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Modernism

I never have time to write anything but my dissertation these days, but in reading the media theory necessary to make my argument an interesting pattern emerged I want to briefly outline.  My first exposure to “theory” was a graduate class on Marx and Freud which ended up being mostly an exploration of Lacan through Zizek.  I didn’t find this confusingly telescoped approach to political economy and psychoanalysis to be all that instructive, but the kinds of questions the class raised did kindle my interest in the enterprise of “theory” largely conceived.  Later, I read Derrida’s work, particularly his earliest essays in the Grammatology and Writing and Difference.  From Derrida, I went back and read several of Heidegger’s works, including Being and Time and Poetry, Language, and Thought.  I don’t find myself thinking of this reading much in my current work other than that, more recently, the topic of presence, perhaps the central concern for Derrida and Heidegger, has become important to my dissertation’s argument on print media and modernist information management.

In “Signature Event Context,” Derrida says,”[A] written sign carries with it a force that breaks with its context, that is, with the collectivity of presences organizing the moment of its inscription.  This breaking force [force de rupture] is not an accidental predicate but the very structure of the written text” (9).  Derrida insists that writing, as a practice, does not operate despite the possibility of the producer’s absence, but because of it.  I am not interested in getting into an extended discussion of deconstruction, but in my dissertation research these notions of presence, media, and literature keep surfacing together.  Derrida’s entire philosophical project can in some sense be understood as a defamiliarization of our normalized understanding of language.  Both inside and outside the scope of my dissertation’s argument, I feel modernist literature is a particularly rich site on which authors see print media and language in alternative ways and that the notion of presence is at the center of this shift.

Friedrich Kittler was the first actual media theorist I was exposed to.[1]  However, it wasn’t until I read Wolfgang Ernst’s essay collection Digital Media and the Archive, that the notion of presence in media began to catch my eye.  Ernst focuses on digital media and the microtemporalities they rely upon that are and should be understood as alien to human experience.  In “Toward a Media Archaeology of Sonic Articulations,” he says,

“The media archaeologist, without passion, does not hallucinate life when he listens to recorded voices, as does the notorious dog Nipper when listening to ‘His Master’s Voice’ on a phonograph.  The media-archaeological exercise is to be aware of the fact that at each technologically given moment we are dealing with media not humans, that we are not speaking with the dead but dealing with dead media that operate.” (183)

I am not practicing the strict media archaeology Ernst is defining here, but as a literary scholar, it seems to me even more important to resist the urge to speak with the dead because it is easy to fall into the romantic notion of authorial presence in a text.  We frequently refer to authors and poets speaking in their texts, and even if we qualify it as a text, it’s easy to “hallucinate life” in the literature that arrives before us through print’s media effects.

Ernst’s thinking on this matter caught my attention immediately, but I needed to renovate it in order apply it to print.  This move was anticipated by Katherine Hayles and Jessica Pressman in their Introduction to Comparative Textual Media.  They theorize that the interposition of the type of technology Ernst describes, these conspicuously non-human electric and digital media, recontextualizes how we interact with print:

“[W]hen writing was accomplished by a quill pen, ink pot, and paper, it was possible to fantasize that writing was simple and straightforward, a means by which the writer’s thoughts could be transferred more or less directly into the reader’s mind.  With the proliferation of technical media in the latter half of the nineteenth century, that illusion became much more difficult to sustain, for intervening between writer and reader was a proliferating array of technical devices, including telegraphs, phonographs, typewriters, Dictaphones, Teletypes, and wire recorders, on up to digital computing devices that themselves are splitting into an astonishing array of different protocols, functionalities, interfaces, and codes.  The deepening complexities of the media landscape have made mediality, in all its forms, a central concerns of the twenty-first century.  With that that changed cultural emphasis  comes a reawakening of interesting in the complexities of earlier media forms as well.” (loc157)

From our 21st-century vantage we can see print through the prism of these undeniably non-human digital media.  This revision prompts a defamiliarization with the normalized characteristics of print.  We had become accustomed to seeing the author in the literary text and now we can see it as a material medium. [2]

