A Review of James Cummings: The Text Encoding Initiative and the Study of Literature

TEIJames Cummings article on TEI and the study of literature gives us a detailed account of the purpose of digitizing. The overall concept of TEI was so that originally printed texts to become electronic texts in the majority of linguistics and literary disciplines. It also sets guidelines, these guidelines are used for many text encoding projects. With new projects and new recommendations, they change as a result of both technology and theory. SGML and XML are constantly evolving and improving.

The Poughkeepsie Principles form the theoretical basis from which the TEI has developed. These principles are in place to provide a standard format for data interchange in humanities research and they also give an outline for the encoding of texts in the same format. These guidelines change as projects change. Each project will be different, different projects require different principles. Cummings points out that XML has been a success throughout the world. XML is now used as a storage format for mostly everything. The difference in SGML and XML is significant, SGML describes a document’s structure. Overall, XML is a much easier mark up language for text.

TEI was founded long before the world wide web, which explains why textual criticism has had a more direct effect on the development TEI. Cummings makes reference to Van Reenens and Van Mulken 1996 theory that textual criticism has three basic parts: Cladistics, this is the statistical analysis to determine which texts are most likely to be correct; Electicism, this is the editor choosing a particular reading as the critical text which is the easiest to perceive. The third branch of textual criticism is stemmatics, and I will quote from the text as I found this point the most difficult to interpret: “The more likely readings of a text are determined through the classification of the witnesses into grouping based on perceived phylogenetic relationships of the readings they contain. Overall TEI is designed to provide a better understanding of the text and electronic markup.

Cummings quotes the foundations of modern electronic scholarly editions, he believes that of all eight, there are three that must be met. They are longevity, accessibility; and intellectual integrity. The need for accessibility refers to a version of software which is required to run a certain programme. Longevity is dependent on market forces for support. In order for it to be able to function properly it relies on accessibility. Intellectual integrity is an important requirement that has to be met; The point of producing scholarly editions is to meet the needs of its readers intellectually. Like everything else that is produced it is designed to meet the needs of its users.

The main body of this article is based on the framework TEI provides for publishers, editors and scholars who wish to digitize their work. As we know more and more literature is available to us via a digital medium. Having literature readily available makes the reading experience a lot easier. The people creating them must ensure that they are available to everyone no matter where they are in the world and what language they speak. Scholarly editions have to be kept up to date with the latest advances in technology and they must be easy to use and reliable. When this article was written Cummings new that it was inevitable that soon printed books would be inferior to online books. With online books and such technologies like ipads and kindles becoming even more popular there is a possibility books could be left on the shelf but in saying that there will always be a place for printed editions. This article was long and hard to read but I would recommend it if you wish to further your understanding of TEI.

Published in: on March 21, 2011 at 7:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Review of Marie-Laure Ryan’s: Fictional Worlds in the Digital Age

GamesMarie-Laure Ryan focuses her attention on immersion, how a reader has the ability to immerse oneself from the real world into another world created by imagination. She begins by pointing out that there is nothing more enjoyable than the immersion of the embodied mind into the fictional world. Unlike non-fiction texts we can let the imagination run wild, there are no restrictions enforced like there are in the real world. Ryan exercises the point that immersion is still the most fundamental of literary pleasures. In Wordswoth words we have to ‘suspend disbelief’ in order to achieve complete and utter immersion in a text. This article aims to investigate how digital media affects the experience of fictional worlds and the practice of fiction. We all know what fiction is and how much fun it can be. We have all spent countless hours playing make believe games, and for the duration of the game we have spent our time complete immersed, the world we were acting in at the time was every bit real to us. Ryan describes this as ‘virtual reality’, throughout this article she places immense emphasis on the role of the imagination.

Once again the internet seems to be taking over, the internet enables us to not just imagine but let us watch our imagination. MOOs (MUD Object Oriented) are an example of the worlds that exist in the digital medium. MOOs enable us to develop a fictional persona, also known as an ‘Avatar’. Here is a video I found on youtube. We all know about the film Avatar and even if you did not see the film I am sure you will have a basic understanding of its plot. Computers allowed humans to go into another world virtually, their minds were somewhere else while their bodies remained in reality. The way an avatar is created is not too different from the way a novelist creates its world. A user can bring together their avatars world like a novelist brings togethers theirs. Imaginary worlds are fake worlds where nothing is ‘set in stone’. In a non technical way a novelist programmes the novel. A writer uses his or hers thoughts like the internet uses codes; codes and thoughts come together to create a story, anew world. Ryan points out the difference in online imaginary worlds and narrative imaginary worlds. Micronations are a collection of descriptive documents, and it is the user who is the explorer of the website. In novels it is a narrative line that make us follower the traveller and explore his discoveries. Online imaginary worlds gives the user complete power and control, each user has their own reason behind their virtual creation. This is perhaps one reason why each virtual online world does not have many followers like a game like Grand Theft Auto does.

Video games are vastly more popular than online games, the player can impersonate and control a character who takes an active part in the evolution of a fictional world. Here is a website of online imaginary games if you would like to experience the world of online games. Video games are categorized into two groups: the Paidia and Ludus. Paidia is simply defined as the ability to free the imagination. There are no existing rules of the game, if there are rules then they are created spontaneously by the participants. By contrast, Ludus games are controlled by pre existing rules, participants accept and follow them. Video games are coded so cheating the system is extremely difficult. I would not know too much about codes to cheat on a video game but I have heard ‘cheating codes’ that are available on the internet. Ryan points out in the article that even if you were to cheat on a video game the imagination is still used: “Cheating in computer games is finding imaginative ways to get around the code, rather than transgressing it.” With a quick google search I was able to find a website with cheating codes for Grand Theft Auto. Games like GTA allow the player to carry out tasks, they have direct interaction with the game.

