The project is completed. My research and case notes are posted to a site on the Commons, here is the link: https://bartleby.commons.gc.cuny.edu/.
The actual game is posted here: https://bartleby.nfshost.com/.
Thank you for playing.
One of my favorite online games is The Kingdom of Loathing. Published by Asymmetric, it’s a simple, web-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that does a comic take on the medieval quest venturing genre. The art is primitive, black line drawings of stick figures and mapping icons. All the fun is in the writing. Also, it’s free, works in any browser, and is low bandwidth. It’s been a long-time companion during airport waits.
Because this game is mostly text-driven with the player making simple choices like fight or flight, what keeps folks playing is the feedback they get as they wander the various quests. It can get more complex the longer one plays, in terms of weapons and skills acquired, but the story is what makes it fun. Reading the professor’s suggestions revealed a software I didn’t know. Twine is an “open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories” (About Twine). Poking around its site, I started thinking about how I might have fun with an existing story, and Bartleby, the Scrivener came to mind.
Readers will recall the frustration of the characters in that story when they found they could not mediate any kind of change in Bartleby’s behavior. While much of the action takes place in law offices, mentions are made of what the characters do when they are not in Bartleby’s presence, like Turkey’s time spent in bars drinking, or Ginger Nut’s forays to the market to buy treats for the staff. For this game, we would find the different characters outside the office and follow them as they went about their daily lives. An example follows.
Location: A Local Tavern
History: Information about what dining was like around Wall Street in the 1850s. Include some pictures.
Description: The place is crowded, men standing at the long high bar, others seated at tables with benches.
The Scene: Turkey and Nippers are lunching together and their talk turns to Bartleby.
The Options: Turkey might have choices like ordering another beer or going to see the minister on Bartleby’s behalf. Nippers might have choices like ordering another coffee or changing the subject. Each choice takes the player to a new page that moves that storyline forward.
For me, the fun of the project will be in sharing more about what living and working were like in the New York of the 1850s. And, in mapping some game-play without having to use something really complex, like Unity.
“About the Kingdom.” The Kingdom of Loathing, Asymmetric Publications, LLC, 2020, www.kingdomofloathing.com/static.php?id=whatiskol.
“About Twine.” Twine / An Open-Source Tool for Telling Interactive, Nonlinear Stories, twinery.org/.
Melville, Herman. “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street by Herman Melville.” Project Gutenberg, 1 Feb. 2004, www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/11231.
Our group came in equal parts from my earlier group and the other. Our name, the Office Gingers, was a merging of the earlier groups: The Office Crew and The Gingernuts. This new team was myself, Georgette Keane, Maggi Delgado, Kevin Pham and Matt Propper. It was a rather seamless merger, where we decided on a similar framework to the Office Crew’s use of the Exquisite Corpse game: we would choose whatever passages we wanted to research from the Cane text and the results would be a surprise. Our focus would be the pop-culture of the time with special attention paid to using multi-media. At our first break-out session, I created an Office Gingers group on Hypothes.is that our team could use to tag the text we wanted to explore.
Initially, we thought we would use the Manifold platform for our project, in part because it had been suggested by our professor and because some of us were interested in learning how to use it. Georgette and I did the initial research. Georgette shared research notes from an earlier class and I got a test-bed organized.
Manifold is an interesting platfrom, it is open-sourced and designed to support scholarly publishing. People can download the software and rack their own servers or work within an existing array. For our project, I approached the CUNY administrators and had editing privileges given to our team. I then downloaded an ePub version of Cane from Project Guttenberg, created a project, and uploaded it. Here’s that link: https://cuny.manifoldapp.org/projects/cane-by-jean-toomer-1923.
As I taught myself the application, it became clear it would not be an easy choice to use for this particular annotation project. I spent time on the Manifold Slack channel, where I learned that real-time editing of a text was not possible. Instead, digital assets can be uploaded to the project and reinjested to create a new text. It was suggested that a Google document could be used as a source file that multiple people editing and then uploaded into the platform.
Also, the group annotation function in Manifold did not allow multi-media. Since our project was going to be multi-media heavy, using the platform’s native group function to annotate would not serve our needs.
When our team next met, we discussed our options and decided that the Hypothes.is platform would be a better fit, since it already supported multimedia and we could invite people into our existing group when it was time to present. However, we needed a version of the text that was formatted more closely to the original manuscript. We did not have the permissions to embed the Hypothes.is code into our Manifold project, but Georgette did have the ability to do that to her share on the CUNY Commons. She was able to create a properly formatted version of Cane at https://caneprojectf20.commons.gc.cuny.edu/cane/ and embed the Hypothes.is widget into the page. Now we were able to use our group to record our work.
