Just before I left, I found more stuff the thief took (80s clothes!) and when I came back I found the quote for the curtains (not reparable - but will the insurance replace the whole track and etc?). While I was out, I told my class that my next week's drama will be getting my eye checked and not coming home to anything wrong.
The reason for the afternoon out is that there's a conference this week at the ANU. It's peripheral to my interests for the most part, so I skipped all but one session. That session was on digital scholarly editing. There are some fascinating approaches and some rather big obstacles.
There were interesting things said about stubborn Medievalists - most of the projects have a very restrictive cultural paradigm they use to encode texts. Basically, there is the assumption of one text, in one language. There has been advance since I last went to an event of this sort, because different versions of the same text can now be compared using the computer, as long as the different versions are essentially that one, modern-style text.
It's a modern definition of a document. Scribal variants, dialects, Beuve de Hanstone in two languages - all of these have the be crunched to reduce (in the expert's words* they eliminate the 'noise'). An audience member complained about the obdurateness of Medievalists - why can't we agree to things? This same person asked if anyone had tried the new digital editing on a major work that had been created digitally. She suggested William Gibson. I suggested that 'noise' was cultural context (which was me being polite - what I think really happens is that when you eliminate key factors scholars look for in texts, like the difference between the scribes' dialects and the author's) you eliminate key information for interpreting it across dialect and language boundaries) and I threw the word 'copyright' at the person who wanted to take Neuromancer and turn it into a scholarly edition. A scholarly edition of Neuromancer would be awesome, but the moment I mentioned copyright other people said "Yes, it costs more if the work is not that old: both in time - gaining permissions and in fees." And yes, someone grumbled about writers wanting money. They grumbled quietly, but I was there and I pointed out that the need for income that writers (strangely) manifest is not that unexpected or uncouth.
In other words, I ended up being the spanner in the works - every workshop has one, but it's not usually so consistently me. The projects are great and they're coming a long way to address many cool things. Comparing versions and working out their relationship each to another. Adding pictures and amendments and notations and making the mark-up far more useful for scholars. But because the whole set of projects (not just one - all the ones that were represented on the day) start with the idea of a single base text, it has a limited cultural range. The Medievalist (who used to live round the corner from me) is closest to addressing these, but the only works he discussed were some of the most straightforward and 'modernised' Medieval texts known: Dante and Chaucer and Mallory. All known authors. All in early print editions. All the closest to standardised that a Medieval secular text can be without being unique.
So, the workshop was great, but hasn't any solutions for anything I do at this stage. And - pace the conference questioner who said that Medievalist are difficult on these matters: Medievalists are not being difficult. We admit that not all texts are created within the same cultural paradigms and we're working to find out how the MA actually worked, culturally. The set of processes described will actually set Medieval scholarship back, not advance it through the wonder of computing.
I reviewed a book the other week and it examined texts across language boundaries. The precise examination of a text word by word means you can't even do that across dialectal boundaries, much less across language. And yet these variants are inherent in so many Medieval texts. I once did a study (for the fun of it - I never got it published) of the Dialects in the Chretien poems. It made the reach of the actual texts precise and there were boundaries at which the stories started to change significantly. The computer paradigms would silence these cultural boundaries.
At the same time, the same set of concepts applied (as was demonstrated) to the work of Harpur (whose bicentenary is next year - which is very cool) is totally awesome as a way of showing how Harpur worked on a text. The computer-based analysis is fluid and powerful and a lot of fun.
I do find it sad that the design end of it uses a single cultural paradigm, however, that's based on the most studied set of cultures for texts. It's like Propp and tales all over again.
*I told this expert he looked familiar. We worked out he taught at a high school round the corner from where I grew up and lived right near my cousin's.