Representation, Deformation, Reinterpretation: Digital Tools and Scholarly Methodologies
Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth define the digital humanities as a pattern of "critical inquiry" that "involves the application of algorithmically facilitated search, retrieval, and critical processes that, originating in humanities-based work, have been demonstrated to have application far beyond. Associated with critical theory, this area is typified by interpretative studies that assist in our intellectual and aesthetic understanding of humanistic works. It also involves the application (and applicability) of critical and interpretative tools and analytic algorithms . . . on those artifacts" (Introduction, Companion to Digital Humanities).
Our panel would like to particularize, refine, and discuss this definition with particular reference to our individual projects. In doing so, we are putting forth one possible pathway along which a line of digital humanistic inquiry might follow; namely, that of representation, deformation, and reinterpretation. Put another way, through highlighting and explicating certain components of each of our projects, we will outline a particular type of critical methodology facilitated by digital technologies. Each of our brief overviews will highlight the intersections our projects share with this process: a Geographical Information Systems project will re-present a twentieth-century novel while emphasizing patterns of movement, a visualization of early modern dialogue patterns will be selectively deformed to illustrate how digital tools and techniques facilitate such practices, and a graphical expression of nineteenth-century maternity guidelines (styled after contemporary information visualizations) will serve as a catalyst for speculation on how these techniques may lead to reinterpretive possibilities.
Michael Stevens discusses the re-presentation of narratological movement in James Joyce's Ulysses using Google Maps. This project can easily be construed as participating in the "spatial turn" in literary studies, as Jo Guldi, Barney Ward, Santa Arias, Barbara Hui, and others have theorized. This turn, however, explicitly entails the "making spatial," the "spacialization" of Ulysses. We would suggest this is, in effect, a re-presentation of the text taking a certain form and for certain purposes. This modelled text works to isolate the toponyms embedded in Ulysses to decode the spatial and geopolitical networks of the Dublin represented in the novel. These toponyms are set in relationship as they are being pinned to a contemporary Google Earth map of Dublin. In the re-presentation of the novel, we hope to elucidate how (1) Joyce used Dublin as a canvass for the novel; (2) what spaces are represented and which are omitted—and what political implications these inclusions and omissions might entail; and (3) this representation has a distinct pedagogical initiative—hoping to guide students through the bewildering charybdis of toponyms and the local knowledge required to approach the text.
Daniel Powell postulates how a line of inquiry dependent on deformative practice might proceed using the visualization software Gephi. The goal of the project is to map, in a digital visualization, patterns of dialogue in the 16th century play Ralph Roister Doister. Working only with a visualization of directed dialogue from Act III (in other words, where an exchange is construed as one character addressing another, regardless of narrative order or response), several strategies of deformation will be modelled. In one sense, and in common with Michael's map of Ulysses, this re-presentation is already a deformative reconstruction of the originary text; its nature as a digital artifact, however, allows for a quick and efficient process of deformative manipulation. Through removing certain characters, reconfiguring visualizations from one moment to the next, and reprocessing identical data in multiple forms, we hope to illustrate how a deformative critical practice might play out in pragmatic terms.
Alison Hedley details how representing and selectively deforming Victorian women's maternity guides in visual form can lead to reinterpretations of the late nineteenth-century maternal subject. In a move to precipitate interpretive possibilities and move away from an expected format, Alison has used Victorian information visualizations as a starting point for mapping textual prescriptions about maternal behaviour. She uses Johanna Drucker’s concept of speculative computation in striving to reconcile subjective, unquantifiable data with statistics-based computational forms—a challenge that we have all encountered in bringing a humanist outlook to digital tools. Alison outlines some of the lines of reinterpretation that the visualization process suggests for socio-political constructions of late Victorian maternal subjects.
Though we are all producing different visualizations, all of our work is inflected by the various critics, digital techniques, and methods we’ve discussed and modelled over the course of the term. The scholarly method we’re outlining—representation, deformance, and reinterpretation—and the techniques to achieve this method draw from the particular critics and tools we've practiced and interrogated these past few months.
Accompanying Presentation (using Prezi)
Authors: Daniel Powell, Michael Stevens, Alison Hedley
Word Count: 755
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