My scholarly focus was on how Jean Toomey used classical literature and mythology throughout Cane. In the foreword, Waldo Frank described Toomey’s style as “Æschylean” and some of the vinyettes in Cane reminded me of Greek tragedy, where the poems that open the story are like a chorus setting the scene. I was also very interested in how Toomey incorporated new technologies like electricity and billboards into their narrative, so I researched that history and incorporated it into my annotations.
This title is taken from William Gaddis’ book The Recognitions which reminds me of a quote by Max Read in a recent issue of Book Forum where he reviewed Richard Seymour’s The Twittering Machine: “the social industry wants us to keep writing—and writing, and writing, and writing, rendering legible, analyzable, and profitable nearly all our basic social interaction. And while massive Facebook server farms whirring away in Scandinavia might be able to make some vague sense of all that data, the rest of us can barely hear over the noise. Each new byte of information adds confusion and entropy, and takes us further away from meaning and consequence.” Where do annotations and online criticism fall alongside the host of other online interactions? My impression is that literary criticism is one of the most defensible sorts of writing one can do on the internet, but the canvas matters. A website like Genius differentiates itself from personal blogs, open letters, or comment systems, because it allows the writer to pinpoint exactly the section of a text they are referring to. Without this guiding finger, online writing ends up being solipsistic and circular. How could Vannevar Bush not have foreseen that his imaginary devices would leave us unprepared to contend with them appropriately? The point Seymour’s text makes is that our devices don’t have control over us grounded in their built-in social or biological “incentives”. But rather, we have a death drive towards using them in order to escape the weight of time. Edmund Tyone at the end of Eugene O’Neil’s Long Day’s journey Into Night knows this feeling well when he quotes Baudelaire: ”Be always drunken. Nothing else matters: that is the only question. If you would not feel the horrible burden of Time weighing on your shoulders and crushing you to the earth, be drunken continually.”
The reasons for using Genius to annotate a story from Cane are many. It is intuitive, playful (essential to DH studies), and part of the contemporary conversation about a whole range of texts. I have no doubt that in the future a high school student will search for Jean Toomer and the Genius entries will pop up allowing them to see scholarly work performed using a platform they are familiar with. Job well done team! Now if only the remainder of online writing followed suit. In my mind every “comments” system should be done away with in favor of an annotation system. It would potentially solve two problems plaguing the online world: It would give meaning to our writing, which in its current state is merely an opportunity to demonstrate personality and signal one’s affiliation. The other point is that it would allow commentators to think like students of Literature or Philosophy and come to terms with specific parts of a text. Honing in on phrases or sentences that strike them as useful or problematic. In this way people would judge others by the content of their words and ideas, not feeling like they were at war with other personalities. To turn online writing into the study of language and force of thought would be a milestone in returning meaning back into our interactions with each other. The canvas is corrupt, and the free-for-all that has been the comments system is in need of a revolution.
The Office Gingers decided to use pop culture references to bring insights and to further understand Jean Toomer’s iconic novel, Cane. The annotations are filled with paintings, photos, music, films, and a colorful look at Toomer’s world and possible inspiration and influence over specific sections, scenes, and vivid images throughout his piece. The 1920s was a time of transition, innovation, and a cultural boom for African American artists. Therefore we noticed and took notes of motifs and how artists took inspiration from one another.
I took on Karintha, Reaper, November Cotton Flower, and Becky. Karina and Becky spoke to me as an intersectional feminist, and through that lens, I noticed the stark contrast in the way women were viewed, perceived, and portrayed at the time (and frankly even know.) For Karintha speaks to the desire to obtain a woman (even at a young age), I utilized a photograph by African American Renaissance photographer James Van Der Zee. Zee focused on portraits, and one in particular Untitled, 1924 piece showcases a young woman in flapper wear. The photograph takes on the essence of what a woman like Karintha might have looked like when Toomer published this piece (1923). The Flapper was young, beautiful, sassy, and carefree. Women’s loose clothing style at the time allowed for more freedom in what she did, such as sports, driving, and riding horses, as well as the freedom to move her hips and dance. I also included Juanita Cooper, an African American actress who was part of one of the first race films, 1921 ‘s Right of Birth. She also exemplified the flapper girl style of the decade. Moving on to Becky, this tale reminded me of a much earlier work, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. While Karintha objectified a woman, Becky shames women, especially those who are unwed mothers like Hester in Hawthorne’s piece. Is as if Toomer moves a bit forward with Karintha, embracing the questionable morals of the time and speaking about a woman’s body, then takes a step back, back to puritan times where women were shunned and isolated from their communities for various sins, including single motherhood and interracial relationships.
