Building and Speculating on Objects in Digital Space: Question 1
In an inversion of Caleigh and Alyssa A.’s study of online text as a space of “social experience and encounter,” my work on the Siege of Jerusalem examines this same struggle to construct social space in a poem written over six hundred years ago. Online or inscribed in a medieval manuscript, recreating lived experience either textually or graphically poses a set of theoretical problems for both author and reader.
The Siege of Jerusalem manifests a flexible, expansive understanding of time and space common to medieval Christian thought, which recognized spatiotemporality as a construct with limitations. Humanity cannot step outside the confines of time and space, but God, the creator of both, can. The poem’s narrative accordingly makes no temporal distinction between Christ’s crucifixion in 33 CE and the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in approximately 70 CE: to God, all events are contemporaneous. Likewise, the Roman soldiers in the poem move between Jerusalem and Rome as if the two cities are within a day’s sail away. For its twenty-first-century readers, the poem creates an “arena of social experience” based on a theological understanding of time and space that differs drastically from our current understanding of literary narrative; art, according to Bourriaud, “keeps together moments of subjectivity associated with singular experiences” (20), experiences that in this case predate online mapping tools and digital clocks.
The digital project I outline in my essay attempts to bridge the interpretive gap between the medieval thought that informs the Siege of Jerusalem and the post-Enlightenment understanding of time and space shared by modern readers of the poem, particularly those less familiar with the conventions of medieval poetry. Using the Timeline Widget developed by the SIMILE Project at MIT, I will create a digital space that effectively “translates” medieval thought into graphical terms contemporary readers can easily understand. Like Bourriaud’s relational art that embraces “human interactions and its social context” (14), this digital space will be defined by its relational interaction with the poem and its readers, although as Caleigh noted in the roundtable presentation, online interaction is limited to specific, truncated forms of communication.
Yet the internet is not a neutral platform. As Drucker aptly summarizes in “Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display,” all forms of documentation contain their own forms of temporality (and, I suggest, spatiality):
Humanists deal with the representation of temporality of documents (when they were created), in documents (narrated, represented, depicted temporality), the construction of temporality across documents (the temporality of historical events), and also the shape of temporality that emerges from documentary evidence (the shape of an era, a season, a period or epoch). (n. pag)Displaying manuscript evidence on Scalar or through the Timeline Widget adds yet another layer of temporality and spatiality to the text. The Psalter Map displayed on the main page of my contribution to this roundtable is, for example, just under ten centimeters in length in its manuscript context and about the same size on my laptop monitor, a ratio that may surprise computer users who are used to mentally “scaling up” all images they view online. My digital project will construct a space that mediates between two other arenas of social experience (that of the poem and that of the poem’s readers), but will still present its own cultural predilections that its viewers must negotiate.
Author: Alyssa McLeod
Word Count: 555
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