William Blake's experimental artistic technologies produced a formidably complex artistic legacy. The Blake Archive ( www.blakearchive.org) set out on a mission to restore that legacy by digital means—an ecological effort to reintegrate dispersed and disaggregated textual and pictorial fragments. But more than a decade of collective experience has revealed that the Archive is concerned at least as much with recapitulation and recycling as with restoration, and as much with disciplined fragmentation as with integration. The best explanation for the Archive's place in the posthumous history of Blake's work is in terms of editorial settlements that are crafted, negotiated, and imposed by editors acting as the agents of posterity. Those settlements are active participants in dynamic systems. Through three distinguishable historical phases—radical normalization in the decades following Blake's death; consolidation and institutionalization in the twentieth century; and, most recently, a digital superconsolidation that is simultaneously progressive and conservative—the editorial history of Blake's art elucidates several fundamental characteristics of editorial theory and practice. It also reveals suggestive symptoms of an unsettled and unsettling future of work, hope, challenge, and compromise on the brink of the known editorial universe.
In this essay, I realize digitally the virtual designs that Blake evokes in The Song of Los and other illuminated books. Blake’s virtual designs are designs we create mentally by recombining an illuminated book’s related images. By visualizing mental images concretely, we reify the experiences of memory and imagination, comparison and contrast, that we employ when reading/seeing Blake's works. Moreover, by doing so, we engage in creative processes involving memory and imagination similar to Blake's own when inventing new designs from elements of others. I also realize digitally the original horizontal designs for Blake's “Africa” and “Asia” in The Song of Los before they were altered in printing. As originally executed, each poem functioned autonomously, with text superimposed on a landscape design. Digital recreations demonstrate how radically Blake fused poetry, painting, and printmaking, creating panels, broadsides, or scrolls rather than book pages, and how Song of Los, as printed, was Blake’s attempt to reconstruct an experiment about which he had changed his mind.
The Romantic Circles Website, along with a number of other major projects in digital Romanticism, came online around 1995, a historical moment that also saw the emergence of neo-Luddism, in part as a reaction to the techno-hype of the Internet boom. At the time. neo-Luddites often claimed as a precedent the original historical Luddism of 1811-16, but they usually also Romanticized that collective labor subculture to fit their own late-twentieth-century ideas of “technology.” This essay looks back at the interlinked assumptions in the air around 1995–neo-Luddite and Romantic–as the context out of which Romantic Circles defined its own engaged experiment in technology. Iw ill cite specific examples of digital technologies from our first year (two editions about technology, including the technology of texts), and one from our most recent year (an experiment in podcasting), in order to explain how we at Romantic Circles have attempted to work at the crossroads of Romanticism and technology, while stubbornly refusing to play the role of "natural Luddites,"
The essay is a study of how critical editions work, whether in paper-based forms or in electronic forms. The first section – more than half the essay – gives a close examination to J. C. C. Mays’s superb recent (Bollingen) edition of Coleridge’s poetry. This analysis establishes the terms for investigating the opportunities that digital technology supplies for scholars pursuing a close study of the socio-historical character of literary works. This investigation pivots around the seminal work of D. F. McKenzie, whose theory of the social-text edition argues for a more comprehensive kind of editorial method. This essay argues that the method can be best realized through digital resources. It concludes with a discussion of The Rossetti Archive as a “proof of concept” experiment to test the social-text approach to editorial method.
This essay argues for the critical value of situating Romantic poetry—particularly as it’s theorized by Wordsworth and Scott—as a “medium” between the two extremes that often shape accounts of media history: the “primary orality” of Walter Ong and the “techno-informatic vanishing point” of aesthetics recently described by Alan Liu in The Laws of Cool. I propose that Sir Walter Scott’s story, “My Aunt Margaret’s Mirror,” offers a “supernatural” or occulted account of how literature operates as a kind of telepathic medium, enabling readers to be “affected by absent things as if they were present.” But it offers at the same time, in its almost anachronistic play with the concept of “resolution” as a feature of the televisual screen, an account of all perception—both “immediate” and mediated—as a process of discretization and resynthesis that works remarkably like Wordsworth’s “digital” theory of meter.
This essay considers the archival anxieties attending the reproduction, reception and preservation of material remains, in the Romantic period and in our own. I focus on the recurrent trope of scattered leaves as an index of Romantic concerns about the fates of works on paper in the age of industrial papermaking. I suggest that the consequent transformation of the archive in the nineteenth century, both as a concept and as a set of material practices, offers a window onto our current moment of digital transformations of the Romantic legacy. The Romantic archive is haunted by the ruins of paper, unsettled by the changing forms of information storage and retrieval that characterize its day and ours. Ultimately, I argue that the goal of the digital archive should be to send us back to the paper legacies of the Romantics, not to wean us away from those material forms.
Described by Robert Coover as “perhaps the true paradigmatic work” of the “golden age” of hypertext literature, Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl (1995) provides not only a rewriting of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), but an opportunity to consider the ways in which the gothic as a genre serves to problematize the somatic dimension of our writing technologies. In its capacity to touch the reader directly, at the level of the nerves, tissues, and fibres of the body, Patchwork Girl recalls the debates concerning the affective force of the gothic novel, and, in particular, the threat it was thought to pose for women readers. The gothic, in this sense, emerges as the deep and unsettling recognition that the technological is the formative ground of subjectivity, the very condition of our becoming. What Jackson calls “the banished body,” the monstrous materiality of subjectivity, haunts not only the eighteenth-century faith in the powers of rational powers of intellection, but our own post-human dreams of transcendence.
Cyberspace creates new ecologies for scholarship: information displaces interpretation, argument cedes to association, and possibility disturbs certainty. What happens, then, when Romanticism goes digital? Rather than answer that question the piece that follows performs it. A hundred little paragraphs, interlinked and unfettered, open a field of digital inquiry where one possibility gives rise to another, and another, and another, and . . . . Skimming/scanning replaces reading as a means of communication. Hacking becomes another word for criticism, and you become a player in the game of digital scholarship. As you confront the possibilities Romanticism raises, your responses conjure various futures. In this particular version of the game such possibilities include virtual subjects, digital territories, raced relations, hacked classics, and mixed messages. The futures they provoke are yours to imagine. Point, click, and perform “Techno-Prosthetic Romantic Futurism.”