Digital History — Spring 2010

February 23, 2010

A question (okay, many) for Professor Walsh…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ths117 @ 3:43 pm

Hello Professor Walsh,

Along with Franco Moretti’s piece in the New Left Review, reading the intro and conclusion to the Fall 2009 issue of Representations stretched some old comparative literature muscles that I haven’t used in quite a while! As a historian, I’m fascinated by the larger social context of these modes of criticism — specifically the symptomatic reading as a result of the 1960s Marxism-inflected imperative towards ideological demystification, etc. (Conclusion 143). I’d be interested to hear what you think about the influence of computers/ the Internet, and free-market/free-information ideologies as perhaps a similarly important influence on “how we read now.” Although the intro piece does touch upon literary critics’ possible use of computers as a means of analysis and taxonomy that gives more attention to rich surface information (17), there’s not much attention given to the impact of the more democratic creation and dissemination of  creative and critical texts that the Internet enables. Could an distinctly expanded (though still exclusive) arena of textual production and engagement have contributed to the decline of the heroic model of criticism? Or has the model of the heroic critic simply moved elsewhere? And do the activist/re-activist hallmarks of Web 2.0 — comment threads, forums, Twitter feeds, wikis — have an impact on this new version of symptomatic reading that envisions itself as reading “beside” the text? (Conclusion 145)

Finally, any thoughts about the impact of the explosion of amateur-created textual media on the work of either historians or literary critics? I concede without debate the fact that much of the Internet’s user-created content is of minimal merit — even as I muse that historians and scholars of cultural studies have done good work with fragments of low culture. Nonetheless, much of what’s produced may rightfully be below the radar of  literary scholars. Still, to appropriate Moretti’s term,  I see the possibility of  a “wave” of text threatening to overwhelm us in the era of digital abundance! To take a different tack though, despite Mayer-Schonberger’s assertions to the contrary, I do worry about the plasticity of digital records — the ability of persons to delete or alter the text and record of reaction in ways unnoticed by the casual observer. Issues of “edition,” authority, and citation become problematic in the digital age.

Apologies for a long set of rambling questions!  I will be attending the entire session on Thursday (barring any unforeseen schedule snafus), and I look forward to your response to any of this that might be relevant to your own work.

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