Who is Reading my Immortal Art?

Every modernist has this moment of profound grief when they discover that the novels, poems, and plays they find sacred, the ones that warranted a century of study and will demand more time still, are only a fraction of what people during the early twentieth century actually read. And we all kind of possess the same hard-wired snobbery: pop is stupid, but it will always be with us—as Jesus said of the poor—and we must develop some kind of defense in our gut to make sure we don’t end up listening to BTS on shuffle. Of course, the importance of a democratizing, global pop group like BTS can’t possibly be understated. It appears pop is the only global language we can really understand. And that’s kind of beautiful. Still, the snobbery remains, and young modernists like myself—who probably have a lot in common with the pop-is-stupid-coffee-shop-kids—will continue to work, driven by the absolute certainly that the art we study was the most real, the most visceral of the time period.

What I’m trying to say is this: Moretti’s article points out a kind of stunning flaw in how we measure the consumption of literature as either entertainment or professional practice today. We can measure who is writing, where they are publishing, what percentage of poems/stories are accepted by which popular magazines, but no one cares to wonder who the fuck is reading any of our real, visceral art. What is true of 1808 is true of today: “audiences turn resolutely—and irreversibly—to the current season” (Moretti 8). But maybe our current seasons is more difficult—or even impossible—to chart. As mass media gets, well, massier, so does its atomization. The consumption of art becomes at once monolithic and totally infinite as audio technology and amateur publishing become more and more accessible. For every BTS, there are thousands of bedroom pop musicians who play for an audience of one. For every Rupi Kaur, there are thousands of poets shilling their poems on Tumblr. Listen. I publish my poems in great, renowned magazines who have published Pulitzer laureates, and the most I talk about those poems is on Tinder. Who besides my matches on Tinder is opening these literary magazines and consuming this shit?

Manovich and Moretti on Visualization

Should I be surprised, at this point, at the diversity of approaches to any element of digital or visual humanities? This week's readings from Manovich and Moretti model the expansive ideology of visual representations of literary or humanities content, with Manovich focusing on the technology and structure of visualization (culminating in a vision of "visualization without reduction" (12)) while Moretti pursues the relationship between visual representations of inherently abstract or theoretical elements. I am temperamentally attracted to Moretti's idealistic introduction, which poses visualization as an agent of the tension between the abstract and the concrete, of past and future:

"Finally, these three models are indeed... abstract. But their consequences are on the other hand extremely concrete: graphs, maps, and trees place the literary field literally in front of our eyes-- and show us how little we still know about it. It is a double lesson, of humility and euphoria at the same time: humility for what literary history has accomplished so far (not enough), and euphoria for what still remains to be done (a lot). Here, the methodology of the book reveals its pragmatic ambition: for me, abstraction is not an end in itself, but a way to widen the domain of the literary historian, and enrich its internal problematic" (2).

Manovich seems to value information visualization as an end in itself, a new stop on the ever-expanding subway map of literary studies, if you will. His project "Mapping Time" is a constructed artifact of Time magazine covers from 1923 to 2009, and he notes that this visual arrangement reveals trends of cover saturation and contrast that can be placed and analysed within a historical context. He praises the high-resolution computing power that allows the preservation of detail and color (for "visualization without reduction"). However, while preserving all aspects of "visualization," Manovich's project is still a condensation, a compressed vision of the information it holds; hence, its analysis produces generalizations and trends rather than comprehensive structure. I admire his archival impulse. But I appreciate Moretti's exploration of visual mapping as a circular project of referentiality, rather than a linear expansion. Moretti's humble summary of data visualization is a representative abbreviation of complexity: "Granted, things are not always so neat. But when they are, it's interesting" (42).

Visualization and Manovich

Visualization for humans has been around for at least thousands of years, since the time cave paintings were created by men, women, and children. So it is not a new process at all. The challenge now, is to marry our version of it to the computer in a kind of wedded bliss.This was a rocky road at first, as computers were inadquete to hold all but the most simple forms of data. But the techinques we have come up with, including coding and libraries of multimedia, have develped the models and modes of understanding to new heights.

