Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 138.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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Date: Mon, 07 Jul 2003 10:29:43 +0100
From: email@example.com (Francois Lachance)
Subject: nesting, framing, resting
I have been meditating upon the "nesting" thread.
I wonder if the "reading" narratives initiated in a given textual
sequence as residing one inside the other is not due to the application
of a particular content model. [Of course, I, myself, am skewing the
discourse here with the term "textual sequence".]
I am suggesting that certain design parameters of languages like XSLT
used to process XML may favour attention to "nesting". Empty elements
that serve milestone functions, i.e. elements that introduce a
before/after structure, are available in XML. XSLT can handle
transformations of such "textual situations" but other languages may be
suited to the task.
I raise this because I believe that an encoders experience with what is
possible affects what they perceive to be the structures of a textual
sequence or situation. And it is not only the language one may be using to
encode that affects encoder outlook. It is worth considering in this
context the impact of the introduction of the <div> element in HTML 4.0
and try to imagine the sense of text that one develops when non-nesting
elements such as <p> provide the main rule to guide text production (and
reading). Consider also the case of COCOA used to markup text for TACT --
an act or a scene ends when the next begins, a line of verse or a stanza
ends when the next begins. What I am seeking to do is to try to
understand to what degree the "nesting narrative" question is inflected by
considerations of navigation and to what degree considerations of
transformation affect the what is navigated. Am I moving from anchor to
anchor or from node to node?
Nesting is haunted by a need for closure.
Nodes have middles, beginnings and ends.
Wendell's invocation of narratology can point not only to the analysis
of narrative but also to that of narration. For, even the infinite
There was a storyteller who began a story
"There was a storyteller who began..."
has a finite frame.
Frames are the spectres of beginnings.
Anchors end in the middle of a beginning.
Anchors begin the end of the middle.
"Frames are often taken to be equivalent to schemata, plans and scripts
[...]" Gerald Prince, _Dictionary of Narratology_
Frame switching is very much about machinery for staging. The
narratological concerns of markup certainly touch upon theatricality.
I am indebted for my next example to Pat Galloway who kindly pointed me
to _The Diving Bell and the Butterfly_ by Jean-Dominique Bauby, trans.
Jeremy Leggatt, in relation to the theme of "machine-for-the-other".
ESARINT [...] The jumble appearance of my chorus line stems not from
chance but from cunning calculation. More than an alphabet, it is a hit
parade in which each letter is placed according to the frequency of its
use [...] It is a simple enough system. You read off the alphabet (ESA
version, not ABC) until, with a blink of my eye, I stop you at the
letter to be noted. The maneuver is repeated for the letters that
follow, so that fairly soon you have a whole word, and then fragments of
more or less intelligble sentences. That, at least, is the theory. In
reality, all does not go well for some visitors [...]
A machine translation would be able to restore for every character the
string prior to the blink.
Nested narratives? Not quite. The point I want to emphasize is that the
serial performances are nested in a retrospective reading. Julia
Kristeva's terminology of genotext/phenotext is useful here (For a brief
explanation and bibliography see Irena Makaryk, ed. _Encyclopedia of
Contemporary Literary Theory_). Markup is not just about recording what
is perceived but also about constructing what is imagined.
In markup, an event, a reading experience, becomes reified and becomes
retold as event, a re-staging of the event of reading. For me, this
activity speaks to the intersections of Poeticity, Theatricality and
Narrativity (for an exploration of such intersections in the context of
possible world semantics, see
I don't know if I have succeed in reframing the nesting question. I do
know that the investigation has allowed me to dwell upon once again
performance in the name of form and revisit the pleasure, bittersweet, of
that odd incipit:
-- Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance
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