In a trenchant
meta-theoretical essay, Lee Patterson investigated what he called
"The Kane-Donaldson Piers Plowman", that is
to say, the 1975 Athlone Press edition of the B Text. I say
"meta-theoretical" because the edition itself constitutes
the primary theoretical event. Patterson's essay elucidates
the theory of that extraordinary work of scholarship.
to the editors' themselves, their edition is "a theoretical
structure, a complex hypothesis designed to account for a body
of phenomena in the light of knowledge about the circumstances
which generated them" (212). Needless to say, this "body
of phenomena" is problematic to a degree. Patterson studies
the evolution of Kane and Donaldson's "complex hypothesis"
about these phenomena as the hypothesis gets systematically
defined in the edition itself. These are his conclusions:
As a system,
this edition validates each individual reading in terms of every
other reading, which means that if some of these readings are
correct, then--unless the editorial principles have been in
an individual instance misapplied--they must all be correct.
This is not to say that the edition is invulnerable, only that
criticism at the level of counterexample. . .is inconsequential.
. . Indeed, the only way [criticism] could be effective would
be if [it] were part of a sustained effort to provide a contrary
hypothesis by which to explain the phenomena--to provide, in
other words, another edition. (page 69)
startling last judgment -- deliberately outrageous -- is not
simply a rhetorical flourish. He is aware of the intractable
character of the Piers Plowman materials. But he admires,
justifiably, the comprehensiveness and the rigor of the Kane-Donaldson
work. Even more, he admires its visionary boldness. In thinking
about Kane and Donaldson's project, was Patterson also thinking
I must create
my own system or be enslaved by another man's.
I will not
reason and compare. My business is to create.
If he wasn't,
he might have been, perhaps he should have been. For Patteron's
essay is acute to see what is so special about the Kane-Donaldson
edition: not merely that it is based upon a clearly imagined
theory of itself, but that the theory has been given full realization.
"Counterexample" will not dislodge the "truth"
of the Kane-Donaldson edition. Indeed -- Patterson himself does
not say this, though it is implicit in his argument -- even
a different "theory" of the Piers Plowman materials
will necessarily lack critical force against the theoretical
achievement represented in the Kane-Donaldson edition. Only
another theory of the work that instantiates itself as a
comprehensive edition could supplant the authoritative truth
of the Kane-Donaldson text.
requirement should be the case is one part of my subject in
this essay. The other part, which is related, concerns procedures
of theoretical undertaking as such. In this last respect my
focus will be on electronic textuality.
Let me address
the first issue, then: the theoretical status of what William
called "embodied knowledge" (which may be rendered
in the Goethean proverb "In the beginning was the deed").
There is an important sense in which we should see the Kane-Donaldson
project as a gage laid down, a challenge to scholars to imagine
what they know or think they know. The edition begs to be differed
with, but only at the highest level -- only at an equivalent
theoretical level, in another edition. In this respect it differs
from other editions that have seen themselves as theoretical
pursuits. Here I would instance Fredson Bowers' The Dramatic
Works of Thomas Dekker or almost any of the editions of
American authors that were engaged under the aegis of the Greg-Bowers
theory of editing. These works do not go looking for trouble,
as the Kane-Donaldson project did (so successfully). They imagine
themselves quite differently, as is readily apparent from the
scholarly term they aspired to merit: definitive. In this line
of work the scholar proceeding with rigor and comprehensiveness
may imagine a de facto achievement of critical completeness.
Not that other editions might not be executed, for different
reasons and purposes. But the "theoretical structure"
of the so-called critical edition, in this line of thought,
implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) argues that such undertakings
would be carried out within the horizon of the definitive critical
In the past
15 years or so scholars have all but abandoned the theory of
the "definitive edition", although the term still
appears from time to time. The Kane-Donaldson theoretical view,
that a critical edition is an hypothesis "designed to account
for a body of phenomena in the light of" our given historical
knowledge, must be judged to have gained considerable authority
during this period. As Patterson's essay suggests, theirs is
fundamentally a dialectical and dynamic theory of critical editing.
Not of course that a Greg-Bowers approach need fail to appreciate
the indeterminacy of particular editing tasks and problems.
On the contrary. But the general theoretical approach is different.
Bowers, for example, inclines to technical rather than rational
solutions to problematic issues, as his famous insistence on
collating multiple copies of a printed work clearly demonstrates.
