Friday, 2 December 2016

Obituary József Gedeon

József Gedeon (Igor Grín 2008)
József Gedeon, manager of the Castle Theatre in Gyula, Hungary, organizer of the Shakespeare Festival (Gyula), member and founder of many Hungarian and international art associations, died Nov. 25. He was 60 years old.

József Gedeon was born in Gyula, spent most of his life in his hometown with the exception when he studied in Szeged, where he obtained his degree in Comparative Literature, and in Budapest to study Art and Design Management at Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design. When in his hometown he worked as an extra and then as an actor in theatrical productions, was a teacher of Literature and English, was the head of the Cultural Department of the Local Government, and became the director of the Castle Theatre in 1995. As the director of the Theatre he organized the annual Summer Festival, part of which was the Shakespeare Theatre Festival. He also brought into being an International Jazz festival. He was the founding member of the Hungarian Erkel Ferenc Society, the Association of Outdoors Theatres, the Hungarian-British Friendship Society at Gyula, and member of the Steering Committee of the Hungarian Shakespeare Committee, initiator and founder of the European Shakespeare Festivals Network.

József Gedeon was a man of vision, charisma and uncompromising power. His achievements as a local cultural patriot, as a national and international figure of cultural life need no further commentary. I have known him since the refoundation of the Hungarian Shakespeare Committee, when he was invited to act as an active member of the board of the committee. Since then I have been in touch with him in a variety of capacities, mostly owing to events related to Shakespeare’s reception. He was full of energy and enthusiasm for whatever he was involved in: he was keen on giving a lecture on the history of the Hungarian Shakespeare Festival (he travelled 300 kms to Budapest and another 300 back home for this speech). Besides being passionate and knowledgeable about Shakespeare, the theatre, Gyula, he was always happy to listen to other people’s opinions, he was open to discussions concerning the conference during the Shakespeare Festival, but he was also able to disagree when he found reason for doing so.

His death does not solely fill everybody who knew him with remorse but also creates a vacuum in the Hungarian cultural, theatrical life, also in the Hungarian Shakespeare reception, a vacuum that can hardly be filled. A man of heart and steel has been lost, a man who was one of us and also above us, a man who made history, cultural history, a man we on every side of Shakespeare reception sorely miss.

Zsolt Almási
Secretary of the Hungarian Shakespeare Committee

Monday, 25 July 2016

Academic blogging: why?

Now that the summer is at its full swing, when being away from everyday bureaucratic work, thus having the freedom to ponder about stuff that normally is suppressed by daily duties, I started thinking about why I love blogging. Although I can easily list a hundred reasons why I should not write these blog posts, yet I just love musing about ideas that concern me most temporarily.

To begin with, let us see why it may seem counterproductive to spend time with writing up blog posts. First, blogging has no academic value, it does not count in one's list of publications, so it is a waste of time. Two, a blog post is not peer reviewed, so its contents may well be questionable. Three, this is at least a feature of my blog, that rather few people read it: it is not academic enough for my colleagues, and maybe too academic, at least topic-wise for others. And fourth, I do not publish blog posts regularly enough to attract readers. Surely this last one is a person specific problem, as I run this English and I also have a Hungarian one, the posts appear either here or there so the appearance of new posts are rather rare.

Though these counterarguments seem sound, I would still like to reflect on them. Of course these blog posts do not surface in the list of publications, and yet they are not completely valueless. The list of publications does not have a merit on its on, and I hope and believe that what is meant by scholarly value may change over time. But undeniably at the moment scholarly value remains a problem. Two, clearly the blog posts do not go through the process of peer review. Although peer review has its on discontents, I do not intend to rehears them here, first and foremost because I deem peer review a necessary and beneficial institution. But some sort of peer review is at work in case of blog posts too, even if not in the prepublication phase. Comments function as postpublication peer review, which is as important and relevant as the prepublication one. Three, the problematics of too few readers. I reckon not much more people read my other writings that are hidden behind the paywall, and a comment by Jonathan Hope means much more to me than many references by other scholars. Fourth the two-language blogging. Writing blog posts is really fun, and if it is fun in two languages, then let it be like that, I can live with maybe loosing readers because of the small number of posts per blog. Maybe in the future I will unite the two blogs, where both English and Hungarian posts will appear next to each other.