The chapter of my dissertation I am currently working on depends on a similar reappraisal of print media.  Pound, in developing the poetics for his earliest cantos, underwent a radical shift in his approach to print media.  Rather than seeing his poetry as a conduit for the transmission of his interiority or a simulated interiority, he began to use print as an information management tool to revitalize, what was in his mind, a derelict archive and literary tradition.  Implicit here is also a banishment of the simulated human presence in print media.  Like the electronic media of his time and the digital media that would follow, Pound began to see his work not as a magical container for his presence, but as material objects through which he could transmit information.  In order for Pound to capitalize on print’s media effects, he sacrificed the simulated human presence in the text, the fantasy that he was speaking directly to his reader.

I am convinced that literary modernism is a particularly important period for these overlapping issues.  In my dissertation, in addition to Pound’s A Draft of XXX Cantos (1930), I will argue H. D.’s Notes on Thought and Vision (1919) and Palimpsest (1926) and Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) exhibit a similar type of media shift.  Outside the scope of my dissertation, I find William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All (1923) and his poetry in general to be a parallel critique of human presence in language.  Wallace Stevens’ “The Snow Man” is a description of the natural world in the in which human presence is completely removed.  The “Time Passes” section of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse is a representation of space and objects in the absence of human actors.  In other words, the origins of the media theory appearing here in the 21st-century had been conceptualized in the creative works appearing over a 100 years earlier.

[1]: My understanding of Kittler isn’t thorough enough to comment on his engagement with presence/absence.  However, as Geoffrey Winthrop-Young remarks in Kittler and the Media, Kittler was to some degree influenced by Heidegger, so making the connection between the thinkers is not inappropriate.

[2]: In addition to restricting my comparisons between print literary texts and digital media, I am also not able to discuss the multiple realms Hayles and Pressman see comparative textual media expanding into.  They, for instance, say “Media are necessarily associated with specific technologies and material structures as well as economic, legal, and social institutions” (loc252).  By necessity, I only discuss the material and literary contexts for the texts I analyze.

This morning I was notified I had received a second DHSI tuition scholarship in June 2015.  This means I will be taking Text Encoding Fundamentals from June 8-12 and then XSLT: A Collaborative Approach from June 15-19.  First of all, I wanted to thank DHSI for offering these classes, but also the various organizations that contribute funds to make these scholarships possible.  Without the funding, it would likely be too expensive for someone on my budget to attend one, let alone two, classes.

I applied for these two classes because they will provide practical skills I will need to complete the TEI of Ezra Pound’s A Draft of XXX Cantos project I am working on for my dissertation.  As I’ve outlined in other posts, this project is part of a hybrid digital and written chapter of my dissertation in which I attempt to enact some of the textual dynamics I argue Pound employs in the XXX Cantos.  The TEI version of the XXX Cantos I have created thus far is a specific interpretation of how the text works.  The coding structure I’ve developed encodes specific types of information that I’ve gathered under the conceptual umbrella of intertextual references.  The chief goal is to use TEI to encode associational relationships between informational elements and use these tags to represent how the text generates procedurally.  In other words, what is on the page of the XXX Cantos is a result of informational processing that “calls” another associationally related piece of information to the page.

In order to do this, I have settled on tags that indicate person names, place names, ventriloquisms and allusions to other texts, quotations, and then tried to block off the different sections of Pound’s text that are associated with these intertextual sources.  In addition to the structural tags for line numbers, page breaks, Canto breaks, and so forth, these are the tags I settled on for now:

<persName key=”OVI1” reg=”Ovid”>Ovidio</persName>
<placeName>Tuscany</place
<cit type=”quotation” text=”The Odyssey” author=”Homer” part=”12.200-205”>… </cit>

The other half of this argument is that Pound was very focused on textual dynamics as they materialize on the page as an interface.  This is drawing from my previous class at DHSI, Digital Humanities Databases in which I learned about the components of databases, the most essential of which is a relay between the user interface and the informational infrastructure.  This is to say that the relationship between my dissertation’s argument about information, interface, and modernist textual effects in the work of H. D., Joyce, and Pound is tightly raveled with the practical skills I have been and will be able to acquire at DHSI.