There is no limit to the fictional world, it can grow and grow and can go as far away from reality as it likes. Digital texts can improve and develop and they do not depend on the user to update them, like online games. This contrasts with books and film reels, they do not have any codes inscribed in them to update them. To finish up Ryan once again highlights a difference in books on the digital world and how our imagination works. Digitally we are immersed immediately, it is our own imaginary world that we construct, when reading a novel it takes time, we have to construct worlds based on textual information. Obviously, the digital way saves a lot of cognitive effort. The online world waits for no-one, if you a playing a multi-player online game and do not play it for a few days you will find that you have been left behind. Online games are very different from traditional narratives. For example, in a novel once something has happened it is done and the act does not have to be performed again, Ryan uses the example of a knight slaying a dragon. Digitally, a death does not always mean death, in Grand Theft Auto the player has lives he dies over and over. A part of the essay that I found particularly interesting was the part where Ryan dealt with fiction and reality and where the boundaries lie and that some people find more self-fulfillment in the fictional world rather than reality. In saying that does it count for anything? At the end of the day what does it really matter if you have the highest score or made it to level 25 in Grand Theft Auto. What matters is reality and people must remember that these two worlds do not have the same value in terms of existence. Overall, I would recommend this article to be read by those who have an interest in the digital world. Sometimes it is nice to escape the real world as long as we can always manage to differentiate between what is real and what is not.

Published in: on March 19, 2011 at 7:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Review of Christian Vandendorpe’s: Reading on a Screen: The New Media Sphere

digitalVandendorpe’s article is about how reading has evolved and how technology is changing it. I found it particularly interesting because it was written before e-books and reading technology became so popular. Vandendorpe was able to predict the success of digital reading, he knew it was going to be the way forward. In this article, he deals with a number of topics which include: the evolution of reading, how it went from print to screen, the issue of legibility, the advent of hypertext and the birth of the e-book. At the moment how reading is changing is very topical and there are endless amount on articles on the future of reading. Here is an easy to read article.

How we read is not just based on how we taught to, but also on the nature of the text to be read and more importantly the media on which the text is written. To be able to understand the advent of the computer and the internet we must take into consideration its history. The history of reading is closely linked to the history of of books. The most important milestone in the history of books was the adoption of the codex format (book format). Codex came about when Christians adopted it, they used it instead of scrolls because it was cheaper, easier to hold and you could write on both sides. It seems that text has always been developed in a way which makes it easier for us. The Gutenberg printing press bought reading into the modern era. There were spaces between words, punctuation developed, pages were numbered, there were titles, tables etc. A book gives a reader power, they can read at there own pace. Reading became a ‘distinct cognitive experience autonomous from the spoken word’.

The 1980s saw print move to the screens, the personal computer made the writing process easier. But the screen as a reading device was not recognised. At the time it did not look like the computer would ever be a threat to the printed book. It is weird to see how so much has changed, now printed books and technology are in competition. The amount of people opting for an e-book instead of a paperback is constantly increasing. Here is a link showing kindles popularity. Vandendorpe uses Heyer 1986 ( “The Creative Challenge of CD-ROM.” In S. Lambert and S. Ropiequet (Eds.)) theory of how we gather information. Heyer cleverly uses metaphors borrowed from the way our ancestors gathered food: grazing, browsing and hunting. In gathering mode, as a reader we take in all of the information, in browsing mode we pick out relevant information and in hunting mode we find specific information. Google takes on the role of hunting, when we type something in to google we are looking for something specific and google can always find it for us. This article also discusses legibility, words on a screen have become clearly and we can adjust the sie of them to suit the individuals needs.

A major difference that I find and the article points out is that when reading off a screen you have no visual control. When reading books you turn pages, books are much more flexible, you can flick from page to page or read from cover to cover. The Gutenberg project 1971 was the first digital library, in 2004 Google revealed its plans to digitize 15 million books. Most publishers were not happy with this idea but at the time e-books had not taken off. Digitizing has its advantage in the sense that books or other reading materials are easily available and it will ensure that there will always be a copy of transcripts that are important to cultures. Generations from now will have easy access to literature that maybe defines our current culture.

The advent of hypertext made finding relevant information easier again. ‘Hypertexts’ primary goal was to have a system of articles combine sections of interest and record the reading session. A hypertext enables web users to access other information on webpages or other electronic documents by clicking on links within specific webpages. Clicking from one text to another makes reading light, we are often distracted and find it hard to have just one line of thought. Vandendorpe points out the difference in reading off a screen and reading from a book. Usually when reading a book we have one thought process but with the net are thought processes are free to go in whatever direction they want.

To finish with Vandendorpe discusses the birth of the e-book and the future of reading. The idea of the e-book has been around for much longer than many of us realise, most of us think it has only been around for a few years. As we know the future of reading lies in the hands of technology. Like everything it has its advantages and disadvantages, but it does making the reading experience (in my opinion) easier in more sense than one. Overall I found this article enjoyable, Vandendorpe keeps to point and made very good predictions.

Published in: on March 17, 2011 at 9:25 pm  Leave a Comment