Refuting counterarguments provides insufficient reasons for blogging though. So why do I find so much fun in writing blog posts? One of the reasons is my fascination with Open Access. I reckon blogging is just contribution to the growth of Open Access content and ultimately to the cause of the Open Access movement, which is in a sense an end in itself for me. It also matters that I enjoy the process of writing up of shorter pieces. Sometimes I get tired of creating longer writings, joy is deferred so much that sometimes I sometimes get tired of that type of work. Writing up a blog post though gives much more immediate satisfaction, since I can finish a short, max. 1000-word long piece in an afternoon. And also there is no suffocating feeling of a must-do activity. Journal articles must be written, a book is under way, these are necessary parts of academic life, and I enjoy these too. But writing blog posts is really for joy: if I have an idea to verbalize in a post, and I have the free-time to work on it, then I enjoy myself this way without the pressure of a compulsory work. It is also significant that I just love putting ideas into words, as an academic and old fashioned humanist I believe in the power of words,that shape reality even if in the most remote sense.

Why I like blogging so very much is also due to the change in register. I appreciate the tense, academic style that addresses the initiate. But I also find pleasure in turning to a somewhat more colloquial style that shoots beyond the small circle of academics. This is one of the reasons why I contribute to Wikipedia with entries from my field. This doesn't mean though that I would have a clear notion of who reads my blogs. Most of the (small number of) comments on this English blog are from friends and academics, but I have no idea who reads this one without commenting. The Hungarian however is clearly read by non-academics as well, I have received comments from people I know to be outside the circles of the academia, and I am also aware of people reading the blog from all walks of life.

And a last reason lies in the fact that very few Hungarian scholars have a blog. Although there is a growing number of academics who write blog posts, still this medium is not so fashionable as it is in the Anglo-American world. There might be some cultural reasons for this difference, e.g. shyness, not so much inclination for writing etc. The cultural differences, however, do not hinder me from this activity but rather encourage me.

These are some of the reasons why I keep using the medium of blogs. They may sound weak for some people, from certain perspectives, yet they are sufficient for me at the moment.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Open Access and the new culture of information flow

I consider myself an advocate of the Open Access movement not only in words but in deeds as well. That said I have to admit or rather just because of being an advocate I must admit that I have some problems with Open Access publications. Namely, I am not quite sure that Open Access publications can reach their target audience as effectively as their counterparts behind the paywall.

Creative Commons
I consider myself an advocate of the OA movement, because whenever I have the opportunity, I speak about it. Surely, I can speak about the concept of OA in the greatest depth during my Digital Humanities classes. There I have the opportunity to elaborate on the difference between free and OA, about the various shades of OA (gold, green), the numerous licencing opportunities from GNU GPL to Creative Commons and the degrees within these, the Budapest Open Access Initiative. I frequently use the OA button in my browser. Furthermore, I also am happy to speak about Aaron Swartz and Alexandra Elbakyan, about The Internet's Own Boy, and SciHub. When reading out parts of the "Open Access Gerilla Manifesto," my voice betrays my emotional involvement, similarly to the moments when reciting Bertrand Russel's "Preface" to his Biography, or when reading out Lear’s words carrying Cordelia’s dead body on stage.

Swartz smiling
Aaron Swartz
Alexandra Elbakyan
Alexandra Elbakyan
Being an advocate of OA does not only involve talking about this fantastic concept, practice and responsibility of the Internet, but also I try to act accordingly, too. Running a blog is one step towards academic openness. With an English colleague we founded an OA journal, e-Colloquia, which is not alive at the moment but should / could be resurrected soon. I regularly contribute to Wikipedia, and request my students to do so within the framework of editathons, too. I share the PowerPoint and Prezi presentations for my classes on Slideshare and make them open on Prezi so that others can make use of them. I share my course descriptions so that anyone can copy and develop them. I am also happy to share my projects (scripts and texts) on GitHub so that anyone interested can copy, download or fork them. So I try to act according to what I preach.

That said I also have to share my problems with accessing OA objects in general and OA books in particular. The case is easy once I learn about an OA object or book: I only enter the relevant strings in the search window of the browser and Bob's my uncle. The problem arises when I just do not know or simply forget about, say an OA book. If I do not know anything about an OA book, then I will not be able to find it. Where is the problem here?—one might ask. Why would you look for something that you do not know if it exists at all? Yes, this is true and the very problem at the same time. I learn about books that are expensive, written by authorities in the field, counting as landmarks in the discipline, well before their publication, as news, would reach me very fast. Appetisers, i.e. academic advertisements would call my attention to them, and by the time of the publication, I would be eager to purchase and read them.