Developing the encoding structure and methodology for my TEI of the XXX Cantos has proven a bit more troublesome than I anticipated.  The tags I have listed above have been changed back and forth between other options multiple times as I’ve read the TEI P5 Guidelines and the Gentle Introduction.  These guides are essential tools and I would be nowhere without them, but I need to describe the goals of my project to someone and work with them to arrive at a way to achieve them.  I have had some difficulty determining which tags to use, which validation schema to insert into my header, and how to make the cleanest, most translatable version of the text that I can.  This is all toward the goal of using languages such as XSLT to process the TEI encoded text I’ve created.  In this sense then, I’ve chosen classes for 2015 that will help me solidify my technical foundation as well as teach me the skills and concepts I will need to complete the project.

 

A view of the ocean in Victoria

This year’s Digital Humanities Summer Institute in Victoria, British Columbia was my first.  From the time I applied for a scholarship to when I returned home on June 8, I couldn’t help but notice the well-established and inviting community surrounding the institute.  The information on the conference and the individual classes gave me a real sense of the organizers’ mission and their commitment to promoting the digital humanities defined broadly.  That said, and as the press dedicated to examining it attests, simply promoting big tent digital humanities is problematic, or at the very least, some people have some problems with it.

It’s my feeling that the challenges DHSI poses to its detractors is what make it so effective and valuable.  DHSI has a lot in common with the average humanities conference (as far as my limited experience can serve as a guide), but it also differs in important ways because attendees are taking classes, acquiring skills, returning to their home institutions with concepts, complete or in-process projects, and experiential knowledge about the realities of doing work that claims space under the dh canopy.  So, like at other humanities conferences, everyone gets exposed to new ideas and engages in dialog in ways that having everyone in the same place at the same time has for so long facilitated (though twitter seems to have gone some distance in trivializing the importance of presence at a conference, and this is a dh question).  To this familiar conference setting, DHSI adds the classes that are comprised of different mixtures of theory and heavy-duty computing (mine, Digitial Humanities Databases, was a great mix of the two).  Breaking out into the classes reminded me the seminar model used by conferences like the Modernist Studies Association which groups attendees into topic-driven roundtable-style sessions which are more enjoyable and rewarding than 90 minute panel sessions.  My experience at the 2012 MSA in Las Vegas was amazing; I was in a seminar on modernism and spectacle and I contributed a paper that interpreted Samuel Beckett’s Film and compared it with Bioshock the first person shooter.  

Still, this seminar structure is unlike the DHSI class because where I left MSA with new ideas and new email addresses and twitter handles, I left DHSI with a database I built in MySQL using command line.  There were moments in the course when my ears perked up as it was revealed to me that MySQL language, developed in the ’70’s (let’s historicize MySQL discourse, I’m comfortable with that), and is based on mathematician grade symbolic logic set theory.  It just so happens I’m wildly interested in set theory (though I have no practical knowledge of it) because of some recreational reading I’ve done on Kurt Godel and his incompleteness theorem.  I wanted to ask questions about whether or not one could make a database that took the incompleteness theorem into account, or if the creators of MySQL language found Godel’s thinking to be a problem for the potential coherence and completeness of databases.   I wanted to see the database, to read it, close read it as a matter of fact, and suss out the places where it may contradict itself or expose the ideologies it unknowingly promotes.

The instructors made no attempt to exclude these kinds of questions, and following some of the other classes’ twitter feeds showed that they were asking theoretical questions about digital topics.  (The feminist dh class in particular was performing what seemed like close readings of computer programs question whether or not they contained gender biases, which I found fascinating, but never followed  up on.)   Our focus, and we were pressed for time because there is a lot to cover in five six hour sessions, was squarely on the building of databases.  We did talk a lot about the types of queries databases, as a logic of information organizations, allow for, and we had some hilarious conversations about how databases and digital culture differ from document culture.  This distinction revealed the intertial influence print exerts on digital technology and our tendency to think of the internet and databases as documents.  This is all to say that the class wasn’t not theoretical, but the theory parts of the course were geared toward understanding the affordances a database offers (what can a database do that a document can’t and how might this help me as a humanist?) and how to ask programmers better questions when we need help as our projects develop.  I found this shift in thinking exhilarating.  We weren’t usurping issues of interpretation with graphs, maps, or trees (and we’d still have to interpret those anyway).  We were learning how things work and shedding light on how our own disciplines were similar and different.