This is a procedure that flows from a disciplined theoretical
position. But it differs from the theoretical posture adopted
by Kane and Donaldson, who take a much more skeptical view of
the authority of positive data.
these two theoretical approaches to editing stands that great
tradition of what Randy McLeod would call (I think) "un-editing":
that is, the scholarly reproduction of text in documentary forms
that reproduce more or less adequate replicas of the originary
materials. Until recently this approach has scarcely been seen
as "theoretical" at all. But McLeod and others have
been able to show the great advantages to be gained by theoretically
sophisticated forms of documentary procedures. Many doors of
perception have been cleansed by R. W. Franklin's The Manuscript
Books of Emily Dickinson (1981), by Michael Warren's The
Parallel King Lear (1989), and by the astonishing genetic
texts that have come to us from Europe, like D. E. Sattler's
Friedrich Holderlin. Samtliche Werke (1984).
Let us remind
ourselves about what is at stake in these kinds of work. In
another day -- say, in the late 19th century -- an edition like
Warren's would have emerged from the influence of institutions
such as the Early English Text Society. To that extent it would
be seen as an archival work meant primarily to preserve and
make accessible certain rare documents. But of course Warren's
edition is very different, it is an investigation into the character
and status of documents and their relationships (intra- as well
as extra-textual). Like Sattler's great edition, it instantiates
a self-conscious and theoretical argument. Moreover, Warren's
immediate subject, King Lear, is implicitly offered as
a strong argument for rethinking the textuality of the Shakespeare
corpus as a whole. The play isn't seen precisely as representative
because the case -- which is to say, the documentary material
-- is too idiosyncratic. This unusual documentary survival,
however, is used to encourage and license new acts of attention
toward the whole of the Shakespeare canon, as well as to analogous
theoretical undertakings operate very differently from works
like Warren's and Sattler's. Having emerged from the genre of
the scholarly essay and monograph, speculative theory tends
to move an argument through processes of (as it were) natural
selection. Paul De Man was a careful builder of the absences
he presented, seiving his materials with great discrimination.
In textual and editorial works, by contrast, the whole of each
phyla as they have ever been known -- every individual instance
of all the known lines -- lays claim to preservation and display.
Everyone comes to judgment: strong and weak, hale and halt,
the ideal and the monstrous.
moreover, in propria persona, and to that extent they
come on their own terms. Franklin's edition of Dickinson points
up the theoretical advantage that flows from this method of
proceeding. His fidelity to the original manuscripts was so
resolute that the documents would eventually be called to witness
against him -- or rather, against certain of Franklin's less
significant ideas about Dickinson's texts. Franklin's work exploded
our understanding of Dickinson's use of the physical page as
an expressive vehicle. We now see very clearly that she often
designed her textual works in the manner of a visual or graphic
artist. These unmistakable cases have come to function something
like the case of King Lear -- strange survivals helping
to elucidate surfaces that might otherwise seem commonplace
and unremarkable. Franklin himself has resisted and even deplored
many of the critical moves that his own work made possible.
His edition did not set out to demonstrate some of its most
important ideas: that Dickinson used her manuscript venue as
a device for rethinking the status of the poetic line in relation
to conventions of print display, for example; or that the execution
of the (private) fascicles and the (public) letters together
comprise a "theory" of verse freedom every bit as
innovative as Whitman's; or that fragmentary scripts might possess
an integrity that develops through a dynamic engagement between
a text and its vehicular (material) form. These ways of thinking
about texts are real if unintended consequences of Franklin's
work. The edition itself, however, was clearly undertaken through
a different set of ideas. Most apparent, it was a kind of preliminary
move toward producing a new print edition of the poems, this
time organized by fascicle rather than by hypothetical chronology
or topical areas (the two previously dominant ordering systems).
Franklin is now completing that print edition. And while it
may have considerable success -- Dickinson is one of our central
American myths -- it is unlikely to match the theoretical achievement
of The Manuscript Books. That achievement is being pursued
elsewhere, in the textual works being organized through the
so-called Dickinson Archive, a scholarly venue sponsoring
a variety of approaches to editing Dickinson materials.
of this kind have a strong documentary orientation. They are
also electronic. Why? Because digital technology has created
a field of significant new possibilities for facsimile and documentary
editing projects. In this respect, remarkable genetic editions
like Sattler's, although they come to us in codex form, prophecy
an electronic existence. They are our age's incunabula, books
in winding sheets rather than swaddling clothes. At once very
beautiful and very ugly, fascinating and tedious, these books
drive the resources of the codex form to its limits and beyond.
Think of the Cornell Wordsworth, a splendid example of a postmodern
incunable. Grotesque systems of diexis and abbreviation are
developed in order to facilitate negotiation through labyrinthine
textual scenes. To say that such editions are difficult to use
is to speak in vast understatement. But their intellectual intensity
is so apparent and so great that they bring new levels of attention
to their scholarly objects. Deliberate randomness attends every
feature of these works, which are as well read as postmodern
imaginative constructions as scholarly tools. This result comes
about because their enginery of scholarship is often as obdurate
and non-transparent as the material being analyzed.
