Category Archives: Text

Divisio Operis et Paratexte dans la tradition manuscrite du roman médiévale

Hybrid Ecologies and Embodied Narratives

The paper which describes the experiment I ran with Kai Pata at Tallinn University during the Erasmus joint course about Ecology of Narratives was finally published in Cognitive Philology. The course is detailedly described in  a wikiversity page. The entire experience was monitored in a wordpress weblog intended as an aggregator of individual experiences. Here’s the abstract of the paper mixed with a couple of slideshare files we set up so as to present our work around.

A Design-based research tested a Hybrid Ecosystem emerging from collaborative storytelling supported by geo-locative technologies and Social Networking Services. We assumed that such Hybrid Ecosystem emerges when people experience a given environment through their own sensory-motor system while processing related locative media. We found that individual and collaborative activity in a hybrid ecosystem could be described on the basis of the swarming concept from biology.

Topics and themes seem to emerge, to be narrated and spread on the basis of unplanned, not concerted, polygenetic activity. Interaction basically leads to the emergence of behavioral patterns which immediately develop into mutated forms. As soon as a topic or a theme spread among the community, individual participants start differentiating their unique point of view on it, eventually comparing it with the one of some peers, so as to team up on the basis of affinity.

Literal references emerging from storytelling in hybrid ecosystems outscore metaphorical by far. Rather, comparison is definitely very active as a processing strategy whereas proper metaphors and generalizations emerge on a very limited basis. It looks like individual participants evaluate the collaborative streaming of narrative references as a series of individual, standalone events which are meaningful in themselves, not because the combination of them make it possible to grasp a general meaning.

A more careful assessment of data is very likely needed, but we can already conclude that narratives which emerge in hybrid ecosystems supported by locative technologies and Social Networking Services define the borders of participatory and collaborative story formats which reshape human presence in the environment while redefining the very concept of storytelling. We look forward to develop other design experiments so as to test our claims on embodiment of narratives and hybrid ecologies based on new very intriguing applications such as Layar, Wikitude and other similar ones which implement the very concept of augmented reality.

Translation and Innovation in Literary Systems

Università di Cassino
Centro Interdipartimentale di Ricerca su Tradizione e Tradizione
Translation and Innovation in Literary Systems and Canons
Biblioteca Comunale di Gaeta
october 1 2009

Translation stretches the borders of the linguistic domain in which a literary work ends up playing a relevant role. At the same time, cultural identity of novels and poems, as the one of works belonging to other genres, may happen (and it often does) to be lost in translation since such items may even become part of literary canons based on and referring to languages in which they have been translated.
So, the translation of a given literary work may trigger crucial evolution of literary systems, resulting in the breeding or fostering of genres or patterns and meaningful innovations in corresponding canons. Eventually, entire genres may be integrally imported into a new linguistic and cultural domain by means of systematic translations. Conversely, translation may work the opposite, bottom-up direction, following massive reference to the original version of given literary works.  All mentioned phenomena operate underneath significant, extremely evident or very peculiar processes of ‘g-localization’ of literary systems since the Middle-Ages through the Modern Era till the present contemporary developments.
Such remarks suggest that new consideration should be given to the crucial topic of ‘nationality of books’. Indeed, translation seems to stretch the linguistic borders which traditionally defined to which national literature a novel or a poem belongs. So called ‘nationality of books’, that is linguistic and cultural identity of literary work seems to be defined in reader-based terms. Local language-based literary systems «think globally and act locally», that is they g-localize themselves by incorporating foreign books in translation.
According with such premises, the workshop on «Translation and Innovation in Literary Systems and Canons aims at collecting different approaches in respect to the idea that literary systems g-localize themselves by acquiring foreign works by means of the amazingly powerful mediation of translation. Presentations and debate will be planned so as to verify how effectively such statement properly apply to the evolution of literary canons since the medieval origins of European vernacular literatures, through Modern Era, till present times and the so-called problem of World Literature.

Peripheral Vision, Traces and Immersive Landscapes

Previous entries about Mark Jenkins’ and Xing Danwen’s artworks showed that an investigation on how immersive environments are described in novels and how narrative references interfere with sensory experience of landscapes may take advantage from comparative remarks coming from sculpture and manipulation of digital imaging. More advantageous remarks may come from the field of photography, namely from suggestive artistic shots by Timothy Atherton, a former police evidence photographer who definitely developed an ecological artistic approach to landscapes.