My own research on Pound, Joyce, and H. D. requires a lot of close reading interpretation.  For modernist literary studies, these authors are often the close reading gauntlets everyone has to test themselves against.  On the other hand, in addition to being interpreted as poetry and novels always are, The Cantos, Ulysses, and Palimpsest themselves use daunting amounts of inter and intratextual quotation.  This is a dynamic I had originally tried to approach with archive theory, intertextuality, and even museum studies, but for various reasons I found myself wanting to express situations these suites of ideas didn’t address.  Eventually, with the help of my dissertation advisor, I came around to the idea that these texts may be forecasting the textual effects of more contemporary information presentation methods (e. g. Vannevar Bush’s 1945 description of the memex has a lot in common with The Cantos and The Wake).  Without getting into the specifics, I shifted from questions about what does this or that passage mean (though I am still very much on the hook for that type of work) to why is this passage here on the page before me?  How does this text work?

Thus my experience in the database class resembled my dissertation in that I had to set aside the “what does it mean?” questions in order to try and understand the “how does it work?” ones.  The interpretive questions do not disappear.  If anything, they are more persistent and grounded because this approach forces me to integrate the physical realities of each works’ composition and the ways it generates meaning into my interpretation of it.  I’m not pretending I have a coherent revelatory takeaway from this shift, but if this is what dh is, then the fears over machine reading solutionism or whatever alleged takeover of humanities departments computers are staging, are unrecognizable to me.  Overall, the experience of looking at information differently thanks to my class on databases really reminded me of the shift in my thinking that eventually became my dissertation idea.

For the past two days, I have worked some longish hours on a digital project that I hope will dovetail pretty seamlessly with my dissertation’s overall argument.  For this project I will use TEI to embed references and source materials that appear within The Cantos.  The project is well underway and I plan to briefly discuss my progress and goals at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute Colloquium at the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia next month.  Today I completed what I envision as the majority of the structural encoding (lines, line groups, page breaks, etc.), so I now find myself well beyond the type of encoding I’ve done in the past.  The aim of the project is to represent the source texts, source authors, and if possible, the reasons Pound selected each element from out of literary history to appear in The Cantos (this is where the argument of my dissertation will overlap).

As a guide, I used tei_lite, which provides very readable and detailed instructions.  However, my next step is to find a way to represent the external materials that appear within the text.  For instance, throughout the Malatesta section Pound includes quotation from official correspondence between different parties and these letters appear with and as text of the poem.  My immediate goal is to find a way to encode the sources and authors of these explicitly external elements and I am more than open to anyone who has advice on the best way.  Here is an example of what I’ve done so far for this type of section appearing in “Canto IX” on page 39:

<lg>
<l>“Magnificent and Exalted Lord and Father in especial my</l>
<l>” lord with due recommendation: your letter has been pre-</l>
<l>“ sented to me by Gentilino da Gradara and with it the bay</l>
<l>“ pony (ronzino baiectino) the which you have sent me, and</l>
<l>“ which appears in my eyes a fine caparison’d charger, upon</l>
<l>“ which I intend to learn all there is to know about riding, in</l>
<l>“ consideration of yr. paternal affection for which I thank</l>
<l>“ your excellency thus briefly and pray you continue to hold</l>
<l>“ me in this esteem notifying you by the bearer of this that</l>
<l>“we are all in good health, as I hope and desire your Exct</l>
<l>“ Lordship is also: with continued remembrance I remain</l>
<l>“ Your son and servant</l>
<l>Malatesta de Malatestis.</l>
<l>Given in Rimini, this the 22nd day of December</l>
<l>anno domini 1454 ”</l>
</l>

Once I determine what type of tags to use for this type of passage encoding these types of elements will be relatively straight forward, if hugely labor intensive.  For the time being, I will limit the encoding to “author” and “title” information, and perhaps eventually expanding to include dates and other citations including the pagination, page and section citation information, which edition of a work Pound used when quoting from a text like Ovid’s Metamorphoses or Homer’s Odyssey.

