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Humanist Archives: Feb. 10, 2019, 8:02 a.m. Humanist 32.442 - the McGann-Renear debate: a few propositions

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 442.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
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        Date: 2019-02-09 15:28:18+00:00
        From: Peter Robinson 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.436: the McGann-Renear debate

Thanks to a serendipitous conversation with Geoffrey Rockwell on Thursday
(courtesy of an invitation to Edmonton from Dominik Wujastyk), I’m emboldened to
put forward a few propositions. Geoffrey and I found ourselves discussing Turing
machines, and what is meant by “Turing complete”. Which I take as meaning: a
Turing complete machine can compute anything which is computable, given enough
resources. So in that spirit, here is a statement about “text complete”, set out
as a series of propositions:

1. All texts are real, in that each and every text is an act of communication
present in a physical document
2. Therefore, every text has at least two aspects: it is an act of
communication; it has physical properties in terms of the document in which it
is present
3. Each aspect may be represented as a OHCO: an ordered hierarchy of content
objects, a tree
4. The two trees are entirely independent of each other, and of any other tree
hypothesized as present in the text

A few things follow from the above

1. Renear’s second proposition, 'the objects which constitute texts are
abstract, not material, objects”, is false. No text exists apart from its
physical expression.
2. Documents may take almost any form, from brain synapses and neutrons, through
speech, to manuscript and print book, to film.
3. Thus: an act of communication tree may be: Poem—>Canticles—>Cantos—>lines; a
document tree manuscript—>quires—>folios—>leaves—>columns—>writing spaces.  It
is of no importance whether the trees are “in” the act of communication or “in”
our own understanding of that act, or both. We can only know and speak about our
own understanding. A tree structure is a useful representation of our
understanding of the act of communication, and we may call forth many elements
to support our own understanding: statements from the author, the physical
layout of the communication in the document, and so on. We might usefully think
of the structures we understand as present in the act of communication as
hypotheses, which we share with others, and which are useful in manipulation
(“collate all instances of stanza one in all documents”), in referencing, in
anchoring common discussion.
4. We could think then of texts as a collection of leaves, with each leaf
present in both trees. The relationship of the leaves to each other, in terms of
order and hierarchy, are determined by each tree, in complete independence of
each other. Thus: a poem might begin on page 15, be continued on page 250, and
then finish on page 1. The leaves (some or all) may be present in other trees.

If this is “text complete”, then all texts which ever existed or could ever
exist may be representable by this model.

There is more on this in some articles on my Academia site (most published
elsewhere), https://usask.academia.edu/PeterRobinson: "Towards a Theory of
Digital Editions”, "The Concept of the Work in the Digital Age”, "Some
principles for the making of collaborative scholarly editions in digital form”.
Probably the most complete, recent and accessible statement is at
https://wiki.usask.ca/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=1324745355 (first given at
ADHO 2018).

I’ll watch the football now.


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