The Best of Times and the Blurst of Times: The Social Edition

The Social Edition, at least my impression of it, is like a thousand monkeys typing randomly until they produce the works of Shakespeare. We are working from the text already and we have to just transcribe the edition, but we are also trying to duplicate and reproduce the process of writing to the point where it becomes almost mathematical and this equation where artistic creation or the act of typing and writing becomes scientifically explainable or a scientific process. Also, the process itself is not within the brain of a single genius or single writer/transcriber/authority, but through a collective that is not so much a writers’ room but an assembly line that constructs and reconstructs words like data or parts of a machine until they form texts perfectly as digital copies.

The act of transcribing in general and outside of the social edition is fascinating to me.  I remember reading somewhere (probably Wikipedia) that Hunter S. Thompson, in figuring out the novel, would transcribe or “re-write” Hemingway novels to see how they worked. You are deconstructing the original work and building it up again under the same process and under the same mode and copying it to figure out how it ticks. This is basically scholarship in any form. Close reading in a tutorial or some guy (let’s call him Julian)  looking at John Donne poems are all trying to figure out the text as text and the text as an algorithm full of certain programmed meanings and devices or just a series of words.  They are trying to figure out how the text operates. The classroom would probably figure out the sexual innuendos found in line 3 stanza 2 and Julian will just type line 3 stanza 2 thinking how well the words flow and how well the words work and how hot this poem is getting as he transcribes it . Both sources come to a very similar conclusion regardless of what it says on Julian’s diploma. Digital and social editions aren’t necessarily scholarly naturally, but the purpose of them is to build towards scholarship and to build towards a scholarly reading of the text through a collective source and collective construction of a text that can then be an internet document that others learn from.  The monkey will type random words like “hat” and “ dog” but they will then start to type “Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law/My services are bound.” Or at the very least, that’s the plan.

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3 Responses to The Best of Times and the Blurst of Times: The Social Edition

  1. steven.jankowski says:

    Just a point of clarification. When you say “the process itself is not within the brain of a single genius or single writer/transcriber/authority” are you commenting on the fact that traditional writing was created from a single person and that now we have a problematic collective doing the writing? If so, then I have a question. When has writing a book ever occurred without a collective? We’ve been discussing how the materiality of the book is an integral aspect of a text’s historically specificity. As such, an author’s “text” also includes the contributions made by editors, spouses, casual proofreaders, publishers, readers, binderies, paper manufacturing, etc. It was never “produced” by the author alone.

    To your point that this processes of “an assembly line that constructs and reconstructs words like data”, I have a comment. This process is not new. In fact, it has been the main form of production since Gutenberg. People were hired to look at a manuscript and carefully place tiny metal letters beside each other, assembling the text through its discrete components. We are doing a similar kind of work. Perhaps if we recognize this we can pay homage to that history of book production.

  2. Sasha Makarewicz says:

    Yeah I’m probably wrong here, but that’s also the myth with this aspect of writing in general. That one dude wrote it and made it all happen without anybody’s assistance. But there is this thing with, for example, screenplays, where the more writers you see credited, the chance of that movie being good is slim. But with what we’re doing I’m just reminded that we’re kind of reproducing this work not so much as a means to artistically create something but to reproduce it or for the sake of reproducing it and yeah, this existed in publishing since Gutenberg but with digital reproduction there is a wider net/web of reproduction happening.

  3. jason.boyd says:

    While I always enjoy a Simpsons allusion, I’m not sure if the Infinite monkey theorem is an apt way of describing the activity of creating a digital social edition. The Monkey Hamlet is practically an impossibility, unlike the social edition — although some might argue an “edition” (as traditionally conceived) can never be “social” (ie, crowdsourced).

    To my mind, a scaled-up version of a medieval monastic scriptorium may be a better comparison.

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