the text at hand. The emphasis throughout should be on interweaving description and interpretation. If you have the technical knowledge, you should also feel free to discuss the relationship between the language/software used to create the work and the way it performs as a literary text.
Incidentally, you may download a free trial version of a good screengrab program for the PC here: http://www.snagit.com
Papers submitted as online HTML are welcome, but not expected.
A selection of these papers should be available soon from Rob’s WordCircuits site.
Brepols Publishers recently published the first volume of Variants, the journal for the European Society for Textual Scholarship. Here’s the table of contents:
Marcus Walsh, Go Figure: Metaphors of Textuality; Peter Shillingsburg, Manuscript, Book, and Text in the 21st Century; D.C. Parker, The Quest of the Critical Edition; Peter Robinson, What is a Critical Digital Edition?; H.T.M. van Vliet, Electronic Editions. New Solutions for Old Editing Problems or Old Wine in New Bottles?; Hans Walter Gabler, For Ulysses: A Once and a Future Edition; Julia Briggs, Hope Mirrlees’s Paris. Towards the Electronic Editing of a Modernist Poem; Dirk Van Hulle, Variants. ‘Erronymous’ Intentions from Joyce to Danielewski; Bodo Plachta, Change of Generation - Change of Frame of Reference. Which Direction will Scholarly Editing take in Germany?; Paul Eggert, Canonical Works, Complicity and Bibliography. A Case-study; Alberto Blecua, Defending Neolachmannianism. On the Palacio Manuscript of La Celestina; César Chaparro Gómez, Sánchez de las Brozas’ Translation into Latin of some Early Castilian Octaves. Study and Textual-Criticism Notes; Shlomo Berger, Editing Pre-modern Yiddish and the “Absence” of Text; Reviews and Book Notices.
I’m now serving on the Board of Directors for the Electronic Literature Organization. The ELO does terrific work on behalf on writers, students, and scholars in this emerging field, and I’m honored to have the chance to play a part.
A bit later this week I’m headed down to Charlottesville for a symposium celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH). IATH was the fruit of a generous gift from IBM to the University of Virginia. A committee of faculty was convened to determine what to do with the money, and remarkably and wonderfully several members of the computer science department argued for using it to fund a dedicated humanities research center. The reasoning was really twofold: that the humanities needed the technology more than the sciences did, and that it was far better to concentrate the resources into a “center” than to sprinkle computers around faculty offices without any real plan of how they’d be used. The emphasis on research was also critical: not to the exlcusion of teaching, but with the assumption that teaching would inexorably benefit if faculty had an environment that encouraged them to push the limits of the new technology.
IATH was one of the earliest academic adopters of the World Wide Web, a direct result of the prescience of John Unsworth, its founding director (remember this was back in the Voyager days when many were predicting the CD-ROM as the future of publishing). John, however, saw the network as an intrinsic aspect of IATH’s activities in scholarly communicaton. Today IATH supports over forty faculty projects, including many of the most distinguished on the Web. More than that, though, it’s a place that will, I’m certain, go down historically as one of the great intellectual centers of its times. Perhaps more than any other single institutional entity IATH offered a vision and practical model for how new media could really change the way the humanities did business. And while my own degree is in English, much of my graduate education came from the people at IATH: both faculty working on projects (who were excited to talk to graduate students since we were all doing our best to figure this stuff out) and the staff members who the Institute was (and is) very lucky to have, people who not only have the requsite technical expertise but also the patience to communicate back and forth between the two cultures.
It’s a time of transition now at IATH: John Unsworth is now dean of the library school at Illinois and there’s a search for a new director; and like so many places elsewhere it’s good works are being hampered by a state budget crisis. But the people behind IATH have an intellectual vision and commitment that have seen it through rough patches before, and they will this time too. So happy anniversary IATH, and mazel-tov to all who made and make it work.
Been having some trouble getting my pings to register with weblogs.com, so I just upped the timeout setting in mt.cfg even higher . . .
Couldn’t resist the Discovery Channelesque title. Here’s the update since you last tuned in . . .
We lost power at about 1:00 AM Friday and just got it back a couple of hours ago. Threw out all the food in the fridge. Other than that we’re fine.
I don’t have a lot to say about the storm itself. It was kind of nervewracking being up here on the tenth floor and catching 50-60 mph wind gusts (one side of our apartment faces east, the predominant direction from which the winds were coming). Some poor souls two floors down from us actually had a window blown out, but that was the only damage to the building (I’m just guessing, but since the window blew out, not in, I suspect they may have done something boneheaded like opened another window in the apartment and created a pressure imbalance).
Last night without power here we took Metro down to Union Station for dinner and then paid actual money for Underworld (Anne Rice meets The Matrix).
Anyway, it’s over, at least for us. Isabel is a belle no longer.
