Digital editing and autobiographics

*WARNING: the following is skeletal. It does not include citations, exceptions, or examples. In short, it is skeletal.
I think there is a way in which the digital editing of modernist texts can inform textual studies (understood as criticism and practice) as textual studies can inform how we edit modernist texts in the digital age.
* Definition of terms:
Text: Understood as an event that may include verbal, visual, oral, and numeric data from the production of whatever media through its process of transmission as it is instantiated in is moment of reception.
Modernism: Understood to be the paradigm that entails an opaque, non-referential, un-contextualized essentialism in contrast to Romanticism which posits idealist individualism, openness to the impulses of experience, and the sourcing of inspiration in the emotions and the unconscious and post-modernism, which rejects essentialism in favour of a co-option of reference and floating signification.
In literary studies, the most influential aspects of textual critical inquiry have been its response to the affect technological advancements have had on how we make meaning–in terms of both the analog technologies of the19th century (typewriter and typography, gramophone, film) and the digital media of the 20th century. Textuists occupy a unique position in identifying the self-reflective nature of medium. Whether the technologies represent an extension of man or remediation (as MacLuhan argues and Gruiser and Boltin attest) or secondary orality (as Ong calls it) or the hyperreal (as Baudrillard argues) or the Posthuman (as Hayles argues) or the Cyborg/Cybertext (as Haraway and Aarseth call it) or the post-hermeneutic (as Kittler does it), textual critics have reconsidered “the making of meaning” as it is represented by practices of newer and older media through textual production, transmission and reception.
As newer technological practices for making, transmitting, and receiving texts were emerging and popularized during the close of the nineteenth and the rise of the twentieth century, many critics have argued, Modernist writers were in a position to their medium which enabled them to re-evaluate the more traditaional media of language and images. In turn, the new technologies of the digital environment provide a platform from which current critics have reflected on the practices surrounding those turn-of-the-century analog technologies and the role these technologies had in the making of meaning. As when “print” came into the hands of the typographer, the typesetter, and the typewriting writer and she or he had the perspective to reflect on the technology of language so do digital technologies provide a means for critical textuists to reconsider modernist practices of textual production, transmission and reception.
Yet, textuists are at once pushed and hampered by a reconsideration of digital media for two main reasons:
1. It encourages notions of “editorial intention” and the “ideal archive”–
Through a relentless reconsideration of the print media and editing practices, textuists have helped to explode romantic and modernist notions of the ideal text and authorial intention. Postmodernist and poststructural theories like those represented by McGann (and MANY others) argue for a dialectic, diachronic textuality which is in keeping with current critical practice in the general domain of literary studies and denies the traditional authorities posited by romantic-modernist notions of “author” and “text.” Yet, creating an instantiation of textuality or textualterity or the textual event that reflects this postmodern, poststructuralist type is essentially an unrealizable goal. This (what I will call) post-romanticism is highlighted well by attempts to realize such lofty goals of textual production, transmission, and reception in the digital environment. By examining how textuality is realized in the digital environment, one can see that “authorial intention” has been replaced by “editorial intention” and the “ideal text” has become the “ideal archive.”
2. Deflecting issues of race, class, gender, and ethnicity
While textual criticism has deepened its critical inquiry into the sociology of texts by focusing on the materiality of analog mediums and has attempted to explode romantic and modernist notions of textuality, the field still has less to say about the role that constructions of gender, ethnicity, and class play in digital representations of text. Although I am not saying that materiality doesn’t provide inroads into this discussion, the discussion could be furthered by considering the field’s post-romantic notions about “editorial intention” and the “ideal archive.”
Which aspects of digital textuality will provide a greater expansion of self-reflection in textual criticism about this post-romanticism?
Creating digital objects (databases, electronic texts [mark-up], html pages [forms], etc.) and digital tools (for collaboration, annotation, searching, browsing, interpretation, datamining, visualization).
How does this map back onto Modernism?
Eliot (with his objective correlative) and Stein (with her composition as explanation), James (with his house of fiction)—among others–deny their autobiography, their personality, their subjective identity and its place in the production, transmission, and reception of their art. Yet, both James, Eliot, and Stein spend a majority of their time writing about their writing, writing about their personal perspectives on writing and the creation of art. The “creative” objects they make they attempted to represent as de-personalized, as “the thing itself,” but that’s ludicrous because these creations are always in conversation with their personalized, autobiographic texts (Stein’s autobiographies, Jame’s prefaces to the New York edition, Eliot’s critical essays). It is this conversation that de-essentializes their creative works and makes them more self-reflective and therefore better “meaning making machines” and therefore more interesting “literary” objects in the postmodern age.
Likewise, I think, in order for textuists to deepen their critical inquiry, to examine the self-reflective nature of digital textuality, to build self-reflective and interesting digital textual events, it is time to reconsider these post-romantic notions of “editorial intention” and “ideal environment” through a conversation with editorial autobiographics (how has an editorial product been produced, by whom, with what collaboration, with what funding, with what ontologies, mark-up, technical expertise or lack thereof, etc.). As elements of autobiographics comes in to the conversation of new media so necessarily enters issues of gender, class, race, ethnicity, and sexuality.
Textuists have long argued that reconsidering textuality in the digital environment encourages a reconsideration of a whole host of anglo-American and modernist truisms about identity, subjectivity, materiality, genres, communication, reality, semiotics, etc., but what can it tell us about postmodern truisms? About post-romanticisms? How do those of us critically (re)construct meaning-making textualities in the age of deconstruction?

This entry was posted in Digital. Bookmark the permalink.