But this is not the case with OA books. Their authors do not mention their OA publications either during the pre-publication phase or after it, clearly because of shyness, or because fearing self-promotion, believing that a good book, article does not need advertisement, you name the reasons. The publishing house does not have an interest in advertising the OA publication, as advertisements need investment without return. Most of the time the funding for the OA publication does not include the cost of advertisements, thus beyond the fact that advertising OA publications is not in the best interest of publishers, funding authorities never think about this: their sole objective is to have the results of a research project published.

Should then the cost of advertisements be built into the research costs? Maybe. Or should a new academic culture of "care and share" be created? The digital arena does not only foster OA publishing but also provides ample opportunities to let colleagues know about one’s publications: they may be notified via personal emails and email lists, the books can be advertised through social media: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, But do we have the time and energy and self-confidence for this self-promotion? This initial step should be made, I’m afraid. But then it is the scholarly community’s responsibility to inform others about the news of an OA publication moving in concentric circles. Furthermore it is also the task of the big names in the guild to promote these publications, as their voice is stronger, it reaches out to more people and is heard more easily. Does this mean that the channels of promotion on the basis of the principle "care and share," a new advertising culture is to be built? A culture that is not founded on profit but on the responsibility for colleagues and for the welfare of the discipline? Maybe.

Creative Commons:
Aaron Swartz By Fred Benenson - User: Mecredis -, CC BY 2.0,
Alexandra Elbakyan: By Apneet Jolly -, CC BY 2.0,

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Quantitative Analysis with Question Marks

The fall break started two days ago, and I have had just the leisure to get back to writing a short Python script. I have been working on this project for a while, but as a newbie I just take steps forward pretty slowly. The script I am working on is supposed to analyse any text but actually every modification I introduce into it is the result of the problems I face when I run the script to analyse quantitatively the quarto edition of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. I am wondering if you have to tune the script for every text. But then this would mean that comparing different texts would be impossible. This, however, would lead too far, so instead of this let me mull over a specific problem.

In this post I am going to share one type of insight into the text that I have gained when working with the quarto text of Much Ado About Nothing. When running the script I encountered a problem. This problem concerns the hyphens in the text, insofar as words divided at the end of lines with a hyphen were counted as two separate words. To overcome this problem I tried to remove these hyphens from the end of the lines automatically, but then I ran into a further problem: the machine either removed them simply but left the words divided without a hyphen, and this was no good, as they remained two separate strings. Or if they were removed and the two halves of the words were united, this was no better either, because then the two lines in which the two halves were located became united, too, and this resulted in the distortion of the number of lines. So finally I removed the hyphens and united the words manually so as to avoid the unification of lines. The manual unification of words was beneficial on a further account as well, as I could make a decision on an individual bases in which line the word was to be placed.

When working on this task, which did not last long, it took approximately 15 minutes, I noticed that actually compound words divided with hyphens appeared in mid-line position as well. So what I did next was writing up a short script to collect all these instances of compounds separated with a hyphen, count the number of lines where there are instances of this and also count the number of lines of the play. Once having these numbers I also counted the relative frequency of the lines in which compounds appear.

Compound words divided with a hyphen in the order of appearance in the quarto edition of Much Ado About Nothing are the following:

['turne-coate,'], ['Hare-finder,'], ['Ballad-makers'], ['warre-thoughts,'], ['ouer-heard'], ['March-chicke,'], ['start-vp'], ["heart-burn'd"], ['mid-way'], ['ouer-masterd'], ['day-light.'], ['Schoole-boy,'], ['ouer-ioyed'], ['tooth-picker'], ['sun-burnt,'], ['working-daies,'], ['loue-gods,'], ['kid-foxe'], ['night-rauen,'], ['out-rage'], ['ouer-heardst'], ['hony-suckles'], ['heare-say:'], ['wood-bine'], ['bow-string,'], ['hang-man'], ['tooth-ach.'], ['tooth-ach.'], ['Dutch-man'], ['French-man'], ['lute-string,'], ['tooth-ake,'], ['hobby-horses'], ['Ote-cake', 'Sea-cole,'], ['Sea-cole.'], ['Hot-blouds,'], ['worm-eaten'], ['cod-peece'], ['gentle-woman,'], ['night-gown'], ['Sea-cole,'], ['eie-liddes'], ['ouer-whelmd'], ['candle-wasters:'], ['tooth-ake'], ['milke-sops.'], ['out-facing,', 'fashion-monging'], ['trans-shape'], ['vnder-neath,'], ['gossep-like'], ['Lacke-beard,'], ['grey-hounds'], ['carpet-mongers,'], ['witte-crackers'].

