“Mrs Darwin” the manuscript

Woodrow Wilson once said “If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.” This is very appropriate when dealing with Duffy’s poetry. “Mrs Darwin”, a five lined poem, by Carol Ann Duffy has several edits while “Brothers”, a considerably longer poem, has none.

            The first thing I noticed when looking through Duffy’s manuscripts is that she rewrote “Mrs Darwin” four times, each time changing something. Before looking at the manuscript I wondered about the significance of the date: “7 April 1852”. The year rhymes with the other words in the poem: “zoo” and “you”, but the day and month seemed to be ambiguous. They do not correspond to a known significant event in Darwin’s life. Looking at the manuscript revealed that the date was in fact ambiguous. Duffy wrote the poem in pen, leaving a date out, and then put it in pencil. The first date was in fact 3rd April 1852 and in the next poem she changed it to 7th April 1852. Interestingly, upon publishing, she removed the suffix to the number and finalized with “7 April 1852.” It is still not clear why she chose this specific date – perhaps it is sentimental to Duffy, or perhaps it flows better. My guess is that she felt that seven, the only two syllable number fewer than thirteen, was more rhythmically appropriate than three, a one syllable word.

            The next edit was Duffy’s removal of a contraction in the second line. She changed “We’d been to the zoo” to “Went to the zoo”. Interestingly, this removal of a syllable corresponds to her previous addition of a syllable by changing “3” to “7”. The replacement of “We’d been” with “Went” supports the short rhythmic nature of the poem. Its cadenza-like nature appropriately compliments its brevity.

            The final alteration Duffy made was changing “Chimp” to “Chimpanzee” in the fourth line. This addition adds two syllables to the final run of the poem. The effect of such an addition perhaps flowed better to Duffy.

Looking at “Brothers” through Duffy’s manuscript

Interestingly, the poem “Brothers” by Carol Ann Duffy has no edits and was written only once in her journal. Looking at her manuscript it is clear that something was different about this specific poem. Most probably, it is due to the fact that it may be a stream of consciousness from her own memories. However, it is important not to assume that Duffy is the narrator in her poems. In fact, the narrator of the first poem in Mean Time is male, signified by his “blazer. The badge. The tie.” (“The Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team”, line 20-21) However, after doing a bit of research on Duffy, she did in fact have four brothers. The poem also mentions four brothers: “with these four men.” (line 1)

            Therefore, it is not unwise to speculate that this poem is perhaps autobiographical. It is still important to not confuse the author with the narrator. In fact, there is no telling sign of whether the narrator is male or female. The only clue is that the last line, “watch them shoulder it” may be interpreted as her brothers carrying a coffin and the narrator observing, because women do not generally shoulder coffins.

            The nature of the poem seems to be about Duffy’s past. This is supported by her lack of edits. This lack suggests that everything was known beforehand, and therefore Duffy does not want to alter her memories in order to edit the poem.

“Brothers” by Carol Ann Duffy

            “Brothers” by Carol Ann Duffy reveals many serious themes including mortality and memory. The poem seems to suggest that once a certain age is reached, there is nothing to do but wait for one’s own passing. The brevity of the poem indicates that life with these four brothers was short. The first stanza indicates that when the narrator does in fact converse with her brothers (from the last line the readers learn that she rarely does talk to them) it is about the past. In fact, she does not even refer to them as brothers in the present: she stares at “these four men.” They are men rather than brothers. This implies estrangement from each other, and furthers the need for the narrator to live in her memories.

            She lives in the past, suggesting that memories are all that the narrator has, even though the brothers still physically exist in the present. Her memories of them in the next stanza are all simultaneous revealing the relative ages and interests of each person: “an altar boy, a boy practicing scales, a boy playing tennis…a baby…”

            Her lacks of photographs also increase the significance that memory plays in this poem. However, the memory in the third stanza is not of her brothers, it is of her mother. She hears her mother’s “life in the [names]” and likes repeating them because her mother chose them. Admittedly, I do not quite follow what the narrator suggests when she says “the word that broke her heart.” Insight into this will be very helpful in having a deeper understanding of the poem.

            The final stanza almost eliminates the importance of the late stages of life. “Now” the narrator has nothing to say to her brothers. This quickly shifts to the narrator buying a coffin and life ending for one of them, herself, or her mother. This very fast shift indicates that life is indeed fast, and will end before the narrator knows it unless she starts strengthening her bonds with her family.

On the intention of the author

Barthes holds a view that many English scholars I have come across also believe in – that limiting a text’s analysis to the author’s intentions is parallel to closing the text. The prose in this case has no life of its own, and is dependent on not only knowledge of the text, but also that of the author. The opposite viewpoint is that once a piece of writing is written, it stands alone. Its analysis is independent of anything but the text itself. Rather than pick one of the sides of this argument, I believe that a consideration of both sides is important in fully appreciating and understanding text as an art form. Rather than completely ignoring the author or world-events that happen during the writing process, I believe that reading the text in light of the events surrounding it may reveal significant insights, whether the author has intended them or not. The author’s intention is, I believe, of no importance. If an author has intended something to be gained from close reading, then it will be gained (if it was written well). Likewise, if an author deliberately unintended something, it will not be learned (however it can be argued that this is an intention in and of itself). I agree with Barthes that limiting a piece of writing to the author’s intentions will only prevent insights that evidence from the text offers.

