A mental note

I find my thoughts on this week’s readings shaped by two mental “commonplace” notes. One is I. A. Richard’s quip, “A book is a machine to think with.” The other recalls an experience at the Morgan Library: upon presenting a series of medieval manuscripts, a curator mentioned that textual margins developed in order for readers to turn a page without smudging ink. After note-taking became common, scribes began playing with margins and spacing to facilitate the study (e.g. wider spaces between characters in reading primers so students could practice).

Taking these notes as “epitomes” for the readings, one can attempt to crystallize a few simple truths regarding note-taking. Beginning with Richard’s comment, we understand that the act of reading requires, much speech, structuring one’s thoughts to comprehend the meaning the creator intended to convey. Such is the rationale for why one may reread a sentence; the issue is less a failure to understand the individual words used in an utterance and more the personal attempt to develop a receptive thought structure. Viewed under this concept, Blair’s adversaria” become quite transparent and familiar in their utility: they’re simply notes to guide our thinking towards a mental structure that aids comprehension, a warm-up for our ‘cramped’ brains prior to the Barthesian game of reading. Hence the merit of other writer’s notes; they present an avenue of thought or “experience” (Jones) that may assist understanding a writer’s intended meaning.

Indeed, this view also explains the merits of note production in general and classroom phenomena like, “…students in the same class in Paris [coming] away with full-text notes from a course on geography, identical but for aural mistakes…” (Blair) As much as the act of reading requires a structuring of thought, so does the writing act itself. The production of even scribbles requires a (via Whitehead and James) “violence” of thought that steals language away from the associations of thought in the mind. In the act of writing these notes, the students experience the frame of thought conductive to this stream of language. Even if they fail to return to these notes, they still possess the experience of structuring their thoughts in such a manner, should they be required to do so again.

Yet, while this frame of thought explains the “adversaira” it fails to address the “commonplace” and other aspects of note-taking. While the act of writing itself may facilitate thought, it appears wasteful for such mental tools such as “Intermediate notes and drafts” to be discarded and “never meant to be kept.” (Blair 95) Nor does it approach the rationale for note-taking to move “toward the diary based on personal experience,” (Ibid 102) and dismiss the narrowing of thought that notes of “epitome” provide. In fact, reliance on experience suggests undermining the utility already mentioned as the “violence” to produce language entails complete separation from the myriad of thoughts that birthed the utterance. To rely upon experience in one’s notes casts a shadow of impossible recapitulation with the factors producing an utterance; one knows while reading that the full mental structure is irredeemable. (Perhaps this is why Jones held himself from embracing the “full understanding” of Bush and Engelbart and his desire to subsume their thoughts as “dramatize[ation].”)

Hence the provision of the latter note. In it, one sees a cycle of writing to reading to writing. The sheer pragmatic need to engage with a text provided literal space for the reader to write, regardless of the work. Even with the production of manuscripts designed for the act of note-taking, the original feature of margins remained universal. Or, to be pithy, “For as long as there has been writing, there have been readers who follow along and ‘write back.’” (Jones), regardless of the need for understanding. Rather than seeing notes as a “transmission of knowledge” (Blair 85), it seems more appropriate to see note-taking as a product of another fundamental aspect of language: conversation. Within these margins, the reader does not seek to solely provide means to understand the text; s/he seeks to answer to the text and, in turn, be understood as well.

Vannevar Bush: The Blind Seer of the Digital Humanities

Soothsaying is a risky business. Often, visions of the future expose the limits of the prognosticator rather than the possibilities of invention. Remember Octave Uzanne’s 1894 The End of Books? He muses, “Who might tell us, in effect, what will be the state of Bibliophilia in the year 2000? Will the art of typographic impression still exist at that date, and will the phonograph…not definitively replace printed paper and illustration with some advantage?”1 Even giving science a century of growth, Uzanne still imagines the phonograph as a key player.

