19.402 VR scholarly editions

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sat, 5 Nov 2005 06:44:39 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 402.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Sat, 05 Nov 2005 06:38:24 +0000
         From: Wendell Piez <wapiez_at_mulberrytech.com>
         Subject: Re: 19.397 VR scholarly editions?

Dear Willard,

At 02:52 AM 11/3/2005, you wrote:
>Let us say that it were possible to construct virtually real,
>immersive environments, such as on the imagined holodeck of the
>starship Enterprise. Let's say that with such a tool, a book
>historian and editor of Victorian fiction were to construct a
>simulation of a typical environment in which, say, a gothic novel
>might have been read -- down to the flickering animal-fat candles,
>their smell, the rattling sashes, gusts of wind etc. Let's say in
>addition that other scholars of the period and genre not only could
>immerse themselves in this VR simulation but that they could also
>play with the parameters of the simulation, e.g. to put our imagined
>editor's instantiated views of the scene to the test.
>What would be the scholarly value of such work? Would this
>environment itself qualify in your mind as an "edition", or would it
>be a component of an edition? Is this a path down which you think we
>should go when it becomes possible to do such things?

This is a fascinating thought experiment.

I wonder whether a movie version might also qualify? Note the
comparison here is not to a movie version of the events narrated in
the text, but of the text itself. An over-the-shoulder shot of
someone reading. Pages turning at appropriate moments. The movie
could show bookmarks being used to keep track of endnotes.

It's particularly interesting to speculate on why this wouldn't count.

I'd say such a movie would not qualify as a scholarly edition because
no one would expect that we would actually read and consult it as
such, or take it as evidence of anything other than what the
moviemaker chose to depict (and perhaps of absurdity or absurdism).
Despite showing us views of turning pages (how different from turning
the pages themselves), the movie's modality of communication and
interactivity is just too different from that of a book.

Enter VR, you counter. Given sufficient bandwidth and fidelity to the
impressions made by a book on your sensorium, the book could be
represented in such a way as to make it seem not like a movie, not
even like a VR, but like a book. Go ahead, turn the pages. An edition!

Yet this is as much to say as: the VR becomes a suitable medium for
presenting an edition of a book if the VR is sufficiently
sophisticated that it becomes invisible.

I would indeed accept this -- in theory -- yet cannot help but point
out that it suggests that the constitutive element of a successful VR
is not, then, its high fidelity, but rather that it be well enough
constructed and well enough suited to the work of representation that
we put it to, that we are able to suspend our consciousness of it
while using it.

And indeed, as some of us who used to haunt odd corners of cyberspace
can attest (MOO, anyone?), this is in fact the case ... "text-based
VR" being a case in point of a medium which can in fact be
transparent in such a way ... and which might, in fact, support the
kind of work you describe, despite its channel being very narrow. No
smell-o-vision; just words on a screen. I'd accept that a copy of a
book found in a MOO could be taken as an edition of that book. (Too
bad MOO is a lousy medium for reading books.)

This is the case with other media with similarly limited bandwidth.
Even codices (or perhaps especially codices, given a nice armchair)
can support such an immersion, if the narrative is fluent and the
argument clear. The modality disappears; we no longer see "the text"
for "the text". Then the medium comes into its own. At that point, we
no longer need to represent an old familiar medium in the new one: we
represent directly whatever we want to represent. And this is, in
fact, the trend we see in electronic editions.


Wendell Piez mailto:wapiez_at_mulberrytech.com
Mulberry Technologies, Inc. http://www.mulberrytech.com
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Received on Sat Nov 05 2005 - 01:52:49 EST

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