MARBL: “Nostalgia”

While Mean Time does not emphasize a single, recurring theme to the extent that The World’s Wife does with gender and femininity, Duffy still draws attention to several motifs, including childhood, memory, and nostalgia.  Thus, it is only appropriate to examine the poem “Nostalgia,” as it exemplifies Duffy’s fixation with fleeting moments in the past as they come to the surface in the present.  The poem’s actual content is ambiguous – references to “early mercenaries” returning home with “a sack on [the] back” suggest a wartime theme of a soldier’s homecoming.  Still, the lines about schoolteachers and old books and priests suggest a broader topic of the past, perhaps in an attempt to define and expand upon the title of “Nostalgia.”

And yet, as I read Duffy’s original MARBL manuscripts of the poem, I began to feel nostalgic myself.  There is something about the effect of reading through Duffy’s old notes and annotations that gives the poem an entirely new meaning through the perspective of a writer.  Throughout the five versions of the poem that existed in the MARBL collections, with the final being identical to the published version, Duffy’s progression was mostly consistent.  She would write out the version of the poem she had in mind, make edits ranging from substituting “red” with “yellow” to eliminating an entire stanza, then produce the new version for further revisions.

I had quite the moment of displacement in the MARBL reading room. For just a second, I saw myself as Duffy the poet, writing verses in some old notebook, crossing out words and inserting others, and trying to come up with a final, presentable product after producing draft after draft.  I can remember my own editing sessions for various work, sitting for hours upon end crossing out specific lines here and there, trying to make an acceptable final product. I doubt this impact of nostalgia was intentional, as it is unknown how deeply Duffy would have wanted her readers to look into old manuscripts.  Then again, Duffy has a way about her writing that truly brings out the past into the present.  I can safely say that reading the manuscripts of “Nostalgia” made me feel…well, nostalgic, more so than the actual content of the poem.


MARBL: “Elvis’s Twin Sister”

Unless you’re a diehard fan of Elvis Presley (like my aunt, who must have over a thousand pieces of Elvis memorabilia in her house), many people are unaware that the legendary King of Rock and Roll had a twin sibling.  Jesse Garon Presley was delivered thirty-five minutes after his brother, stillborn, leaving Elvis an only child.  While this undoubtedly had an enormous impact on Elvis’s personal life and subsequent career, the idea of a Presley twin inspired Carol Ann Duffy to write… “Elvis’s Twin.”  But of course, in Duffian fashion as is topical for The World’s Wife, the subject and speaker of the poem is the fictional twin sister of Elvis.

In the first MARBL manuscript copy of “Elvis Twin” (originally titled as such, later re-titled “Elvis’s Twin Sister”), Duffy’s first written instruction to herself is simple and self-explanatory: “get lyrics.”  And that she does, as all versions of the poem contain many direct quotations from some of Elvis’s most popular hits.  Thus, it is impossible to analyze Duffy’s words without taking into account Elvis’s as well. In such a collection of poems that ranges from the fictional to the non-fictional, the use of song lyrics combined with the irony of Elvis having a twin sister categorizes the poem as somewhere in between.  Suffice it to say, the lyrical references in “Elvis’s Twin Sister,” truly do make up the meat and potatoes of the poem.  While earlier versions of the poem originally meant to include allusions to “Hound Dog” and a few other songs, Duffy still puts great emphasis on the words from “Are you Lonesome Tonight?”, “Heartbreak Hotel,” and “Lawdy,” of which the latter two comprise the poem’s concluding, resounding verse.

It is interesting to note that the poem used to have a completely different structure and order of verses, with the aforementioned final verse positioned at the beginning of the poem, instead of the end.  However, one aspect that is consistently consistent is the “sing-song” tone of the poem that reads like the lyrics of an old 50s/60s rock song.  But of course, lyrics truly are just another form of poetry, with some accompanying music on the side as well.  Duffy may have went through multiple drafts of “Elvis’s Twin Sister,” but the message remains the same throughout: “Lawdy, I’m [Elvis? Jesse? The “sister”?] alive and well.”