Johanna Drucker speaks to why so many futurists miss the mark: they base their vision on the current forms of technology rather than on performative functions. Of electronic texts, she laments, “The icon of the ‘book’ that throws its shadow over the production of new electronic instruments is a grotesquely distorted and reductive idea of the codex as a material object.”2 She urges a refocusing on the “program” of the material book—what books allow readers to do—explaining that “if we shift our approach we can begin to abstract that functional activity from the familiar iconic presentation.”3

Sixty years before Drucker and a year before the realization of ENIAC (the first computer), Vannevar Bush then is dazzlingly prescient. He shrewdly bases his predictions squarely on the program of scientific thinking rather than its forms. He considers the history of what scholars do—taking field notes, recording data, analyzing, consulting previous works, writing, and publishing—and considers how new scientific tools such as photocells and thermionic tubes might transform, rather than replicate, those processes. In doing so, he predicts the future of technology with powerful accuracy.

The list of devices he imagines with precision is astonishing, from computer components such as monitors, RAM, and CPUs, to branded products such as iPhones and GoPros (walnut-sized, head-mounted cameras). He anticipates a coding language with dichotomous branches and Boolean logic to facilitate the compression of published texts and a means to search them. More broadly, he also imagines the credit card, point-of-sales software, and even Siri and Alexa who he says will “certainly beat the usual file clerk.” Understatement indeed.

His visionary piece de resistance, however, is the memex—a hyperlinked, albeit local, internet. The memex enhances the program of intellectual discovery: the human brain’s capacity for associative indexing “whereby any item may be caused at will to select immediately and automatically another.” Calling to mind Seth Lerer’s historical reference to the Sammelband, Bush depicts such indexing “as though the physical items had been gathered together from widely separated sources and bound together to form a new book.” But, outstripping the material confines of the Sammelband, the mimex “is more than this, for any item can be joined into numerous trails.”

In addition to the worth these associations have for the creator of them, “the inheritance from the master becomes, not only his additions to the world’s record, but for his disciples the entire scaffolding by which they were erected.” Bush believes that the associative indexing itself, in addition to the discovery it yields, is valuable. (And as I copied and pasted that quotation from Bush’s archived Atlantic article into my own notes, having just searched my Word doc for the Sammelband reference, I was struck by how Bush, 75 years ago, was describing my experience in 2018.)

He extrapolates the uses of the mimex to a range of occupations, from the legal to the medical, as well as to unimagined ones. He believes there will be “a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record”—the passion of us Digital Humanists who, just this week, have been establishing such useful trails to and from Benito Cereno.

And, like many prophets of ancient literature, Bush is also, in a sense, surprisingly blind. Despite his enormous capacity for predicting the future of technology, he glaringly misses the future of society.

Appearing only twice in his detailed vision, women exist merely as technological courtesans. He describes a stenotype in the 1940s as if the operator were a prostitute on opium: “A girl strokes its keys languidly and looks about the room and sometimes at the speaker with a disquieting gaze.” Imagining computers in the future, he writes, “Such machines will have enormous appetites. One of them will take instructions and data from a whole roomful of girls…” While he wasn’t far off his near future, as ENIAC was originally programmed by a team of women, his anthropomorphic description here is more reminiscent of Sardanapalus in his bedroom than a machine in a lab. The omission of women is striking given female scientists such as Edith Clarke at GE, where Bush had worked a decade earlier, who published celebrated papers about Bush’s invention of the differential analyzer well in advance of his writing this article.

Bush’s view is also surprisingly limited in scope. He envisions assistive technologies such as speech-to-text, text-to-speech, and audio, but, unlike his predecessor Edison, he doesn’t imagine what those affordances can do for the disabled. He eagerly awaits freedom for the mathematician so lofty that he cannot compute numbers himself, but he doesn’t extend the liberating capacity to those more visibly impaired or to academics weeded out early in their educations precisely because they couldn’t do elementary math.