Ugly dark grey skies here in Silver Spring, just over the District line. Other than that, not much sign of Isabel—yet. No rain, some light wind out of the east. Yesterday, before sunset, you could see long, thready cloud striations in the south, not unlike the grooves of a record. I’ll post updates, at least as long as the power holds out.
Update: Just got notice that the university is shutting down and disconnecting its servers at noon as a precaution to protect them from surges—so, no emaill and no blog until after the storm.
Update 12:34 PM: Server still up (obviously). A light, fine rain beginning to fall.
Digital inscription is a form of displacement. Its fundamental character is to remove electronic objects from the channels of direct human observation. This is reflected in the everyday language we use to talk about the inscription process. The commonplace is to speak of writing a file to a disk; to say writing “on” a disk sounds vaguely wrong, the speech of someone who has not yet assimilated the vocabulary or concepts of computing. We write on paper, but we write to a magnetic disk (or tape). Part of what the preposition contributes here is a sense of interiority; because we cannot see anything on its surface, the disk is linguistically refigured as a volumetric receptacle, a black box with a closed lid. If we were writing on the disk we would be able to witness the residue—even microprint is visible under rudimentary magnification. Instead, the preposition of choice, “to,” becomes a marker for our intuition that the verb “write” is not altogether appropriate, a rough fit at best. The preposition is also a legacy of the von Neumann model, where storage is a physically and logically distinct portion of the computer (the EDVAC, the first stored program computer built according to von Neumann’s principles, used tubes of mercury to store an electrical signal). Writing data “to” the storage element thus entails a spatial as well as a sensory displacement.
We do, of course, often speak of putting a file on a disk. Likewise, “saving to” and “saving on” a disk appear to be used with about equal frequency. Since it is clear that we can thereby conceive of disks or other storage media as a form of material support for data, it becomes all the more conspicuous that we only seldom speak of writing a file on a disk. I would argue that writing implies a level visual feedback that is generally absent from electronic storage media, obtaining instead at the level of the screen or other output device—architecturally distinct components of the von Neumann model. The OED helps chart this lexical unease: in the 1940s, one could comfortably say either write “on” or write “to” tape or disk (or indeed, more commonly, write “into”). Since the 1950s, however, the preferred locution has been simply “to.”
Like most people in these parts I’m keeping a weather eye on Isabel. The most detailed public information to be had appears to be from the NOAA National Hurricane Center’s discussions, which are filed by the forecasters along with the official data for their reports. I can make out about 75% of the language with my lay-person’s knowledge. Most of the ones I’ve seen have been signed by a “Forecaster Franklin.” These dispatches are much more informative than anything I’ve been getting through the mainstream press. So, thank you Forecaster Franklin.
Here’s the latest:
WITH THE DETERIORATION OF THE CENTRAL CORE…ADDITIONAL WEAKENING SEEMS LIKELY OVER THE NEXT 24 HOURS. MOST OF THE MODEL GUIDANCE CONTINUES TO SHOW INCREASING ANTICYCLONIC OUTFLOW OVER ISABEL AS A RESULT OF A DIGGING AND NEGATIVELY-TILTED UPPER-LEVEL TROUGH THAT SHOULD INTERACT WITH THE HURRICANE IN THE 24 HOURS PRIOR TO LANDFALL. FOR THIS REASON…THE OFFICIAL FORECAST ALLOWS FOR SOME RESTRENGTHENING. IT IS POSSIBLE…HOWEVER…THAT THE CIRCULATION COULD BECOME SO DISRUPTED OVER THE NEXT DAY OR SO THAT ISABEL WOULD BE UNABLE TO RESPOND TO THE MORE FAVORABLE UPPER-LEVEL FORCING.
Update: The Washington Post has a pretty good piece on computer modeling and other forecasting techniques.
I recently helped the editors of Romantic Circles set up a Movable Type blog. RC is the online hub for the community of students and scholars working in Romantic-period literature. This is, to the best of my knowledge, the first blog intended to support a traditional literary specialization, and it’ll be interesting to see how it develops and how it gets used.
I’ve been getting pretty deep into the history of computer storage in my work on magnetic media.
Storage: the word has a vague period feel to it. Industrial. Tape farms under the fluorescents, not memory sticks on a keychain. Back and white photos of clean-cut IBM engineers in dark neckties and horn-rims.
Even the concept is increasingly awkward in a Googled world with an expectation of 24/7 wi-fi access everywhere. Storage is as retro as feeding coins into a payphone; storage is what happens when you go to the library and must wait a week for a book to be retrieved from off-site shelving; storage is what you do with the stuff you’re not taking with you when you spend a year elsewhere.
Storage: without storage there is no data.