I have been talking about suggest how editions may constitute
a theoretical presentation. Their totalized factive committments
gives them a privilege unavailable to the speculative or interpretive
essay or monograph. Because the three documentary editions just
discussed -- Franklin's, Warren's, and Sattler's -- call special
attention to the theoretical status of textual materials, including
their own mediating qualities and procedures, these works represent
a vanguard for new levels of critical reflexiveness.
significance, however, only appeared after they were drawn into
the orbit of another more encompassing textual innovation: electronic
hypertextuality. It gradually became clear that had each of
these editions been conceived and executed in digital forms,
their documentary and critical imperatives would have discovered
a more adequate vehicle.
point I began to imagine something that scholars have not, I
think, known before. Lee Patterson might have called it a "true"
theory of documentary editing, Randall McCloud an (un)serious
effort at Unediting. Or call it a hypermedia archive
with a relational and object-oriented database. Its truth as
theory is two-fold: as a fully searchable set of hyperrelated
archival materials; as a reflexive system capable of self-study
at various scales of attention. In 1993, The Rossetti Archive
was begun as an effort to realize this double theoretical goal.
In describing it then I said that its aim was to integrate for
the first time the procedures of documentary and critical editing.
initial purpose was governed by received understandings of these
two approaches. Formed through a long history of scholarship
grounded and organized in codex forms, these understandings
would have their imaginative limits searched and exposed in
the practical work of designing and executing The Rossetti
Archive. This result was inevitable. Although The Rossetti
Archive was not conceived as a tool for studying the theoretical
structure of paper-based textual forms, it has proven very useful
in that respect. Translating paper-based texts into electronic
forms entirely alters one's view of the original materials.
So in the first two years of the Archive's development I was
forced to study a fundamental limit of the scholarly edition
in codex form that I had not been aware of. Using books to study
books constrains the analysis to the same conceptual level as
the materials to be studied. Electronic tools raise the level
of critical abstraction in the same way that a mathematical
approach to the study of natural phenomena shifts the theoretical
view to a higher (or at any rate to a different) level.
idea, which still seems an important one, led me to write "The
Rationale of HyperText" about four years ago. The further
development of The Rossetti Archive since that time has
brought new alterations to the work's original conception and
purposes. Or perhaps they are not so much alterations as supplements.
For the project "to integrate the procedures of documentary
and critical editing" keeps turning to worlds unrealized.
The Rossetti Archive seemed to me, and still seems to
me, a tool for imagining what we don't know. The event of its
construction, for example, gradually exposed the consequences
of a crucial fact I did not at first adequately understand:
that the tool had included itself in its own first imagining.
We began our work of building the Archive under an illusion
or misconception -- in any case, a transparent contradiction:
that we could know what was involved in trying to imagine what
we didn't know. Four years of work brought a series of chastening
interdictions, stops, revisions, compromises.
In the end,
despite these events, I see more clearly how one can indeed
imagine what you don't know. You can build The Rossetti Archive,
which is just such an imagining, and it can be fashioned to
reveal its various (and reciprocal) processes of knowing and
unknowing. These can be either intramural or extramural. The
Rossetti Archive's self-exposures, for example, emerge from
two of the project's basic understandings (they are reciprocals):
first, the Archive can build the history of its own construction
into itself (the ongoing histories of its productions and its
receptions); second, it can expose those historicalities to
each other at various scales and levels.
might be of many kinds. To give you a good general sense of
what we have done let me focus on one aspect of the Archive's
work: the decision to make digital images the center of the
project's computational and hypertextual goals. This decision
followed our aspiration to marry critical and facsimile editing,
and our belief that electronic textuality had arrived at a point
where the desire could be realized. So in 1992 we began trying
to bring about the convergence of these ancient twain.
recapitulate a bit of the recent history of humanities computing
initiatives. Current work in electronic text and data management
fall into two broad categories that correspond to a pair of
imaginative protocols. On one hand we have hypertext and hypermedia
projects -- information databases organized for browsing via
a network of complex linkages. These characteristically deploy
a mix of textual and image materials that can be accessed and
traversed by means of a presentational markup language like
HTML. On the other hand are databases of textual materials organized
not so much for browsing and linking/navigational moves as for
in-depth and structured search and analysis of the data. These
projects, by contrast, require more rigorous markup in full
SGML. If they deploy digital images, the images are not incorporated
into the analytic structure. They will be simple illustrations,
to be accessed -- perhaps even browsed in a hypertext -- for
of project is presentational, designed for the mind's eye (or
the eyes' mind); the other is analytic, a logical structure
that can free the conceptual imagination of its inevitable codex-based
limits. The former tend to be image-oriented, the latter incline
to be text-based.