Manovich contends that another great technique is to save the data in which the order it was created, which shows the change in graphs over time. He calls it a "cultural time series". I conjecture that what he is trying to say is that knowing at what points of time data is created is as important as the data itself. By chronicalling the information and visualizing the history in a condensed format of images, it is possible to come up with data that might have otherwise been hidden and come up with different conclusions. The patterns that show themselves evident have 'media elements', which are normally seperated by time. Thus such mapping is useful for showing variation in the data over time. These are ways visualization can help people come up with solutions that need variables in an ever changing world.



Bornstein — "How to Read a Page"

I enjoyed the Bornstein reading and his analysis of four different sonnets and their textual meaning based on the surrounding material and how certain editions either historicize or de-historicize the work (p.3). In particular, Bornstein's analysis of Emma Lazarus's "The New Colossus" and it's evolved meaning through both the poet's intentions and our own interpretation of the work I found to be particularly insightful. 

As Bornstein quotes earlier from Walter Benjamin, the reproductive form of a work cannot account for "its presence in time and space." This idea is complicated when the form of "The New Colossus" shifts from written to spoken to embodying a space on a physical plaque to the textbook of The Norton Anthology. The work's presence in one time and one space mean a different thing. In the textbook, the work is academic, in person, I'd imagine the work functions as emotional. The poem as the auctioned word is an artifact for few and the plaque a piece of architecture for the masses. And yet, the text itself does not change. 

Through looking at what analysis can be gained from reading the poem in different context's Bornstein points out how fallible our words are. Devoid of context, text can be separated from meaning, and still retain function. Our textual environment shapes the work, too. 

When I was about twelve, my family visited Pikes Peak, which famously inspired the song "America the Beautiful." The "purple mountain majesties" of the song is taken from the view from Pikes Peak. At the top of the peak, there's a plaque with the words to the song, and when you get there, you see it exactly as Katherine Lee Bates saw it, there's no ambiguity. The prose isn't driven by some desire to dress up the beauty of the landscape, but to explain it as was seen. While the song is intended to provide some general sense of the sprawling American landscape, it does so in the specifics. Bornstein's discussion of "The New Colossus" reminded me of how my interpretation of "America the Beautiful" shifted when I encountered the work outside of a textbook (or football field!). It now hinges on a shared experience of the natural American landscape and then the application of words. 

Fun Little Tidbits

While looking over the three journals, I've been intrigued by the advertisements and short commentaries. 


black and white photograph of an advertisement about NYC real estate Imagine investing in real estate in New York City in 1918. It had to have been phenomenally difficult, even back then, and espcially for African Americans, who were in the throes of Jim Crow America. But it's fun to think about the lucky few who might have been able to make it happen. Imagine if they kept their property in the family for generations...roughly 4-5 or so by now. Teleologically speaking, we can see the value in this ad. Everyone back then knew that NYC real estate would grow in value, but I don't think anyone had any idea how much NYC real estate would grow. It also makes me wonder where we should be investing here and now and making plans to keep those investments in the family...how much will things grow in the next 102 years? What advantages will we give our descendents?

Color photograph of a page from The Egoist magazine


I hadn't even started reading The Little Review and this opening page caught my eye. This isn't written for tired and depressed people, so I'm clearly out. This semester has me tired, depressed, and stressed, but still in awe of the amazing things I'm getting to do right now. I don't represent their 'fit' audience, but somehow I'm here reading it anyway, and I'm plenty diverted and amused to boot.





This little gem also comes from The Little Review. As an avid Duolingo user and wannabe linguist, this was fun for me to contemplate. I like how the advertisers listed cities with branches, but not specifically the languages they offered. At first I thought it was a correspondence course and I wondered how they could promise the ability to "UNDERSTAND and to SPEAK the foreign languages, till I realized the students traveled to all those 'exotic' cities to attend in person classes. That also solves what I had thought was an interesting dilemma of "SUPERIOR NATIVE TEACHERS" as I assumed the superior natives were somehow coming to the US, and I wondered about the status of immigrants and/or refugees in 1918. Further confirmation that I am not fit to study The Egoist and The Little Review, but the effort continues.

I will add that anyone who reads these short ramblings 102 years from now (plus those in the present) is more than welcome to chuckle or roll their eyes and keep the conversation with the future going for 102 years from then. 