In the more poetic sections November Cotton Flower and Reaper, I took inspiration from the cotton industry’s historical changes at the time. For November Cotton Flower, I choose to showcase this industry’s importance in the 1920s through two songs, one by Bessie Brown entitled, Song from the Cotton Field (1925-1929), and the other by Brook Benton, Boll-Weevil (1961). Brown’s song is an emotion representing the black slaves who worked in cotton fields. Once enslaved, some were renters and landowners in the 1920s. The poem also mentions the Boll-weevil, an insect that destroys the cotton. In the 1920s, this animal migrated from Mexico to the United States, and with it came the destruction of many crops and fear of production loss by those who owned and cultivated cotton. Many songs have been written about this beetle during the 1920s, including Mississi Cotton Boll – Weevil Blues by Charley Patton. Brook Benton’s 1950’s song Boll-weevil may not be part of Toomer’s time but the catchy and popular tune is all about this pest and the damage it caused the cotton farmers. Another important aspect of the farming industry in the 20s was the rise and evolution of machinery and other technological tools available to farmers, such as tractors instead of individuals having to “reap” the crop with a scythe. Game designer Jakub Rosalki knows all about this as he imagined an alternative 1920s in Iron Harvest. I noted a digital rending of one of his games to represent this shift in production, process, and mechanism that loomed over the roaring 20s farmers.
Though our plans to use the annotation tool Manifold did not work to our annotation (multimedia heavy), Hypothes.is proved to be a solid and versatile tool to showcase both text and multimedia. The tool’s simplicity allowed us to focus more on the content instead of how to use the tool itself. Hypothes.is gave us freedom and ease of use, letting our colorful annotation shine while also bringing essential insight to Toomer’s unique storytelling and writing styles.
When I was in high school and later college, choosing which book to take from the pile or buy from the book store was driven by a desire to find the tome with the most marginalia. If reading is the truest form of telepathy, then marginalia is the deepest form of shared thought. I loved seeing what others thought important, cribbing their notes on occasion, and generally feeling like this was not a journey I was taking on my own.
Perhaps one of the most famous examples of marginalia in pop-culture is Severus Snape’s book of Advanced Potion Making from the Harry Potter book The Half-Blood Prince. It’s instructive that this book causes the hero no end of trouble when he used its cribbed knowledge without a full understanding from whence it came.
[Pinterest, Diane Robertsen]
In the present day, so much of our reading is hosted on devices: the web-browser, the smartphone, or discrete platforms like the Kindle. Until this class, I was not much interested in electronic marginalia. What I was aware of was mostly the comments sections of posted content. Rarely do I venture into YouTube comments or Reddit threads, since they are often full of thoughts I would prefer not to share or weighted down by bots writing nonsense.
However, now that I am going down into the proverbial rabbit-hole that is academic writing, the idea of shared electronic marginalia has a real appeal. I very much enjoyed Johanna Drucker’s The Virtual Codex from Page Space to E-space, in part because they encourage us to “consider extending the ways a book works as we shift into digital instruments” (217). That the book as a physical instrument dominates our conception of what the book-as-data could be rings true to me. Are dynamic websites really books by another name? As Drucker reminds us, “The data file of an electronic document can be continually reconfigured. And an intervening act brings a work into being in each instance, operating on the field of potentialities” (228).
Returning to marginalia, when a group attaches a Hypothis.is reading group to an ePub, do they transform that static content? If the publisher of the ebook updates that site and breaks those notes, is it a form of virtual “book-burning”? What, if any, rights to creators of virtual marginalia have to their copy? Or, is the act of “storing, sorting, summarizing, and selecting” (Blair 85) merely a note-taking function for our consumption and we must mourn the loss, if we even remember it.
For myself, I can see the use of electronic marginalia as very helpful in group work. Writers working together on a piece might find it very helpful to read thoughts from other members of their team. I can certainly see the application in the business world, where marketing and legal might be privy to the work prior to publication. Electronic marginalia offers the promise of a hive-mind.
Blair, Ann. “Note Taking as an Art of Transmission.” Critical Inquiry (2004): 85-107. eJournal. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/427303>.