almost all of the most impressive electronic text projects have
been text-based: Robinson's Chaucer project, McCarty's Ovid,
Duggan's Piers Plowman, the University of Bergen's Wittgenstein
project. Set beside these kinds of works, even the most complex
hypertext -- the Perseus project, for instance, or the literary
"webs" developed by George Landow at Brown University
-- will seem relatively primitive scholarly instruments. (The
great exception to this generalization would be those non-proprietary
and wholly decentered projects that grow and proliferate randomly,
like the network of gopher servers or -- the spectacular instance
-- the World-Wide Web's [WWW] network of hypermedia servers.)
So far as
localized hypermedia projects are concerned, works like those
developed in Storyspace have a distinct attraction, as the amazing
success of WWW demonstrates. Crucially, they operate at the
macro-level of our human interface. Elaborated front-end arrangements
reinforce an important message: that however strange or vast
the materials may sometimes appear to be, the user can maintain
reasonable control of what happens and what moves are made.
The buzzwords that iconify such a message are "user-friendly"
and, most widespread of all, "interactive".
reason do hypertext theorists regularly imagine their world
in terms of spatial and mapping metaphors. Not without reason
did the greatest current hypertext project (WWW) decide to code
its data in HTML (it could have supported a more rigorous DTD
for its materials), or make the accessing of images (rather
than the analysis of their information) a key feature of its
work. WWW's success derives from its humane -- indeed, its humanistic
-- interface. Of course WWW, like all hypermedia engines, is
grotesquely pinned down by the limits of the color-monitor.
Still, though limited by the monitor (whether in two or three
dimensions), hypertexts like WWW can simulate fairly well the
eye-organized environment we are so used to.
SGML-type projects need take little notice of the eye's authority.
They are splendid conceptual machines, as we see when we reflect
on the relative unimportance of sophisticated monitor equipment
to text-based SGML projects. The appearance of text and data
is less crucial than their logical organization and functional
imagination is riven by this elementary split, as everyone knows.
It replicates the gulf separating a Unix from a Mac world. It
also represents the division upon which The Rossetti Archive
was consciously built. That is to say, from the outset I held
the project responsible to the demands of hypermedia networks,
on one hand, and to text-oriented logical structures on the
other. This double allegiance is fraught with difficulties and
even with contradictions, as would be regularly shown during
the first period of the Archive's development (1992-1995). Nevertheless,
I determined to preserve both commitments because each addressed
a textual ideal that seemed basic and impossible to forego.
We knew that we did not have the practical means for reconciling
the two demands -- perhaps they can never be reconciled -- but
even products like Dynatext, imperfect as they were (and are),
held out a promise of greater adequacy that spurred us forward.
Besides, the tension fostered and exacerbated by this double
allegiance might prove a kind of felix culpa for the
project, a helpful necessity to mother greater invention. This
was my initial belief, and events have only strengthened that
So our idea
was to build the Archive along a kind of double helix. On one
hand we would develop a markup of the text data in SGML for
a structured search and analysis of the Archive's materials.
On the other we would design a hypertext environment for the
presentation of the primary documents -- Rossetti's books, manuscripts,
proofs, paintings, drawings, and other designs -- in their facsimile
(i.e., digital) forms. A key problem from the outset, then,
was how to integrate these different organizational forms. We
arrived at two schemes for achieving what we wanted. One involved
a piece of original software we would develop, now called Inote.
Although I won't be discussing that part of the project today
in great detail, I shall come back to it briefly later in connection
with another matter. The other plan was to develop an SGML markup
design that would extend well beyond the conceptual framework
of TEI, the widely-accepted text markup scheme that had spun
off from SGML. TEI has become the standard protocol for organizing
the markup of electronic textual projects in humanities.
not the place to enter a critique of the limitations of a TEI
approach to text-encoding. Suffice it to say that the linguistic
orientation of TEI did not suit our documentary demands. Bibliographical
codes and the graphic design of texts are not easily addressed
by TEI markup. But those features of texts are among our primary
concerns; after all, we had chosen Rossetti as our model exactly
because his work forced us to design an approach to text markup
that took into account the visibilities of his expressive media.
What we wanted was a text-markup scheme that could deal with
the whole of the textual field, not simply its linguistic elements.