Bornstein: Reading a Page

Bornstein gives a very detailed account of what it means to "read a page" through different examples throughout his piece. I thought it interesting to place myself in this mindset while reading through the June 1918 issue of The Crisis. What an interesting way to delve into a text that allows one to look beyond the "linguistic code" as Bornstein puts it, and instead focus on the "bibliographic codes" as well in order to develop a broader range of meaning that helps with the interpretation of the text.

Bornstein mentions that in order to read a page effectively, it is important to "recognize that the literary text consists not only of words, but also of the semantic features of its material instantiations." With this in mind, I chose The Crisis as my guinnea pig for this unique approach that I had not used prior to reading Bornstein's work. Rather than merely focusing on the words I dove into the text to look for "clues" that would bring the text alive for me. Bornstein suggests that looking at the "cover design, page layout, or spacing...other contents of the book or periodical in which the work appears, as well as prefaces, notes, or dedications that affect the reception and interpretation of the work," these "bibliographic codes," provide an "aura" that a reader can not establish when simply looking at the "linguistic code."

Even though my first thought was to jump straight to the text, I spent my energy and focus on breaking down the different elements of the magazine edition, starting with the cover design and art to see what added meaning I could uncover. I took note of the lone soldier placed on the cover and read on to see that the cover design was influenced by a poster painted by another individual. This prompted me to look and research further into this dynamic, contributing to my sense of the historrical presence and aura.

I next looked at the page layout and when bold print came up in the text I zeroed in on the purpose behind it. Large, blue, bold text that stated "The Moorefield Storey drive for 50,000 members" placed me into context of the significance of this magazine, a venture that aims to gather a community that fights for justice. "DO IT NOW" allows for a sense of urgency, showing that this magazine means much more than the words on a page but a catalyst for change in this historical time period.

Finally, I would like to touch on the other contents of the magazine that contributes to this "aura" presented in the text. The Ads that are placed periodically throughout the magazine lend a much needed sense of honor and dignity to the overall impression of the magazine. The ads give readers a much more in depth perception of the meaning and emphasis of this work. "Prideful", "dignified", and "prominent" are terms that come to mind as the magazine becomes filled with these positive trinkets placed throughout that cast African Americans out of the lens of oppressed and into one of strength.

Although I could say more, this journey of "reading a page" was enlightening for me. It helped broaden my perspective in analyzing a text through multiple modes and opened my eyes to a different perspesctive of thought about this particular text.

Bornstein and the Reading of Literature

When I was in high school, we read Macbeth By William Shakespeare. It was mentioned that there was a debate between scholars that possibility someone else wrote and added in the witches and the infamous Double double boil and trouble scene to the play years later make it more sensational. 

 ALL.  Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
 WITCH.  Fillet of a fenny snake,
    In the caldron boil and bake;
    Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
    Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
    Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
    Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,—
    For a charm of powerful trouble,
    Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

This is an example of Bornstein’s thesis that you have to take all versions of the text into account, even if they may be forged or altered. When I think about these scenes from the play it gives me a different view and experience than if they had been excluded. On one hand, you want to have the purest possible text of what Shakespeare wrote, without any interference from some fame seeker trying to sensationalize the audience's experience. But if you don’t add these lines, you may be censoring Shakespeare himself just because the lines are a somewhat different in structure from the rest of the play. It will take out a huge amount of foreshadowing and the idea of a mythical evil taking over Macbeth’s soul along with his decisions as a part of the story. This can be seen as a loss for the text as a whole.
Whatever the truth may be about the author of these lines, scholars have decided to leave in the scenes of the witches that we enjoy today in the productions of Macbeth. The people that hold the historical records will be the ones to decide how literature is saved and how it will be viewed or censored from the public.

Love Song

I enjoyed reading the anthology/screen version of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” for all the sentimental reasons that are normally associated with print. I loved looking at the old paper of the pages, and even when turning the page via scrolling I understood McGann’s idea of a new page as an opening. Also, in terms of medium and message being intertwined, I felt that the romantic nature of reading this poem in the anthology was very much dependent on the content of the poem, on its narrator’s wanderings through “half-deserted streets” and its generally gorgeous expression of ennui. 

