Struggling to write “Circe” (TWW)

Looking at Duffy’s manuscripts for The World’s Wife and Mean Time in MARBL, it was intriguing to see her drafting process and how much remodeling each poem took before it achieved publishing. Duffy edited and rewrote material for The World’s Wife a lot more than in her preparations for Mean Time. Duffy used thirteen pages in her journals to work through The World’s Wife’s poem “Circe” versus a mere three for “First Love” in Mean Time.

Duffy’s thoughts seemed to flow more naturally when writing Mean Time. In her first draft of “First Love”, Duffy fluently inscribed the majority of the poem. Her draft seemed smooth and effortless. Even from the very beginning of her brainstorming, Duffy’s appears confident in her writing, and she seems to have a strong foundation for her story and how it should flow. When I looked at Duffy’s Mean Time manuscripts I noticed that generally Duffy did not struggle with her lines until she neared the end of her poems; she spent a lot more time and paper on the last stanza. Additionally, when Duffy was editing in Mean Time, she was only editing small words to enhance her poem’s theme.  I think Duffy used this editing to better portray a theme she had pre-determined.

The editing process seen in Duffy’s manuscripts for The World’s Wife is very different from that in Mean Time. When Duffy began her writing for many poems for The World’s Wife she seemed to lack the strong sense of direction she previously had established when writing for Mean Time. I believe Duffy developed a list of women she wanted to write about, and then set out to create a story for each. Duffy’s brainstorming in The World’s Wife does not give the impression she has clear intentions for the organization or content of the developing poem, whereas in Mean Time Duffy appears especially grounded at least in her opening stanzas.

Duffy made similar small-scale editing on both volumes; however, she omitted considerably more full lines and stanzas in The World’s Wife. For example, the very first entry for “Circe” began with, “Nereids and nymphs, listen up. Today/we have what to do with a pig./ Firstly, identify.“ This thought however, this was scrapped along with the later line, “we are talking Pig with a capital P.” More importantly, as Duffy fostered her ideas for “Circe” she originally began with entirely different poem:

I was the kind of Goddess, middle-aged… who wanted to talent and use it well- poetry, pottery, painting/ maybe the novel. /I was celibate now…consulting Thesaurus one day/ to see how the language defined me- she-devil, harpy, virago, bitch– displease/ I came across witch./ Soon after that, I started to dabble in herbs.”

Duffy originally intended to portray Circe in a significantly different light. Interestingly, Duffy wrote a note, seemingly to herself, on that original draft of “Circe”; she said, “No– get physically into every aspect of the pig- including butchering and eating”. In her next entry Duffy began writing the form of “Circe” readers know today.

Duffy’s Editing in First Love

When I visited MARBL I thought the most intriguing thing about Duffy’s manuscripts was the editing that took place between her original scribbles and her final publishing. I realized her small changes in diction and elimination of several phrases really made a distinict difference to the tone and meaning behind her Mean Time poem First Love.

Looking at Duffy’s notes, she originally opened First Love with a short background into the relationship that inspired this poem. Readers get a sneak peek into the love when it was first beginning.  Duffy’s manuscripts began, “the day you smiled at me, at the top of the stairs/ by the music room, I swear there were stars/ in my eyes”.  I believe Duffy decided to omit this section because the rest of the poem is a retrospective view on her first love; the poem is reminiscing on the powerful emotions and memories that still tie the narrator to their old relationship. This added back-story shows the love when it was just starting and naïve. It is interesting to notice this imagery of stars was still used later in line 11: “a star, long dead…the size of a tear”. Duffy conserved the image of stars in her eyes with comparing the star to a tear.

The end of line 10, “wherever you are”, was added later in her editing. I think Duffy added this line to emphasize this lover is no longer in the narrator’s life. This addition also gives the readers a sense of longing and regret that the narrator feels at the loss of this person from their life.