It seems that out of the 2589 lines of the play, hyphenated compounds appear in 54 lines, and in two lines there are two of these compounds, so altogether there are 56 hyphenated compound words in the text. The relative frequency of the lines in which there are hyphenated compounds is 0.0208574739282 . Furthermore, as there are 22, 171 words in the text, the relative frequency of hyphenated compound words in the texts is 0.00252582201976.

Now why are these numbers important? The significance of these numbers can only be gauged if compared to another text, to other texts, because then a pattern may emerge. But then what kind of texts are to be compared and contrasted to. Those of Shakespeare? Or those of the printer? If Shakespeare’s, only the quarto editions, as these are close in time, or all the early prints, i.e. the First and Second Folios as also books of the same period or only those early printed editions that go back to some form of a manuscript, as Much Ado About Nothing, because then these may reveal something about Shakespeare? Or only those that were published by Andrew Wise and William Aspley, as they were the publishers of the quarto edition of the play, or those that were printed by Valentine Simmes, as it is his employees who created the printed text in the final analysis? Or in reality these features do not have anything to do with Shakespeare but rather with the publishers, i.e. Wise and Aspley, or the printer, i.e. Simmes, and these features should be compared only to books one of these parties printed and not necessarily authored by Shakespeare, as they are the people who are responsible for the text that we can witness nowadays. In other words is this statistical analysis related more to studying the history of the book, or the history of spelling than to studying Shakespeare? Answering these questions might be unavoidable when looking for texts to compare the quarto of Much Ado About Nothing to.

Monday, 29 July 2013

An Enchanting Day at the Gyula Shakespeare Festival, 2013

I had the privilege to spend a long day (13th July, 2013) at the Gyula Shakespeare Festival, Hungary. It was an enchanting day due to three absolutely great programmes I could attend: a mini-conference focusing on Shakespeare’s monologues in general and the “To be or not to be” soliloquy in particular; Steven Berkoff’s solo performance about Shakespeare’s villains; and lastly a Measure for Measure in the Castle Theatre. All these programmes proved to be special in their kind, giving inspiration and food for thought since then.

The most interesting aspect of the mini-conference was what may be called its multidisciplinary approach, as the participant came from a variety of walks of (intellectual) life. The eight people who gave a talk at the conference included an actor, Steven Berkoff, directors, Csaba Kiss, Yuriy Butusov, Emil Boroghina, and from the academia Maria Shevtsova, Ádám Nádasdy, Gabriella Reuss and myself. I am not claiming that there was much communication between the disciplines and approaches, but at least many representatives of the fields of Shakespeare’s reception were together and could listen to each others’ talks and hopefully learned from each other—I learned a lot at least.

After the conference and some rest we could watch Steven Berkoff’s performance, representation and interpretation of Shakespeare’s most notable villains. The list included Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Richard III, Hamlet (yes, Hamlet was also included, for being “a serial killer”). Although the villains were in the thematic focus of the performance, yet through and with them we saw the stage and the screen of Shakespearean performances, great actors with Berkoff’s eyes. Or more precisely the focus was on MAN, and indeed with capital letters: the mediocre, the fallible, the fallen, the happy, the frustrated and jealous MAN, who is there everywhere, over there and in here. It was professional skillfulness, self-indulgence and self-irony that made this performance memorable and enchanting.

The greatest surprise of the day was Measure for Measure by the Vahtangov Theatre, Russia. The performance cannot be unknown to the English audience, as it was staged during the 2012 London Globe World Festival. This very performance at Gyula really made my day, as this production was one of the very few theatrical performances that was composed and directed in an innovative and creative way, where from the large picture to every little movement was worked out and measured with a coffee spoon. The stage was located within the walls of the Castle, which created a special atmosphere for the production. The stage was surrounded by the high solemn brick walls of the Castle. These walls towering above the stage created the atmosphere of a suffocating area, a prison from where there is no escape. Or if there was some room for escape that was only upwards, as the stage was not roofed, which circumstance made Isabella’s prayers all the more powerful, credible and even moving.

