I agree with Claire’s comment on our wholesale reaction to the relationship between the digital and the text. Since Claire has already tackled what the digital does to the text in terms of our reading experiences, I’d like to focus on the way we produce texts.
What does the digital do to the text in terms of production? We’ve already mulled over this in class and in our blog posts, but here’s a brief (and by no means exhaustive) list:
It acknowledges the process, participation, and contributions involved in the creation of a text.
It forces us to adapt to certain technologies, and to realize at the same time that technology can be adapted to suit our needs.
It changes our understanding of authorship and scholarship.
It positions the text within a network of interconnected texts, and often within a dynamic community, which shapes the text itself through additions and revisions.
It changes our idea of completeness.
Each of these could be a blog post of its own, but I’m particularly interested in the way the digital production of texts changes the way we understand completeness. I’ve been making use of The Rossetti Archive recently, a collaborative project edited by Jerome McGann. In Radiant Textuality, McGann addresses the issue of completion in relation to the archive. McGann writes that While codex-oriented work such as the Bollingen Coleridge edition involves collaboration between scholars, the project will have a defined end: “it may have to be revised, it will certainly be extended, modified, superseded by later scholars and critics. Nonetheless, it is a work whose covers will at some point close upon themselves”. By contrast, The Rossetti Archive is unfinished, and purposely so.
McGann gives two reasons for this. Firstly, the archive, although conceptually complete, was created to exist within the greatest possible set of networked information, within what McGann calls “a hypothetical Archive of Archives”. In this sense, the completeness of the archive is measured in relationship to the completeness of its surrounding network. Secondly, the open nature of the archive extends to include a relationship not only to existing materials, but to materials which have yet to be written or created. The archive will never be complete, because it is intentionally open-ended.
Much like the digital archive, traditional libraries have always relied on the acquisition of new materials and the expansion of existing collections. However, while the responsibilities involved in the governance of the physical library are well established, we are still learning to work with the new demands posed by the digital scholarly edition.
This plays nicely into our reading this week, where Kathleen Fitzpatrick describes blogs as appealing to both readers and writers because they exist as “an ongoing series of updates, additions, and revisions” (68). When I’m reading, writing, or contributing online, I’m aware, as many of us have mentioned, that production of the text is happening if not in real time, then at least exponentially faster than print publication. How does it make me feel to produce digitally? Thrilled. Anxious. Connected. Immersed. And I’m barely doing anything, really. I look forward to seeing how my own relationship to digital production changes, as well as to how the academy adapts to the ongoing “scholarly revolution”.