Duffy’s published lines 7 and 8 were originally written: “the pictures return, blood-red at first, then/relaxed, colorless, a silent film played at the wrong speed.” Duffy changed the descriptions of her memories to “unfocused… then/almost clear…an old film played at a slow speed”. These changes in diction better represents a person fondly looking back at happy memories.

When I looked at Duffy’s manuscripts I noticed that she spent a lot more time and paper on the last stanza. Duffy rewrote lines 11 and 15 many times, exchanging words and removing phrases. When she was brainstorming Duffy originally included “desire” and “first love” in the final scene with the flowers; she initially “unseen/flowers and first love suddenly pierce and sweeten the air.” I thought it was interesting that these words were later omitted, but she reused them as the title for the poem. Duffy also described the star in line 11 as a “brilliant ghost”, but later took it out. Duffy struggled between “your name erased to the scent” to “nameless flowers” to “unseen flowers”. I think this editing helped to portray to readers that their first love can never be forgotten or their lover’s name could not be erased. I think this change helps to support the poem’s theme that a first love might be lost, but it is eternal and will always be remembered.

I also thought it was interesting that at the end of the poem, Duffy originally returns to the garden from the first stanza in line 14. The narrator originally said “I walk in this garden alone” before the scent of flowers is introduced to the readers.  Reading this in the MARBL helped me to better understand where the seemingly random appearance of flowers stems from.

Danielewski is a “Dead Author”

Barthes’s essay, The Death of the Author, condemns literary critics that focus on the author’s intentions and biography in their interpretation of a text. Instead, Barthes encourages scholars not to rely on aspects of the author’s background, such as their religion, ethnicity, education, or political affiliation, to distill meaning from the author’s work. He insists the experiences and biases of the author should not serve as a definitive explanation of the text. I do agree that readers and scholars must separate a literary work from its creator in order to freely interpret the text. Barthes also introduces the separation of authority and authorship. Barthes says readers should accept the writing and its creator are unrelated. I do appreciate Barthes’ idea that the true “birth of the reader” can only come after the “death of the author”.

It would be silly for readers of House of Leaves to limit their analysis based on Danielewski’s personal life. For example scholars could say he chose Jonny’s hometown based on his own experience living in California, or he chose to include Chad and Daisy in the Navidson family based on his sister Annie (“Poe”), or he included many foreign languages because he studied English at Yale. But this narrow view creates such a limited base for analysis. The story holds much more than the author’s Polish background and childhood in New York City. Readers would gain more from the text if they would focus less on the creative influences and more on the story itself.

Most importantly, Barthes cautions to assign a single interpretation to a text “is to impose a limit on that text.” I absolutely agree that each essay, novel, and writing contains multiple meanings. I believe text is like a quilted fabric where there are many centers rather than one individual experience. Readers can never establish a single meaning because writing is multi-dimensional, which, as Barthes says, cannot be “deciphered,” only “disentangled.”

Danielewski’s House of Leaves is a complex and unique novel. This multi-layered narrative is a prime example of the intricate levels in a text Bathes describes. Readers encapsulated by Navidson’s expeditions and Jonny’s rants cannot imagine what Danielewski could have intended. It would be impossible to detect precisely what deeper meaning Danielewski hid behind the different text colors, false sources, or symbols. As HOL readers we need to follow Barthes’ advice and refuse to assign a secret, ultimate meaning to the text. We should instead accept there is no single interpretation that is any more correct than another reader’s perspective.

I really believe the essential meaning of a work depends less on the intentions of the writer, and more on the impressions of the reader. A text’s purpose lies not in its origins, but in its destination. Barthes says the author is merely a “scriptor”, serving to produce but not to explain the work. An author is born simultaneously with the text, they cannot precede or exceed the writing; the author is “not the subject with the book as predicate”. I believe Danielewski does a superb job as a “scriptor” and allows his readers to search to find their own meaning in his story. A story grows through the audience, not its creator.  So with each reading and re-reading of HOL, the story is “eternally written here and now”.