Drucker, Johanna. “The Virtual Codex from Page Space to E-space.” A Companion to Digital Literary Studies. Ed. Ray Siemens and Susan Schreibman. Wiley Online Library, 2013. eBook.
We tend to have such high hopes for the future. The Vannevar Bush piece is a good example of “exponential future-thinking” where the present status is just extended into the future. We don’t do these kinds of thought experiments anymore, unless you work in a Graphics Cards or are trying to predict the size of the next iphone, which for all of Bush’s talk of things getting smaller and more company, could he have predicted the demands for larger iPhones?
The Professor mentioned that for all our general hopes for the future, it’s difficult to think beyond 2020. That’s because future-talk tends to cover the topics that Bush selects as essential talking-points: 1. Ways of getting beyond automation and 2. Speeding up our selection process. The first point was one which dominated discussions about the role of AI in the workforce, but with record levels of unemployment, people aren’t so worried about “robots taking over their” jobs, as having one in the first place. As to the second, well, this problem is always by our side: it has merely changed form. How do we now select truth from falsity, how do we keep our social lives and select the correct object of attention when we are being tugged at every which way by technology, finally how do we select our “notes” of thought when our digital selves are spread between so many platforms?
2 Comments from the class got me thinking about “Associative” knowledge that is mentioned in the Bush piece: “The human mind does not work that way. It operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain.”
The first is Matt’s note in the chat about not having recognizable handwriting when writing notes. Matt continued that it wasn’t so important that they be readable, but recognizable. I feel the same way about my own handwriting, it is a series of symbols which I can’t make out, but rather they bring me back to a point in time in which I wrote them. It’s more visual than linguistic, very interesting.
The second was Maggi’s comment about relying on a range of notepads in all shapes and sizes. It acted as a mnemonic device I believe she mentioned. The Blair pieces mentions mnemonics as well: “Medieval notes are best preserved in the margins of manuscripts, whether made by thereader directly or by a professional reader to aid the reading of another.They served primarily as mnemonic or meditative aids or to enhance the ordinatio of the text, but occasionally they also took a self-reflexive or potentially dissenting tone.” In Maggi’s case, she has formal elements of note-taking which act as mnemonics, I wonder if there have been any studies of historical note-taking practices which emphasis the structure of the practice beyond the materials used? Essentially is there any emphasis on difference in writing the notes which depended on the subject of the note, rather than simply tossing everything in a Quarto or tablet? I think I may have an answer. If visual elements are the key to a successful mnemonic in writing then perhaps the ornate calligraphy that I’ve seen on decorated bibles would go far in helping people remember elements of a story from the Testament. What kind of equivalent is there for note-taking? I tend to think of them in stodgy terms, but maybe that’s not generous enough.
The overarching purpose of this project is to put the theories of Barthes, Bauer/Zirker, Iser, Drucker, et al. into practice by collaborating on “editions” of a text, in this case Toomer’s Cane. Obviously, it takes many hands and several years to create a publishable edition of a literary text, so we will keep our expectations modest and emphasize the process of collaboration and the experimentation with the affordances, design choices, and relationship with “implied readers” that digital publication allows.
In class, we decided by consensus to work within the following parameters:
Here is the version produced by the Group with No Name (their chosen name). They gave a rather decentralized approach, with each member cultivating their own garden and yielding a wide range of supplementary materials. They used the genius.com platform:
Team: Conn Mac Aogain; Martin Glick, Ostap Kin; Senom; Lola Shehu This is a digital annotated edition of a selection from Jean Toomer’s Cane (1923). This project was produced as part of an assignment for the Textual Studies in the Digital Age graduate course. The text used is from the Project Gutenberg ebook.
And here’s the Office Gingers’ version, which used WordPress+hypothes.is and emphasized Cane’s engagement with visual art and popular music:
Counterpoint is an important musical composition style which involves playing two or more melodies alongside each other in related keys, and it was especially popular in the Baroque period. While we don’t have the ability to read two texts at the same time, it is possible to listen to two texts at once. What does his kind of experience reveal? To hear two narrators speak at the same time would be nonsensical, so an experiment involving playing two audio books at once would be a miserable failure. But I argue that the sometimes caustic recording that I put together which plays the Dickens short story narrated by our Reader interspersed with sound clips from News related to current events, achieves a kind of polyphony of sounds and contrapuntal elegance.