I found the repetitions and doubling fantastic, when complete scenes were repeated during the performance. The most powerful repetitions were those of the opening and closing scenes where the same characters and the same litter filled the stage including the Duke’s immovable eternity, Mistress Overdone’s eroticism, the chaos of the Viennese people, the painful loneliness of the characters with the exception of Claudio and Juliet who represented through their dance some unity and harmony. Also the seduction scenes imitated each other with the long row of tables to separate Isabella and Angelo for the first time and Isabella and the Duke for the second. The initial separation was in both cases overcome by the aggression of chasing and catching and pinning Isabella to a table. Doubling was also really thought-provoking.

Besides the general features of the performance I was also enchanted by the skill and refinement of the actors, especially those of Evgeniya Kregzde (Isabella) and Sergey Epishev (Duke/Angelo). Evgeniya Kregzde’s Isabella was the most innocent, incredibly unhappy Isabella I have ever seen. In this production the question was not whether she is to be raped or not, but here the rape was an unavoidable fact, the question was rather who would rape her, when and where and how many times. Under these painful circumstances Kregzde could remain innocent with her adolescent eagerness to find her place in Vienna, looking for and accepting love. Especially her scene with her brother in the prison was most natural, the playful chasing of each other, the long brotherly embraces made us believe that they were really a loving brother and sister. Her small teenage stature was played upon really thoughtfully when during her first encounter with Angelo she was blown by the provost and Lucio, and she was running up and down like a feather, a butterfly energized and influenced by the male characters. Even here, she could avoid being seen as a lightweight woman, a butterfly of the night, the frail woman, but remained with her dance-like tiptoeing back and forth a woman who was both reluctant and eager to plead, who intends to remain herself even under the pressure of the unwelcoming circumstances. Kregzhde could represent through her refined and thought-over acting style the mystery of a woman, the irresistible attraction that does not emanate from hot eroticism but from charismatic innocence.

In her presence both Angelo and the Duke lost control, which was acted out with utmost precision by Sergey Epishev. What Epishev’s acting pointed out was that Angelo and the Duke were both dangerous men, dangerous but in different ways. Angelo seemed to be dangerous because of his repressed frustration that surfaced in his mania for order in the smallest details. This display of repression appeared when meeting Isabella, in his uncontrollable shaking which turned into an iconic long and mute shriek that he kept until he staggered backwards throughout the whole stage. The danger in his Duke was rather the danger of the cunning, indifferent man of power for example when dressed as a monk, he played with heads as if they did not belong to living human beings, when he did nothing in the midst of chaos, aggression and filth of his dukedom, when he arranged the tables in the same way as Angelo had done and chased Isabella and nailed her down like Angelo. Epishev with his superb skills brought out form his characters what was the most frightening in them with incredible subtlety.

So if I say I was enchanted that very day in Gyula, there is not much exaggeration in this. The conference, the two performances opened worlds to me that I still fight to digest. And for this enchantment I owe many thanks to the Gyula Shakespeare Festival, the conference speakers, the actors and directors of the performances and ultimate organizer of the Festival, József Gedeon. So, I can hardly wait for the enchantment that is to come next year! Are you going to join me?

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Happy Birthday, Will Shakespeare!

It was a beautiful and hot afternoon in June, 2012 when the idea of re-establishing the Hungarian Shakespeare Society was conceived. The narrative about the conception and what has followed from it is the topic of this blog post, which in turn is my contribution to the celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday (#hbws) in the blogosphere.

On that beautiful and hot afternoon I was writing a paper in my office, and as always Twitter messages kept popping up—a peaceful afternoon indeed. I was just about to fall asleep, a post-lunch biorhythmic problem so to say, when a Direct Message from Stanley Wells woke me up. Kindly he asked if we were going to meet in Gyula, Hungary at the annual Shakespeare Festival where he was an invited guest. As the office happened to be in the US, at the University of Notre Dame, where I was fortunate enough to act as a visiting fellow, I had to respond that it was rather unlikely that I could make it.