He’s also missed the humanities, relegating photography to data gathering and never once mentioning, even in his litanies of professions, the realm of literature, despite his admonition that “specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress, and the effort to bridge between disciplines is correspondingly superficial.” While he sees the capacity for the technology to connect material, he has missed its perhaps more important ability to connect people to each other.

While unbound in his scientific imagination, he remains a prisoner of his social one: his world of the future is that of continued isolated and individual achievement by members of an elite that is distinctively male and abled and presumably white and well off. And yet, he has impressively envisioned the very tools that now invite much of the world to contribute, collectively and from myriad walks of life, to the “general body of the common record.”

 

1Rubery, “Canned Literature,” 238-239.
2Drucker, “Virtual Codex from Page Space to E-Space,” 220.
3Ibid.

Note-Tweeting

In an earlier post or maybe in an annotation I observed that I’ve become more interested in tweeting reactions to a text than in taking notes. While reading “Note Taking as an Art of Transmission” by Ann Blair, I highlighted and commented in the pdf, took a few notes, and tweeted thirteen times. As it happens, one of this week’s other readings, “As We May Think,” by Vannevar Bush is something I also read, highlighted and commented on, took a few notes, and tweeted.

Continue reading

some helpful context for reading BENITO CERENO

In light of our discussion of Melville last night, I wanted to provide a bit of context for those interested in Melville’s politics and the way his work (especially Benito Cereno) has been read in cultural political terms in recent years. I recognize that it’s a heavy lift to read this text for the first (or the third) time, especially in a course that has an interdisciplinary DH focus rather than the kind of robust historical/cultural infrastructure of a course on Melville or on nineteen-century US literature, for example. So no obligation to plow through this stuff, but I wanted to provide a fuller sense of how this text has been situated and read, for those who are interested.

Here’s Toni Morrison’s pathbreaking 1988 lecture on Melville and whiteness. It’s worth a read in its entirety, as is the book that grew out of it, Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, one of a small handful of books that gave birth to “whiteness studies” in the early 1990s. I won’t summarize it, but she wrestles, strenuously and critically, with Melville’s work (here, Moby Dick ) as an attempt to deconstruct the whiteness that subtends the imperialist and racist and patriarchal structures that dominated Melville’s time (and have never left the stage, and, in unsettling ways, have come roaring back to the forefront in recent years).

And here’s a pithy post from Carolyn Karcher, an editor of the Melville section of the invaluable Heath Anthology of American Literature, which is responsible for greatly diversifying the range of what constitutes “US Literature” in college classrooms in the past 30 years. Karcher is speaking to faculty, as they think about planning courses, but the post gives us a clear window onto how scholars have linked Benito to a wide range of texts giving narrative form to the traumas experienced, individually and collectively, by enslaved Africans in the period.

Finally, for those interested in my investment in the text (and the embarrassing/humorous story of how I first encountered it), here’s the epilogue to my book on Depression-era documentary work in the US, in which Benito guest-stars.

See you next week.

 

Group Project #2: Creating an annotated “edition” (due Friday, 10/25)

The overarching purpose of this project is to put the theories of Barthes, Bauer/Zirker, Iser, Drucker, et al. into practice by collaborating on “editions” of a text, in this case Melville’s Benito Cereno. Obviously, it takes many hands and several years to create a publishable edition of a literary text, so we will keep our expectations modest and emphasize the process of collaboration and the experimentation with the affordances, design choices, and relationship with “implied readers” that digital publication allows.

