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  • Writer's pictureSpencer Bennington

On Letting Go: When is it Time to Throw out the Books?

Welcome back to the Digital Humanities section of the Rhetorical Roundhouse blog! If you missed it last week, I was discussing the importance of Walt Whitman's bulge. No, seriously, I did--check it out. Also, from last week was a recap of a recent women's self-defense seminar I had the pleasure of leading at St. Leo University.

This week I wanted to share a brief discussion of "the book" and how we understand this kind of artifact historically as well as in the age of digital eversion. Many of us think of a book as a collection of bound pages, usually read from cover to cover in the pursuit of some literary narrative or information. But there have been a multitude of technological shifts since the first hand bound folios, to the machine printed books, to the now omnipresent e-book. For some insight into these shifts and the ways in which non-traditional book and reading experiences can manifest, check out this great article by Amaranth Borsuk about "The Book as Recombinate Structure."

The advent of digital technologies like augmented reality have fundamentally altered the ways we can interact with physical books. Examples include Borsuk's "Between Page and Screen" as well as many interactive books marketed for children.

Various texts we might refer to as "artist's books" have experimented with reader experience and book structure. One famous example is William Gibson's "Agrippa (A Book of the Dead)" This book was stylized to look like an ancient archaeological finding but, on the inside, contained floppy disk with a program designed to scroll a text file up the user's screen a single time. After the text of the poem played, it was encrypted and sealed away.

So we can see that there is a long traditions that subvert the dominant norm of what it means to "read a book." And that's really cool! But, outside the world of art, many ask the practical kinds of questions that make my heart hurt on some level. One of those is "how can we make space for these kinds of things in our libraries AND update these spaces for the technologies of the 21st century?" This is a really important concern, especially for textual scholars who can't simply be content with a single copy of a text. Andrew Stauffer has much to say about the need for physical books (lots of them) in conjunction with digital technologies in libraries. In short, textual scholars are interested in the multiple typographical, lexical, material, and stylistic variants that occur between texts which, in many cases, were printed in the same run. If they weren't how would I ever have been able to share that hilarious story last week about Whitman!

Personally, it's hard for me to see the necessity in collecting all of these many textual variants, but I have to respect the scholars who do. After all, given enough variants, one might be able to construct an entirely new meaning or exigence for a text over time, alter our fundamental understanding of a historical moment, etc.

What's more, to some degree my own research depends on the preservation of old books that only a small community reveres as important. My dissertation research is all about the ways Master instructors like Grandmaster Richard Chun attempt to communicate the spiritual, emotional, and mental aspects of physical pumsae practice through writing.

Love this book and its sequel. I wouldn't be where I am today without it--thanks for the gift Dad

Presently, I'm having difficulty finding a physical copy of "Tae Kwon Do Textbook" (1972) by Lee Chong Woo. It's cited by Udo Moenig as the first English language Tae Kwon Do manual to describe the Taegeuk pumsae set--and it's integral to my understanding of how these forms were discussed over time. But, perhaps because enough people dismissed it as an old niche book supplanted by "better" digital versions, it got tossed out to make room for study carousels, computer labs, or a Starbucks...

That's enough for today. In the next week I'll be exploring Neatline as a potential tool to use as for my final DH project of the semester. Also, I'm happy to say that more Pumsae Poetry videos are finally (but slowly) being developed. Stay tuned for those as they come out :)

Thanks for reading!


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