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Michael Hancher: Engl 8710, Electronic Text

English 8710
Studies in Criticism: Electronic Text

Michael Hancher
Fall 1996
Mondays, 3:35-5:50 p.m.
Lind Hall 202

Widespread electronic networking has renewed some leading questions about the status and function of text:

Does the text speak for itself?  Does it depend on or construct the authority of an author, or community of authors?  How does gender inflect text?  What difference does the reader make?  Whose text is it?  Who can read it?  How well can the text be copied? Who has the right to copy it?  Are texts displaced or changed by images?  How do they relate to other texts?  How long can a text last?

This seminar will investigate many of these and related questions as reframed by the phenomenon of electronic text.

Readings will be drawn from books-in-common (parts of which will be read by everyone enrolled in the course), supplementary books (parts of which may be read by some), and various electronic-text archives.

Some relevant titles:

Plato. Phaedrus. Excerpt.
     What's the use of writing?

Plato. Cratylus. Excerpt.
     What's the use of copying?

Frances Yates. The Art of Memory. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1966.
     Try to remember.

Charles Babbage. On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures. London: Charles Knight, 1832. Ch. 9, "Of Copying," 51-92.
     An influential maverick economist (early studied by Marx and Engels, later famous for having invented the computer, or "difference engine") considers dozens of modes of copying, manual and industrial, including printing.

Walter Benjamin. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." 1936. Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Harcourt, 1968. 217-51.
     Art popped.

Jean Baudrillard. Simulations. Trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip Beitchman. New York: Semiotex[e], 1983.
     What you see is what you get.

Walter J. Ong. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. Routledge, 1982.
     A concise introduction to the history of orality, manuscript culture, print literacy, and electronic text.

David J. Bolter. Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1991.
     Often called the basic book in the field.

George P. Landow. Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Johns Hopkins UP, 1991.
     Still the most influential account of electronic writing.

Richard A. Lanham. The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Arts. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1993.
     The triumph of rhetoric.

Ian Lancashire and John Bradley. Using TACT with Electronic Texts: A Guide to Text-Analysis ComputingTools, Version 2.1 for MS-DOS and PC DOS. New York: MLA, 1966.
     The figure in the carpet.

Michael Auping. Jenny Holzer. New York: Universe, 1992.
     Lapidary and electronic inscriptions in the art of Jenny Holzer.

Lewis Blackwell and David Carson. The End of Print: The Graphic Design of David Carson. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1995.
     Beach Culture, Ray Gun, and after--but before Speak Magazine.

Sven Birkerts. The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. Boston: Faber, 1994.
     What's to like about the old technology.

Geoffrey Nunberg, ed. The Future of the Book. Berkeley: U of California P, 1996.      Back to the future.

Mark Dery, ed. Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture. Durham: Duke UP, 1994.
     The body in cyberspace.

Jorge Luis Borges. "The Library of Babel." Labyrinths: Selected Stores and Other Writings. Ed. Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby. New York: New Directions, 1964. 51-58.
     Text Trek, proto-Web Trek.

Also various documents, mostly electronic, that advcate protocols for encoding electronic text, including SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language), HTML (HyperText Markup Language--the code that supports the World Wide Web), and the procedures recommended by the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI).

Electronic text archives

Don't worry: this course does not presuppose experience with electronic networking or hypertext. However, students will be encouraged to explore the available electronic resources, using networked facilities in computer labs in Lind Hall. These resources include files published at various sites on the World Wide Web--as of June 1996, amounting to more than 30 million documents. For example:

  • Excerpts from avant-garde hypertext fiction published by Eastgate Systems, such as Michael Joyce's Afternoon, A Story (1987), and Stuart Moulthrop's Victory Garden (1991).
  • Miscellaneous canonical texts in the public domain. Many electronic versions are directly accessible through the World Wide Web; for example, Iliad (trans. Dryden), Hamlet, Wealth of Nations, The Prelude, Wuthering Heights, Origin of Species, To the Lighthouse.
  • The British Poetry Archive under construction at the University of Virginia, which includes texts by Tennyson, the Rossettis, and less canonical poets of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
  • In addition, we will explore an electronic archive owned by the University of Minnesota Libraries, The English Poetry Full-Text Database, published in CD-ROM format by Chadwyck-Healey. This database comprises all the books of poetry, ranging from 600 A.D. to 1900 A.D., that are reported by The New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1969-72), plus some additional texts omitted by the NCBEL.

Doing things with electronic text

Among other uses of electronic text, members of the seminar will use electronic mail to communicate with each other, discussing the readings and related topics. More formally developed written work for the seminar may be posted on the World Wide Web, for public access. Materials for previous versions of this seminar are available on the Web:

For more information

If you have questions (or suggestions) please send me a note or leave me a phone message.

          Michael Hancher
          Professor of English
          207 Lind Hall
          E-mail address: mh@maroon.tc.umn.edu
          Telephone: 625-5075

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Michael Hancher

Department of English, University of Minnesota

URL: http://umn.edu/home/mh/prosef96.html

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Created 7 June 1996

Revised 17 September 1996