My aim in designing a project is to explore the potential of reading literature in the digital age. While there are many amazing projects centered around literary works and tools, there is still so much work to be done. I came into my studies at the GC thinking that I was going to build a digital edition of a literary work as part of my dissertation. Since then, I’ve gone back and forth on the idea, mostly thinking through questions of scope and feasibility. Do I want to make my entire dissertation a digital project, like Amanda Visconti did with her “participatory edition” of Ulysses? Or should I work with material that is less complex, like poems or short stories (for example, “Comparing Marks: A Versioning Edition of Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Mark on the Wall’”), which can be incorporated as a digital component (or chapter) of my dissertation? More recently, I’ve been toying with the idea of making some kind of text analysis tool, like the ones used for Voyant Tools (here’s a comprehensive list of them).
Overall, my goal is to make a digital tool or edition that changes the way students engage with literature. I want to create something that encourages and facilitates critical responses to reading, whether that be through a social reading component (like annotation) or through a tool that deforms a familiar text into new instatiations. There are several open source plugins and programs that facilitate annotation, such as Annotator and Hypothesis, which can be incorporated into the reading interface of virtually any website. One possibility would be to use this open software to create something more personalized for my purposes, like including alternate readings for a single line or text, maybe an up-voting system (like the one used on Rap Genius), or to create a more expansive space for online debates about textual meaning. Another idea would be to embed the annotation tool with text analysis tools, or have them running side by side (though I’m not sure what that would look like).
As I make my project, I have a broad set of questions that will guide my thinking and implementation. First and foremost, which I’ve already mentioned, is how social reading or text analysis tools enhance reading as an inherently critical act. In other words, how is transforming the text into digital formats, and commenting on it, an act of criticism? Second, how does reading online engage the embodiment of the reader, or the materiality of the text? Here, I’m interested in the visual and haptic experience of reading, where the user swipes, clicks, or otherwise navigates her way through a text, as well as what happens to a text’s physical materiality when we put it online. Finally, I’m interested in questions about online freedom and control. How do issues of copyright, intellectual property, and the public domain stifle and prevent our use and experience of the digital? I realize that these questions are wide-ranging, but one of my goals for building a digital project is to see how they might intersect and engage.