On the other hand, The Cantos contain many instances in which the borrowing is much less explicit in that it isn’t direct quotation and it sometimes appears in far smaller chunks transitioning back and forth from one source element to another.  The opening of “Canto 7” is a perfect example.

<l>Eleanor (she spoiled in a British climate)</l>
<l>”man-destroying and city-destroying, and</l>
<l>poor old Homer blind,</l>
<l>blind as a bat,</l>
<l>Ear, ear for the sea-surge;</l>
<l>rattle of old men’s voices.</l>
<l>And then the phantom Rome,</l>
<l>marble narrow for seats</l>
<l>” Si pulvis nullus ” said Ovid,</l>
<l>” Erit, nullum tamen excute.”</l>
<l>Then file and candles, e li mestiers ecoutes;</l>
<l>Scene for the battle only, but still scene,</l>
<l>Pennons and standards y cavals armatz</l>
<l>Not mere succession of strokes, sightless narration,</l>
<l>And Dante’s ” ciocco,” brand struck in the game.</l>

In this brief section Pound transitions between many sources, but they aren’t necessarily specific texts.  Eleanor is at once Henry Plantagenant’s wife and the “man-destroying and city-destroying” Helen of Troy, which gives rise to Homer and his attempts to capture the sound of the sea and the empty talk of old men.  This transitions to Ovid, Bertan de Born, and an image from Dante’s Inferno.  The challenges passages like this present are significant.   Beyond the baroque encoding it would require to indicate every reference, Pound is drawing on puns, isomorphies, and abstract historical similarities e.g. Eleanor=>Helen).  For now, the goal is to try and encode the sources and authors as faithfully as possible.  I feel having just author tags for when I can identify the author but not the text is a defensible practice, as is citing “man-destroying and city-destroying” as from the Iliad without necessarily indicating specific line, section, and page numbers.  The problems that still need solving are more about where to set limits on what to encode and then how to indicate where critical guides like Terrell’s A Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound help.

In order to have something completed in my hands on a realistic timeline, for now I will confine myself to encoding identifiable source texts and authors.  I’m still unsure what the best tag structure will be for that type of work so if anyone has any suggestions, please contact me.  I will also leave open the possibility that I may eventually also want to encode the people, dates, places, and languages the text includes, but this also raises the question about having all encoding in one document, or if it makes sense to have multiple versions of the same text each encoded with different information.

Wake DiagramThe genesis of my dissertation idea resulted from some thinking with my committee about the overlap between database as a textual form and literary modernism.  The early exploratory readings included Lev Manovich’s book, The Language of New Media and the then newly released How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis by N. Katherine Hayles.  Manovich has many interesting things to say about how databases operate, but of primary interest to my project as it relates to modernist literature is how he opposes the database to narrative.  Though it has evolved into an investigation of comparative textual interfaces as much as database at this point, the main argument of my dissertation will demonstrate how the associational logic of the database operates in the works of H. D., Pound, and Joyce.  After reading Manovich and then Hayles’ critique of his use of Saussure in theorizing the database, an interesting side project emerged that I’ll try and cover in this blog post.

Manovich defines the database, via the computer science discipline, simply as “a structured collection of data” (218).  However, he complicates this broad definition: “the data stored in a database is organized for fast search and retrieval by a computer and therefore, it is anything but a simple collection of items…The user’s experience of such computerized collections is, therefore, quite distinct from reading a narrative” (218).  The non-sequential characteristic of the database is less a technological substrate than a method of organization and this is essential since it allows for “fast search and retrieval” (218).

