McGann's "Material Revolution"

McGann's evaluation of the relationship between print and digital fields is both precise and vague: "They do different things" (168). He elaborates that "hypermedia powers" (168) are not exclusive to digital instruments, and rejects the "fundamental misconception... that a digital field is prima facie more complex and more powerful than a bibliographical one... The fields simply manage knowledge and intellectual inquiry at different scalar levels" (168). He argues that human interpretation and collation of text and concepts cannot be replaced (or even effectively replicated) by computing power, stating that "in crucial ways, for instance, a desk strewn with a scholar's materials is far more efficient as a workspace-- far more hypertextual-- than the most powerful workstations, screen-bound, you can buy" (185), and suggesting that the computational ignorance of the context, "orbiting texts" and textual negotiaton that occupy the scholar's mind may be one of its strengths in the digital endeavor to "do different things."

I was reminded of "The Waste Land" and its attendant texts and contexts when McGann stated "in making this journey [of critical inquiry] we are driven far out into the deep space, as we say these days, occupied by our orbiting texts... The objects themselves shapeshift continually and the pivots move, drift, shiver, and even dissolve away. Those transformations occur because 'the text' is always a negotiated text, half perceived and half created by those who engage with it" (181). A scholar cannot read without engaging their knowledge and experiences to interpret and categorize the text at hand. What does it look like to evaluate something like "The Waste Land" without the distractions of the historical/cultural/literary baggage it carries? How do the practical demands of computational analysis via this "special race of idiot savant" (189) filter/form the ways we think about established texts? I like McGann's collaborative conception of digital studies; he insists that humanities computing must be guided by those who know books best, simultaneously affirming the analog legacy of scholarship while investing in an optimal formula for digital studies.