If we “share” what is “legit”?

I really appreciate Sample’s concept of “reproduction and sharing of knowledge”. I also strongly agree with his belief that the numerous debates (like who’s in and who’s out) are simply “a distracting sideshow to the true power of the digital humanities”. I feel like so much time and energy of such intelligent people is being wasted on trying to limit or categorize the field when they could be focused on “building” and “sharing”. This reminds me of our previous article, “The Digital Humanities Divide” where Reid asks, “What would our research, technology design, and thinking look like if we took seriously the momentous opportunities and challenges for learning posed by our digital era?” I like the idea of moving our attention to “sharing” because it is productive and true to the founding intent of DH as a field.

However I think this concept of open sharing and discussion of knowledge is great— in theory. As great as it would be to free our gateway of knowledge from the constraints of “physical printed books, journals production costs, distribution friction, and slowly along ingrained routes”, I feel like there are several obstacles.

I do believe how we share work is limited by an ingrained desire to be considered someone “worthy” or “important” in your field. Previous to our digital era, how we validate academic work? How do we label a project or article as “legitimate” or “scholarly”? Traditional print. We have this sad misconception that work published in a physical book or journal is automatically granted more authority than another posted on twitter or a personal web page. people are still evaluated based on their published work in graduate programs, tenure, and funding. I don’t disagree with Sample’s alternative models for publishing- Kindle Singles and stand-alone journal articles- but the “clunky apparatus of the journal surrounding it” is what we rely on. It seems like that apparatus of traditional publishing promises the content was verified by the publishing unit.

It reminds me of writing essays in high school and (sadly) several classes here at Emory: we could not use websites as sources. We could only use peer reviewed journals and published books. But why? Why do some professors believe that just because the work is a traditional print form it is “legitimate”? This was always so painful—I would find so many great works on the internet, but I would be forced to ignore them to use some poorly written, twenty-year-out-of-date book. Many of my professors argued that the published works were verified by other scholars, and that supposedly made them more “valid” or “authentic”.

I do not support the idea that the traditional publishing should automatically make the content in an article “legitimate” or “worthy”, but I think it is a subliminal thought many people do have. I believe we must overcome this pre-conceived notion before DH scholars fully support this idea of open and universal sharing.

“Reader beware… you choose the scare”

Joyce’s Afternoon, a story is another example of a stream of consciousness writing. However, it combines this traditional literature style with electronic literature. The use of hypertext fiction allows readers to use hypertext links to choose how their story progresses. This type of interactive fiction creates a unique, non-linear journey for each reader. As Joyce says in the introduction, “These are not versions, but the story itself in long lines. Otherwise, however, the center is all…the real interaction… is in pursuit of texture.”

What strikes me about reading this story is the unique experience we each have as we read. I asked two other classmates how their reading was going, and they both responded with two very different versions of Afternoon. My story jumped right into characters getting high and watching scenes in a movie and then the snow and landscape in the winter. It took me a solid hour of exploring to discover the founding plot of the story; midway between loop patterns I found myself on a new tangent of Peter saying he witnessed a car crash and believes his ex-wife and son might have been involved. It is just so strange to me that three scholars could read a piece of literature for 90 minutes, and gain three distinct stories.

One thing continues to irk me about this hypertext fiction: what if I miss something? I continue to alternate between trying different word links, selecting yes, and entering for words in the search box to ensure I cover a wide variety of chapters. What if I’m missing a huge piece of the story based on my reading selections? This stresses me out. A lot. However, as I continue to read I appreciate Joyce’s line: “There is no mystery, really, about the truth. You merely need to backtrack, or take other paths.” I also worry about how I can find “the end”. This concept of non-linear literature is disconcerting. Traditionally you have a set number of pages handed to you, and we read until we finish the pages in chronological order. Although, I very much enjoyed reading the series of branching plots in Give Yourself Goosebumps. Rather than reading the book in contiguous events, readers can choose their own fate in the story. Appropriately so, Goosebumps uses the tagline, “Reader beware… you choose the scare”.

