An Electronic Edition of Eighteenth-Century Drama Manuscripts: Performing for Editing

Isabel Pinto, Catholic University of Portugal


This article addresses a project of electronic edition of eighteenth-century drama manuscripts, introducing performance art as an active methodology. This was meant to isolate the specific features of eighteenth-century drama manuscripts, in order to assess their improved electronic edition. So, to fully grasp the distinctive features of these historical testimonies, performance art was used as a mediation process, and different interrelated performance initiatives took place. Through performance it was possible to restitute the “take place” (Kobialka, 2002) i.e. the eventful nature contained in the manuscripts, instead of searching for metadata innovations, or an ideal critical apparatus. The focus was laid on drama as a particular type of happening and accomplishment, silenced amidst the archive. The happening quality of the manuscripts was then put to proof through different contexts and practices of performance. The resultant digital edition reflects the “remains” of taking drama manuscripts into performance practice, allowing for a new format of reading material.

  1. Digital Edition: Concepts in Review

According to McGann (1997) the electronic environment of hyperediting overcomes the codex-based limits, as computerization can optimize the logical categories of traditional critical editing that can then acquire new functions. In fact, to work in a “hyper” mode, an editing project must use computerization in such a way as to get over the analytic limits of hardcopy text. Accordingly, hypertexts allow us to go through a large number of documents and to relate these documents, or parts of them, in complex varying ways.

He further recognizes the importance of organizing a hyperediting project in hypermedia form, since hypermedia editions can incorporate audial and/or visual elements that reflect the multimedia nature of literary works: “texts are language visible, auditional, and intellectual (gesture and (type)script, voice and instrumentation, syntax and usage)” (p. 33). One example of a hypermedia project is The Rossetti Hypermedia Archive. When presenting this particular project, McGann (1997) introduces a distinction between archive and edition:

It is important to realize that the Rossetti project is an archive rather than an edition. When a book is produced it literally closes its covers on itself. If its work is continued, a new edition, or other related books, have to be (similarly) produced. A work like the Rossetti hypermedia archive has escaped that bibliographical limitation. It has been built so that its contents and its webwork of relations (both internal and external) can be indefinitely expanded and developed (p. 40).

Curiously enough, the author explicitly links the term edition to a book format, with its specific categories of production and dissemination, and, at the same time, connects the archive with an ever-expanding webwork of relations.

However, Drucker (2009) calls attention to the way we have come to analyze, and see the book format. In fact, she claims that it is necessary to identify the specific features of a material form correctly before being able to envision its functionality in a new medial format. She further argues that by looking at all that has happened in the domain of the electronic book, one is prone to understand how the limited apprehension of the specific materiality of the book has originated inadequate digital models. In her opinion, until now the focus has been on the reproduction of the graphic and physical features of the book, while the expansion of bookish functionalities would have been a better tryout.

Deegan and Sutherland (2009) go as far as to consider that in face of the digital tools what is being revised is the concept of text itself and its defining features. Following on the topic, Dahlström (2009) contents idealistic notions of documents, texts and editions, claiming that the nature of editions is rhetorical, social and one that entails complex translation rather than simple transmission. By acknowledging this, scholars would be better prepared to deal with the purposes and critical contributions of their electronic editions.

In this context, a range of possibilities arise, going from the hypermedia multilayered archive, involving multiple research partnerships, to individual manuscript editions. According to Vanhoutte (2009) the audience for scholarly editions is small, specialized, and will scarcely outnumber the scholarly community engaged with the edited title. Hence, in his opinion, this type of editing goes against the importance of the scholarly edition as a cultural product. In fact, the qualifying characteristic of an edition lies in the status of its text, not its function, form of appearance, or method. The electronic edition is thus seen as the optimized medium for the promotion of the scholarly reading edition….Access Full Text of the Article

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