So in 1992 we began the effort to design an SGML-based documentary
markup for structured search and analysis of all the work of
Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
design sessions immediately exposed an unanticipated problem:
the presence of textual concurrencies. SGML markup of text organizes
its fields as a series of discrete textual units. Each unit
can comprise imbedded subseries of the same logical form, and
further subseries can be developed indefinitely. But SGML processors
have no aptitude for is markup of textual features that are
concurrent but logically distinct. A classic instance would
be trying to permit a simultaneous markup of a book of poems
by page unit and by poem. In SGML you are led to choose one
or the other as the logical basis of the markup design.
point we had two options: to abandon SGML and look for a markup
language that could process concurrent structures; or to try
to modify SGML to accommodate the needs of The Rossetti Archive.
In choosing the latter option, as we did, we were consciously
committing ourselves to an inevitable set of unforeseeable problems.
For the truth is that all textualizations --but pre-eminently
imaginative textualities -- are organized through concurrent
structures. Texts have bibliographical and linguistic structures,
and those are riven by other concurrencies: rhetorical structures,
grammatical, metrical, sonic, referential. The more complex
the structure the more concurrencies are set in play.
our choice for SGML largely because we could find no system
for dealing with concurrencies that possesses the analytic depth
or rigor of SGML, and because the project was not to design
a new markup language for imaginative discourse. True, building
a general model for computerized scholarly editing depends on
an adequate logical conception of the primary materials, and
it does not bode well to begin with a logic one knows to be
inadequate. On the other hand, what were the choices? If natural
languages defeat the prospect of complete logical description,
an artistic deployment of language is even more intractable.
In such cases adequacy is out of the question. Besides, SGML
is a standard system. We are aware of its limitations because
the system is broadly used and discussed. As Hamlet suggested,
we seemed better off bearing the ills we had than flying to
others we knew nothing of. And there was one other important
consideration: the basic concurrency of physical unit v. conceptual
unit might be addressed and perhaps even accommodated through
other parts of the design structure of the Archive -- through
the markup of images, through software for analyzing image information,
and through the hypermedia design.
So in 1992
we began building The Rossetti Archive with what we knew
were less than perfect tools and under clearly volatile conditions.
Our plan was to use the construction process as a mechanism
for imagining what we didn't know about the project. In one
respect we were engaged in a classic form of model-building
whereby a theoretical structure is designed, built, and tested,
then scaled up in size and tested at each succeeding juncture.
The testing exposes the design flaws that lead to modifications
of the original design. That process of development can be illustrated
by looking at one of our SGML markup protocols -- the DTD for
marking up every Rossetti Archive Document (or RAD). This DTD
is used for all textual (as opposed to pictorial) documents
of Rossetti's work, as well as for important related primary
materials (like the Pre-Raphaelite periodical The Germ).
It defines the terms within which structured searches and analyses
of the documents will be carried out. (See Appendix I for a
copy of the RAD DTD.) My interest today is not in the SGML design
as such but in the record of modifications to the design. That
record appears as the list of dated entries at the top of the
some of these entries let me point out two matters of importance.
First, note that the date of the first entry is "6 Oct
94". That date is just about one year after we completed
the first design iterations for the Rossetti Archive DTDs. A
great many modifications to the initial design were made during
that year, but we did not at first think to keep a systematic
record of the changes. So there is a pre-history of changes
held now only in volatile memory: i.e., the personal recollections
of the individuals involved, and in paper files that contain
incomplete records of what happened in that period.
the record does not indicate certain decisive moments when the
Archive was discovering features of itself it was unaware of.
In these cases no actual changes were made to the DTDs. For
example, we regularly discovered that different persons implementing
the markup schemes were liable to interpret the intent of the
system in different ways. We tried to obviate this by supplying
clear definitions for all the terms in use, as well as a handbook
and guide for markup procedures. But it turned out -- surprise,
surprise -- that these tools were themselves sometimes ambiguous.
The Archive is regularly reshaped, usually in minor ways, when
we discover such indeterminacies.
External factors have also had a significant impact on the the
form and content of the Archive, and we found ourselves driven
into unimagined directions. One of the most interesting shifts
came about because of our problems with permissions and copyrights.
The cost of these exploded as the Archive was being developed,
and in certain cases we were simply refused access to materials.
