Representation, Deformation, Reinterpretation: Digital Tools and Scholarly Methodologies Conclusion
Importantly, Representation-Deformation-Reinterpretation is only one thread of scholarly inquiry and making among myriad others, one we have selected to elucidate the links between our disparate projects, methods, processes, and models. Each project, as we’ve uncovered here, participates, at least subtly, in these three types of practice. Though we’ve “bursted” these processes, to use a Turkelism, each of these—representation, deformation, and reinterpretation—bleed into one another. Representing an aesthetic object is the first step towards the critical practices of deformation and reinterpretation (though, in a sense it is already an act of deformation), while deformation proper opens up the text to new interpretative vistas.
By juxtaposing the deformed models that we have each presented with their original texts, new interpretive possibilities open. For Michael, isolating the toponyms produces an entirely different Ulysses; mapping all of the itineraries demonstrates which spaces are not included in the novel, prompting major aesthetic and political questions. Moreover, using a current Google Map of Dublin puts into relief the historical transformations of Dublin’s urban space over the past century. “Mapping Ulysses” also uncorks speculative comparisons with other novels that take Dublin as its canvass, especially novels that respond to Joyce like Beckett’s Murphy, Nolan O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha, and, most recently, Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin.
Similarly, re-presenting and deforming the dialogue of Act III of Roister Doister unveiled the weight each character plays in the text. The re-presentation of Roister Doister can easily be seen in the baseline visualization Daniel uses to compare his deformations to; much like a map of toponyms, a map of dialogue refashions the text in ways that are both unexpected and useful. While those deformations are fun, Daniel also discovered that Merygreeke, and not the eponymous Roister Doister, is the center of dialogue exchanges in Act III. By selectively removing characters while keeping the algorithm constant, new lines of narratological force are revealed. These unexpected recombinations lead quickly to both confirmations of existing research questions and to new possibilities for reinterpreting the text.
Re-presenting deformed prescriptions for maternal behaviours and movement has revealed that while each maternity guide positions itself as an objective authority on the sole method of right childbearing, authorial perspectives are highly subjective, depending as they do on discourses of the late Victorian cultural moment, and taking that context for granted. Further, though their guidelines prescribe a perfect normalcy, they lack the quantitative specificity by which an individual young wife “in an interesting condition” could perfectly adhere to all restrictions—and by which a digital scholar could map given data. These conclusions have brought Alison back to a reassessment of representation and deformation, and to an exploration of possible humanist models for visualizing maternity texts.
Our approach—represent, deform, reinterpret—has direct pedagogical investments, as well—especially through each project’s collaborative potential. Alison’s project emphasizes process and invites speculation; one goal is to build an environment in which collaborators could construct and deconstruct infovis (whether historical or contemporary digital visualizations). This collaboration, we venture, will allow for experimentation with methods of interrogating how texts yield cultural formations. Though the difficulties in visualizing capta have precluded direct collaboration for the moment, we suspect that “Reinterpreting Maternal Mobility” will be useful for those engaging in similar research in Victorian studies and infovis—though it requires sophisticated visual literacy. Likewise, the “Mapping Ulysses” project is rife with pedagogical opportunities. On a basic level, decoding the space of Ulysses assists students in navigating the text and grants them the basic tools to begin making arguments about the Irish context of the novel—a neglected aspect of Ulysses until recently. And Daniel, well, his project might just be selfish!
This gestures towards how we have, already, joined the collaborative process with that of building. Through this panel, and through this seminar, we have enacted these intersecting methods. Our panel, with its focus on diverse yet complementary projects, looks to compromise with the competing definitions of digital humanities offered by Mark Sample and Stephen Ramsay. Namely, we aim to build models that foster collaboration, to establish pedagogical and interpretive communities, by representing texts with an eye for how for this inherent deformance might incite new research questions, new modes of interpretation.
Author: Daniel Powell, Michael Stevens, Alison Hedley
Word Count: 707
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