Having agreed on this, he—by the way—asked which one of his books I think should be translated into Hungarian, as the organizers of the Festival could have it translated. I was about to respond with a book title when it occurred to me that this would be a great opportunity to practice what I preach, i.e. the power of collaboration. So instead of sending the DM immediately, I sent a circular out to a dozen Hungarian colleagues to enquire about their opinion. I thought that a day-or-two delay would cause no problem. To my greatest surprise after two hours emails started pouring in, and five hours later my fellow Shakespeareans from all over Hungary voted for a book, so my task lay in channelling the winner back to Stanley Wells.

Now, four considerations followed from this chain of events. First, there exists a sense of belonging to each other among Hungarian Shakespeare scholars. Second, it is worth asking about the opinions of others, because together we are cleverer and wiser—the title I sent over to Prof. Wells was not the one I voted for. Three, modern technology can be deployed to overcome distance: inspiration came via Twitter and the rest could be solved through email. Four, all of us proved to be enthusiastic about forming general opinion, or, in other words, shape Shakespeare’s Hungarian cult, as the choice was made with an eye on what the reading public may need.

These four considerations formed the premises for a conclusion: this collaboration and belonging together may well be institutionalized. Not pondering too much, when letting my colleagues know about the winner of the poll, I also asked a further question about re-establishing the Hungarian Shakespeare Society. Actually, I was not really surprised at the fast and enthusiastic responses. The idea, thus, was in the air before asking it, but somebody had to phrase the timely question.

This way there began the meditation about organizing the Society, which took some time. We pondered about what the aim of the Hungarian Shakespeare Society should be, what kind of an institutional structure would foster this aim. Many emails were sent around, many Google spreadsheets were filled, analyzed by the time the new Hungarian Shakespeare Society could elect a president and a steering committee, could decide on what the Society should do, who should be involved and why. This time of thinking, brainstorming and discussions proved not only fruitful but joyful as well, scholarly friendships came into being and old ones got stronger, so this phase was really beneficial. As a result, eight months later, on 26 January, 2013 during the biannual conference of the Hungarian Society for the Study of English we could announce the (re)establishment of the Hungarian Shakespeare Society.

The identity of the Hungarian Shakespeare Society was fashioned with an eye on the previous ones, as there had already been three. The first HSS came into being in 1860 as a project committee overseeing the translation of Shakespeare’s works into Hungarian. This committee worked within the Kisfaludy Society, and the head of the committee was János Arany, poet and Shakespeare translator. When the committee ran out of money, it slowly dissolved. The next Hungarian Shakespeare Society came into being at the beginning of the 20th century to help the study of Shakespeare, e.g. a Shakespeare Library section was founded in the University Library at Budapest. After decades of silence HSS no. 3 was founded by Tibor Fabiny and late István Géher. The objective then was the inclusion of the theatre and fostering foreign cooperation. The years of political changes in the 1990’s, however, brought an end to this Hungarian Shakespeare Society.

The new, i.e. no. 4 Hungarian Shakespeare Society learned from the previous ones and took four steps forward. The present HSS keeps the objectives of its predecessors insofar as it fosters research, communication among scholars, theatre people and translators. In contrast, however, with the previous ones the present Hungarian Shakespeare Society has opened its gates to another stakeholder in the Hungarian Shakespeare reception, namely secondary schools. Also we have tried to balance Budapest centeredness, and have made use of digital technology, such as mailing lists, a website and a Facebook page were created. We organize public lectures twice a term, the first was by Prof. György Endre Szőnyi about filmic versions of Henry V, the second is due on 10 May and József Gedeon will talk about the history of Gyula Shakespeare Festival that he organizes with great success. We have also announced a blog post writing competition. Furthermore we have plans about books to be written and creating a database for the Hungarian translations of Shakespeare’s plays to help theatre people and translators.

So, Will Shakespeare, on behalf of the new Hungarian Shakespeare Society let me wish you a happy birthday! And if your followers come to Hungary, tell them that the Hungarian Shakespeare Society will be happy to provide the opportunity for them to give a talk to your Hungarian followers.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

The materiality of a digital edition

In what sense can one talk about the materiality of a digital edition? This question sounds rather odd, as a digital edition, a digital text does not have, is not constituted by matter in the straightforward and simple manner. A digital text is processed through electronic, digital signs, i.e. signs that can hardly have tangible physical qualities. And if they had, to what extant would they be relevant for the reading of a text? In this sense, thus, the question addressing the materiality of the digital text sounds erroneous. Hopefully, there is more to this question, however, than mere refusal.