The search and retrieval function of the database is what interrupts the narrative logic because items do not relate to one another by advancing a linear story or creating an image, that is, the text doesn’t proceed according to a causal logic, but by the associative rules of the database (there is a great deal more to say about this difference). Manovich uses Ferdinand de Saussure’s linguistic theory from Course in General Linguistics as a model to describe how a database retrieves information through associational relations with a given query. Here is Manovich on his application of Sassure’s twin concepts of paradigm and syntagm:

Elements in the syntagmatic dimension are related in praesentia, while elements in the paradigmatic dimension are related in absentia.  For instance, in the case of a written sentence, the words that comprise it materially exist on a piece of paper, while the paradigmatic sets to which these words belong only exist in the writer’s and reader’s minds.

In other words, in Saussure’s formulation, the syntagmatic is the material that is actually present on the page and the paradigmatic is that information that is potentially (but not) present through associational relationships in the writers’ and readers’ minds.  Manovich feels that the database “reverses this relationship.  Database (the paradigm) is given material existence, while narrative (the syntagm) is dematerialized.  Paradigm is privileged, syntagm is downplayed.  Paradigm is real; syntagm is virtual.”

Hayles points out that “[t]his influential formulation, despite its popularity is seriously flawed…in semiotics, the alternative choices of the paradigm interact with the inscribed word precisely because they are absent from the page, although active in the reader’s imagination as a set of related terms” (180).  The presence/absence polarity Hayles insists on is does not apply to databases:

databases are not paradigmatic in this sense.  In a relational database configured as columns and rows, the data values of a row constitute the attributes of a given record, while the columns represent the kinds of attributes itemized for many different records.  In neither the rows nor the columns does a logic of substitution obtain; the terms are not synonyms or sets of alternative terms but different data values. (180)

As Hayles points out, a direct reversal of the textual dynamic of narrative doesn’t bring textual media to the database.  I am proposing that this debate between Manovich and Hayles is an extremely fruitful way to begin a discussion about how different media present information.  However, rather than seeing narrative and database as punctually opposed terms, I would shift the discussion the bundle of activities that take place when the reader/user interacts with books and screens as interfacial technologies.   Switching to an analysis of interface helps because the primary task of an interface is precisely the negotiation of the presence and absence of information that Saussure, Manovich, and Hayles so carefully describe.  Rather than opposites, the two interfaces afford and demand different activities from their creators and users.

scan0002

fig. 1: associational constellation of ‘enseignement’

Saussure says that the syntagmatic terms on the page have paradigmatic terms swirling around them: “Any given term act a the centre of a constellation, from which connected terms radiate ad infintum.” Saussure is describing associations that radiate outward from a stable word on a page, and he provides a diagram of how this works for the word “enseignement” (fig. 1).  It is important to underscore that Saussure is describing how associations operate for a page of print, but it is also worth mentioning that he is expressing the impulse to represent the absent elements swirling around what is on the page.  The digital interface, which presents the reader/user with the information in a database or even from a book as in Google Books, take advantage of the relationship between the paradigmatic and syntagmatic by anticipating associational relations between textual elements.  In other words, the information is made present based on the types of relations Saussure insists are only virtual ones.  This anticipation of the reader/user’s associations is the textual work that digital interfaces do, they realize Saussure’s desire to identify related elements through textual relationships.  It is as if digital interfaces mobilize the relational network Saussure describes with the “constellation” of connected terms.  Instead of radiating outward, a digital interface brings the associated elements to the interface and, consequently, to the reader/user.

To further complicate this argument, my feeling is that several modernist authors use the print page interface to forecast the type of textual effects digital interfaces realize.  These authors see beyond the horizon of the book (or more precisely the stable word on the page) toward the type of operations and textual effects digital interfaces perform.  As an example, I’ll use Finnegans Wake because this won’t appear in my dissertation and I want to work through this idea.