Being resonance a key-concept in Gibson’s Theory of affordances, Atherton conceptualization of photography makes plenty of sense in ecological terms since he maintains that «the idea of a photographer as being a person who follows traces is one that resonates strongly for me». Moreover, Atherton conceives the transference happening when the photographer make a picture as part of an exchange taking place between photographer and scene. Basically, in his view «the photographer simply uses the camera to make a trace of what he sees before him or her». Atherton’s approach to photography doesn’t seem based on traditional mimetic approaches, given that he describes his photography as an «ongoing attempt» to understand what he sees, by following clues so to establish «temporary conclusions that then lead to other questions and other clues». In these terms, by quoting Joyce («Bethicket me for a stump of a beech»), Atherton summarizes his work as aimed to «interpreting traces».

Introducing his series of “Peripheral Vision” (2003) Atherton states that «extended suburban condition does not easily show up on maps, it is in many ways more of a suburban state of mind than a topographic location». While photographing suburban landscapes, Atherton found himself «looking at things that are somewhat off centre, off to the side – a peripheral vision. Things that are often unnoticed and just below our level of perception». Indeed, «things seen that are in plain sight yet so familiar or obvious they are usually ignored, unseen, and their existence barely registered – attention no longer paid to them».

Peripheral Vision

Describing his series of “Immersive Landscapes” (2006), Atherton offers that «to try and impose order on this messy and unordered view seems a mistake. Instead, recognizing the disorder, letting the fine detail spread over the whole image and allowing the eye to wander over the whole field without finding a clear point of rest draws the viewer into the apparent fractal detail and chaos of the image». Indeed, he describes the results of his work as portraits of «“immersive” landscapes where the whole wide visual field is potentially full of interesting subplots over and against the overall story that the picture is telling».

Immersive Landscapes

Introducing his new work, Traces (2007), Aherton interestingly quotes Italo Calvino:

The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the street, the gratings of the windows, the bannisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning-rods, the poles of the flags. Every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls

Actually, Atherton’s collection of Traces seems pretty much inspired by Calvino’s remarks from the Invisible City (Le città Invisibili, Torino, Einaudi, 1972), that may even count as a very interesting meditation on hybrid ecologies based on the merge of literary references and sensory experience of landscapes. Namely, the bare concept of Le città invisibili entails open reference to cities that are there even tho they are not perceivable by sight. Actually, Atherton’s Traces exert potential of landscapes referring to previous or potential actions. The camera can help guessing or foreshadowing past or future events on the basis of clues, leftovers, affordances ready to be triggered by somebody who’s actually out of the picture.


Introducing his work, the photographer describes his photo art in very general terms as «an essential way of seeing, of exploring and understanding something or somewhere». Art is conceived as an explorative behavior leading to the discovery of traces. The artist finds and collects evidences and tries to make sense of them, interpreting them in some way, so to reach «provisional conclusions which are then either discarded or built on». Still, art doesn’t imitate some sort of physical reality located ‘out there’. Rather, it establishes temptative approaches to the environment based on «traces people leave, the evidence or signs that the camera can discover, often seeming to find them in unnoticed or disregarded terrain».

Actually, Atherton adopts a very ecological approach to photo art based on «the principle of exchange», maintaining that «every contact leaves a trace – that with contact between two things there will be an exchange». As an artist, he sees exchange as an interaction not just taking place between «inhabitant and place, but also between photographer and place». That is, he regards the trace of light on film as an exchange». Interestingly, Atherton portrays traces in order to make the viewer wondering about actions that eventually took place or are about to happen. In this sense, a former police evidence photographer, he exerts action potential triggered by visual hints in the very same way detectives try to re-enact events leading to crimes on the basis of clues they find on crime scenes.

With all evidence, the very same process is exerted into crime stories, namely the ones defined as “woodonit”, so as to establish a deep involvement of the reader into the story being told. Indeed, the reader is involved into reverse engineering since the very beginning of the novel, when the corpse of the victim is typically discovered. The same process is exerted to a variable extent in basically every novel, thriller as romantic, mainstream as experimental ones, since potential reference always outstrips textual borders, bringing into play speculations about other events that are not necessarily encoded into textual description.