I have to say that as I was reading this poem I immediately thought of the National—one of my favorite bands and absolute pros at channeling urban, intellectual disillusion through gloomy, rhythmic indie rock—and their album Boxer in particular. The similarities felt so striking that I searched to see if anyone had already made the connection and found a blog post on the LA Review of Books website that beat me to the punch (for those interested, https://blog.lareviewofbooks.org/essays/love-song-matthew-d-berninger/). If I’m looking at the timeline correctly, Eliot was living in Paris at the time of writing this poem, and that sort of spell of being a Midwesterner in some mystifying metropolis is common throughout the two works. The opening lines of “Prufrock,” setting up a night out marked by a strange kind of solemnity, are in lockstep with being “half-awake in a fake empire”; “Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’ / Let us go and make our visit” and the refrain of “there will be time” echoes the sweet, tired sentiment of “Turn the light out, say goodnight, no thinking for a little while / let’s not try to figure out everything at once.” The lines “My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin … Do I dare / Disturb the universe?” underscore the same kind of well-to-do self-consciousness as “Underline everything, I’m a professional in my beloved white shirt,” and “I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker” is just every National kicker ever. 

McGann’s points that literature is figurative and always doing many things simultaneously and that computers can’t make the kinds of associational leaps that humans can were what I had in mind as I read. It was kind of comforting that the screen version we were provided consisted of scans of pages with their original type rather than, say, some adaptation on a webpage. The reading experience definitely took me back to listening to Boxer in the big, stately rooms of Butler Library on a summer evening in New York City.

The layered experiences of the many presentations of "Prufrock"

After reading "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" illustrated and told through a comic format, and then the print publication of the poem in Catholic Anthology on The Modernist Journals Project https://modjourn.org/issue/bdr527353/ I began to research more recreations and presentations of this poem in the digital space. I found several animated versions of the poem set the the reading by T.S. Eliot himself, with this as one example:


I also found many celebrity readings of of the poem, but what I found particularly notable was a short artistic film that set the poem in the present day and exploring the words in the current urban city landscape. 


The way that the words of the poem are spoken throughout this short movie is so quietly, some are almost a whisper. Due to the fantastic sound editing, the film manages to highlight these words and make them very audible as the main character speaks and murmurs them while moving throughout the city. This creates a deeply personal, intimate feeling that complements the candid vulnerability of the poem's voice and content in a new and fresh way.

I found that with each new version that I explored, from wide spacing that lent new meaning and a different appearance to certain lines in Catholic Antholgy that hadn't translated over to more recent collections of the poem, to the different vocal performances and readings, and what lines were included in productions and which were cut, left me with very different impressions and experiences of the same poem. Now that I have all these versions in my mind, I picture them all mentally and experience bits of them whenever I think of Prufrock.

This demonstrated something to me that I hadn't ever really thought of before; that versioning and different interpretations and experiences surrounding reading a piece of work can not only influence the experience of the original poem itself, but that these experiences layer upon one another, build upon one another, and mingle together. Though there will inevitably be parts of these interpreptations that I forget, there will be aspects of them that stick with me and inform my memories whenever I think of the poem itself or T.S. Eliot's works in general.

This layering or mixing of different presentations of a single work seems liek it would be especially prevelant in the digital age, with access to so many different publications and animations and readings of a single famous poem. If I had lived during Eliot's time, I likely would have experienced the poem through reading it an anthology or a publication, and even if each publication was formatted differently in small ways, the styles, publishing technology, and conventions for that time would have informed them and kept them fairly similar. I could have heard T.S. Eliot read the poem, or another read it aloud, but this once again would have likely been a source coming from a similar time, place, and culture. With works that have transcended cultures and time in the digital age, however, there has been time for so many myriad interpretations, readings, publications, and art forms to blossom and mingle with the poem. Nowadays, it is often not just reading a work from a single presentation many times in order to engage with it, but rather, engaging with that work in many different mediums and forms, which completely changes and informs the experience of that work.

Reading Screens: Oklahoma Writer's Project Slave Narratives Digital Archives

One statement that Zuern states in his text about Reading Screens really stands out to me and helps place his ideas in context while reading through the digital archives slave narratives. The connection between the past works of the slave narratives and the present format of the digital reading screen that I am reading off of is prevalent. Zuern states that "screen-bound texts...will be digitally reproduced editions of texts from other media" that will become a "great migration of past and present writing" (274). This imagery of the great migration is significant to the power that past texts have in withstanding history in the digital space. It reminds me of a journey through time, much like the journey of the Great Migration.