This week readings mostly discuss the relationship between text (writing, narrative) and the digital tools, programs, methods and new media now available for humanities scholars.
The Stanford site talks about the multiple ways in which these tools could be used, while Moretti talks about the ways they should be used. Riva and Folsom discuss in detail the peculiar concept of text in the digital era: the former focus on the relationship between writing and digital devise (therefore digital narrative), the latter on the apparently conflict between narrative and database.
I would like to focus here on Folsom’s article that I found quite problematic.
I do agree with Folsom’s (and Manovich) idea that database does not tell stories (databases of course imply a selection, but selection, even if important, is just one of the features of narrative) but I do not think that database and narrative are in sharp contrast (battle) to each other. At the opposite, I believe there is a mutual advantageous relationship between the twos. If database as a selective process is the first step (or foundation) of a narrative, narrative gives meaning (interpretation) to the data. It is not very different from the way writers used to (and still do) create their personal archive as organized but still raw material from which “extrapolate” a narrative. In this regard, we could say that new media push the creation of a narrative toward the user, the one in charge to create connections and sequences of meaning between the data. In my opinion, it would be more useful to analyze the reshaping of narrative in the digital era, rather than “celebrate” its death. As Riva points out “the ‘liquefying’ of (literary) canons and the emergence of new intrinsically kinetic or fluid forms of mobile textuality requires a critical assessment that does not prematurely celebrate the funeral of the text as we know it“ (Riva, 91). Folsom also considers the digital biography of Whitman he is working on as an example of database as new, independent genre. Is this example misleading? From Folsom’s description, in fact, this digital biography seems to be a hypertext (that is not a new idea and not necessarily related to digital media). First, it is important to notice that a hypertext does not exclude narrative, it just utilizes a specific kind of narration, the non-linear one. Second, I am not convinced that a hypertext can be defined as a genre (yet), I would rather consider it a medium.
I think Moretti gives the best explanation of the still controversial relationship between new digital tools and traditional methods in the humanities when he says that, “[graphs, maps and trees] share a clear preference for explanation of general structures over individual texts. This is of course a major issue in its own right” but “[digital tools] may account for the many levels of literary production and their multiple links with the larger social system” and “right now, opening new conceptual possibilities seemed more important than justifying them in every detail.”