I was gratified to find this substantive and rave review of the new Nomad Zen NX (you might have to click past an ad). Mine’s been doing fine, except I’ve had some problems with it shutting down and needing to be reset while charging. Not the end of the world, but I’d like to know what’s going on. Other than that I’ve been very happy with it . . .
Two exhibitions of note here in town: the first, which I saw this morning with Kari and a colleague, is Shakespearean “Fakes, Forgeries, and Facsimilies” at the Folger. It’s small, only a dozen cases, but it amounts to a crash course in methods of document examination. Traffic through the exhibition has apparently been high, which is not surprising; in my experience lay-people who would snooze over a narrotological reading of Abasalom, Absalom (I can say that because I once did one of those) light up when hearing about variants, versions, forgeries, and the like. More than most literary sub-specialties, textual studies could really have a popular audience.
The second, which is on our list to check out, is J. Seward Johnson’s show at the Corcoran. Seward Johnson does life-size dioramas of famous Impressionist canvases. The idea is that you can walk “through” the frame and experience the subject in three dimensions. A so-called sweet spot for each piece shows where to stand to view the two-dimensional picture plane. If you’re thinking that’s a neat idea, I’ll let you know after I go; if you’re thinking that sounds a lot like Madame Tussaud’s, well, that’s pretty much the opinion of a scathing review in the Washington Post. I suppose the idea appeals to me because it has the feel of a remix or interpolation or extrusion—the digital plastique.
Shucks. Gibson’s blog was one of my favorite daily stops. Hope he comes back and at least updates every once in a while.
In the summer of 1991 I worked as a gofer in a small law office in lower Manhattan, on Chambers Street near City Hall and about six blocks from the World Trade Center. The towers were just part of my urban landscape, with a post office and a subway station I sometimes used. But I remember one bright afternoon wandering over to the central plaza and walking right up to one of the buildings. Unlike the Empire State building, which rises in step-wise fashion (for structural reasons? so that jumpers don’t land on the streets below? I don’t know) the sides of the towers were sheer: you could stand at the base, press your back up against the building (warmed by the lunch-time sun) and look straight straight up, inducing a kind of inverted vertigo. Which is what I did.
Ten years later, about six weeks after 9/11, I had to be in lower Manhattan for a meeting at the MLA offices, not far from the law office where I worked that summer. Naturally I walked over to “ground zero” at the end of the day. I circumnavigated the site, trying to see what I could see. At one point, along one of the side streets off of Broadway, I found a gate where a convoy of trucks was assembling to exit with their loads of debris. The trucks were big flatbeds, and each one bore one of the towers’ enormous steel girders, bent and twisted and caked with muck, like something that had lain under the sea for hundreds of years before being hoisted, wet and briney, to the bright surface.
In my mind I want to reconcile these two images, find a way to superimpose them in their fearful symmetry, but that’s hard—something won’t snap to grid.
Well, my Nomad Zen NX arrived. Charged it, installed the software, then set out to pick the first five CDs to rip onto it. Though recognizing that this was a moment of some symbolic importance, I can’t say I really lingered too much over it. The thing’ll hold around 8000 tracks after all, and tomorrow’s another day. In any case, here’s what I picked:
The player sounds great, it fits right in my pocket, and other than a couple of minor start-up glitches seems to be doing just fine. I’ve been waiting for this a long time and I’m pretty stoked.
Let me add that I believe this is precisely the kind of work we should be doing more of in new media studies, digital studies, cyberculture, what-have-you. How many books have already been written on electronic writing? The shelves groan. Yet to the best of my knowledge none of them talks about the pixel with the depth of this very short and essentially non-scholarly essay. I think there’s a lot new media can learn from science and technology studies in this regard: Don MaKenzie’s Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance (MIT 1990) is exemplary.
Things that cinched the deal:
Things I wanted but decided I could live without:
So, good choice? Anything I’ve missed or should revisit? Anyone want to take a stab at selling me on the Archos?
The Chronicle is running a well-meaning piece called “Digital Hobbyists” [subscription required] about scholarly digitization projects in history and other fields:
As the cost of high-quality scanning equipment dwindles and the Internet’s reputation as an academic tool grows, more and more professors in history and other humanities disciplines are [. . .] digitizing research that falls outside of their chief fields of study.
The reporter, Brock Read, spoke to all the right people: Roy Rosenzweig, Greg Crane, Vernon Burton, among others. The problem is that the hobbyist becomes the hook for the story, and so we’re back to puttering in the garage while readers learn that the Web is primarily notable for influencing otherwise productive researchers to stray from their specializations and spend time pursuing extracurricular interests.
Maybe I’m just being cranky. It really is a pretty balanced piece overall. Besides, some awfully good things have come out of the garage.
Via Jeremy: A proposal by Richard P. Gabriel, who asks “[H]ow much faster could talent be developed in a educational program that recognized that writing software has enough of an arts-like performance component that the program was tailored to it?”