Earlier today one of my office mates was playing scrabble online and he remarked how he hated playing against the computer because the computer “cheats.” This was, of course, after the computer used the words “diuretic” and something like aquh that neither of us could recognize as a word. Part of the problem is that both the player and the players guide (in this case the scrabble dictionary) are coexisting in the same space. The scrabble dictionary has no real concept of what words are “common” to the player and what are not. It only really knows if it is there or not. Information recognition operates in very similar ways in both human and computer players, but the computer, in some way, seems to lack the quality of “cleverness” that makes a game like scrabble enjoyable. I’d like to maybe suggest that digital archives, and how they obscure the role of human cleverness in their construction, might suffer from a similarly “non-fun” feel. I can’t say I’m 100 percent sure how this relates to McGann, but it struck me as relevant.

One of the concepts from the third section of McGann’s book was his critique of Tufte’s claim that we exist daily in a 3d world but our information is always 2d. I think that McGann is right to point out that we only think we navigate in 3 dimensions. What is happening is that we are just submitting our consciousness to a certain perceptual filter and that the 2 dimensional world of the page or screen is not the crippling limitation that Tufte seems interested in portraying it as. Texts, according to McGann are always multidimensional, the question is in how that “multivariate” quality is emphasized within a text. McGann suggest that some works, like the referential work of William Blake is much better suited to calling our attention to these qualities.

McGann follows this concept with a call to scholars to the “reconstruction of our inherited cultural archive in digital forms” (184). I feel that his warning, that the transformation will happen is certainly justified and his claim that if anyone should be doing this sort of work it should be scholars who are best equipped to critical consider both page and screen.

I absolutely love the phrase “the soul that live in the physique of the text” (210) that McGann uses to describe the work of Mallarme. I think that as practically minded, rational people we are sometimes quick to dismiss the sort of thinking that Mallarme does about books as somewhat unhinged, but we refuse to think of books as merely vehicles for the transference of information. If we had even inclination all text would be digitized. That’s easier, isn’t it? If we refuse to acknowledge the intrinsic value of physical text then how can we explain our attachment to books and their aesthetics?

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