In a more pragmatic context the question may well make sense. Materiality can be conceptualized not only as an ontological category but rather as a category that is deployed for the sake of exploring layers of meaning constituted by the container and carrier of the linguistic aspect of a text or an edition. This seems to be a viable solution, as when the materiality of a printed text is referred to in the context of literary studies most of the time it is used in a pragmatic manner. Materiality in this pragmatic context denotes the sum of those qualities of a book that influence the reading process and thus the construction of meaning beyond the linguistic aspect of a work. Without believing that the forthcoming list may be comprehensive, these qualities include the size of the book, the binding, the quality and size of the paper, the letter size and typeset, the width of the margins, decoration, marginalia. This pragmatic concept of materiality, i.e. an exploration of a list of qualities and features that influence the reading process can be applied directly and indirectly to a digital edition as well.

In the case of a digital edition there is clearly a visual aspect that influences the reading process in a more flexible way than in the case of a printed book. In a digital edition the text is made up of letters that have visual qualities that can be anchored in size and type, these letters fill the “page” so even here one may meditate about space between the letters, lines, about the width of margins. Nevertheless, in some cases, depending on the encoding of the edition and on the file format these qualities can be changed by the customer, or reader: the type, the size can be open to modification, one can zoom in or out in certain cases, one can read the text on the screen of a laptop, a tablet pc or on a smartphone qualifying the physical, visual aspect of the edition. All these are there for the sake of influencing the reading process, as much as in the case of a printed book, although in a different manner. But what seems relevant is that it is only the manner that has changed and not the extralinguistic means: they are present but in a different way.

Another aspect that influences the reading process is the way the digital edition can be “read.”A digital edition can be read as a book, i.e. in a linear manner. Also a digital edition can be read in two nonlinear ways. First, as a hypertext through clicking in diverse directions enriching the reading experience in a way that the sequence of the parts of the reading material is created during the act of reading itself. Second, digital reading involves machine reading, that is making sense through queries, exploring algorithmic patterns and a variety of visualizing techniques. Furthermore, it is also relevant in the case of a digital edition what kind of colours, shapes and frames surround the text itself, what kind of note-taking techniques can be applied, how one may share these findings, notes, observations if it is a web-based edition. All these possibilities, opportunities, tools and methods influence the act of making sense of a digital edition beyond the strictly speaking linguistic aspect of a digital text. And thus all these contribute to the process of the construction of meaning, the signifying process of a say literary work.

A further aspect of the change from print to digital that contributes to the understanding of digital materiality concerns the shift from the fixed to what Hayes terms as procedural. A printed text through its materiality is present for anybody almost objectively. This material fixity is constituted by the technology of printing: if a work is published the result is there for a long time, and in a way that was constructed by the publisher, printer. Along with this every modification to the book—pages torn out, damaged, written on it—will be seen as either contribution to the signifying process or as corruption. In the case of a digital edition, however, what matters is the ever-changing quality of the visual appearance of the work.  What lies behind what is perceived is a series--complicated though—of digits. This series then is translated with certain software into different signs that are interpreted by further programmes; the results are further made readable for other programmes until the desired effect is reached. Because of the great number of translations, and the number of programmes that make these translations there is a heightened effect of fluidity in the case of these digital editions.

This fluidity is further complicated by the fact that the process of translations takes place not only once and for all but every time the digital edition is opened. To account for the fluid aspect of a digital edition it is also to be added that the hardware that underlies these procedures also influences the reading process, insofar as the speed and resolution of the visual effect are concerned. In this respect what counts are the quality of the processor, of the hard drive, the graphic card, maybe the internet connection and the quality of the monitor. All these result in such a diversity of the possibilities of difference that instead of the discourse of fixity and corruption it is only the procedural quality that one can meditate about. This lack of fixity is part of the material aspect of a digital edition.

Thus, it seems to me that exploring the materiality of a particular digital text is not entirely futile. In this respect it is not the traditional physical quality that is at stake but rather whatever there is from coding to hardware that influences the reading process besides the linguistic aspect of a text.