Electronic Text: Investigations in Method and Theory

By Kathryn Sutherland | Go to book overview
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Poets undoubtedly do know much about texts and textuality, but I hope I have shown that information technologists, working in practice-grounded interdisciplinary areas such as text encoding, have also provided, and will continue to provide, many valuable insights. This is a good thing--for I would say that despite the considerable work that has already taken place, we seem still to be at the very beginning of a theoretical understanding of textual communication.


This essay draws very heavily on ideas and analyses developed collaboratively over the last ten years with James Coombs, Steve DeRose, Elli Mylonas, and David Durand. In addition, it also owes much to conversations with Claus Huitfeldt, Michael Sperberg-McQueen, Alois Pichler, Lou Burnard, and Julia Flanders. A more technical philosophical discussion of some of these topics, and a critique of the arguments for Antirealism, is contained in Allen Renear , "'Theory and Metatheory in the Development of Text Encoding'", a target paper submitted for the electronic issue of The Monist; a summary of that paper and the ensuing electronic discussion is contained in Michael Biggs and Claus Huitfeldt, "'Discussion of Theory and Metatheory in the Development of Text Encoding'" (forthcoming). As always, I must thank the Text Encoding Initiative and its sponsors, funders, and participants, for creating a truly extraordinary environment for thinking about texts and textuality.

Of course that is not to say that all these bodies of discourse and practice intend the same thing by 'text', or attempt to accompish the same objectives in theorizing--we cannot assume at the outset that the 'text' of the software engineer, or publisher, is the same as the 'text' of the literary theorist. After all, there is not even a univocal sense of 'text' within literary studies: Barthes's 'text' can hardly be Tanselle's 'text'. Not that all these uses of 'text', by theorists, bibliographers, editors, engineers, and programmers, are merely distant homonyms (like 'bank' the financial institution and 'bank' the slope of a river)--they all are efforts to understand textual communication. However, I think that taxonomies of sense are best deferred until after we have a better understanding of actual theory and practice.
Paul Fortier and the TEI Literature Working Group, "'The TEI Guidelines (version 1.1 10/90): A Critique'" ( 1995). Available from the TEI listserv server, TEI-L, as document AI3W5 DOC. These issues are also periodically taken up on the HUMANIST listserv discussion group and was the topic of a panel, chaired by Richard Giordano, at the joint meeting of the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing and the Association for Computing in the Humanities, Bergen, 1996.
Jerome McGann, The Textual Condition ( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), p. 87.


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Electronic Text: Investigations in Method and Theory


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