In class, we decided by consensus to work within the following parameters (apologies to those who were absent, but the deadline is looming!):

  • two roughly equal groups will each create an edition: to enroll in a group, sign up here
    • the groups need not be perfectly equal, so follow your interests. But if things start getting very imbalanced, be a mensch and take your second choice, please!
  • each group selected a relatively narrow “frame” for the edition. Whereas the Norton edition we have in print, for example, aims to tell a “general reader” everything they need to know to feel oriented to the text, both editions will focus on a narrower (but more novel) issue:
    • group one (Anthony, Jenna, and Lisa so far) will create an edition focusing on the geography of the novella, providing links to historical maps and perhaps providing some context from historians of the period as to the global flows of goods, bodies, and capital that sailor/merchant/sealer/slavers like Delano and Cereno engage and enslaved Africans like Babo and Atufal attempted to wrest away for their own liberation.
    • group two (Sabina, Patrick, Travis, and Kelly so far) will create an edition that links the text to its own “reception history,” embedding quotes and links that give readers a sense of how Benito has been read, from its publication in the tumultuous 1850s to the present day.
  • both groups began discussing next steps:
    • choosing a platform (some suggestions are here), creating a division of labor and workflow, and scheduling things out to ensure finishing within two weeks.
    • I want to emphasize that I want you to experiment and enjoy the collaboration: I am realistic about what you can do in two weeks and am perfectly happy with a partial edition that is a “proof of concept.” For example, group two might limit itself to the mid-19th century reception of the text, or it might add “reception history” only to the first 1/3 of the text. Group two might also “map” only a part of the text, or discuss representations of the slave trade in the visual culture of the period. Be realistic and follow your interests where they go.
  • instead of formal presentations like last time, we will have an informal discussion of the process/product on 10/25. I do ask that, as for the first group project, each team member compose a brief post for the blog (500 words max) reflecting on a) the process/product as a whole and b) your specific role within it, with an emphasis on what the experience taught you that theorizing about annotation, marginalia, readers, and editions, or consuming such editions, didn’t.
  • evaluation will be very similar to last time, with a group comment/grade and an individual comment/grade. The criteria are only slightly changed:
    • adventurousness: does the text take risks, or just play it safe? Does the edition resemble other standard “critical editions” in print, or does it do something new, using digital affordances to engage readers in novel ways or devise a new angle on the text that will be fresh to readers?
    • quality: is the product accessible and user-friendly? Does it articulate a clear relationship between the “primary text” and your “secondary” comments on it? Was some attention paid to aesthetics and design?
    • reflectiveness: does the presentation (and the discussion in the seminar and on the blog) reflect careful thinking about the project? Did the secondary readings by Barthes, Bauer/Zirker, Iser, Drucker, et al. inform the project in any way?

Reflections on my first time hypothes.is-ing

As for some of us, annotating From Work to Text by Roland Barthes was my first experience with online annotations. I usually am a very active annotating reader; the pages and margins of most of my books and printed texts are full of notes, underlinings and arrows. My experience of using hypothes.is was therefore strongly framed by a comparison between my analogue annotation practices and this new experience.

First of all, obviously, the main difference is that this time I was annotating in a semi-public sphere, and in dialogue with others. I could see what Schacht describes as the pedagogical effect of digital annotations as highlighting “what democratic deliberation shares with academic discourse: the general form of conversation.” (paragraph 8) It was this aspect that I valued the most within using hypothes.is. I definitely felt less alone in encountering this very dense and in parts (to me) enigmatic essay, to see that others had already encountered similar difficulties, asked themselves and via their annotations us, their colleagues, similar questions. As multiple people had already read and annotated the text before I did, I felt like I would join a conversation that was already taking place. (I would therefore be interested in the experience of the first and second person reading/annotating.)

Furthermore, hypothes.is is encouraging the dialogical aspects of its application by sending e-mail notifications as soon as someone replies to your annotation. I could not withstand going back to the text and read the replies immediately each time I received one of these notifications, sometimes leaving a reply to a reply. Therefore, using this form of annotation definitely made me engage with Barthes’s essay more intensively than I would have otherwise. I doubt that I would have re-read certain passages that many times if it was not for the sake of being curious about these replies to my annotations and my desire to reply to them in turn.

