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.