The Unfinished Text: Lifelong Learning in Digital Literary Studies

I have exciting news, my Digital Humanities class is putting together a CommentPress book. We’ve been collaborating on the topic for the book for the past few weeks and finally narrowed it down to three subtopics: Digital Humanities and New Texts, Digital Humanities and Pop Culture, and Digital Humanities and Pedagogy. We split up the class into three groups, based on the subtopics. I joined the group writing about DH and “new texts.” In our initial group meeting we brainstormed the topics for our papers, discussed important research questions, and promised to collaborate and help each other in the research and writing process. Of course, we have a lot more brainstorming, researching, and writing to go, but I decided to share some of my initial brainstorming with you.

I’ve been thinking about the title of my own piece, hoping that it will help generate new questions and ideas. I’ve come up with: “The Unfinished Text: Lifelong Learning in Digital Literary Studies.” Note that this is a working title, by no means do I expect it to be the final title of my paper. I expect that as I do more research and begin to write, other ideas will surface. For now and for my initial purpose, however, the title works.

I’ve noticed a trend in many of the digital humanities works that I have been studying this semester. Many of the works discuss the idea of the “unfinished text.” In other words, digital English studies have created the “unfinished text,” or a text–whether it is a digital book, essay, or blog–that can continually be revised. Digital texts allow the author or authors to revisit the text again and again, and make changes at their own convenience. This is different from published printed works, because although the text is able to be edited, it is only done so with approval and with the addition of a new published “edition.” Also in the digital text is the audience’s ability to participate in the text. Whereas in a print text the reader is able to make marginal notes, in a digital text the reader can make his “notes” available to the author. In other words, the reader can ask the author questions, make suggestions or observations in a comment thread. The author then has the opportunity to connect with the reader, to answer her questions or to “comment” on her “comment.” With digital texts not only are the author and the reader connected, but they are connected in such a way that their conversation continually adds to the work. Their conversation adds another layer, another way of reading the text that the another reader can participate in. The ability of the reader and author to converse and the author’s ability to continually edit (or “update”) his work results in the unfinished text. The text’s finality is constantly deferred; it is never finished. It is never a “closed book,” but a “text” that can be continually updated. I believe that the unfinished text results in “lifelong learning.” In other words, because the text can never be “finished” in the sense that it cannot be added to, the text continually teaches the reader new things.

I did some preliminary research on this topic in hopes that other sources can help me think more clearly through my topic. Here is some of the research I came across, all which–in some sense–deal with the idea of a continually revised text.

In The American Literature Scholar in the Digital Age John Bryant’s “Where is the Text of America? Witnessing Revision and the Online Critical Archive” 

Hybrid Pedagogy, Digital Humanities, and the Future of Academic Publishing by Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel 

In A Companion to Digital Literary Studies Carolyn Guertin’s “Handholding, Remixing, and the Instant Replay: New Narratives in a Post Narrative World” and Aimeee Morrison’s “Blogs and Blogging: Text and Practice”  

Stay tuned for more updates!


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