This problem grew so acute -- the date is 1994 -- that I decided
on a completely new approach to the issue of facsimile reproduction
of pictures and paintings. Rather than construct the first installment
of the Archive around digital facsimiles made from fresh full-colour
images (slides, transparencies, photographs), I determined to
exploit a vast contemporary resource: the photographs made of
Rossetti's works during and shortly after his lifetime, many
done by friends and other early pioneers in photography. Rossetti
is one of the first modern artists to take a serious interest
in photography -- the photographs he made of Jane Morris and
Fanny Cornforth with J. R. Parsons are themselves masterpieces
of the art.
to early photographic resources -- the materials date from the
mid-1860s to about 1920 -- has two great advantages, one both
scholarly and practical, the other scholarly. The move allows
us to temporize on the extremely vexed issue of copyright. We
use whatever fresh full-colour digital images we can afford
and work toward developing standards for the scholary use of
all such materials. These procedural advantages bring a number
of significant scholarly gains as well. On one hand we now comprehensively
represent Rossetti's visual work in the medium that was probably
its major early disseminating vehicle. On another, we create
a digital archive of great general significance for studying
both the history of photography and the history of painting.
extra-mural or intra-mural, however, these changes to the Rossetti
Archive are, first, the realized imaginings of what we didn't
know; and second, clear instances of a theoretical power beyond
the range of strictly speculative activities. Let's look again
for a moment at some intramural examples coded in the historical
log of the RAD DTD. The recorded alterations in that DTD design
were made as we scaled up the project from its initial development
model (which involved only a small subset of Rossetti documents).
This is a record of a process of imagining what we didn't know.
The imagining comes through a series of performative moves that
create a double imaginative result: the discovery of a design
inadequacy, and a clarification of what we had wanted but were
at first unable to conceive.
the modifications are relatively trivial -- for example, this
div1 ornLb added to titlePage 11-20-96 A.S. -->
permits the markup of an ornamental line break on title pages.
Small as it is, the change reflects one of the most important
general demands laid down by our initial conceptions: to treat
all the physical aspects of the documents as expressive features.
A more obviously
significant change is the following:
revised: 9 Mar 95 to add r attr to l, lg and lv (seg) -->
This calls for the introduction of the attribute "r"
(standing for "reference line") to all line, line
group, and variant line values in the Archive. The small change
defines the moment when we were able to work out a line referencing
system for the Archive that permits automatic identification
of equivalent units of text in different documents. We of course
knew we wanted such a system from the outset, but we were unable
to feel confident about how the system should be organized until
we had three years of experience with many different types of
out this scheme for collating Rossetti's texts revealed an interesting
general fact about electronic collating tools: that we do not
yet have any good program for collating units of prose texts.
The poetic line is a useful reference unit. In prose, the textual
situation is far more fluid and does not lend itself to convenient
division into discrete units. The problem is especially apparent
when you try to mark up working manuscripts for collation with
printed texts. The person who discovers a reasonably simple
solution to this problem will have made a signal contribution
not just to electronic scholarship, but to the theoretical understanding
of prose textuality in general
us return to the history of RAD revisions. Look at the notation
for 14 June 1995:
revised: 14 Jun 95 to add group option to rad for serials -->
change in our conception of the Archive's documentary structure
is concealed in this small entry. The line calls for the use
of the "group" tag in the markup structure for the
serials to be included in the Archive (like The Germ).
Behind that call, however, lies a difficult process that extended
over several years. The problem involved documents with multiple
kinds of materials (like periodicals). The most problematic
of these were not the periodicals, however, but a series of
primary Rossettian documents -- most importantly, composite
manuscripts and composite sets of proofs. In these materials
the problems of concurrency became so extreme that we began
to consider the possibility of abandoning SGML altogether --
which would have meant beginning the whole project from scratch.
As it turned
out, we found a way to manipulate the SGML structure so as to
permit a reasonably full presentation of the structure of these
complex documents. That practical result, however, was not nearly
so interesting as the insights we gained into general problems
of concurrency and into the limitations of SGML software.
the following situation. Rossetti typically wrote his verse
and prose in notebooks of a distinctive kind. Two of these survive
intact to this day, but the fragments of many others are scattered
everywhere. Many are loose sheets or groups of sheets, many
others come down to us as part of second-order confederations
of material that Rossetti put together, or that were put together
by others (during his lifetime or after his death) as other
second or even third-order arrangements. Problem: devise a markup
scheme that will reconstruct on-the-fly the initial, but later
deconstructed, orderings. Or -- since in many cases we can't
identify for certain which pages go with which notebook phylum
-- devise a markup scheme that constructs on-the-fly the various
possibilities. Or: devise a system that lays out an analytic
history of the re-orderings, including a description of the
possible or likely lines by which the distributed documents
arrived at their current archival states.
that could perform any or all of these operations would have
wide applicability for textual scholars of all kinds and periods.
I am sure it could be developed, perhaps even within SGML. It
is an instrument that was imagined into thought by building
the Rossetti Archive. We saw it as we were trying to devise
markup systems that would accommodate the composite proofs and
manuscripts that are so characteristic of Rossetti's extant
textual materials. It is an instrument that we would like to
develop ourselves -- except we're far too busy with so many
other basic problems and demands.
illustrate what I would call the pragmatics of theory, and the
sharp difference between theory, on one hand, and hypothesis
or speculation on the other. In humanities discourse this distinction
is rarely maintained, and the term "theory" is characteristically
applied to speculative projects -- conceptual undertakings (gnosis)
rather than specific constructions (poeisis). Scientists work
within the former distinction, and in this sense The Rossetti
Archive seems a "scientific" project. Patterson's
discussion of the Kane-Donaldson edition of Piers Plowman
implicitly affirms the same kind of distinction, where "theory"
operates through concrete acts of imagining.
The virtue of this last kind of theorizing is that it makes
possible the imagination of what you don't know. Theory in the
other sense -- for instance, Heideggerian dialectic -- is a
procedure for revealing what you do know, but are unaware
of. Both are intellectual imperatives, but in humanities disciplines
the appreciation for theory-as-poeisis has grown attenuated.
The need to accommodate electronic textualities to humanities
disciplines, which are fundamentally document- and text-based,
is bringing a radical change in perspective on these matters.
of these circumstances has registered on nearly every aspect
of The Rossetti Archive, as I've already indicated. To
this point, however, I've used examples that illustrate the
praxis of theory as it is an example of a methodological process
we are very familiar with, though perhaps not so much in a humanities
context: the process of imagining what you know, testing it,
scaling it up, modifying it, and then re-imagining it; and then
the process of repeating that process in an indefinite series
point I want to give one more example of that process. It is
the history of the development of a piece of software I mentioned
earlier, Inote (formerly called the Image Tool). More than an
exemplum of theory-as-poeisis, the story indicates, I believe,
the "strange days" that lie ahead for humanities scholars
as we register the authority of these new electronic textualities.
originally an idea for computing via images rather than with
text or the data represented in text. Because information in
bit-mapped images cannot be coded for analysis, our technical
people were asked if it would be possible to lay an electronic
transparency (as it were) over the digital image and then use
that overlay as the vehicle for carrying computable marked-up
data and hypertext links. The idea was to treat the overlay
as a kind of see-through page on which one would write text
that elucidated or annotated the imaged material "seen
through" the overlay. (The idea originates in scholarly
editions that utilize onionskin or other transparent pages to
create an editorial palimpsest for complex textual situations.)
As with virtually all work undertaken at IATH, this tool's design
was influenced by many people who came to have an interest in
it. Consequently, because I was initially most preoccupied with
designing The Rossetti Archive's markup structure, my
interest in the development of Inote hung fire. My own early
thought had been that such a tool might enable The Rossetti
Archive to incorporate images into its analytic text structure
and thus establish a basis for direct searches across the whole
of the Archive at the image level. As I worked more and more
closely with SGML markup, however, I began to suspect that the
same result might be achieved through the design of a DTD for
images. That idea, plus the technical difficulties in building
Inote, drew my attention away from the tool's development.
began to evolve in ways I (at any rate) had not anticipated.
As others looked for features that would answer their interests,
it emerged as a device for editing images with multiple-style
overlays that if clicked would generate a text file carrying
various annotations to the image. These annotations would be
saved as part of the total Archive structure and hence could
be imbedded with hypertext links to other images or archival
point -- the date is early 1995 -- my practical interest in
the tool was revived. This happened because my work on the DTDs
for the Archive, nearing completion, began to expose certain
limitations in the overall design structure. It was growing
very clear that the Archive's two parallel universes continued
discontinuous in fundamental and (in this case, I thought) unhelpful
ways. Inote had become a device with two primary functions:
1] it allowed one to build a random set of image points or areas
to which one could attach text materials of varying kinds; 2]
it allowed one to imbed hypertext links to those materials.
So while the tool created navigational paths from text to image
and vice versa, thus connecting the two basic (and different)
kinds of objects in the Archive; and while it drew these image-related
texts (and hence the images as well) into the full computational
structure, it did not organize these materials within a logical
structure readable in the Archive. Any searches of the materials
would have to be in effect string searches. (Inote in its first
iteration, for example, could not function in close cooperation
with the indexable fields of information as established through
the Archive's DTDs).
in the tool recalled my attention to the Archive's basic contradiction
and double allegiance. The full evolution of the markup structure
-- the building of the DTDs for all text and image documents
-- had not been matched by a corresponding development in Inote,
at least for those who would want -- as I did -- a tool that
could function within the SGML marked database (texts as well
as pictures). This discrepancy arises because the first version
of Inote, unlike the DTDs, was not mapped to the logical (DTD)
structure of the files in the Archive. It would be formally
integrated with the SGML marked database only when it could
summon its materials within pre-established indexable categories.