At the same time, my reaction to these replies also made me aware of hypothes.is as being a form of “surveillance” of my studying practices. Hypothes.is documents the time someone makes an annotation or writes a reply. And so there was this one time, when I read the e-mail notification in the middle of the night, and I was wondering what “the others” and “the teacher” might think of and know about my lifestyle if they see that I am still awake, and still engaging in coursework. I know this might sound a little paranoid, but while I was reacting to this reply around 1.30am, I did so with a feeling of slight discomfort. I thought about what if I would have made all of my annotations between 2 and 4am in the night before class, or an hour before class? And what if I would do this with every assignment? Would it influence my colleagues’ and teachers opinion about me? I guess it might sound exaggerated to think so much about these questions in connection to this class and this one assignment, but I think that the publicity and kind of information collected within forms of digital expression is something we should always keep in mind.

The aspect of these annotations to be (semi-)public also was relevant in terms of the content of my comments. What I was writing was definitely different from what I would have written in the margins of a print version of this text no one else would see. I didn’t write down what I figured would be not interesting or relevant for other readers, or too private for me to share it. I therefore liked the idea of an option for private note-taking, which Bauer/Zirker refer to as a “useful provocation to explore the countervailing values of openness and privacy in the classroom, on the Web, and in democracy generally.”

As Bauer/Zirker have also pointed out, “annotation (…) provides readers with an interpretation not of a complete text but of its particular aspects.” This was definitely helpful given the complexity of From Work to Text. It felt liberating to be able to react only to the parts I could best connect to, or the parts that immediately arose questions. I didn’t feel the pressure of having to “understand everything” before I would have the “right to” say something about the essay, a dynamic that is often prevalent in academic contexts. At the same time, doing so made me think about “the selection of which aspects of a text are to be annotated and the relation of the parts of a text to its whole.” (Bauer/Zirker) What happens with our reading of a text, if we are not forced/encouraged to react to a text as a whole? On the one hand, I definitely felt more comfortable in the first place with skipping over the parts I could not make sense of immediately, whereas at the same time as soon as someone else had commented on one of these passages, I—depending on the content of the annotation—engaged with them more than I would have if they were “plain text”. I therefore think that social annotation practices benefit incredibly from a diverse readership sharing their annotations, and would therefore argue that in this sense hypothes.is encourages a conversation between a non-homogenous group of readers (see Bauer/Zirker’s statement that readerships become more diverse in the digital realm).

Last but not least, I appreciated Bauer/Zirker’s development of different categories/levels of annotations, “which takes into account the risk of the loss of information through the overabundance of information”. While doing the annotations in hypothes.is, I missed my different-colored pencils and my personal system of abbreviations (which I use similar to hashtags), which allow me to immediately see the difference between an added definition of a word, a question, a note on what I need to look up later, a comment on the content, the style etc. On the other hand, this would of course require a group of readers to compromise on a common use of categories which would in turn restrict and determine the ways in which we annotate once again, and therefore speak against the “openness” digital annotations want to provide.

Annotating online for the first time

Many of the  questions I had for Jeremy Dean, Director of Education at hypothes.is, had more to do with the mechanics of annotation online than the educational implications of such a tool, or with Jeremy’s particular trajectory as an alt-academic.  In preparing to annotate Roland Barthes this week, I familiarized myself a bit with the hypothes.is platform by watching some of the videos and reading the tutorials posted on their site.  One of the videos provided a talk that Dan Whaley gave at the Personal Democracy Forum in 2013 regarding the potential annotations have to democratize information.  Open Annotation was mentioned during the talk and I had not really heard of this before.  With a cursory web search, I discovered the Open Annotation Collaboration’s website and also wanted to know more about the early failures of open annotation on the web as a massive endeavor.  I located this article on The Scholarly Kitchen site.  It seems 2013 was a big year in online annotations (Open Annotation Collaboration completed the project in 2013 and the article I cited above was published in 2013 and the first iAnnotate conference was held in this year).

