The distorted mirror: Literary Simulation and the Digital Humanities, Part 1

By | March 14, 2022

The Bloomsbury Literary Studies blog presents: a production on Manuel Portela’s Literary Simulation and the Digital Humanities in three parts. Episode 2, Episode 3

Dramatis personae:
Difficult and Theoretical Author (A)
Curious and Distracted Reader (R)

Episode 1: This Book is for You

And I offer you this book because I know it is beautiful and useless.
—Fernando Pessoa, Book of Disquiet, “Perystile,” c. 1913, translated by Richard Zenith.

[SYNOPSIS: Reader meets author and asks him about his new book. Author tries to win the attention of reader with the usual tricks.]

R (Curious and Distracted Reader) – What book is this?

A (Difficult and Theoretical Author) – Who is asking?

R – I am. Over here! A curious and distracted reader.

A – Curious and distracted?

R – Yes, curious because everything seems to interest me. Distracted because, well… because I skip, digress, postpone, interrupt… There are too many books, too many web pages. We are all distraught by distraction. Our attention spans have serious limitations.

A – Then this book is for you.

R – That’s what every author says!

A – I’m serious. It is a book for the curious and distracted.

R – Why?

A – Because it is a book about a digital archive about a book.

R – The usual self-conscious, self-reflexive, self-referential mise en abyme

A – To some extent. But it is also a miroir déformant.

R – What?

A – A distorting mirror.

R – Distorting? Are you referring to the distortion created by the transposition across media?

A – Exactly. Brilliant! I had a feeling I could count on you.

R – On me?

A – Yes, count on you both as a curious and a distracted reader.

R – I understand that you count on the curious… but on the distracted?

A – Let’s go back to the idea of ​​a distorting mirror. This book describes the digital modeling of another book.

R – A sort of media mirror?

A – Yes, but one with very specific properties. The digital medium works as a critical interruption of the form and experience of the printed book. It shows how it is not possible to mirror it in the new medium except as an epistemic illusion.

R – Critical interruption? Epistemic illusion? I suppose you really want to distract me…

A – Let’s assume that the distraction would be an effect of the interruption of one medium by another. It is as if we were forced to look again at our literary practices with a new perspective. A textual and material reframing.

R – I see what you mean.

A – I will put it another way: the digital medium can be used to ask new questions about the nature of literary communication. For example, have you ever asked yourself what is a literary experience?

R – If it is an experience, I think it is something that we should enjoy, rather than something to write about. I enjoy my experiences. So is your book about that?

A – You can say it is, up to a point. About the enjoyment, and about the conditions for that experience. It’s about literary actions.

[To be continued in Episode 2]

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