Friday, May 1, 2009

Last Year's K'zoo

A link to MacAllister Stone's paper from the 2008 Kalamazoo conference.

My favorite part:

If, rather than a static object -- a book or a page -- text is dynamic and liquid, what practical challenges and considerations arise? And what possibilities?

One of the most exciting things that happens is that text is entirely set free of any specific temporal place and physical location. This paper I'm reading right now can be poured, essentially, from screen to flash drive to page, and later I'll go home and post it on my own blog. It's liquid.

Just the overwhelming variety of modern fonts, instantly available, is something John Gower could never have envisioned. And isn't it interesting that those same fonts that offer us an amazing range of choices also limit us in a way pen and ink do not, in terms of creating text as art? It's still a finite number. The way around that, of course, is to simply design our own fonts -- and we can do that now, too. Maybe it's still not calligraphy, but we can hyperlink the gloss to any esoteric terms, embed video and sound, animate the words themselves; and when we've finished all that, have a quick vanity-Google to see who has linked to us most recently.

That inherent flexibility of digital text creates a remarkable platform with which to parse complex ideas and examine the history of our language, art, and literature -- all the while reaching an audience that's both interested and participatory -- and in many cases will provide near-immediate feedback. Text in motion.

That's excellent news for medievalists, who have an unprecedented opportunity, then, to bring the past into the present in a nearly tangible and immediate way -- and capture the intimacy and immediacy of personal conversation in the permanence of text.

Perhaps we get a little too enthused about the supposed freedom of text in our digital age. Certainly, the page has always invited addition, revision, transfer, and even destruction. Anything on the medieval page could be dramatized or performed. Texts are terminally liminal in this way.

I prefer to see the "new" in textuality as just bigger, faster, stronger related to the old in textuality.

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