The Child, The Student

If Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife is defined by its strong female voices and perspectives, Mean Time instead focuses more on nostalgia and scattered memories of the past, both pleasant and sad.  As another compilation of Duffy’s individual poems, the works of Mean Time do not have exclusively female voices, but rather vary in gender and likely age as well. The poems do not fit as strict of an overarching theme as The World’s Wife does with femininity, but there is still an undeniable motif of childhood that runs through the pages.  Personally, the poems of The World’s Wife intrigued me more as smaller parts of a larger work, while I grew to appreciate the individual verses and rhymes of Mean Time.

“The Good Teachers” and “The Cliché Kid” stood out to me the most for their emphasis on the education aspect of childhood, which naturally makes them an easy contrast to examine for an academic setting.  But even more importantly, these two poems delve into an era of the past that presumably applies to the majority, if not, entirety of Duffy’s readers because of the universality of the audience’s education.  There is no divide between a male or female voice because these two poems refer to children of any gender, any race, or any other trivially defining characteristic.  “The Good Teachers” describes a child who faces a conflict between the professors who praise him and those who correct him, using a varying tone of positivity and negativity that exemplifies the highs and lows of a school day.  Meanwhile, “The Cliché Kid” emphasizes a student’s distressed life inside and outside of the classroom, where his unpopularity at school makes him an outcast even to his own “imaginary friends.”  Both poems depict the lives of nameless students, but even beyond that, they illustrate everyday situations that can occur at any time to any child.  That, I believe, is what makes Duffy’s poems so easy to read and even easier to relate to.


Let’s Talk About Gender…

Despite knowing ahead of time that The World’s Wife was a series of poems about women, from the perspective of women, and written by a woman author, I still initially had trouble reading the poems with a woman’s voice.  I began to ask myself: s it gender bias, or am I simply accustomed to reading literature with a male’s perspective?  Is this a common phenomenon in a world where gender equality is expected, but not always truly existent?  All I know is that Duffy’s female-centric poems definitely took some time to get used, at least in terms of how I internally read them.  It was far from a challenge, but it was a unique reading experience nonetheless and one that made me question gender differences in narrative voice and perspective.

Additionally, gender role reversal between the male and female intrigued me, as Duffy’s poems do not follow a consistent pattern in how they’re constructed.  Take “Queen Kong,” for example.  In this poem, the classic role of King Kong is replaced by a female version of the giant ape, as she tells her story of falling in love with a human man and his imminent death.  In other words, this is essentially a hypothetical scenario if King Kong were a Queen, as Duffy draws attention to the differences between the original tale and this “feminized” version.  However, other poems do not follow suit.  “Mrs Midas,” “Pilate’s Wife,” “Mrs Aesop,” and many others instead offer a wife’s perspective of classic characters or famous people in history.  Duffy uses this literary technique to make old stories fresh again, to give them completely new life by depicting unseen, or usually completely made-up female counterparts to their more well-known husbands.  And yet, poems such as “Little Red-Cap” or “Medusa” are also completely different, as no new characters are created, but rather old ones re-imagined.

And so, once I found the female voice that Duffy had created throughout her poetry, I was truly able to appreciate the variety in perspective and narrative that is layered in each of her works.


Voyages

Daniel Crispino and Brittany Stoudemire

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database comprises a collection of over 35,000 slave voyages between 1514 and 1866 as a part of the titular Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.  Now found at http://slavevoyages.com, the online database itself is an expanded version of a 1999 CD version of the project by the same name, which was created using data collected over several decades.  Thanks to major support and funding contributions from Emory University, the project in its current form launched in 2006, with many of the major methodologies written by Emory’s own David Eltis, a professor and researcher in history who focuses on the slave trade during the early modern Atlantic World.  Thus, the Voyages database is an ambitious attempt to investigate and analyze this complex, often misunderstood era in history, and it does so in a concise, user-friendly website that contributes to not only its field of study, but to the digital humanities as a whole. Read the rest of this entry »


Distribution of the Humanities

“The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed” is a particularly insightful quote by novelist William Gibson, referenced in Mark Sample’s article about the ever-changing landscape of digital humanities and what its open-ended forum of media will lead to next.  The first image this quote brings to mind is the idea of the distribution of global wealth, and how there are people with simply not enough money to access the fundamentals of every day living, let alone life’s luxuries.  While the comparison works only on an associative level, the parallel still exists in the development of technology and the progress of human invention over the years.  For example, in an age when paper was scarce, the only people capable of writing and actually becoming writers were those who could afford to use paper.  When paper became commonplace and ubiquitously accessible, the average man was finally able to write, which was a momentous step for the humanities as a whole.

