towards a geo-textual humanities

Maps are texts, and texts are maps.

At the beginning of the movie The English Patient, as Márta Sebestyén’s “Szerelem, szerelem” overcomes our senses, a paintbrush traces the figure of human swimmers on a yellowing page. The black-ink soon gives way to a skin-colored desert landscape sifting beneath our aerial view, evoking hands moving over human curves. Skin, page, territory all united by the theme of lost love. I can’t think of a better image to describe how we are wedded to the n-dimensions of the textual condition.

As we get ready to think about design I wanted to outline a few of the ways we can abstract the material reality of print to a totality of 1’s and 0’s. In my own work I have been trying to create a digital edition of Aimé Césaire’s Et les chiens se taisaient that is both pleasant to read and that allows for some algorithmic manipulation of the textual territory. My goals lead me to seek the chimera of html forgeries as opposed to the classic images with texts beneath them. The experience taught me an enormous deal about the process of remediation.

There are many ways we can remap texts online. We can have a simple image. We can have text behind that image, like your typical PDF. We can map out the position of text and white space on that image by overlaying a basic Cartesian x and y grid on top (or is it below?). We can name areas on that grid like land-grabbers use contracts to justify their fences. We can query  the areas, we can query the points, we can query the text. We can overlap those areas, like the map of Aztlán tensely overlaps with the map of the United States, like our Prism diffracts difference. We can create replicas from scratch using HTML, using Canvas, and trade grain for the possibility of playful deformation and a digital audience born into cool media. We can standardize our geo-textual mark-up, make a TEI out of HTML/CSS, opening the door for large scale analysis  of page design in book-history. Heck, we can just put our UTF-8 txt’s out there and just sit back and wait for our computer overlords to tell us that the eternal present of spotless text was all we ever needed. Lord knows, most literary scholars haven’t done better than that. (I will rebel against that last possibility the way I rebel against propaganda, the way I rebel against the early Wittgenstein, who wanted to get rid of love because we couldn’t fit it in just one map).

Let us move towards a geo-textual humanities conscious there are swimmers in the desert of the page.

(to be continued…)

Textual critic, high theory acolyte, archive rat, hard-hat Caribbeanist, Rails aficionado, conference-trotter. My thesis focuses on the evolution of the play Et les chiens se taisaient by Aimé Césaire. Other projects include: an edition of Césaire, THATCampCaribe, a better Juxta, a class on #critcode, and Prism at the Praxis Program.

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