I believe to fully enjoy Afternoon, readers must release their desire to compartmentalize literature into linear events. I know I must branch out of my comfort zone for this reading, and just read to appreciate the journey.  I really liked Joyce’s line: “Closure is, as in any fiction, a suspect quality, although here it is made manifest. When the story no longer progresses, or when it cycles, or when you tire of the paths, the experience of reading it ends.”


DH to the Rescue: National Crisis on Reading

As our generations rely more on reading digital materials, many scholars blame this new type of screen reading for the population’s declining scores on traditional reading assessments. As the popularity of print books has declined so have basic reading skills like identifying themes, drawing inferences, etc. Reports by the National Endowment of the Arts claim, “as people read less print… they read print less well.” Supporters argue studies show a strong correlation and causal connection between literary reading and reading ability. Author of The Dumbest Generation, Mark Bauerlein strongly links the loss of reading skills to the decrease in print reading. Bauerlein argues, “there is no transfer between digital reading and print reading skills”. He continues to refuse any valuable effects stemming from digital reading and claims it “does not even lead to strong digital reading skills”.
But this makes me wonder: How could digital reading not build any literacy skills or boost reading scores?
How is it so different from traditional print that no skills transfer over?

I find these claims that the decline in traditional reading scores is solely based on the upsurge of digital media to be ostentatious and wrong. I strongly disagree with this unfounded trashing of digital reading, because Bauerlein’s persuasion lacks distinguished, unbiased data. I would be more convinced by data on the effects digital reading has on reading abilities. I believe digital reading encourages the development of a new, unique set of skills.
The traditional literature studies have also failed to raise the scores. Gallop and Johnson say, “close reading assures the professionalism …makes literary studies an important asset to the culture… justifies the discipline’s continued existence in the academy…” However, symptomatic and deconstructive reading practices have not proven to be productive or unique; Hayles says, “its results have begun to seem formulaic, leading to predictable conclusions rather than compelling insights”. Interestingly Hayles says, “there is little evidence that the profession of literary studies has made a significant difference in the national picture”.
To combat this “national crisis”, we must find a way to address Hayles’ crucial question: “how to convert the increased digital reading into increased reading ability”. I believe this is the true, rudimentary purpose of Digital Humanities. Together we can build “bridges between digital reading and the literacy traditionally associated with print”. We must take the strategies of close reading and trend it towards digital media. We can bring print reading abilities from literature classes to the digital realm. DH is the field that brings the two tracks, print and digital, that run side by side and merges the sides together.

“What would our research, technology design, and thinking look like ….”

Reid’s article, “The Digital Humanities Divide”, hit a question a question I have been pondering since the first day of class. Reid asks, “What would our research, technology design, and thinking look like if we took seriously the momentous opportunities and challenges for learning posed by our digital era?” I keep wondering what capabilities are hiding under the exclusive digital humanities tent? From the articles we have read and from our Skype conversation with Dr. Ramsay we have glimpsed some of the studies that DH scholars have worked on: authorship studies on Shakespeare’s works, transcribing ancient written works to digital formats, etc.. I was so intrigued by our use of Google maps to track Miranda’s movements in Lahiri’s “Sexy”. And I know these examples are just skimming the surface. I want to learn about new studies that are currently in action. I wish there was a DH journal that I could flip through to see what DHer’s are discovering in their respective fields. I want to experience DH using technology and digital intelligence to its greatest potential.
However, I feel like (just as we have said in class) we have to stop trying to define DH and create this exclusive list on who gets to be considered “in”. I feel like so much time and energy of such intelligent people is being wasted on trying to limit or categorize the field when they could be focused on “building”. I believe Reid approaches this subject when he asks, “What happens when we stop privileging traditional ways of organizing knowledge (by fields, disciplines, and majors or minors) and turn attention instead to alternative modes of creating, innovating, and critiquing that better address the interconnected, interactive global nature of knowledge today, both in the classroom and beyond?”
I understand some sort of organization is needed to the name tag “DH”, but I feel like this constant debate of under/over definition is not being productive and true to the founding intent of DH as a field. After each article we have read, I continuously finding myself asking “why do they keep focusing on who they don’t want to let into DH, instead of focusing on DH itself?” Only when we move forward from focusing on this big tent list will we be able to get to the fun part— appreciating the wonders of humanities from a digital perspective.