Now flash forward to, say, twenty or so years ago, when most literature was found on printed text and pages and many of the mediums for what we now associate with the digital humanities (blogs, Twitter, ebooks, e-databases) were not widespread or even invented yet.  The “wealth,” in this scenario with reference to the aforementioned comparison, is with the published writers, with emphasis on “published.”  The only people could become writers – published writers, where a large audience had access to their words – were those who went through the proper processes of writing a manuscript, contacting a publisher, having the right connections, etc.  Simply put, not everyone was capable of having their written works universally distributed and read, especially compared to the ease and convenience of present technology.

And here we are today, in a world of the infinitely expanding Internet, social sites like Facebook and Twitter, and a medium for where so many more people have access to these digital advancements and, thus, a forum for expressing their writings.  Hyperbole notwithstanding, we live in a world where anyone can become a writer. Concurring with Sample, I simply must disagree with Ramsay’s notion that one must be making something in order to be officially labeled as a digital humanist. What is the point of building something if there are no users?  As we continue to advance as a society in the humanities and technology, I believe that we will gradually see the future become more and more evenly distributed, where the lines between the “builders” and the “thinkers” blur to the point of obfuscation.


Disconnect In and From “afternoon”

Is it possible to be fascinated and intrigued by a work of literature, yet simultaneously feel a complete lack of connection with its plot, its overall themes, or any of its characters at all?  I must have literally stared at my computer screen for over an hour with the afternoon application on one side of my screen and a blank Word document on the other, struggling to come up with something, anything to write about on a deeper level than simply commenting on the format.  I continued to ask myself why this “book” was challenging me so much, for I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the originality of the book’s format and the author’s intention of writing outside the box, which contributed largely to a unique, albeit mostly unsuccessful era of electronic literature and hypertext fiction.

It was mentioned in class the other day how difficult it is to have a traditional discussion on an untraditional story where every individual reads something completely different.  Characters were listed that no one had ever heard, plot points brought up that some people had not reached in the story, motifs and reoccurring themes referenced that some had read and others not.  With this extreme lack of consistency, afternoon essentially differs from every novel I have ever formally studied in any of my classes.  Instead, it reminds me primarily of the old point-click adventure games, such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game that I was very fond of as a kid, or those choose-your-own-adventure stories, which I am still fond of, despite their lack of prominence or relevance in the world of academia (unfortunately).

So why the disconnect?  Perhaps this too was Joyce’s intention, to create a theme of displacement in the actual story with the book’s characters, such as with Peter and his ex-wife Lisa, or the narrator (who is sometimes Peter) and the world around him. In a literary universe of disconnection, what better way to relate to the world of afternoon than have the story be separate from itself in the format, the choice of paths and endings, and the overall lack of canon or consistency from beginning to end.  As a result, I wanted so badly to find some kind of connection with the story and its characters, instead of writing about just the format the book is presented in.

Oops.

 


Digital Reading Is Great

By complete coincidence due to unforeseen circumstances with my volatile Macbook, I read N. Katherine Hayles’s article of “How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine,” on my Kindle in the library.  There is something that fascinates me about reading an eBook or a PDF document on an e-reader in a university library that contains books, documents, and manuscripts from hundreds of years ago when the idea of digital print was incapable of being conceived or even thought of.  On that note, I am honestly still fascinated with the very idea of an e-reader, whether it be the Amazon Kindle, the Barnes and Noble Nook, or the Apple iPad.  Electronic literature, or “digital reading,” as Hayles primarily refers to it in her article has changed the way we as a global society can view and access text ranging from contemporary novels to the aforementioned, century-old manuscripts that collect dust in the upper levels of Emory University’s library.

 

Is there any downside to this increase in digital reading that seems to correlate with the decline of print reading?  Out with the old, in with the new, right?  What I most enjoyed about Hayles’s article was her focus on the necessity for an increase in reading ability and overall literacy, which must be the end goal in all of this.  Personally, I could not care less how I read the humanities or in what medium as long as I have the ability to view and read the text in front of me.  It just so happens that in our ever technologically expanding society, e-readers make the most sense in terms of convenience in obtaining books, storing them, and carrying them on your body.  Who wants to carry around a heavy stack of books when you can just bring a laptop or a Kindle to class?