Embodiment of Stories in Hybrid Environments

Philology and criticism usually apply to literary works that have been written and published or documented literary systems as actual genres. That is, literary studies typically focus on past or present state of the art but they hardly offer predictions, prefiguring forms that will play a role into the future development of cultural landscapes. Making a remarkable exception in respect to the norm, the present contribution aims to forecast potential development in storytelling based on locative media. That is, as part of a more general inquiry on the Ecology of the Novel and Hybrid Ecologies, it will investigate potential literary applications based on Global Positioning System (GPS), Geographic Information System (GIS) or similar geotagging standards.

People living in European cities are very familiar with tourists looking puzzled while trying to figure out why they spent a couple of paychecks to find themselves speechless in front of a pile of old stones or a very long marble sculpted pillar, say the Colosseo or the Colonna Traiana in Roma. By labeling perceived items with annotations, guidebooks and tour guides aim to orientate, to locate tourists by regulating their sensory experience of the landscape. In a looser way, the contextual reading of novels taking place in the very same place a traveler is visiting complements the sensory experience with narrative reference. Indeed, descriptions of urban or natural landscapes define potential ‘presences’ triggering a variable amount of action potential. So, bidirectional flow connecting narrative references and actual perception define an hybrid ecology, making it possible to inhabit natural landscapes by means of stories and, conversely, causing environmental features to trigger resonance of narrative references. That’s why the interplay of narrative contents and environmental experiences supported by locative technologies potentially allows a dramatic shift in the relationship between people and the environment through narratives.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
In a few years narrative artists and storytellers’ communities will be likely writing or taping stories to be broadcasted by locative media mining 2.0 websites for contents delivered by Location-based media on GPS or GIS enabled portable wireless devices. Textual narratives as podcasted stories will will invade laptop computers and mobile phones, providing readers and listeners with pertinent references or analogical interferences aimed to enriching natural environments. Presences triggered by the mirror matching of references entailed by symbolically encoded narratives, both in audio and written text formats, will invade urban and rural environments, forests and deserts, islands and hills, mountains and beaches, enhance the sensory experience of perceived landscapes. So, questions arise. What formats may be forecasted as the standards ones when it will come to the implementation of socially shared narrative art with locative tagging? Will these new narrative standards reshape interactions between subjects and environments?

While providing a permanently operative level of interaction between narrative contents and natural environments, geotagged stories will likely play a crucial role in a very fragmented and user-oriented literary system. Still, the rise of socially-networked locative narratives will hardly doom the novel to marginality, not to mention extinction. As an unifying, very generalist mainstream narrative point of view establishing the very parameters of how so-called ‘reality’ is supposed to work, the novel will outlast the next technological revolution as it did with previous ones. Potential evolution of novels may imply geocoded editions of both classic ones from the past and brand new ones intentionally developed so as to fit and be implemented into locative media. Such a process may be supported by further locatively implemented releases of wireless digital readers such as the Sony PRS-500 or Amazon’s Kindle.

However, new plastic forms will very likely arise. For instance, locative Keitai Novels, or different systems, eventually exerting collaborative web-logging tools as comments and annotation systems alongside locative technologies and defining new borders for narrative art. Certainly, web 2.0 communities of narrative artists may play with landscapes, tagging them with stories providing peculiar, literary affordances of geocoded environmental features. Being part of a community may imply writing, annotating and commenting on locatively tagged stories, that is sharing a peculiar perception of natural environments or cityscapes marked by narrative tags. In addition, being the node of a given network may entail the embracing and the adoption of peculiar locative tags to be applied to shared narratives. Both the sensory assessment of places and the reading of stories will very likely be part of an integrated, plastic, ever changing immersive experience, redefining the whole concept of storytelling and human presence in the environment at the same time. Policy-makers would eventually be required to avoid that the array of disposable geocoded stories may cause “narrative pollution”, infesting as undesired spam both the individual and collective ecological interplay of people and landscapes.


The full paper on «Embodiment of Stories in Hybrid Environments: Narrative Art in the Age of Social Networking and Locative Media», a first draft of a potential contribution to a collection of studies about Hybrid Ecologies, has been originally presented at KERG in Tallinna Ülikool, Tallinn, Estonia. Some of the topics have been discussed during the Mobile City workshops (Rotterdam, NAI, Feb. 27-28 2008).

Critical Disclaimers

Positivism and the Humanities
The way Positivism incarnated into literary studies led to the History of the Literatures, being History conceived as the only positive scientific basis humanities could rely on. History of the Literatures basically required Titles, Authors, Publishers, Dates, so to the identify single literary objects ready to be placed into linear, progressive series, moving from simple forms to more complex and accomplished ones. Unfortunately, History resulted in a questionable and debatable researching field as any other one featured by the humanities can be. Besides, literary works keep being labeled as given ‘positive’ units, as if the ‘positive’ series of events leading from the origins of a given literary system to its peak and its consequent decline could explain their ‘meaning’.

So ‘real’ that is not
‘Modern’ literary criticism established Realism as an ideological feature in order to calibrate the progressing scale, perpetuating the aristotelian mimesis as the crucial feature modulating the referential process. Since the idea that language ‘naturally’ ‘represents’ ‘reality’ started being seriously questioned, classic realism resulted in a theory based on very shaky foundations. Unfortunately, post-positivist theories of the novel reacted in a very compulsive way, basically abolishing reference as an actual issue criticism should deal with.

Auto-referring to nothingness
Indeed, structuralism established Text with capital ‘T’ as the one and only authority. Consequently, literary works have been evaluated just as texts referring to other texts, intertextuality becoming the ‘cool’ thing to do for a while. Since form and structure imply a given symbolic basic constituent of a story, structuralist criticism resulted in a perpetual and desperate quest for primitive textual units, aimed to identify the base-brick of a story. Unfortunately, components are an hypothesis, any part of a story being not an universal symbolic unit encoded into a given textual feature. That’s why the whole doesn’t correspond to the sum of his components, that is the novel will always be exceeding the sum of its episodes, chapters, paragraphs, phrases, sentences, words, syllables and single letters.

Close reading causes blindness
Even approaches to the novel relying on close reading developed sort of a fetishism of the text, relying on the assumption that the text and the novel can be identified as the very same thing. Unfortunately, getting closer to the text doesn’t actually make the poem or the novel any closer, since literary works are not just texts written or printed on paper pages, folded into a square-shaped object called a book. Therefore, when it comes to the understanding of the novel there is nowhere criticism can get close to, since there is no way to get close to something that is not even dimensional at all. That’s why the metaphor of close-reading is definitely out of place and the procedures it actually addresses are actually ineffective.

Deconstructing Deconstructionism
Correctly assessing theories of ‘general meaning’ as a product of modernist ideology, deconstructionism disassembled the novel by approaching it from multiple critical angles, each one showing partial coherence and cohesiveness. In the process, ‘Realism’ has been deconstructed as an ideological feature feeding modernism aim to find general ‘truth’. Unfortunately, Deconstructionism can be deconstructed as well as an ideological feature feeding post-modernist aim to find local truth. Indeed, the bare concept of ‘part’ qualifies as an arbitrary feature as well. Since you start questioning unity, you can’t stop till you reach infinite, given that every literary text can be partitioned in infinite possible ways. So, partial angles are not more attainable than the general ones. Probably literary criticism hit rock bottom with deconstructionism, in the desperate effort to perpetuate the traditional divisio operis as the typical reading strategy. In this sense post-modernism looks pretty much as a modernist-dependent fashion of pre-modernism. Not to mention the fact that, deconstructing everything, deconstructionists end up asking the very questions they are supposed to answer, being often even payed for that.

The Text before the Text

Since the Karl Lachmann’s edition of De rerum naturis, through Paul Maas Textkritik and further into Lachmannian method inquiries and critical assessments, The Method states that the critical edition of a given text imply the previously acquired knowledge of every source defining the extent of the textual tradition concerning the literary work that is about to be published, say a poem, a novel, as written documents of any kinds. Any lack of knowledge may imply missing of given lectiones singulares or shared erroneous ones causing an incorrect evaluation of the relations connecting the various textual sources. That’s why any lachmannian textual reconstruction process involves a special feature called recensio, aimed to collect any known, and possibly some still unknown, source of the text about to be published. In lachmannian terms, any edition based on a limited evaluation of the textual tradition simply can’t be be considered critical at all. Since the editor has to check and collate all the sources of the literary work he is about to publish, the recensio represents a primary issue of the critical process. So primary he hardly wonders what he is actually doing while he is collecting his sources.

Basically, the recensio is conceived and practiced as a very simple activity, based on the consultation of catalogues and a more accurate direct evaluation of the items most suitable to be taken into account as sources of the poem, the romance or epic narrative or whatever the editor is about to study and publish. It looks like such an empirical process actually relies on the «family resemblances» described by Wittgenstein in his Philosophische Untersuchungen. In facts, the editor applying to recensio is absolutely committed to the identification of similarities. This commitment drives to the recollection of similar objects which have «something in common», in terms that they have some parts in common. As Wittgenstein could have eventually said in such a case, the editor “feels” the similarity, he could easily “show” it, explaining that: “here it is, can’t you see it? It’s similar!”. Empirical approaches as the one suggested by such an utterance are the ones which editors actually assume while working on the critical edition of ancient and medieval literary works, say poems or narratives of various kind. Indeed, editors categorize sources as individuals belonging to the same family without even wondering how similar two or more texts have to be to be considered different versions of the same poem, novel, whatever and what is the symbolic level the “quest for similarity” applies to.

In general, similarities are scaled on the various symbolic layers of the textual encoding. Sentence-length or more extensive and consistent parts shared by two or more sources, as shared special words, like proper or geographical nouns, can trigger some valuable analogies. Even metrics and other non-linguistic textual features, as the editorial layout of medieval manuscripts, may be taken into account as control conditions, even though different sources will be never classified as exemplars of the same tradition just  because they are copied on similar books or they just share a metrical pattern, as it happens so often, for example, in middle-age Provençal, French, Italian love lyrics. In general, two or more different documents are considered as belonging to the same textual tradition if and only if they share similarities in respect to parts and/or individual special clues and markers that are pretty uncommon into other items carried by the catalogs. The minimum scaling is generally set on the sentence-length similarity, but the very meaningful matches usually involve the sharing of more extensive parts, as phrases and, of course, phrase-sequences.

This bottom-up approach, based on analogy and induction, fits pretty well the basic needs of an editor, as soon as he tries to establish the full set of sources that have to be taken into account for collatio, the process leading to the identification of common errors. At the same time, the complete lack of any deeper theoretical insight causes the editor to bypass a very crucial issue, that is a tragic, huge aporia. Indeed, the critical edition of a given literary work is aimed to investigate the textual tradition in order to attain the archetypal configuration.
Besides, the recensio is supposed to identify the sources a given literary work in order to define the extent of its textual tradition, setting up the critical investigation of the archetypal text. Before manuscripts are connected into a stemma codicum, before errors are found, even before sources are simply collated, a stable configuration of the text arises leading the editor throughout the most crucial part of his work, the recollection of sources by means of similarity-pattern recognition. Basically, while collecting his sources, the editor develops a full representation of an exemplar, that is a “control text” he relies on, he worships, when it comes to check for similarities.

This huge aporia, embedded into the basics of the lachmannian method, evidences an epistemological dilemma, a too big and complex one to be solved into the disciplinary boundaries of Textkritik. That is probably why the state-of-the art on this crucial topic is a blank slate. Neither the most analytical approach to Textkritik provides appreciable hints on the subject, probably because philology can’t answer questions as: how can an editor look for something he still does not know what it really is? Or, what is he looking for when he starts his recensio of the sources that may actually be referred to the “same” literary work? How does he assesses two different documents as sources of the same literary work? Why doesn’t he simply classify them as different ones? What is the special feature triggering the process of pattern recognition that leads to the identification of some sources as “same” and others as “not same”? Where does the editor sets the «upper» limit of the simple quotation, and where does he set the «lower» one leading to the recognition of a stand-alone literary feature, substantially independent from the rest of the textual tradition he is actually inquiring? Brief, if he hasn’t still proceeded to collatio, error recognition, elaboration of the family tree, what is he comparing to what? What does he categorize as a text? And finally, what a text basically is?

A correct answer to this set of questions requires a different approach to the text, to be regarded as a plastic feature, that may be described both as the individual and the family it belongs to, that is as a category and, at the same time, as an object to be categorized into.

(to be continued)