Wikisource, libraires, and the works within them

I agree with many of the points that have been made about Wikisource and the possibilities associated with hypertexts and the digital libraries that contain these works. As McGann points out, hypertext allows scholars to make connections between texts, images, audio, and multiple other forms for the reader—an invaluable resource. The use of hypermedia is especially beneficial in terms of working on a project such as The Blake Archive that McGann discusses. According to McGann it would be difficult to create a “true critical edition of the works of Blake” because his work “operate[s] simultaneously in two media… an adequate critical edition would have to marry a complete facsimile edition of all copies of Blake within the structure of a critical edition.” The ability to create a work that could achieve this will undoubtedly benefit readings of Blake’s work.

Although creating a digital archive may be illuminating in terms of reading Blake, not all works are suited to appear in hypertext form. It is important not only to consider the possibilities of an open access library like Wikisource on a macro level but to also explore how digitizing a literary work could alter the way we read each work within it.

One digital humanities project that complicates the reading process is The In Memoriam Web, which Landow discusses. According to Landow Tennyson’s poem, an “antilinear poetry of fragments” succeeds in “lead[ing] the reader of In Memoriam from grief and despair through doubt to hope and faith; but at each step stubborn, contrary emotions intrude.” Since one of the main strengths of the hypertext is its ability to link, I am wary of how this will affect the reader when engaging with a fragmented text like “In Memoriam.” Nevertheless, I am increasingly fearful of how linking to various aspects of the text, allusions, or other material will alter the way we read a highly fragmented Modernist text like “The Wasteland.” If Modernists are interested in coming to understand and making connections between fragments, a project like this could be a productive endeavor. Conversely, through a postmodern perspective, connecting these fragments could radically alter the reading of these works all together. Would creating a digitized version of a fractured Modernist text require us to redefine our understanding of the fragment?

It is important to remember that a library is made up of multiple different literary works that each require something different of their reader. With this in mind, bringing hypertexts of various literary works to the public could compromise the unique reading experience that accompanies each of their stories.

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4 Responses to Wikisource, libraires, and the works within them

  1. Claire Farley says:

    Good point, Laura. I was actually thinking about the Waste Land in class on Monday and how it would simultaneously be an ideal text to exist in a digitized network and completely change the way we read the poem.

  2. julie.morrissy says:

    While I understand the concerns about how a digitised version of “The Wasteland” would impact on the reading of the poem, I think opening up interpretative space in this way is a good thing. I understand what Laura is saying about new/different readings having potential knock-on effects on how we understand concepts like the fragment; however, the history and the context of the poem will always be available. Again, it’s not a case of either/or. I think a lot of our concerns arise out of the vastness of possibilities with digitized texts, and maybe a resistance to opening up space in such a liberal way. Laura is right though – digitization of certain works does stand to have an impact on literary studies, which is a little daunting, but I think ultimately it is positive.

  3. michelle.keith says:

    I really like the question that you pose at the end Laura – Would creating a digitized version of a fractured Modernist text require us to redefine our understanding of the fragment?
    I think that a digitized version would, in fact, require us to redefine our understanding of the fragment. One of the main points of digitized versions of texts is to make connections to other materials and sources, in doing this would the Modernist text in question still be considered fragmented? Realistically, this digitized version would be connected throughout, as well as outside of itself. I think that in a way, this is a good thing but only if the reader/audience is willing to look at the poem as a fragmented Modernist text outside of it’s digitized version. Again, this puts the onus on the audience to choose how they are looking at the text in question.
    I do agree with Julie though, I think that a lot of the concerns that we have uncovered and discussed as a class have to do with the never ending possibilities. I think that it is important to acknowledge though, that these possibilities are somewhat moulded in a certain way by the texts that are linked to the original digitization. Either way, it comes down to trusting the people reading the texts to choose their own path and come to their own (hopefully original) conclusions.

  4. margaret.milde says:

    What I think is interesting is the concern about the “new” interpretation of texts that will result from digitization. Aren’t our understandings of texts always evolving? I know I was taught Huckleberry Finn in two very different ways. I read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in every year of my undergrad, and there were differences in how each professor taught the work. I read The Catcher in the Rye for the first time when I was twelve, then again when I was seventeen, and one more time when I was nineteen. Each time was a different experience, and I am sure if I read it again now, my relationship with Holden would be entirely differently than it was when I was four years ago. My point is that I think that digitization is just one more way that seemingly fragmented texts will evolve in culture, rendered important or unimportant based on social perspectives and the whims of the individual.

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