 

But perhaps my favorite line from the article came early on, when Hayles writes that “students read incessantly in digital media and write in it as well, but only infrequently are they encouraged to do so in literature classes or in environments that encourage the transfer of print reading abilities to digital and vice versa.”  How true this statement is.  The day when high school teachers and college professors and all scholars from all over begin to put a serious focus on digital studies to the point where it is an actual priority will be a huge sign of progress in the digital humanities and in academics as a whole.  Fortunately, that day looks like it is rapidly on its way.


Digital Dalloway

As I went through the readings for Thursday’s class, I could not help but notice the stark difference in subject matter between Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and the two articles on the digital humanities by Alex Reid.  One is an early 20th-century, British novel set in a post-World War I England written in a stream-of-consciousness writing style, while the other two articles are part of an ongoing attempt to define and standardize digital humanities.  The latter readings, of course, relate more to the titular subject of “the digital humanities,” yet Mrs Dalloway accompanies these two articles as if they were one and the same.  Reid constantly brings up the idea of divisions in the general, overarching field of the digital humanities and while he may be correct, it is interesting to note these kinds of divisions in pedagogy and definition in our very own class.

 

The last time I read Mrs Dalloway was two years ago for a class focused solely on British literature written after 1660, which would hardly describe the subject material in this course.  Yet while in that class we focused on various motifs of memory, suicide, and war, here we are mapping the paths of Clarissa Dalloway or Septimus Smith on Google Earth and pinpointing there locations. Google Earth, now there’s something I have yet to see in any of my other English classes at Emory.   Only though something like Google Earth can you even study such a “digital Dalloway.” Nevertheless, while a divide between different ways of teaching and studying a book such as Mrs Dalloway may exist, such a division originates from the same subject matter in the first place.  Similarly, divisions and ongoing conflicts within the digital humanities should be embraced for expanding the definition of the field.  In my previous blog post, I touched upon the idea of digital humanities being a synonymous extension of just plain, old “humanities’ and I believe that relates to the idea of a book like Mrs Dalloway falling under different categories of study.  Instead of constantly asking questions like “what is digital humanities?” or “is that digital humanities?” perhaps some day all of these conflicting ideas will result in simply this question: “what isn’t digital humanities?”


“Analogue” Humanities

Since the very first day of class, the ultimate question that we have pondered, discussed, and will likely analyze until the end of the semester is what are the digital humanities. Countless articles, lectures, and blog posts later, Stephen Ramsay in his speech “Who’s In and Who’s Out” references the definition that I found most amusing, which calls the field of digital humanities the antonym and antithesis of “analogue humanities.”  Not to take anything away from the validity of this explanation, I personally think this is a humorous response to the question, acting as more of a tongue-in-cheek answer or a play on the semantics of the subject’s name.  Nevertheless, the fact that Ramsay included such a response, albeit a slightly facetious one, in a speech lasting only three minutes shows its importance to the overall topic, which appears to be defining the digital humanities by what it includes versus what it is not by means of almost a check-list.

Here is where I have a minor issue, specifically with the debate on digital humanities versus the “old-school” analogue humanities.  Ramsay gives a list of examples of anything that might fall under digital humanities, “from media studies to electronic art, from data mining to edutech, from scholarly editing to anarchic blogging, while inviting code junkies, digital artists, standards wonks, transhumanists, game theorists, free culture advocates, archivists, librarians…” and so on and so forth.  This raises the topic of what might fall under the list of analogue humanities.  Classic literature, historical texts, the study of different languages, theater, dance, music, law, art, philosophy, religion are just several out of many, many more subjects that might be classified under the “old” humanities, as opposed to the “new.”  But is there not any overlap between the two types, between the analogue and the digital?  I am sure Ramsay and many other digital humanities would obviously say yes, but each of the them individually would draw the line at different points.  Is an e-book a text of digital humanities, even if the words it contains are from many centuries ago?  I just personally feel as if the humanities are the humanities, and the digital humanities is merely the progression of the field.  Ramsay states that digital humanities is “about building things” and I completely agree.  I would just addend that definition by saying that digital humanities has built upon the “analogue humanities” and created something that is more relevant to the age in which we live in.  There is no doubt in my mind that we will find a new term to define the progress of humanities in the (not so far) future, where what we now call digital humanities has become the old-school and the classic and the “analogue,” so to speak.