The William Blake Archive as messy scholar's notes

I have been perusing the William Blake Archive that I was linked to in this class:, and I find this archive particularly interesting in the context of the McGann reading's assertions of the value of physical artifact of a book for the dissemmination of textual information. The archive seems to in every way strive not only to provide the physical feel of the book, along with the notes it allows users to take in the margins on various sections that can then be viewed by other users. However, it also makes the experience of reading the various poems and works by Blake inherently different. Because sthe notes in the margins are not merely added by a single user or those users who touched the book before, the notes being viewed are often from students, scholars, and interested people from all over the world and provide in-depth discussions and even small essays on each line and stanza. This inherently changes the experience of receiving a book and reading it unmediated by other users thoughts and ideas, as these comments can be easily seen and accessed while the poem itself is being read. This has its benefits and possible drawbacks, as it could potentally interrupt the process of users who are perusing the text for the first time while they are formulating their own opinions, emotions and thoughts, and in doing so, inject the ideas of outside sources that may override those early impressions and questions. This is especially interesting and important to consider when it comes to Blake, who believed that Error was equally as important as creation, and was even a synonym of it. In allowing readers to access the writings of scholars and students while reading, it may take away from this process of error in reading, in which readers misunderstand or misconstrue the text itself, something that Blake thought was of the utmost importance.

The Stolen Time Archive

John David Zuern's long-winded appreciation of the uniqueness of the electronic literature My Name is Captain, Captain seems to mirror the intentions behind Vectors magazine's Stolen Time Archive. Zuern notes that "Captain, Captain exhibits many of the characteristics that most distinguish the computer screen from other textual interfaces" (265), noting its use of animated textual elements that evoke Jerome McGann's concept of critical deformation that reveals the expansive content of a textual object (which, McGann argues, are inherently "n-dimensional"). Captain, Captain "requires the reader to follow links to explore the text and make meaningful connections... In Wardrip-Fruin's (2005) terms, it is an 'instrumental text' that 'packages together logics of graphical play and methods of response with textual and graphic material'"( 265). Zuern notes that "the poem presents itself to me precisely as an exercise" (266). 

Similarly, the Stolen Time Archive is a collection of material culture as well as an insistently experiential and explorative piece that responds to a form of patient play. In her author's statement, Alice Gambrell notes that the archive houses both didactic texts (like workers' handbooks) and more resistant texts (i.e., cut and pasted magazines made by the workers themselves), and that "since elements in the first category provide much of the subject matter and motivation for elements in the second, the relationship between the two turns out to be intimate and combative in equal measures." The process of unearthing the texts and their relationships involves "[participating] in a series of uncanny improvisations" and users are ultimately challenged to contemplate "the futility of efforts to draw clear distinctions between so-called 'creative/intellectual' and 'technical' contributions to the making of any text." This not only demonstrates the polyvalent possibilities of an online interactive text (which Zuern predicts and appreciates) but also recalls McGann's image of necessary collaboration between analog and digital humanities studies, and his insistence that while "we thrive in a world of analogues and fuzzy logic, computers exploit a different type of precision. How to engage a fruitful intercourse between these two forms of thinking defines the very heart of humanities computing" (189). 

Different Media, Same Linguistic Code?

Cruising through the Jane Austen archive is nothing like looking at the centuries old physical pieces of paper on which she wrote with black-brown gall ink. It's so much easier to read the transcribed text, but it doesn't feel like I'm even reading the same material. The accessibility is undeniable...sitting in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with the ability to read documents stored across the globe (nearly) simultaneously is a game changer, but the medium has necessarily changed the coding from which I take in the content. 


We mentioned a bit ago the idea of how many texts and scripts were printed in codices that are now digitized in PDFs...they're the same content (linguistic code) presented in two different formats (media), but how identical are they? McGann also wrote about paradoxes and I think this is one of them: they are the same even though they aren't identical at all


Jane Austen's Opinions of Mansfield Park and Opinions of Emma: Diplomatic Display


Woolf Online

I chose the Woolf archive and found the USA 1st edition of To the Lighthouse. I opened to the first page of the novel (p. 9—I skipped past the prefatory material) and was immediately struck by the spacing on the webpage. The wide spaces between words had me thinking about the presentation of poetical information vs. expository information and McGann’s refrain that “a equals a if and only if a does not equal a” (except in this case, applied to the tension between text as it appears on the webpage vs. in the attached image). The prose of To the Lighthouse (which admittedly I haven’t read—maybe some of it is poetry?) looked kind of like poetry here. This was an interesting reversal of the idea that poetics can’t be understood by markup or metadata—it was like the markup had transformed Woolf’s prose into something more fractured, without the words themselves being altered.


I'm not sure if this will come up as I viewed it, but...

Virginia Woolf's Letters

I'm often possessed by the romance of pouring through my favorite writers' manuscripts, until I realize that I probably couldn't read many of them. Joyce was nearly blind, Woolf's cursive is so self-importantly proper, it's unreadable, and Henry James had another man's non-arthritic hand copying down The Golden Bowl. 

Reading Woolf's nearly-unreadable hand-written manuscripts for her unfinished memoir A Sketch of the Past suggest that Drucker's observations about the malleability of not language, but the phonmeic symbols called letters is true—and our sudden ability to look at all of these nearly-unreadable manuscripts through the archive prove it. Drucker writes "letters have only to be able to be distinguished form each other, not hold their own pictorial shapes" (Drucker 79). Just because I cannot read the writing, does not mean the writing is not valuable in demonstrating the process of Woolf's thinking. 

