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About a post-alphabetical philology ABSTRACT

The aim of the project is to develop a methodological framework for a digital philology in the electronic age. Peculiar to this analysis must be an interdisciplinar approach. The project will be divided in two sections: 1) the first is theoretical and will concern the history of philology, as the attitude towards the written expressions, subjected to technologies and supports. 2) the second is practical and will consist in a multimedia digital edition of one or more born digital literature’s witnesses.

Background No modern sensibility has been affected by digital technologies as the philological spirit1. Within a half century of experimentations in applying digital tools to written materials has left us with a great inheritance of digital textuality, perhaps one of the largest ever known. It means that computers, by now, have widely contaminated the humanities re-orienting the whole experience of knowledge. Moreover, the present media revolution has been come along with a considerable academic attention which has transitioned into a more or less established subject all around the world – the Digital Humanities. Furthermore, as things stand now, philology2 seems to be out of the process of knowledge construction. Is there a tension between traditional3 criticism and digital expression? For the most part digital expression is actually far from being scholarly considered and elected as a part of the literary canon. But in the meantime electronic texts have overcome the analogic ones. Section 1 The first step is an historical reconstruction. It will look into the history of philology trying to demonstrate how the exercise of criticism is used to rely on technologies and supports. It will point out that the digital revolution, apart from introducing a new medium in the social and cultural practices, as the past media revolutions did; has introduced a new technology. A technological revolution concerns the translation of a knowledge system into another4 and, in this respect, some particular features will be studied: a) the difference between media and technological revolutions; b) how TECHNOLOGY and SUPPORTS work within the established knowledge; c) how digital technology modifies categories of the literature – author, text, originalality, textual tradition 1

See R. Dyer, The New Philology: An Old Discipline or a New Science, in Computer and the humanities, vol. 4 n. 1 (1969) pp. 53-64. 2 It is a term that needs a disambiguation. Its meaning has changed from time to time since it first appeared in the Library of Alexandria. Here is used to summarize a scientific attitude towards oral and written expressions. 3 Referred to the Lachmann’s method. 4 M. McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1994.

d) the technological bias of those categories; e) binary code as the first technological revolution since the invention of the alphanumeric code5; f) the time dimension [t] incidental to the code and the literary tradition; g) the policies of digital preservation. Such analys will also go through other general issues, some of those are: a) how different cultures give neutral statements the status of knowledge6 b) how technology bias the policies of its production and preservation; c) the reasons and the strategies by which potential cultural statements are excluded from the established knowledge – they’re out of the canon or in apparatus d) why some of them are condemned. Section 2 The second step is a concrete attempt to develop a methodology for an ephilology according to the digital environment’s principles. The choice of testing born digital writings7 arises both from the lack of preservation standards8 and the general hesitation about their meanings and aesthetic values. By now digital textuality is surrounded by a high degree of illiteracy. Traditional criticism is unable to explain it because is shaped on printed books9; it aims to printed publications. A new model for scholarly editing digital textuality must set the principles in developing shared preservation strategies and alternative research approaches. I am firmly convinced that such alternative model could also give reason to many literary phaenomena neglected by traditional theories: such model will be based upon MULTIMEDIALITY, which should be considered both a resource for plurisensorial communications and a category of literature. The general lack of software for a computer-assisted analysis of born digital expressions, in fact, is the reflection of the obsolescence in which traditional ermeneutics – concordance/discordance – has fallen. The degree of INTERACTIVITY, showed by most of the new forms, should be considered an elusive form of orality which could lead scholars to reconsider the newest, as well as the oldest, literary traditions in their real essence, that is variation. I think the concept of 5

See G. Longo, Critique of Computational Reason in Natural Sciences,; D. Schmandt-Basserat, How Writing came about, University of Texas Press, 1966; C. Herrenschmidt, Les Trois Écritures, Langue, nombre, code, Gallimard, Paris, 2007. 6 It needs to say: “and by conserquence, the status of law”. The concept of “document” on which the law is based derives from nothing but a way to practise textual criticism oriented toward the reconstruction of the originality. That is the way the idea of normative arise, supported by “the agreement upon the written document” and, by consequence, its irrevocable and shared truthfulness. 7 I speak generally because of the many genres of digital expression. In the general term “digital expressions” are even included those forms of unintentional writings, in which many categories of literature are implied. 8 About the missing anttention in preserving digital objects see T. Harpold, ExFoliations and the upgrading path, Minnesota Univeristy Press, 2008 about the famous Nelson’s floppy “Literary Machines”; another significative case is the obsolescence in which many Voyager ipertexts have fallen. See df . 9 Which has been more or less the same since the middle of the 19th century.

is a helpful lens through which look into literary traditions and most of the changes in techniques and taste from time to time10; it will sensitize the academic world and other istitutions of the need of policies concerned with the digital heritage preservation11. The primary aim of a textual e-criticism (or e-philology) is to give written and oral expressions back its complexity, plurality, occasionality, volatility and performative component which printing culture refuses to aknowledge. Such attitude to textuality will put in the public eye the social challenge to re-write past knowledge, that has been subjected to printing press’ bias. Above all, this new philology is a new science and an act of social engagement, sensitive to exceptions and minorities as it is, it aims to explain and appreciate the cultural pluralism and promote a strong DIGITAL ALPHABETIZATION12. TECHNOLOGICAL VARIATIO


L. Manovich, Software Takes Command, 2008. 11 Like the PAD initiative promoted by the Electronic Literature Organization. Every university, for example, should start to build its hardware and software museum. 12 The other face of the digital analphabetization is the digital divide. Digital alphabetization will also benefit the conscious use of computers, as a common good, so liable to a shared recycling program and donations.

About a post-alphabetical philology  

Fusées - about the digital revolution and preservation of cultural heritage.

About a post-alphabetical philology  

Fusées - about the digital revolution and preservation of cultural heritage.