Reflections after seeing manuscripts for “Oslo”

The manuscripts on the poem Oslo were very limited unlike the manuscripts available for Little Red Cap. The draft I saw for Oslo was as a composed complete poem. There were only a few revisions in the draft. Either Duffy had a very clear and distinct vision for the poem Oslo, or it was her filler poem, or it came out almost exactly as she wanted it on her first writing, or we don’t have all of Duffy’s drafts for the poem, or I was not thorough enough. I have a feeling the last two options are the most likely. Out of the revisions many were simply omissions of extra phrases. Unfortunately to be completely honest, I could not decipher all of her revisions due to her handwriting. [I would be a terrible teacher for that reason alone]. For ones that I could make out they were simple substitutions of words such as across to over. I am guessing that Duffy feels that the latter word expresses what she intends better than before. The most interesting part of the manuscript was the top margin. Duffy was doing some basic arithmetic. She divided 50 by 4, multiplied 20 by 30, and multiplied 80 by 30. I do not know what meaning that might hold but literary scholars should try to find out. It seems it would be one of those cool House of Leaves-esque factoid. Overall the poem was pretty close to the one we have in our edition of Mean Time. Another thing I found interesting was how Duffy would go in and out of writing poems and writing seemingly meaningless sentences really sloppily in certain sections of her notebook. After Oslo there was a good section where she wrote things like “This is a really nice pen” or wrote one or two stanzas of poetry at best. This makes me think that she was either really busy, procrastinating, or had writer’s block. It leads me to further solidify my belief that Oslo was a filler poem since it was just before these scribbles. To know if this is true or not, call her.

Reflections on Little Red Cap Manuscripts

This was the first time I would be looking at original manuscripts for pretty much any published work. I was half expecting some Hollywood style scriblings of a genius or something….epic. What I found was a lot more human. I was half disappointed and half thankful. I was disappointed because I did not get that cool feeling of “oh I am looking at something awesome worth millions of dollars” but I was glad to see that Duffy is a normal human being. In my scrummaging around in the folders for manuscripts for Little Red Cap I found a nice old brown envelope with a phone number for DHL. It is these little things [just like references in poetry] that remind you that the person is a normal human being which makes the end product all the more remarkable. I did not find lists of words to swap around like others have. I found what I would expect poetry drafts to be. They were fully composed poems that would slightly augment from one version to another to ultimately result in the final product we read….and then…I opened Box 2, Folder 18. What I saw shocked me. I still wake up in the middle of the night gasping for breath from the trauma. Duffy had a draft of Little Red-Cap in prose. She basically rewrote Little Red Riding Hood and renamed it Little Red-Cap. I do not know what the purpose of that might have been besides getting over initial writer’s block. Maybe perhaps she was just bored and decided to rewrite the story that led to her being inspired to write the poem. The only difference in the story was the ending. From what I remember I first heard the rendition of Little Red Riding Hood [spoiler alert] where the hunter comes and shoots the wolf and they unlock the trapped grandmother in the closet. Duffy’s version was a bit different. The hunter this time instead of shooting the wolf, takes aim and thinks that the wolf has swallowed the grandmother whole so decides to cut it open. This description of the ending specifically reminded me of “one chop, scrotum to throat.” I have a feeling that it was that specific instant that inspired her poem. I may be completely wrong since I do not know the chronology of these manuscripts. Furthermore there were other manuscripts where I only found one stanza – specifically the one with sexual implications. It seems that Duffy was intrigued by violence and sex [who isn’t?] and used Little Red Riding Hood as the backdrop for her explorations. To find out if this is true, call her.


The poem in the latter half of Mean Time that stuck out to me was “Oslo.” The poem really rang a bell because it resonated with my personal recent memories of playing Skyrim and also reminded me of Norwegian terrorist attacks. I believe any person can truly relate to this poem because of the very clever trick employed by Carol Ann Duffy of using the second person. By using the second person voice, the narrator immediately puts the reader into the poem. The self is objectified in relation to the poem’s description upon reading “you.” This instant level of immersion immediately provokes our mind to take all of the description and make mental associations with them to our personal lives. Therefore with this simple trick Duffy grasps the full attention of the reader.

