The conversation that takes place in our readings for this week and last on databases is an interesting one. When I think of a database I do not think of it as something that is threatening or even a replacement for anything. I think of it as an addition to the tools that we already use. McGann’s position on the database confuses me. The organization of the database that he calls “severe” to me seems to be heavily based on the way we categorize in language already. When I first started to learn OOP (Object Oriented Programming) we began by comparing the way we create classes to the way in which sentences are constructed. Now as I sit down to write software I find the organization to be very similar to the way in which I compose my writing. Going back to McGann I have to say that yes it is true that no database can function without its user interface but it is odd that he separates the two. There is no software that we interact with that is not delivered to use through a user interface of some kind. When I create software I do not only created the relationships and methods I create the user interface in which the relationships and the methods are delivered to the user. They, in my mind, are one. And since they are one they are created and organized based on the organization that we use in everyday lives (which I would have to agree with Ong in this case is based on our print culture). When he mentions the TEI I am not seeing how using XML markup is any different or better than a database.

Where I can agree with McGann is the fact there are certain things are lost when we digitize collections. That is why I think Hayles’ comment about “natural symbionts” is the most useful in the conversation. Take the way that the PMLA issue is presented. We are given a version of the original (because we can assume that Folsom’s piece was edited before it was printed) and then we are given the additions to the thoughts the original piece laid out. I see this as the database function. When I take an original manuscript of Leaves of Grass scan it and place it into a database I have added to the value of the piece (in value I do not mean monetary but in this case use). Therefore since I am adding and not replacing I see no reason why the loss of physicality in the archive is important, it still exists in the original archive.

I have to ask those who are more familiar with TEI… what is it that makes it (in McGann’s case) so much better than what Folsom has done with the Whitman Archive? From his explanation of it, it sounds like just another way of categorizing text.

So thinking about the database and the arguments presented I have to turn to Manovich and think that truly the main concern is form. The database for many is not a traditional form of finding or organizing narrative (although I would argue differently) but it is a cultural form in itself. The database is an expression of culture and may be more natural to those in the culture whose main source of information is the internet. As for McGill’s notion that the accidental find is lost when we archive in database, well I just have to say she is forgetting the wonderful search engine.

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