I would argue that The Wake, through portmanteau words, symbolic clusters surrounding characters (HCE=>Finn Macool=>Fish=>Humpty Dumpty, etc.), and the repetition of events throughout history (the Judeo-Christian Fall, Humpty Dumpty’s fall, HCE’s sexual transgression, etc.) is making these associative relations present; the text, simultaneously operates on multiple scales to perform the search and retrieval function Manovich argues is fundamental to the associational logic of the database.  Through associational channels based on a word, character, or event that takes place in the text, “other” textual elements are “searched” for and then “retrieved” and made present to the textual interface.  To be clear, I’m not arguing Saussure’s syntagmatic/paradigmatic schema applies.  I am arguing that Joyce is experimenting with exactly the type of associational “constellations” the Saussure diagrammed in fig. 1.  These effects are difficult to identify because they appear on the stable print page (though even a cursory look at genetic analyses of The Wake resemble a search and retrieval dynamic).  The reader/user is not dealing with an absence/presence polarity because the assocational elements are present on the page (though of course, more associations are always hovering).  The question is how and why they appear there and what type of logic of information presentation they exhibit. (In an entirely different post, I would argue that interface analysis of any kind should privilege questions about how and why information is present over that information’s hermeneutic meaning.)  Here is a portmanteau word,  I snatched from The Wake:

fig. 2: meanderthalltale word cloud

fig. 2: meanderthalltale word cloud

“[M]eanderthalltale” (FW 19.25) is an agglutination of at least the five elements I’ve represented in fig. 2.  What I’m describing is fundamentally different from what Saussure diagrams in fig. 1 because the associations he describes are strictly linguistic relations within a solitary language (French).  The types of association Joyce uses work in a similar, but much less rigorous fashion.  They include aural polyglottal puns, thematic associations, word disfigurement, orthographic correspondences, etc.  However, my point is that the impulse is exactly the same: Joyce is trying to account for the associational elements swirling around a given word.  However, instead of maintaining the opposition between the presence of what is on the page and the associational elements, Joyce anticipates the associations and makes them present, retrieves them to the interface, to create a new type of writing which exhibits many of the characteristics of the database aesthetic Manovich describes.  The entirety of The Wake proceeds in this fashion.  In the same way that associational elements are made present in the portmanteau words, characters and events such as HCE and his sexual misconduct, function to bring other similar characters and situation to the text as if when Joyce thought of the character and the story he also thought of all the other similar characters and stories from throughout literary history.  Thus, based on these associational relations, these elements become part of The Wake.

In The Work of Art in the Age of Technological Reproducability, Walter Benjamin says “The history of every art form shows critical epochs in which a certain art form aspires to effects which could be fully obtained only with a changed technical standard, that is to say, in a new art form.”  The argument of my dissertation is that modernism is one of these “critical epochs,” but different from the previous ways we’ve discussed these artistic aspirations.  A few authors aspire to textual effects that directly influence our contemporary digital culture.  The “new art” form these authors aspire to through the book is an engineering of a new type of interface that could only be fully realized with the dynamism and creator/user interactivity digital technology provides.

Obviously, there is a great deal more to develop here with regard to The Wake and with modernism more generally.  I am also in the process of learning to discuss the interface as it relates to different textual media and so am reading and working with the significant number of books now appearing on these topics.

Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Technological Reproducibility.” Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. N. p., 1969. Print.

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. University Of Chicago Press, 2012. Print.

Joyce, James. Finnegans Wake. New York: Penguin Books, 1999. Print.

Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge (Mass.); London: The MIT Press, 2001. Print.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. Course in General Linguistics (Open Court Classics). N. p., 2008. Print.

To help me absorb some media studies knowledge I am auditing University of Tulsa Communication professor Ben Peters’ Digital Media Keywords undergraduate course, which he has modeled after Raymond Williams’ Keywords.  In October, Dr. Peters’ keywords approach to media studies will culminate in the Digital Keywords Workshop held here in Tulsa.  My contribution to the Digital Media Keywords class is a historical and analytic piece on interface.  According to OED, the first use of the term “interfacial” (as an adjective) was in 1837 to describe the angle “between two faces of a crystal or other solid.”  Later, in 1882, the word began to be used as a noun, and, importantly, as a concept for describing the “face of separation … between two contiguous portions of the same substance.”  In addition to fleshing out this etymological history, Peter Schaefer’s article “Interface: History of a Concept, 1868-1888” traces the early uses of the term by two brothers, both physicists, James and William Thompson.  With references to Maxwell’s Demon, telegraphy, and other scientific-technologic uses of the term, Schaefer brings the term up to our more familiar and ubiquitous understanding of the computer interface.  Looking back, interface has always been a concept used to describe the liminality of the surface between elements and therefore, has proved a difficult idea to definitively express.  Hence, more recent texts like Alexander Galloway’s The Interface Effect which, instead of defining the interface as an object, seeks to identify its effects.  Brandon Hookway’s Interface, set for release in April, also aims to define interface as a relationship rather than an object.  All told, my piece on interface is not nearly as ambitious, but the hope is that my attempts to understand the term will inform my dissertation on avant-garde modernist textual effects in H. D.’s Palimpsest, Joyce’s Ulysses, and Pound’s A Draft of Thirty Cantos.  For now, here is the Ngram of interface.

