19.544 VR scholarly editions

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 6 Jan 2006 10:30:37 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 544.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Fri, 06 Jan 2006 06:25:17 +0000
         From: Julia Flanders <Julia_Flanders_at_Brown.edu>
         Subject: Re: 19.530 VR scholarly editions

Although difficult to achieve in practice, for purposes of this
thought experiment it's worth entertaining in theory the idea that a
VR edition is immersive precisely to the degree that it can strive to
represent *the entire structure of readings* that constitute the
textual field of the edition. We might think of such a structure as
existing in n-dimensional space; we can think of the conventional
scholarly edition format as a sort of projection of that space in
fewer dimensions (as a hypercube can be imperfectly represented by a
line drawing in two dimensions). VR might not get us the full
distance, but it might prove somewhat more capable of representing
that higher dimensionality.

Being truly immersed in such a structure (rather than in the diegetic
narrative world of the text) would be a very different kind of
experience--quintessentially scholarly, one might say--and may not
really be possible for any but true scholarly idiot savants whose
minds are capable of holding all that information in play at once.
(Sort of like building a DOM of the text in your head.) But if it is
conceivable, I suspect that only some sort of VR interface is ever
likely to be represent it in practice: the book with its footnotes is
no help in doing this, and even the digital edition with the
plenitude of links and alternative views really just makes things a
bit more convenient--it doesn't help us make that quantum leap
towards a holistic view. (That is, it's a difference of degree, not
of kind, from a conventional print edition.) The VR edition I'm
imagining would be different in kind, because it would be attempting
to represent the structure of textual variation as an immersive
space, rather than as a set of points and threads from which one's
own mind can imperfectly perceive structure, little by little.

But it might make one's head explode!

>It is true that editions of texts strive towards pure content, towards
>something that enables us to forget the form, forget everything but the
>"virtual reality" created by the text in our mind. But this applies, I
>think, to *all other* editions but scholarly ones; these, with their
>apparatus, strive in opposite direction. If use them seriously, i. e. as
>scholarly editions, they will make immersion difficult. Surely, we can
>concentrate on what we read "above the line", and disregard the footnotes
>--- but do we then really use the edition for its main purpose? A
>scholarly edition invites us to think about the variants (even when it
>favorizes one reading over all other) --- otherwise the variants would not
>be presented. Which means that a scholarly edition invites us to think
>about the phenomenology of a text, if I use the term correctly.

Julia Flanders
Received on Fri Jan 06 2006 - 05:55:58 EST

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