Here, Woolf's omissions via her slash-throughs—a phonome of its own—are important textual residue that we can exploit in research.

The William Blake Archive

The William Blake Archive is an excellent example of how digital archives allow for the user to dive deeper into the object that is on display without having to do any work beyond clicking around the webpage of the object on display.

The Blossom

When looking at "The Blossom" one is able to zoom in on the image to get a closer look, enter reading mode to read the text (or use a screen reading device to read the text) and read provided illustration descriptions. I feel this is an excellent illustration of Zuern's statement that "the computer screen reminds us that the ultimate 'integrity' of a literary text inheres not only to its persistence and consistency as a singular artifact but also, if not more so, in its capacity to serve as a dynamic interface at which it, its readers, and a wenter of other texts are provisionally yet distinctively and consequentially integrated" (Zuern, 262.)

Forget Me Nots and From A to Screen

I see the connection between Forget Me Nots and From A to Screen, when it comes to the letters and Engravings from the early 1800s. The letters themselves have a character that come from the time period and version of English that make them unique. They lend themselves to a style of art and serious interpretation that we do not have so much in words as an art form, the letters themselves today. I have a link ( of an engraving with beautiful art called “The Poet’s Study”, and even the words are poetic, drawing an image in the viewer’s mind. The letters add to the image in a way plain one would not, giving the whole piece another dimension. 

Jane Austen Archive

I looked through the Jane Austen Archive, it was fascinating to look at the process taken to preserve what  McGann calls paperspace (184). The archive presents photos of facsimiles of Austen's written text, along with a typed out transcript for clarity. The original text is in the format of a JPG, and is not clearly readable, (not to be harsh, but I think it sort of defeats the purpose of the archive in this case.) This is solved, then, when one is able to pull the work up in a separate window. Unfortunately, this window requires flash! I cannot access it now, given that my Safari web browser no longer runs flash. The integrity of the text, which has been taken careful attention to be retained, is lost in this particular edition of the archive.

"From A to Screen"

As a graphic designer, I was thrilled to read Johanna Drucker's essay "From A to Screen," which supplemented McGann's "Visible and Invisible Books in N-Dimensional Space" quite well. It felt like required reading, in some ways, for thinking about the design field as it is now. Print design while still important falls more and more out of vogue each year, and the digital continues to reign king. Typography as a field continues to change as it did for the printing press. As Drucker points out the history of typography from early Apple products to the present day, the growing capabilities of what can be done with type in the digital present the problems that McGann discusses in the N-dimensional space of the page and the screen.

As Drucker notes how the letterforms that moved to the Gutenberg presses' evolution were remnants of a different era and changed to adapt to the press, so too is our understanding of the limits and potentials of the screen still evolving. In my experience, it is the work of designer near my age group  who are pushing these revolutions in typography. Like Dr. Olds would say, "form follows function." As we expand in the digital, entirely new fields begin to appear that could not have been achieved before. Most of them are in advertising. One of the most in-demand skills a designer can have right now, for example, is that of motion graphics. The realm of the digital allows for movement and nuance (or the inverse of) of the type itself. The experience of the page is different. There is sound and pictures and the words can follow you everywhere in your pocket. We are being guided to a different media experience altogether

Milton Glaser, type hero, designed nearly everything by hand, while designers in the art department here can be loath to even pick up a sketchbook. It's not so much that one way or the other is better, rather than that, a way of thinking about design is changing with each generation. Our approaches differ, and thus, our values differ. The in-between stage of design, where the idea exists on the N-dimensional space of paper, drawn-out rather than in vectors or pixels, is leaving the consciousness of the design world. It's exciting. It's worrisome. More than anything, I suppose, it's fact. 

Archiving the Absurd

As a Joycean and a modernist, one of my morbid fascinations is the life of Delmore Schwartz: a precocious and eccentric genius who was undone by the genius that created him, as that genius morphed to extreme paranoia, anger, and seclusion by the end of his relatively short life.

One of my favorite moments of rock and roll trivia is that Schwartz was Lou Reed's mentor and personal hero. Among forbidding Lou Reed to pursue rock music—advice which Reed thankfully ignored—Schwartz told Reed that "there are a few things better than to devote one's life to Joyce.” 

The picture above is Schwartz's personal copy of Finnegans Wake. Having read Wake a number of times for shits and giggs, and doing some light annotating myself, I can't look at the picture and feel bad either for Schwartz or myself. Are Schwartz' annotations requiste for understanding the book? As the annotater, or the archon, can some things that we want to preserve be left to that realm of imagination that is neither, in McGann's words "expository or informational" (McGann 175). In other words, can annotation—archiving—do violence to the primary text?

McGann writes that poems "are built as complex nets of repetition and variation, they are rich in what imformational models of textuality label 'noise.'" (175). In regards to Wake, there happen to be entire large sections of the text that are "noisy." Or, in other words, sections of Wake escape any kind of structualist reading/analysis that archiving appears to require. The "noise" escapes any kind of conventional system of organization or structure. 

McGann goes on to write that "the logic of the peom is only frameable in some kind of paradioxical articulation such as: 'a equals a if and only if a does not equal a'" (175).

So the question is, are Schwartz's paranoid efforts above—or any similar electronic archival effort—productive? Well, I think that depends on repretoire. Which is to say that Schwartz's effort to make sense of Wake depends on his own, personal obsession, which has led him to consume Wake over and over again. But if that obsession ends with Schwartz, then Schwartz is just, well, crazy. Maybe archving is just a way to say "this is why what matters to me should matter to you," even if I can't systemetize everything that makes it special.