Beyond the bibliographic imagination: Literary Simulation and the Digital Humanities, Part 2

By | March 15, 2022

The Bloomsbury Literary Studies blog presents: a production on Manuel Portela’s Literary Simulation and the Digital Humanities in three parts. Part 1, Part 3

Episode 2: Literary Simulation

Page by page I slowly and lucidly reread everything I’ve written, and I find that it’s all worthless and should have been left unwritten.
—Fernando Pessoa, Book of Disquiet, Text 169, c. 1931, translated by Richard Zenith.

[SYNOPSIS: Reader and author continue their conversation. The plot thickens when the notion of “literary simulation” is introduced. A painstaking and scrupulous editor is forced to intervene as the jargon-laden conversation becomes too convoluted and abstract.]

R – Literary actions?

A – Yes, the actions that are necessary for a certain experience of the text to occur. Actions such as writing, editing, reading.

R – But what do you mean by “literary simulation”? I have never encountered that phrase before.

A – In the sense that I am using it in my book, it is a new concept. So I won’t blame you for being distracted… The concept designates a computational modeling of the performative nature of literary experience.

Marginal Note by E (Painstaking and Scrupulous Editor) – This conversation is becoming difficult to follow. I suggest that the author deletes the last sentence from his previous speech. There’s no need to upset the reader.

R – I understand what “computational modeling” means, but the “performative” sounds less familiar. Can you explain?

A – The basic idea is that situations, identities and experiences are sustained by forms of structured action that we have to perform over and over again.

Marginal Note by E – Another ill-advised speech. I would call on the author to silently withdraw this last sentence.

R – So how did you model this literary performance?

A – The book originates from an experimental model, the Collaborative Digital Archive of the Book of Disquiet (LdoD Archive), whose software architecture was designed by António Rito Silva. We have used the Book of Disquiet, by Fernando Pessoa, to carry out this experiment.

R – Why the Book of Disquiet?

A – For its literary value, and also for being an unfinished and fragmentary work. These characteristics allow us to observe and model the processes that produce the experience of the work.

R – Is that why you call your model a “simulation”?

A – On the one hand, I want to refer to the simulation affordance of the computer; on the other hand, I want to draw attention to the ways in which we have used this affordance to create a dynamic and open space of interactions where users can play roles – reading, editing, writing. The LdoD Archive is a computational model of a literary model. It is an invention that goes beyond the bibliographic imagination.

Marginal Note by E – Too many ideas, so few sentences. What is “the bibliographic imagination”? Please rewrite in proper blog post style.

R – Do you think that is possible? How do you transcend the form of the book?

A – I mean that this invention shapes the book as a metaphysical tension between its conceptual dimension and its artefactual dimension. The book is a field of forces, a dynamic spacetime, a potential for the articulation of meaning through the play of signifiers. So far, digital remediation of literary works has been limited to emulating book structures.

Marginal Note by E – The author got carried away again. I suggest replacing deleterious metaphors and noxious hyperboles in the sentence that starts “The book is…”

R – I don’t see how this articulatory power can be modeled.

A – That’s why you have to read this book. In order to see how this hypothesis takes shape beyond the bibliographic imagination and the dominant practices in the Digital Humanities.

[To be continued in Episode 3]

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