There is a recurring sense of bleak “coldness” in the poem. This is established by describing images of the coat, Norwegian wood, and the silent citizens of the sluggish town [see: slow tram]. This invoked a sense of hollow emptiness in me. This was not a discomforting feeling but a numbing and liberating one. Just as ice can numb the pain of wound, the silence and the inability to communicate “numbs” one’s external identity to mere appearances. There is a sense of comfort in that feeling. The narrator notes this with “innocent again.”

Perhaps this poem related to me more because of my early experiences as an immigrant. But I think many can relate to the feeling of comfort of having no established identity.

Pop vs High Poetry

Upon reading poems from Duffy’s Mean Time shed light on Duffy’s comment on how Mean Time is more traditional and The World’s Wife is more popular. I am not a poetry expert but there are a few things that even I noted. The poem in Mean Time that drew my attention the most was “Confession.” In “Confession” and many other poems in the tome, the most obvious difference between these poems and in World’s Wife the lack of an obvious rhyme. As Dr. Croxall pointed out contemporary poetry in the literary tradition does not usually rhyme. Poems of Mean Time clearly fit this criteria. Furthermore there was a difference in the what I will call the “rhythm” of the poem. I will use “Confession” as my example. In the poem each line ends in what feels like the middle of a statement or phrase. The line will end with the first word of the phrase it continues into. Examples like: “Come away into this dark cell and tell, your sins….” or “Just how bad have you been there’s no water, in hell…”

This sort of rhythm and the lack of rhyme scheme may be off putting to a reader of popular literature. It would require recalibration of your mind to get used to reading such poetry for leisure. As far as the actual content of the poem I did not think a poem such as “Confession” or “Pilate’s Wife” had anything striking that would instantly make me think of “high vs low poetry.” I saw similarities like her play with the phrase “Mother of God” in “Confession” similar to “My God” in “Pilate’s Wife.”

This brings me to an interesting thought: In “high” vs “low” poetry how much do form versus content make the difference. I assume there is a little bit of each but it seems to me in comparing these two tomes by Duffy, the form seems to be more of the defining force than the actual images or messages the poem conveys.

The Author in Different Digital Media

In the Death of the Author, Roland Barthes makes some interesting points concerning how we read and interpret written works. Barthes argues that when we try to understand work we only try to think of it in how the way we project how the author would want us to think of it. Therefore in analysis we trap ourselves in this framework. This can create a limiting effect of what we can truly get from the text. This creates a tunneling effect on our metaphorical vision. To truly gain insight into what is totally there we must divorce our concern with what the author intends and analyze a text on its own merits. In this manner, we can truly see how influential the text is and apply and extract different interpretations that may perhaps be contrary to the authors intentions. This can broaden the horizon of literary analysis and provide important contributions that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

It is interesting to see how our conception of taking the author’s intentions into consideration changes whether the medium is a traditional text versus a digital work. The advent of technologies such as the blog or other forms of social media and communication [exampe: Twitter] create new predispositions on how we read in these media. Certainly when we read things in social media applications, we clearly see the author’s name attached to it. For example in a Facebook it is blatantly shown who the author is. The author’s identity is very crucial when looking at works from such social networking media. Whereas reading blogs, that many times are signed under aliases, I think we take the author less into consideration. We look at the text by itself. Same may be said for forum posts. It would be interesting to see what predispositions we have towards different types of works in different digital media.