Closely tied to this topic is the idea of over-analyzing and over-reading text. With digital humanities on the rise, the ability for computers to reveal patterns in the text at a faster rate will only create more insights. Speculatively, the analysis of text by computers can reveal patterns that can support a wide range of arguments, even contradictory ones. I am not in a position to draw a line in the use of evidence to draw conclusions from text, but it is important to recognize that the ridiculousness of evidence from text will only be exaggerated in a digital age.

On Afternoon

Afternoon has caused me to think about many different points of interest in the digital world of literature. Many of these topics of interest have nothing to do with the specific plot or prose of the story itself. For example, finding a computer that would load the CD-ROM I purchased on Amazon never happened. I had to borrow a newer version of the disc in order to read the story. One of the drawbacks of such technology is that many times they are not universal. Certain formats work with certain programs, and even certain programs will only work with certain hardware (the latter is what I was dealing with). This can all be a serious hassle, whereas a physical copy of a book does not require a third party machine to read it.

Regardless, I finally started reading. 30 minutes had passed by and I had no clue what was happening. There seemed to be no apparent pattern or continuity between the pages except for the occasional talk about sex. I started reading each page as a separate poem that had nothing to do with the previous page, which in turn reinforced my inability to connect the pages (because I eventually approached them as unconnected). I thought it was a miracle when at around 50 minutes I reached three pages in a row that seemed to have some sort of plot that I could follow (when the narrator called his son’s school and could not find his wife). I had just begun getting excited about the plot when I got lost again. I never found my way back.

What was interesting is that within the story, some of the pages I felt were making a commentary about the book as a whole (even though they were just thoughts in the narrator’s head). One page even questioned whether there was a story in the first place. Another said there were two stories (one until chapter 53 and another starting at chapter 76 or so).

I personally do not enjoy books where the reader has to make a choice. I have read a few in the past (mostly Goosebumps books) and I never really enjoyed them (and those only usually had two choices to make). Therefore, I especially disliked this. But my personal opinions to the side, I think it provides an accurate comment on digital reading as a whole. I found myself skimming a lot of the pages (especially repeated ones), F-reading, and getting very frustrated.

Whether immediacy is philosophically (not technologically) possible

             My question after reading the first two sections of Remediation is whether true immediacy is even possible. In theory immediacy is the complete elimination of the ability of a user to sense the medium he is using, whether it is non-digital or digital (though this book focuses on the digital uses (i.e. virtual reality work)). It seems to be impossible, not because technology has not reached the point where true immediacy exists, because to a conscious mind immediacy can never exist unless the user is tricked or his memory of entering the virtual reality in the first place was eliminated. For example, suppose the most advanced virtual reality tool was put to the test. Let us assume that it is a microchip that can be placed surgically in the brain and the test subject has absolutely no sensation of the chip or any of the scars (I would consider the scars from the surgery still something that can cause the user aware of the medium because that was what was necessary to make the tool work). One may think such technology as this chip has the quality of immediacy, but I disagree. The user still has the knowledge and the ability to remember that he is in fact in a virtual reality, and that there is in fact some sort of tool causing the virtual reality. This is a philosophical problem rather than a technological one.

            The only solution to this would be to secretly place the chip (or whatever tool) in the user’s head and wake him up in a virtual reality, so he has no experience of entering the virtual reality. Then things become scary. Descartes alluded to this a little bit in his Metaphysics (not that we were necessarily under the control of robots as The Matrix suggests, but that an evil demon could be tricking us into believing things such as mathematical certainties and the existence of corporeal objects).

Rafid on Hayles

There are a few concerns I have with the Hayles article. First of all, she claims that the NEA has shown a causal relationship between “not reading as much” and “decreased reading ability”. Although it may seem logical to make such a connection, there is no evidence that suggests that it is a causal relationship.

Secondly, it is unclear what the author means by digital reading. She explains Bauerlein’s argument that digital reading and print reading are very different and the reading skills are not developed when one is performing digital reading. This seems very interesting because there is no difference in the text if I read a novel in print or a novel with the words on a monitor. However, I suspect that Bauerlein defines digital reading as reading low quality prose such as Facebook stories, blogs, etc; something he does not explicitly illustrate. Later on however Hayles does in fact give reasons for why reading the same exact text in a digital format is in fact different from reading it in printed form. Namely the reason is that digital format reading is associated with digital tools (the scrollbar, finder, etc.) that is not available in printed formats.

Another ambiguous term the article used was “linear reading”. When I think of linear reading I think of not skipping around and getting a logical flow of ideas to form a conclusion. The article seemed to suggest that linear reading is physically reading an article or novel in one long physical line of text (although it can be argued that this is one definite way to assure that readers do in fact both conceptually linearly read by physically reading the text in a linear fashion).

I believe the article greatly understated the significant effect that transforming the print to fit a less educated audience has over making the audience smarter. The author alluded to it by claiming that many web designers take advantage of the fact that readers read web pages in an F pattern.  They conform web pages to fit such a pattern, and by doing so are reinforcing the “bad” reading pattern.

