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, 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 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.

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.)