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Humanist Archives: Feb. 3, 2019, 7:23 a.m. Humanist 32.416 - the McGann-Renear debate

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 416.
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    [1]    From: philomousos@gmail.com
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.412: the McGann-Renear debate (56)

    [2]    From: Gabriel Egan 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.412: the McGann-Renear debate (34)

        Date: 2019-02-02 17:46:09+00:00
        From: philomousos@gmail.com
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.412: the McGann-Renear debate

This has been one of those threads where I'm torn between responding and

Desmond argues (if I am understanding correctly) that since semantic markup
cannot perfectly describe what's going on in a text, it's better not to do
it in the text, and instead to focus on a minimalist production, with only the
necessary features, which can then have different layers of annotation wrapped
around it. I suspect Alex might agree with this approach. In this view, TEI/XML
is fundamentally flawed because it imposes structures on the text that aren't
really there, or are only there in certain interpretations or readings of the

His interlocutors are arguing that this argument confuses format with function
and that nothing stops you from doing a minimal TEI with annotations, or
deriving a minimal text from a maximally marked up text. TEI is not
fundamentally flawed because though it can't do everything, it can be a
foundation for doing practically anything. It just gives you a language for
making text models, what you say in that language is up to you. I suspect
Desmond might counter that language influences cognition, and an imperfect
language may steer you to think in ways that are actually pernicious.

Alex's point about the "quantum" nature of text is well taken, though I
think perhaps it points more at the character encoding level than the markup
level. In the former, in order to represent his example, I have to decide
whether the thing in question is a circle, or a Latin o, or perhaps an omicron
or Cyrillic o, or something else entirely. In fact, at the markup level (in TEI
at any rate), there are ways to represent this kind of uncertainty.

But this leads us towards a problem: I've often heard the argument from folks
who do things like machine text analysis that TEI is too messy a format for
them. And indeed it often is. You can't just derive a token stream from many
TEI documents without first making informed decisions about how to get at that
stream -- normalized or original text? Base text or particular readings? But here
is, I think, where the crux lies: TEI says, if you will, "this whole digital
artifact is the edition, my (the editor/encoder)'s argument about the text.
The annotators say, "here is the text, and there are my arguments about it.
You can easily have one without the other."

But can you separate the argument about the text from the text itself? My own
answer to this question is a resounding NO. But maybe that comes from my
perspective as someone who works a lot with messy and difficult edge case texts.
Likely in many cases it doesn't really matter. In my view the splitting of
text from argument (or even the idea that you should) pushes you towards error
in the same sorts of ways Desmond believes hierarchy pushes you towards error.
Who's right? I dunno.

Perhaps we just have to be aware that our tools and formats all have their
benefits and risks and we have to make decisions in the light of that awareness.
My plea would be for more open collaboration and constructive criticism and less
"You're doing it wrong!"

Al the best,

PS I really like Herbert's suggestion of a TEI Guidelines "Dirty Tricks"

        Date: 2019-02-02 10:12:06+00:00
        From: Gabriel Egan 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.412: the McGann-Renear debate


I asserted that in early modern drama, "All the
dialogue lines occur inside speeches, all the
speeches occur inside scenes, and all the scenes
occur inside acts, and there are exactly five acts".
Desmond Schmidt responded:

 > Well, that's your analysis. Another way to analyse
 > it is to say that the headings for scenes and acts
 > are simply in italics or a big font.

But as I pointed out, the creators of early modern drama
repeatedly described their work the way I've described
it, as a tree, and never once (in the materials I'm
aware of) described it in terms of the typographical
representations of the units' headings. Are you
saying that it doesn't matter how the creators
thought of their work?

 > In any case your example is not perfect: sometimes
 > speeches are inside lines and sometimes lines are
 > inside speeches. How do you explain that?

I believe the claim that "sometimes speeches are
inside lines" to be untrue. Can you give us an


Gabriel Egan

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