A final point I want to make is that the decline in reading ability is due to numerous variables. We cannot blame just digital reading for the phenomenon. It is caused by a complete change in thought process that is affecting us as a society. This change in thought process is caused by the television, internet, and reinforced by the media. A great novel that I believe pinpoints the main causes of our change in thought process (from a linear analytic process to a bombardment of ideas and facts) is The Disappearance of Childhood. The author outlines three phases in recent human history: pre-printing press, pre-television, and post-television. He describes how the thought process of people have changed with each phase shift and how it affects their way in logically analyzing, understanding, and making arguments.

On Ramsay’s Notion of Building

Ramsay pinpoints one of the problems that I have with people who consider themselves digital humanists. Using “Wordle” makes you a digital humanist just as much as reading a book makes you an author.

In order to build something digitally you MUST know coding, unless you are building the hardware. Then we ask ourselves, are people who design the hardware that we use to do digital humanity projects on considered digital humanists? The answer is no unless the hardware is specifically and only used for digital humanities. Such people otherwise already have a title: a hardware manufacturer. There is very little creativity (in the sense of imagination) that goes into the hardware manufacturing portion of digital machines. For the most part, the software and programming is the turning point in specificity of the purpose of the machine.

But don’t people who create software already have a name also? Are they not programmers? They are, but even software designers have subfields. Some are video game designers, some are web developers, and some are digital humanists. I believe that digital humanists are solely those people who develop new programs that aid in the efficiency of analyzing humanities’ data or give a new perspective to it. All programmers have the knowledge of code, just as all scholars have the ability to critically think. It is the specificity in the goals of the programs that separates some programmers from others. It is true that any programmer has the ability to create digital humanity programs to aid in analyzing text, but a digital humanist does not need direction from a humanities scholar and will probably go on to use the program himself in analyzing the data.

Ramsay specifically lists certain things that he considers productivity in the digital humanities: “data mining, XML encoding, text analysis, GIS, Web design, visualization, programming, tool design, database design, etc – involve building; only a few of them require programming, per se.” I have a hard time seeing how any of these things do not involve programming unless the program to build such things already exists in an interface for anyone to use. In any case, programming (the fundamental behind all of these things) would seriously aid in the production of any digital humanities project.

On Dr. Forster’s definition of DH

I think Dr. Forster is correct in identifying different areas of digital humanities, but I agree with Tanner Higgin’s response that Dr. Forster should be wary of including #3 as part of his definition for digital humanities.  The use of technology in the classroom (specifically digital technology) certainly allows for more efficient learning, but it is important to realize that the users in the classroom are the consumers. Just as Dr. Croxall pointed out last class that reading a book online isn’t necessarily digital humanities, but uploading a book online can be considered digital humanities, I believe that using technology in the classroom does not necessarily characterize digital humanities work. The difference here is the producers of the tools (the software) we use and the consumers.

            I also believe that this previous point depends on the ultimate goal of the work. The development of software is not necessarily the only way in which digital humanities can be recognized. The field of humanities has been in existence before it was even considered a field. The first piece of technology that allowed us to study it was language. After that, text and the printing press were monumental tools in allowing humans to study humanities. Now we live in a digital age and read things online. But does reading something on a computer screen allow us to do something more efficiently or things that we cannot do on paper? The answer is no. It is the process of changing text or typing that should be considered digital humanities. Typing on common word processers allows users to perform tasks that would be very difficult if not impossible on a piece of paper or typewriter.

            Thus in terms of classroom technologies, it is the significant distinction between viewing and creating that characterizes digital humanities. When teachers create power point presentations they are involved in digital humanities, but when students just watch the power point presentation it is not necessarily digital humanities.

How diversity manifests itself digitally

I am skeptical about how the Bloomsburg University students believe that “diversity is foundational to digital humanities.” When elaborating on this, the authors claim that computer scientists, historians, and chemists will all approach analyzing an old manuscript differently, but that they will all transcribe those manuscripts in TEI-XML format. Maybe my misunderstanding comes from the fact that I am not familiar with TEI-XML, but logically it seems that the manuscript will look the exact same digitally (if it is in a certain format) regardless of the transcriber. However, if the authors are claiming that the diverse group of researchers will transcribe their individual findings into a digital format then I see the obvious benefit. But are their individual findings separate from the manuscript itself? Is the type of ink important in interpreting and understanding prose? Should we consider a manuscript as the text itself?

Obviously some manuscripts are purposely written on certain mediums with certain inks for the author’s particular motives, but are all mediums chosen this way? The obvious answer is no. I have personally written things down on any nearby paper I can find not because of the quality of the paper, but of its ease of access. I believe that even this contributes to an understanding of the text, because it emphasizes the importance and urgency of what was being written rather than the holistic beauty of the manuscript. But where should we draw the line? Digital analysis of prose allows researchers to mass analyze diverse texts in a quantified manner with very little effort. With such computing power, I am afraid that the significance of certain conclusions will be thwarted by the trivial information surplus that exists from mass analysis of different variables.