Litmus Test for Existentialism

In the myth of Sisyphus, a man named Sisyphus is condemned [in typical Greek fashion] to push a rock to the top of a hill for the rest of eternity. Every time the rock reaches the top, it rolls back down. Sisyphus has to start all over and repeat forever. Albert Camus, a 20th century French thinker, interpreted this story in a “positive” Existentialist way. Camus found that when the rock is at the bottom Sisyphus has the choice on whether to push the rock up again or not. Sisyphus in choosing to push the rock repetitively was exercising his will and therefore giving meaning and hope to what seems to be simply a deterministic and dreary fate.
I found reading Michael Joyce’s Afternoon to be my personal version of Sisyphus. It seemed to me to be a chaotic meaningless process at times. I would hit “Enter” and would get text after text. There were two options: either I would get random texts that is not related to the previous in the sequence or a repetition. Every time I got stuck in a loop, I would be at the bottom of the hill in Sisyphusian terms, and had a big burden to go on and click or not. If I was getting non-sequitur text it became more and more discouraging to keep going. I would get a page on the narrator talking to another man about [what I interpreted as] their penis sizes followed by the kind of hard candy in an office followed by art at museum. There were maybe some unifying principles that acted as rays of light and hope. For example, in my experience, the character Werth is mentioned a lot. Many times the narrator will observe things and liken it to something Werth likes or enjoys. This was true of my hard candy or visually stimulating art examples earlier. Then there would be scenes where there would be seemingly random sentences ordered sequentially. These were most frustrating because one could not even make sense of the singular page as a unit by itself nor could one put it in place in the whole. There were some pages that were opposite, they had no reference to the unifying principles like character names or having sex with wives, but they were discrete packets of meaning conveyed in text. These were relieving because at least one could make sense of the text by itself – maybe like doing a close reading in a deconstructionism class where you purposefully disregard context.
Ultimately to keep on going was in a sense a trial of whether one has gone through amor fati. One has to embrace their fate of eternal recurrence and be delighted in the fact that they still retain their choice and it is what inserts meaning into the situation. Considering I am somewhat of a traditional Idealist, I failed the litmus test and stopped reading after about 30 minutes for each session. I could not keep on going trying to search for meaning in something that is not constructed by, as in the Cartesian meditations, “method of discovery.”

DH to the Rescue!

The NEA claims that there is less reading done of print material over time. Furthermore, reading of print material is done less well. Only very recently has an increase in novel reading been noted. The question remains how to appropriately address this “crisis” so literature does not vanish from the public eye.  I believe this may have to do with the cultural and technological changes over time. There have been many mediums of art that have been around since antiquity – [verbal] storytelling, poetry, plays, sculpture, painting, etc. As a new medium of art is invented it presents the public with greater choice. It can divert people from paying attention to one medium to another. For example, when motion picture was invented, some people who may have been interested in novels instead chose to devote their time to watching movies. The “problem” really is of time. Time no matter what is limited. A person in our modern industrialized society has many responsibilities. Assuming an 8 hour job, and 8 hour sleep schedule, only a third of the day remains. Out of the remaining third many have to plan for daily activities, take care of bills, etc. My ultimate point is that people only have so much time for art. Each medium wants to get people’s attention.

Over the past couple decades the virtual computer based medium was invented. This gave rise to video games and new tools for people to explore and enjoy in their spare time. I believe the rise of popularity of such virtual entertainment has been due to convenience and instant gratification and/or feedback. People working on a virtual project have the convenience of saving files and transporting them thousands of miles without any physical effort. Furthermore online videos and videogames can be enjoyed on-the-go on phones and laptops in small quantities of times. Many videogames that people enjoy are ones that provide instant feedback based on user input to give a constant stream of accomplishment.

Reading a book or a play on the other hand, can be a laborious process comparatively. It involves active mental effort [as opposed to watching a video for pure enjoyment] of processing words and interpreting their meaning in context. Furthermore many novels may not get “good” until 50 or 100 pages in. Many people do not have the time or perhaps the attention span to invest 100 pages of reading. Also many may simply prefer watching babies and kittens do stupid things repetitively on Youtube instead since that gives them instant gratification. I believe the digital humanities is in prime position to make the worlds that literature holds a lot more enticing. Hayes presents such a position in the section “Machine Reading.” As outlined in the article students or digital humanists [or even publishers] may use virtual tools for “visualization, mapping, and social-network diagramming.” People can use tools to create video games or infographics or interactive applets that introduce people to the text. If the project is executed well, it may cause a spike in interest of the public in the source text. It is the same effect as when a big successful movie [Eg: LOTR] causes everyone to read the original books. The digital medium can take it a step further by delivering such content in a more convenient [doesn’t take 5 hours] format or a more interactive format. I believe in this manner DH could increase readership of literary text and restore literature as a popular venue in the public eye.