Furthermore, an adequate integration would require some kind
of mappable relation between those indexable forms and the SGML
To address these problems I suggested that we limit our consideration,
at least initially, to textual images -- i.e., images of manuscripts,
proofs, and printed documents -- since these are far simpler
than pictorial images. We began by posing the question "what
is the formal structure of a text page?"
query rises through a pair of presuppositions implicit in The
Rossetti Archive. The first reflects the Archive's practical
delivery of its images, which the Archive manipulates as units
of either single pages or single page openings (i.e., a pair
of facing pages). That procedure flows from a second assumption
about texts in general. We assume that a "text" is
a rhetorical sequence organized by units of page, with each
page centrally structured in terms of a sequence of lines commonly
running from top to bottom, left to right and within some set
of margins (which may be reduced to nil (practically) on any
up the formal structure of the text image, these general conventions
defining the shape of the page will govern the markup. Consequently,
I proposed the following: that the page be formally conceived
as a structure of different spatial areas. I initially proposed
four marginal areas (left and right margins plus header and
footer) and a central text area stacked into four equal horizontal
sections. This design was found to be mre complex than necessary,
and we eventually settled on a page design of three stacked
hrizontal areas with no mapping at the margins.
point of this structure is to permit SGML marked textual materials
to be mapped directly to digitized images. An indexable code
is supplied to digital materials so that a formal relation can
be established between the two conceptual states of every text
(i.e., texts conceived as linguistic fields and texts conceived
as bibliographical fields). SGML marked texts have nothing to
say about the physical status of marked materials because the
markup is not conceived in terms of spatial relations. Even
if a set of SGML fields were to be defined for bibliographical
features of text, no formal structure would exist to connect
the digital images to the SGML marked texts -- because the latter
have not been conceptually defined in relation to the former.
In the case of textual materials, this formalized representation
of the bibliographical field would serve primarily to facilitate
the study of documents with "irregular" textual conditions
(e.g., documents with many additions, corrections, and erasures;
or documents with nonlinguistic elements, such as Blake's illuminated
texts). At least that was the initial imagination for the scheme.
Inote has now been developed along these lines and its functions
have been applied and adapted by the editors of The Blake
Archive. The results can be seen in The Blake Archive's
recent release of its first installment, an edition and study
tool for The Book of Thel.
all the results. The practise of the theory of Inote revealed
some interesting ideas about computerizing textual materials
in relation to a database of images. For instance, it is apparent
that in such cases one should define the basic textual unit
as the page (as is done in The Blake Archive) rather
than the work (as is done in SGML and -- alas -- in The Rossetti
Archive). Only if the basic unit is the page (or the page
opening) can the lineation in the digital image be logically
mapped to the SGML markup structure. Of course if SGML software
were able to handle concurrent structures, this consequence
would not necessarily follow.
Archive's work conforms to the original thought about Inote
that it be shaped to integrate the meta-data in an SGML-marked
text to the direct study of the digital images that constitute
that meta-data. As the tool was being adapted by The Blake
Archive editors, however, their work exposed more severely
than ever the problem of analyzing the data of digital images.
Blake's work lent itself to the idea of Inote because that idea
was fundamentally a textual one; and while Blake's works are
profoundly iconological, they are also, at bottom, texts, not
do not have means for carrying out on-the-fly analyses of the
iconological information in pictures (let alone pictures that
are aesthetically organized). Our work with Inote shows how
far one might go -- and it is pretty far, after all -- to integrate
an SGML approach to picture markup and analysis. But the limitations
of such an approach are also painfully clear.
I have no
idea how or when this nexus of problems will be overcome, though
I do have some thoughts on experimental avenues that might be
explored.. Nevertheless, electronic textuality is so intimately
bound to the manipulation of images that the issues must remain
at the forefront of attention. Logical markup through schemes
derived from linguistic models, powerful though they are, cannot
even serve the full needs of textual scholars, much less those
of musicologists, art historians, film scholars, and artists
in general. The Pentagon and the Infotainment industry have
committed large resources to research into these problems, whose
importance is clear to them. While scholars and archivists lack
those kinds of financial resources, we would be wrong to stand
aside while the issues are being engaged and theorized. Indeed,
scholars like ourselves typically possess a phenomenological
understanding of such materials that is obscure to techno-scientific
researchers. So it's extremely important that traditional scholars
and critics experiment with the study of digital images, and
-- perhaps even more useful -- set their students to play and
experiment with these materials. If there ever was a situation
calling us to imagine what we don't know, this is one.