Week 5 (Sept. 22-26)

Changing Notions of Text and Textual Engagement

“I define ‘texts’ to include verbal, visual, oral, and numeric data, in the form of maps, prints, and music, of archives of recorded sound, of films, videos, and any computer-stored information, everything in fact from epigraphy to the latest forms of discography. There is no evading the challenge which those new forms have created.” – D. F. McKenzie, Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts, 13

“Words very well might not only be written to be read but rather to be shared, moved, and manipulated, sometimes by humans, more often by machines, providing us with an extraordinary opportunity to rediscover what writing is and to define new rules for the writer.” – Kenneth Goldsmith, Uncreative Writing, 15

“New dimensions of fluidity allowing for manipulation and machine processing of textual elements were introduced through natural language processing (NLP) and other tools for textual analysis. Global changes, searches, substitutions, counting, listing, reordering–these and other activities can be carried out through commands that treat text as an object on which to perform operations that are somewhat at variance with conventional reading. In its most fluid state, a text file can be used to generate a nonverbal outcome. An ASCII string, or keyboarded text, can be turned into output in musical or visual form, or used to make a three-dimensional print, a pattern, or a design that serves as a template for another project in a medium far from that of verbal language. Texts are constantly flowed and reflowed, repurposed and reworked for different output streams and audiences” – Ann Burdick et. al, Digital_Humanities, 36

“Take a Wikipedia page entry, you know, copy it and paste it into a William S. Burrows novel and take that remix and put in The New Yorker and you’ve got new fiction or something, you know? The pun for me is that we’re looking at new kinds of literacy: digital media, cut and paste imagination, non-linear thinking, you know, kind of the whole twentieth century, McLuhan The Medium is the Massage kind of thing. It’s just come home to roost.” – Paul Miller, “Paul Miller on ‘Sound Unbound’

As we saw last week with the discussion of creating and editing electronic editions, our notions of text are changing. While computers didn’t start this trend  – we need look no farther than last week’s discussions of William Blake’s illuminated books and Robert Burns’ use of traditional songs and ballads to find our notions of text broadened beyond the written word – computers have helped us to radically expand our notion of text.

Likewise, while computers are offering us newer, or in some cases easier, methods and practices of textual engagement, what we’ve come to think of as sampling and remixing, and as data-driven textual analysis predate computers – consider, for instance, James Joyce’s patchwriting in Finnegan’s Wake that Goldsmith describes in this week’s reading “Revenge of the Text;”1 the cut-up method popularized by William S. Burroughs in the 1950s and 60s; or the history of textual scholarship, which includes the creation of print concordances long before Fr. Roberto Busa began creating his concordance of Thomas Aquinas’ writings that Ramsay discusses at the start of the first chapter of Reading Machines. Computers, however, do give us new ways to engage with texts as Goldsmith demonstrates when he discusses manipulating – glitching – the alphanumeric code of a mp3 file of Bach’s “Cello Suite No. 1” by dropping into that file the text from the complete Wikipedia entry on Bach or by dropping the text from Shakespeare’s 93 sonnet into the alphanumeric code of a JPEG of the Droeshout Engraving of Shakespeare, or, in a more serious fashion, to produce lists of words of the major characters in a novel to study those characters concerns as Ramsay discusses, or to create visualizations of texts to help us analyze them in the ways as Sinclair, Ruecker, and Radzikowska describe in this week’s reading “Information Visualization for Humanities Scholars.”

While, in many ways, our entire course is about the changing notions of text and textual engagement, and while we’ve already begun to consider these issues and we will continue to consider them in the weeks to come, this week’s focus is on the ways in which our notions of text and textual engagement are changing and on the possibilities of text and textual engagement digital technologies are affording us. This week’s readings can be clustered around three broad-based themes: language as code and code as text, sampling and remixing as forms writing, and the possibilities of computers as machines that can help us read, analyze, and interpret texts.


  • Reading Response post: 10:00 PM, Wed., 24 Sept.
  • Community Response post: 10:00 PM, Sat., 27 Sept.
    • Group 1 will read and respond to the blogs of Group 1.
    • Group 2 will read and respond to the blogs of Group 2.
    • Group 3 will read and respond to the blogs of Group 3.
    • Group 4 will read and respond to the blogs of Group 4.
  • Participation posts (3): During the week.


  • Read lecture posts for the week. The most recent lectures can always be found on the front page for the course or using the Lecture category. Short lectures will be posted throughout the week.
  • Review and begin weekly Participation assignment forum posts.
  • Reading Response and Community Response blog posts (Online Writing Activities).
  • Work on the McLuhan Project. Due 10:00 PM, Oct. 6.
  • Register an account with Scalar so that you can finish your McLuhan Project. Please follow the link and click on the yellow “Sign Up” button in the upper right. You’ll then need to click on the “Get Started Button.” Pleasae use your Winthrop email address. You may use a pseudonym if you wish, and you can leave the book title option blank (unless you want to make your own book to play with in addition to what we do for the McLuhan Project). Once you’ve signed up, please send me an email telling me the full name you used to make your account and I will add you to our project.
  • Graduate students: Continue working on the Annotated Bibliography assignment. Due: Dec. 2, 10:00 PM.


This week’s readings are organized by suggested reading order:

  1.  Goldsmith, Kenneth. “Revenge of the Text.” Uncreative Writing. New York: Columbia UP, 2011. 14-33. (pdf in Blackboard)
  2. Ramsay, Stephen. “Preconditions” and “An Algorithmic Criticism.” Reading Machines: Towards an Algorithmic Criticism. Urbana, IL: U of Illinois P, 2011. pp. ix-xii, 1-17. (Required text.)
  3. Mashups & Remixes.” DJ Culture. Prod. and ed. Andres Lombana and Anna van Someren. MIT TechTV. 2008. (Video, 3 min 53 sec)
  4. Miller, Paul D. “DJ-ing Is Writing/Writing Is DJ-ing.” Rhythm Science. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2004. 56-60. (pdf in Blackboard)
  5. O’Neil, Jamie. “McLuhanRexmix.”
  6. Sinclair, Stéfan, Stan Ruecker, and Milena Radzikowska. “Information Visualization for Humanities Scholars.” Literary Studies in the Digital Age: An Evolving AnthologyMLA Commons. Paragraphs 1-24, 43-52. (Online reading)

Optional Texts

Remix and Sampling

Digital English Studies

  1. Jonathan Lethem’s essay “The Ecstasy of Infuence: A Plagiarism” is a brilliant meditation on copyright, creative indebtedness, and remix, composed entirely as patchwriting. It’s well worth a read, or at least listen to the interview about the essay. Both are included as optional texts for this week.

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