Building and Speculating on Objects in Digital Space: Question 3
In the presentation, Alyssa A. commented that Drucker’s critique of graphical display made her wonder whether her 507 project was “DH enough.” The work we have done in English 507 has convinced me that the digital humanities is a set of tools to be used in conjunction with other forms of critical analysis, an observation Caleigh made as well with her point that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between digital humanities projects and “old-school” literary criticism. In “Algorithmic Criticism,” Ramsay cites the example of John Burrows and Hugo Craig’s computational comparison of Romantic and Renaissance tragedy, a comparison which Burrows and Craig conclude falls short of literary critic George Steiner’s (subjective) observation that “the loss of a ‘redemptive world-view’ had rendered Romantic tragedy an impossibility” (in Ramsay, n. pag). According to this view of digital literary studies, computational analysis, text encoding, and graphical display provide an alternative means of proving what most literary scholars argue by means of rhetorical persuasion.
Yet what of Ramsay’s statement in “On Building” that the “process of creation yields insights that are difficult to acquire otherwise” (n. pag)? In my 507 work over the course of the semester, I certainly felt that the process of building things, from our Google Maps to the online exhibit, helped clarify my thinking about the textual representation of space and other critical problems that have come up in my own research, even if the resulting product could not be used for argumentation (see the Google Earth tour I made for my final project). In fact, while writing a paper about Somerset Maugham’s portrayal of the city of London in Liza of Lambeth for another course, I quickly created a Google Map of the narrative action of the novel to aid my own analysis. But should humanities scholars integrate these digital tools into their critical argumentation, or should the tools remain part of a scholar’s behind-the-scenes workflow? Are the digital humanities for analysis or for communicating the results of analysis?
The answer is, as far as I can tell, both. Ramsay refers to building as a kind of “hermeneutic,” a word that, as a student of medieval literature, I cannot help but interpret in terms of biblical exegesis, the medieval practice of interpreting four levels of meaning in scripture: the literal, the allegorical (which relates to church dogma), the moral, and the eschatological (which relates to the end of the world). (You can read an excellent summary of medieval exegetical practice in the introduction of this Google Book preview.) Medieval theologians read these fourfold meanings as existing simultaneously in the text, all of them equally true without contradicting or undermining each other. Ramsay’s praise of building does not necessarily contradict someone like Jamie “Skye” Bianco’s call for theory in the digital humanities in the recent Debates in the Digital Humanities volume, for instance. Digital literary studies and “traditional” scholarship can, and must, exist reciprocally.
Author: Alyssa McLeod
Word Count: 489
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