The intent here is to force inspiration. When we read we are alone with the author. No thoughts can emerge which are not a product of the two. Once we include a third stream of ideas the ability to inspire is increased exponentially. We may interact with the sound sample in relation to a word from the spoken text, or we may instead focus our attention on the narrative of the text picking up a phrase or two of the sound samples as our attention to it wavers. Why don’t these stacked sounds simply melt into a mess of unknowability? In the same way that a viola and violin, piano and voice, or mandolin and bassoon carry explicitly different tones, the introduction of a lead aesthetic sample of Narration which runs through the recording acclimates us to its conditions. The sound samples are different enough in kind for our brain to separate the two.
The Presidential debate of September 29 was a great example of how two voices talking over each other results in a distracted miasma of sound. The case was that it was two elderly male voices. When the Narrator of Bartleby mentioned “respect” and “decency”, at that moment I played the clip of AOC berating Rep Ted Yoho for his crude comments toward her. The two audio clips play alongside each other, and I would put forth that because of significant differences in their aesthetics qualities (male vs female, close vs reverby sound, moderate vs impassioned speech) the brain is able to compartmentalize them and make sense of the two at the same time. The aesthetics of our audio project are more closely aligned with collage art, which are meant to force an inspiration out of the viewer and their relation between two or more artistic elements. Again, this is less a relationship between the reader and the author and instead places the reader (listener) in the position of a conduit or channel through which novelty is found in the juxtaposition of presented ideas.
In the below picture, the visual layout of the clips can be seen. An outline of where the clips lay is as follows: Channels 1, 2, and 4 are News Clips which play at intervals and have about 2 minutes between them. Channel 3 is a 3 minutes audio sample of an office environment which plays almost the entire duration of the recording. Channel 5 is the stitched together narration of the book.
This assignment was fun: more play than work for me. By way of full disclosure, I use to do voice-over work for a living, so I came to the project with that lens. However, since Maggi Delgado (our producer) and I were the only folks on our team who admitted to having production experience, our Bartleby, The Scrivener audiobook, was not actually created the way a professional production might have been. Had this been that kind of endeavor, the workflow might have been something like this: the producer hires a writer to cut the script, hires talent to do the voices, maybe hires a sound designer for the music and special effects, and finally works with an editor to assemble the final product. There would have been rehearsals, and likely at least three voice-actors gathered to lay down their tracks. Also, possible that the dialog scenes would have been voiced by the actors together. Our process was nothing like that.
At our first meeting, we decided on a simple workflow:
I did a rough cut of the shared Google document, cutting about half of the content. I did this in part because the script is the most important asset for me as a producer, and I could not decide on what to voice until I had a semblance of a working script. However, I did those edits via
strike-through text, not as actual deletion of the material. That way, my teammates could see my ideas for form but were free to ignore them for their process.
Once I had the script, I used a Yeti Blue Streamer mic and Audacity to lay down the track. Maggi had asked for a single audio file using the *.wav format. It took me about four hours to lay down the 40 minutes of audio. It was mostly a single take. I had to re-record a couple of sections where I could hear I’d mispronounced words on playback. Still, since I was not going for perfection for the most part but rather for energy and when appropriate humor (Melville is funny!), it not being perfect seemed in keeping with the assignment.
We had a meeting after Maggi had shared their rough-cut, and it was great! Here is where we, as the makers, got to experience the Exquisite Corpse process in practice. Maggi had edited our work down considerably, but still kept the core of the story. She’d created interesting effects with my voice when I said Bartleby’s lines, so he sounded robotic. montage had found an audio filtering platform that allowed her to type copy into the engine and have it voice the speaker as a posh-sounding English gentleman. However, those files’ quality was not great because she had to use her cellphone’s mic to capture them, so when Maggi raised their volume, they became distorted. As a listener, not understanding all of the words was very frustrating … precisely the way the narrator felt when dealing with his scrivener! So that was really fun. Finally, Ostap did a great job with his pieces. His delivery had an individual pensive self-awareness that was an excellent match for the text.
Additional changes were minimal; our last meeting was about talking about the process and learning what we’d done. The final piece of the puzzle was Kevin’s presentation. We didn’t see that until class. Wow, it was impeccable too! He gave an excellent summation of our process, explained the framework, and pulled it all back to the readings.
Again, this was an enjoyable project. Thank you, Maggi, for doing such a fantastic job as our producer. Thank you, montage, for helping us to find our intellectual framework. Thank you, Ostap, for bringing such humanity to the voice of the narrator. And thank you, Kevin, for representing our team so brilliantly in class. I hope all my collaborations this semester go so well.
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