Using hypothes.is to annotate was an interesting experience and it was my first go at online annotation.  Writing in books and on printed articles using pen, pencil, highlighter, and post-it note has been my annotation practice, but I enjoyed seeing the variations of contributions from my classmates and can see the potential of this tool for scholarly discussion and collaboration.  Though, as Matthias Bauer and Angelika Zirker point out in their piece, “Whipping Boys Explained: Literary Annotation and Digital Humanities” annotations could grow too abundant to really mean anything and plenty will get lost in the “noise” of it all.  However, isn’t this true of the web in general?  I am regularly in awe of the sheer abundance of knowledge and information growth in the world today, but I don’t foresee an end to the exponential growth anytime soon and it just because it won’t be found through a search engine’s algorithm, doesn’t mean the practice shouldn’t be undertaken.  Bauer and Zirker have used annotations in their undergraduate classes to increase engagement with texts, but strive to establish a framework for scholarly annotations.  As already stated in previous posts, this course is really my first opportunity to engage with texts at a level considered “close reading” and I fully continue to admit that it makes me somewhat uncomfortable.  I feared that my annotations weren’t making that great of a contribution or that I wasn’t really getting at the point in annotating a Barthes text.  Previously, my annotations were private and for me only, while now anyone on the web could see what I was thinking in the margins.  I’m interested to see how I engage with Melville’s text online: will it be easier to consider than a Barthe’s text? 

Some of the questions I had for Jeremy are:

  • What is open annotation and how does hypothes.is embody it?
  • What other systems are out there and what were their evolution?
  • What problems has hypothes.is experienced along the way?
  • What are the intentions of web annotation?
  • What preservation plans does hypothes.is have?
  • How is hypothes.is different from other platforms?  Inter-operability and Ubiquitous?  Data collection and sales?
  • What is the existential ethos of hypothes.is?
  • How does one find annotations outside of the hypothes.is platform?

I realize I am writing this post past its due date, but life got in the way this week.  So, while I did not get to ask Jeremy any of my questions this past week in class, he was gracious enough to encourage the class to reach out to him and continue the conversation.  And, he’s available on Twitter.  On which he shared a video of ours truly, Jeff Allred, discussing social annotation (where I must again admit, that I have great anxiety over engaging with “theoretically dense, philosophically rich, formally experimental text” like Barthes!).  Impostor syndrome?

Lawless Annotations

The practice, history, and theory of annotation creates frictions between the form and practice of writing in margins as we approached it in Barthes. I found myself confronting a few issues: the first, is how annotation is organized hierarchically with the writing and philosophizing of a capital “T” Text; second, whether or not annotations themselves are Text. The complications with my questions come in with the issue of categorization and law both in Barthes and in Bauer/Zirker.

The author’s death is complicated by annotation; she dies as other voices speak over and around what she has written, but at once she cannot die when she is in constant conversation with annotations. Furthermore, the author and the writing change based on what rules are laid out for the annotation. I found that in our project with annotation on Barthes’ text, the annotations were laid out in an organized way but they were almost anarchic; we had no distinguished approach to the annotations and so we got a soup of responses and conversations int he margins of the text. Some people left short questions posed to the other annotators and to RB, others left comments of frustrations, others left analyses and thoughts, others left norton-style annotations that were geared towards helping the rest of us read (ex. Kat helpfully spotted an allusion to the Death of the Author and Barthes’ definition of “doxa”.) It seems that Bauer and Zirker would be concerned with the “trustworthiness and authority” of the text:

…questions of expertise and authority arise when a text is annotated. New forms of collaboration made possible by the digital medium sharpen the theoretical question of how explanatory authority is established. Conversely, our idea of how annotation becomes most trustworthy and authoritative will influence how we organize its practice.