Who’s In?

As if our definition of “digital humanities” was not muddled enough, Ramsay presents us with another fuzzy elaboration on which specialties should be included in this discipline. On the surface, I appreciate Ramsay’s concept of “building”. It reminds me of the conversation we had in class that DH is “active usage of technology in humanities work”. This is my favorite way to define DH and understand where to draw the line around included events under our DH tent. Ramsay believes, “Digital Humanities is about building things”. Ramsay limits the “In List” to people who are “building something”. This also includes people who theorize, design, supervise, and rebuild present systems.

But what does “building something” mean? How does Ramsay limit which products qualify as “something”? We are assuming that this building and “something” be a digital creation, or something not necessarily tangible.  However I now have a mental picture a construction worker tracking mud all through the DH tent. “Building”? What does he expect us to construe from that?

Ramsay makes it a point to say that the idea that “Everyone is included” and DH is built on community, comity, collaboration, and cooperation is “nonsense”. I understand he wants to limit the professions that can be allowed into DH because the discipline is not “some airy Lyceum” but a “series of concrete instantiations”. However, I do not feel reassured that I grasp his intended parameters. I also wish Rasmay could explain the difference he finds between Digital Humanities and New Media Studies.

May be if Ramsay was allowed another twenty minutes to elaborate on the topics he introduced I would appreciate his new limits on the scope of DH. Unfortunately, Ramsay’s article had promise, but I feel like due to his time constraints he really did not make a strong impression on my definition on my understanding on “who’s In” for Digital Humanities. After reading Ramsay’s article I am left with the same over-arching question: what methods and fields are allowed in the digital humanities domain?

Bridging the chasm: DH as the link between the classroom and the bedroom

Let’s be honest—as a generation, we have no concept of an archaic punch card, rolodex, or dewy decimal system. We can no easier grasp the toil of Busa’s index verborum of St Thomas Aquinas than understand why someone would still be using internet explorer. We are the generation with personal computers, electronic mail, and the internet at our crib-side. Appropriately so, Bloomsburg’s undergraduate students name our generation “digital natives”.

The capabilities we have at our digital fingertips are astonishing. The preponderance of educational, social, informational, and inspirational resources we could possess on the internet alone is infinite. However, there seems to be a strong barricade constructed between the academic sphere and our personal digital playground.

We have all had those teachers that don’t allow laptops in class, enforce you walk to their office to hand in an essay, or even worse force you to track down a physical book in the library. Their restrictive motives could be valiant: to protect the pure process of research and writing an essay. Or maybe they are just technologically inept and want to punish the rest of us. Either way, there is a great divide enforced between the digital resources we have open to us in everyday life, and those we are allowed to use in the classroom. Why do academic standards still include spelling tests? Why do history tests still require us to memorize specific dates? Why can we not use a calculator in calculus?

I believe introducing digital humanities as a course will help bridge that gap that we mentally have set between the classroom and real life. I hope undergraduate classes like this can begin to bridge the chasm that separates traditional learning and the entirety of technology advances available to us. As William Pannapacker and Chad Gaffield argue, “DH is transforming every aspect of academic life by reconfiguring relationship networks both inside and outside academe. In the future, students will no longer see a hard line between working in the humanities and working with technology.” Once this integration is achieved, we can move past the basic memorization of past generations and develop new accomplishments of our own.