19.557 VR scholarly editions

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 10 Jan 2006 06:27:52 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 557.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Tue, 10 Jan 2006 06:18:50 +0000
         From: lachance_at_origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
         Subject: Of time and dimensions, art and craft

Some loose observations... that connect in some dimensions... notes in a
cantata, perhaps.

Julia Flanders brings back the question of immersion and scholarly
editions through the suggestion that VR might be used "to represent the
entire structure of readings that constitute the textual field of the
edition" and invites us to think of such a structure as existing in terms
of n-dimensionality.

Alan Liu suggests a shift in the discourse to considering "augmented
reality" and offers the example of the Magic Book.

Matt Kirschenbaum collecting further examples poses a question allusively
pointing to Sherry Turkle's _Life on the Screen_. He asks: "What's
immediately striking about both devices, I suppose, is their appeal to an
embodied, social dimension of computing. Is this a fundamental departure
from life on the screen?"


The question, for me harkens back to Wendell Piez's intervention in the
VR/Scholarly Edition thread and his recollection of the immersive quality
of MUDs and MOOs. [See remarks below on immersiveness not being the same
as experiencing environments in the round.]

Whatever the appellation, whatever the implementation, there is in any
model of simulation that reacts to changes in the behaviour(s) of the
actor(s) a grappling with constraints on navigation. Julia does us a great
service in reminding us that readings are other than their

What can be stored in an edition?
How can what is stored in an edition be held in memory?

How is an edition built to be performed?

Ivan Illich in _In the Vineyard of the Text: A Commentary to Hugh's
Didascalicon_ University of Chicago Press, 1993 p. 37-38

For more advanced readers, Hugh proposed a much more complex,
three-dimensional ark - a space-time matrix built within the mind of the
student and modeled on Noah's ark. Only a person who in early youth has
been well-trained in darting back and forth through the rather
simple-minded columns of _De tribus circumstantiis_, and who has already
settled _historia sacra_ (which is the "narration of one's salvation")
within this two-dimensional frame can follow Hugh in the construction of
this advanced three-dimensional multicoloured monster memory scheme. The
man who has best studied Hugh's writings on the moral and mystical ark has
come to the following conclusion: 220 square feet of paper would be needed
for a still readable blueprint of Hugh's ark-model of historical
interrelationships. Twentieth-century medievalists, who in the great
majority have never had any training in mnemotechnics, can perhaps imagine
a blueprint of Hugh's ark, but they cannot recapture the experience of
having such an ark in their own mind, or "be thoroughly at home with this
thought and way of imagining."([Note] Hanc autem cogitationem et hunc
modum imaginandi domesticum habe usitatum (De Tribus, Green p. 489, lines
24-25) [Green, William M., ed. "Hugo of St. Victor: de tribus maximis
circumstantiis gestorum." _Speculum_ 18 (1943): 483-93.]

I think Illich here fails to distinguish between witnessing a performance
and having the experience of performing. I have seen scholars being at
home in a corpus produce performances not marked by the easy familiarity
attributable to domesticated use but by an engagement to explore and
pursue. (See remarks on Robert Hollander providing a guided tour to the
Dartmouth Dante Project
http://lists.village.virginia.edu/lists_archive/Humanist/v14/0068.html )
Of course the ethos of exploration is not the same as that of
(re)construction. However the demands on memory are no less daunting.

360, 180, 45, 90 degrees of immersiveness might be less in the surround
and more in the connection with the projection -- the immersive quality
may depend upon the impression of a breadth of possible movement ---
the constraints on navigation, or in the case of MOOs, construction,
not just any player can "dig" anywhere. In a collective enterprise, the
very act of construction is an exploration.

Upon first reading the invitation to imagine the representation and
navigation n-dimensional structures, I thought of psychomotor activity,
less in terms of appreciating models as various scales and more in terms
of the sites of verbal inscriptions --- craning one's neck to follow an
inscription round the ceiling contour of dining hall, looking down on an
inscription exposed to the elements and slowly eroding, turning and
turning to track the rich shifts across competing multimedia displays in
some commercial centre. Pricking up one's ears for the audiobook.

And the voice synthesizer. --- imagine if you will the Latin of Hugh piped
out at the same time as Green's translation into English. Or one or the
other rendered as subtitles (on the cinematic aspects of database see Lev
Manovich _The Language of New Media_). Ofte in text analysis a frequency
list can be turned into a score. Wendell did ask if a movie version might
qualify for the VR scholarly edition (Humanist 19-402). Could a musical
score count as an abstract representation of a textual field?

I conclude with a pointer to Adrian Miles and with an invitation to
consider his remarks about some new media art that "requires and forces a
slowness that is if not at odds then certainly interrogates the time of
art" and to consider the time of consumption as applied to the scholarly


Perhaps, more ground in less time does not an immersive experience make.

Francois Lachance,
Received on Tue Jan 10 2006 - 01:48:12 EST

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