Defining Digital Humanities

From the past week’s readings, it seems that the field of Digital Humanities has somewhat of an identity crisis. The problem of defining the field seems to persist despite the field’s existence for many decades. This problem reminds me of my philosophical studies. Being a philosophy major, time and time again I have been told to always precisely define terms before building arguments upon them. Definition helps provide structure and framework for progress. It makes me uneasy to see that the digital humanities doesn’t have such specific terms laid out. I would be interesting in talking to Ramsay to have a discussion on how definition has destroyed Classics and possibly Philosophy. It seems that anything that can be associated with “digital”+”humanities” can be put under the digital humanities label. I imagine this has  left the field without strong cohesion and unified vision.

It seems to me that as outlined by Forster and Ramsay there are certain recurrent motifs in digital humanities. They appear to be: 1) Computational Models of Humanities 2) Technology in Education 3) Reformed Media Studies 4) Technology’s impact on Humanities research. Ultimately I foresee the discipline becoming as Ramsay puts it a “polyglot” field. These four aims can fully develop into their own sub-disciplines that can coexist under the banner of digital humanities. This would be similar to the sciences. For example, Biology is split up into – cell/molecular, genetics, ecology, evolution, etc. Each subunit feeds off of each other but they still are separate fields coexisting [mostly] peacefully.

The only hints of a bloodbath seems to be what Ramsay points out about Yale. Certain universities may employ their prestige to wrestle the field into a particular direction over the other. I believe grant-giving organizations should be vigilant of such attempts and prevent such homogenization. We should try to preserve diversity in scholarship as long as each approach is producing meaningful results.

Lastly there is always the possibility that ultimately each digital humanities department may create their own version. As Ramsay illustrated some department heads may require coding and others may not. Whether building is better or theorizing is, I do not feel qualified to comment on that. Both are probably essential. Such an approach to the field may cause difficulty in establishing standards but may provide the unique opportunity of creating tiny spheres of scholarship that attract all scholars of that one particular flavor. Yale may become the Mecca of all Digital Humanists who want to focus on effects of technology on research, whereas Emory may become the Mecca for Digital Humanists who want to develop tools for the next generation of humanities research.

Using Technology to Create Stimulating Educational Environments

We live in a era of exciting developments with unknown consequences. Many new technologies have emerged in the past couple decades. From the entire fabric of the internet to social networking tools such as Facebook, we do not completely know what we can accomplish with these new technologies. We are amidst a chaotic burst of discovery and invention. There are new tools emerging everyday but we don’t know how to channel their utility into meaningful productivity. I believe this will be the challenge of “Digital Humanities” as well as other fields in the upcoming years. As outlined in the manifesto, technology should be integrated into the modern curriculum to create a better educational environment for the students. This is illustrated perfectly by:

“Today, we need collaboration, not lectures; we need to learn concepts, not singular facts; we need networking and socialization, not isolation; we need interactive learning, not to sit back and listen. We need new outcome objectives, not standardized tests.”

This reminds me of a lecture given by Sir Ken Robinson at the RSA on educational paradigms. His talk illustrates how the current educational model is outdated and does not stimulate the students. Technology is a double-edged sword. It can act as a distraction as well as useful tool. Our generation is simply bombarded with massive loads of information on a daily basis. This is partly due to the technological explosion. Instant messaging, emailing, blogs, and other tools have made information exchange extremely fast. This can make the traditional lecture format of a classroom seem slow, inefficient, and underwhelming. Furthermore, random Wikipedia browsing may not result in the best foundation of skills in a particular field. The field of digital humanities has the very important role of integrating the traditional approach with modern technology in constructive ways. Data processing and interdisciplinary collaboration are two of the most apparent benefits. We can create curriculum that give student goals on producing something meaningful. As the manifesto illustrates:

“The literary scholar will tell you what Howl means; the historian will give you context on the sociopolitical climate of the time; the chemist will test for drug residue on the original manuscripts; the computer scientist will create a Java-enhanced website; all of them will transcribe those manuscripts in TEI-XML; and none of this will be done alone.”

Such collaboration can result in providing new perspectives on works to better understand them. We can get a more complete picture much easier by employing technology as a tool to analyze the work in the humanities.

As the article emphasizes, through such endeavors college students could meaningfully contribute to a field beyond arbitrary papers or assignments and make the educational process exciting and stimulating.


Link to RSA Lecture: