Course Details

Course offered Spring 2013

Honors 212 C: From Manuscript to Kindle

Honors 212 C: From Manuscript to Kindle (A&H)

SLN 14565 (View UW registration info »)

Ileana Marin (Comparative History of Ideas; Comparative Literature)
Phone: 206 604-1831

Credits: 5
Limit: 30 students

Honors Credit Type

The course From Manuscript to Kindle combines the reading of famous literary works that have impacted readers worldwide with the hands-on experience of the first editions or formats (manuscript, printed edition, digital text, kindle version) as well as with the theory of reading. We will begin our journey through literature and its various formats with Theodore Roethke, the Pulitzer Prize winner of 1954, whose poems in manuscript are housed in the University of Washington’s Special Collections at Suzzallo Library. Roethke’s works have been published in dozens of editions throughout the years and in five different formats, all available at paperback, hardcover, audio CD, audio cassette, and digital as a HTML packet. Reading a set of poems by Roethke in all these formats will facilitate a discussion about how the formats might model our understanding and interpretation of the text. We will then become acquainted with theories of reading by Wolfgang Iser, and Stanley Fish, who take for granted that is, they take for granted that text equals book format.

The literary texts that we will read next range across major literary genres and come in several formats. We will first read a selection of episodes from James Joyce’s Ulysses as a search e-text from and experiment with the options offered by the digital text. To understand what lies behind the electronic text which is apparently identical with its printed version, we will discuss George Landow’s Hypertext 3.0 and Peter Shillingsburg’s From Gutenberg to Google. We will then compare the version of Washington Square by Henry James as it was serialized in Cornhill Magazine and illustrated by George du Maurier in 1880 to the first edition published in 1881 by Harper and Brothers in New York in which chapter 28 was missing. We will examine the two printed formats of this novel through the lens of Jerome McGann’s Textual Condition, which will introduce to us the partners involved in the production of this (or any) volume. We will also consider another, quite different format in which the novel is now available: theM4B, audiobook format, which preserves a reading of the novel over the course of 7 hours and 45 minutes, released in 2007 by Librivox. The theory of Matthew Rubery will help us interpret literature in connection to sound studies and understand how much the format itself contributes to the meaning of the text. Considering the multitude of formats in which we can “read,” or, better said, “interact” with a literary text, one may add to the old theory stating that a work is an event that epitomizes its epoch the complementary contemporary variation stating that the reading of the work is an even that epitomizes its epoch.

In the epoch of digital technology, the kindle or the e-reader emulates the book format and allows readers to have an experience almost identical to that of reading a physical book, yet doing so through an electronic device. Experimenting with several versions of Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest, we will think about reading as an event that partially changes the meaning of the work: In this, our class will be paving new ground, because, although all of us have read texts in these many new formats, literary criticism has not yet addressed these common experiences. “Reading” Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis, both in print and on kindle, we will discuss the paradox of transferring the concreteness of illustrations on paper to a digital medium. While the appearance of the juxtaposition of image and text remains identical visually, the experience of reading the graphic novel holding the volume differs from reading it holding the kindle. The latter takes away the joy of tactile childhood memories such as those instilled by our early reading of comic strips. Writings by Johanna Drucker and Matthew Kirschenbaum will help us articulate and describe our experiences, provide the theoretical support for the next group of literary texts. We will end our reading experiment with the computer generated poem “Agrippa” by William Gibson.

Thus, the overall goal of this course is to think about the relationship between text and format and to become more aware that the meaning of the literary text which is not revealed exclusively by the linguistic code, but it is emphasized or even created by its material support. We will also gain expertise in theories of reading and textual criticism, thus updating literary criticism to the level of the technologies we use while reading. Thus, both experimental learning and critical reading will help us think about our roles as readers and how our experiences are shaped by the
texts we read and their formats.