I have completed the OCR work on A Draft of XXX Cantos and though the scans were of a high quality and there were almost no images, Pound’s text presents some unique challenges. The primary challenge for the program, ABBYY 11, is that sections of the text are in so many different languages. Sections of French, Italian, Latin, and ancient Greek (more on this in a minute) mean ABBYY is continually trying to read words it doesn’t recognize. For instance, if a French word has accents and ABBYY reads it in English, not only does the program flag that section of text as misspelled, but those accents are lost. It took me far too long to figure out how to switch between languages in ABBYY and then how to have ABBYY do it automatically, but by the last third of the text, ABBYY was reading any modern language with relative ease (I will say, I feel ABBYY’s English dictionary is occasionally disappointing, I’m not fluent enough in any other language to make that assessment). There are sections of these early cantos that are in ancient Greek, however, and they present problems I am not currently sure how to solve. Because the ancient Greek alphabet is not recognized by ABBYY (so far as I know), not only will the program flag those words as misspelled, but it won’t read them at all. ABBYY will translate the graphemes into more familiar contemporary Western letters (or symbols like #). This means that the text file will have non-sensical, and more importantly, non-searchable sections. My provisional solution to this issue is to typeCarroll Terrell’s translation of these sections from his Companion to the Cantos of Ezra Pound, in the text file. This way the Greek will be visible in the PDF for anyone who searches for that section of text.  Going forward, I have a few small concerns related to this solution.Companion Cover

As so many critics, including Terrell himself, remark, Pound’s translations of different languages are idiosyncratic, evolving, and highly important to understanding the context in which these passages appear (especially for the relational, emergent meaning-making in a text like The Cantos). Terrell’s translation of these sections of Greek (or whoever he draws from in his annotations) have the potential to be different enough from Pound’s understanding of a given passage to alter the reader’s understanding of the text as a whole. Naturally, these aren’t unique concerns with regard to translations, however, it will become more of an issue when Chinese ideograms appear in later sections of The Cantos. There are no ideograms in A Draft of Thirty Cantos, and when they do appear in the later cantos Terrell is very good in pointing out how scholars feel Pound translated the figures as well as presenting more standard translations. On the other hand, this creates a specific technical problem for my project. If there are multiple ways of translating an ideogram and I choose one to type into the text file (because ABBYY won’t read them, as in the ancient Greek) I run the risk of foreclosing interpretive avenues for those using the texts I’ve generated. This is not an apocalyptic concern, but something I’m becoming aware of as I move forward with the project.  Below is a link to the PDF:

Page 62 from “Canto 14” with ancient Greek text

Here is a link to the text file with Terrell’s translation:

This is the txt file with Terrell’s translation of the ancient Greek, which is “picture of the earth”

One thing I’ve been doing, and this isn’t a solution as much as a leaving myself a way to go back and change things, is to save the Finereader files ABBYY creates. These files allow me to go back and resave any of the types of files (PDF, HTML, txt) I make with different settings and then replace files I feel are outmoded or represent my own mistakes and flawed methodologies. At any rate, so far this has been a learning experience and presents many challenges I haven’t encountered doing similar types of work for the Modernist Journals Project.

The next stage is to learn more advanced TEI encoding to attach metadata to the text.  Luckily, the TEI Consortium provides amazing (free) tools for learning TEI methods.  For now, however, the heavy duty computing necessary to run ABBYY and handle large PDFs is complete.

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