This suggests that a “good” annotation would be structured and credible. They lay out their methodology for structuring annotations to prioritize organization and usefulness within that formula. This system requires a meta-thought about annotation, rather than an organic stream of interaction with the writing at hand. Their approach to annotation is one that distinguishes it as a genre of experts, and which is shaped by such an approach to the text. It counters directly with the style/feeling of our comments and interplay with the text of annotation we approached as a class and as individuals—my own annotations ranged from rhetorical analysis to memes—but I don’t believe the lawlessness of our annotations should negate them as serious and scholarly ones (okay, the Arrested Development joke was not serious or scholarly, but the New Yorker Cartoon was!) The actual heart of how I see annotation functioning in new web platforms and capabilities is not so much a new ability to organize and govern, but a means to make what is—and should always be—a playful and intellectual chaos in the margin accessible to any who chooses to be a writer/reader.

Especially when the nature of Barthes’ text is to demand a textured quality in “good” writing, and that good writing is that with Text, not necessary what is most elite. He specifically discusses how the laws of texts which give rights to the author limit the malleability of a text:

…literary science therefore teaches respect for the manuscript and the author’s declared intentions, while society asserts the legality of the relation of author to work (the ‘droit d’auteur’ or ‘copyright’, in fact of recent date since it was only really legalized at the time of the French Revolution).

This remark suggests that it’s only by human legal delineation that written works are granted singular authorship to their creator, and he differentiates this from the capital “T” text, which “reads without the inscription of the Father,” or rather is read instead through the inscription of the audience and context. Our annotations follow this same principal, imposed on top of Barthes, with tenuous connection to our physical selves behind account handles. Our random annotations are their own genre and performance of Text, a new interdisciplinary language, as Barthes might have it. It seems that in this capacity, the intertextuality embodied by our annotations makes them as important as the text itself. Laws and Texts don’t seem to coexist particularly well, so outlining best annotation practices becomes obsolete when there a serious text and serious reader meet.

Texts, Works, Objects and Signs

Patrick Grady O’Malley

 

Considering the “Text” as a “process of demonstration” and not a “reduction of reading to a consumption” transcends how many people likely think of the reading process. With our recent discussions on audiobooks, I wonder how Barthes would react to this form of media as being consumed or if he would be open to the idea of an audiobook as something to be experienced.

 

To comprehend a work is to do more than merely interact with the words of that text but to be part of the “biological conceptions of the living being.” This largely paves the way for Barthes to make his argument of a text as a “network,” something to be lived and interpreted. However, it is also this reason that makes his statement “the Text is not to be thought of as an object that can be computed,” confusing. Networks are always computed, and he seems to be countering his own argument by saying the text is one but cannot be the other. What’s more is that if a text is a “process of demonstration,” than again why can it not be computed? Computation and demonstration go hand in hand with one another, and the work that Digital Humanists do with text mining and more, demonstrate more about a text than most comparative studies or close readings do, all through computation. There is a generational delay or two from when this article was written to the advent of Computational Linguistics and Digital Humanities, but by the 1970’s computers were already changing the way that so much work was being done, if Barthes, so profound, prophetic and wise, were really on top of his game, I don’t think he would ever make the statement that text not ever be computed.

 

I do appreciate Barthes’ distinction of “work” as a “general sign” and a “Text” as “the signified.” I say this because I like thinking of work and text as two different entities (even though as I argue below, they are a bit closer to one another than Barthes suggests), work is the sign that represents all that went into its production, and perhaps also its appeal to a reader, whereas text as signified works on a deeper level as something that is to be interacted amongst/with, or as Barthes puts it: “the Text is radically symbolic: a work conceived, perceived and received in its integrally symbolic nature is a text.” This element supports my first statement saying Barthes’ perspective could shift the way people perceive the act of reading and writing.

 

But my only question is if a “Text” is an “object,” what of a work? Is that also an object or is it always going to be a “general sign?” Can a work never achieve what a text does, and does a text automatically fulfill the requirements of a work? The “interdisciplinarity” of research leads me to think that the two work in tandem a bit more than Barthes would like for us to believe. Or at least perceive as we ponder over his writings. If we could attest literary texts as always being products of “linguistics, anthropology, Marxism and psychoanalysis” then I don’t see the harm in thinking of them as “works” at the same time.