[Humanist] 25.431 linearity and non-linearity in editions?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Oct 29 10:41:40 CEST 2011

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 25, No. 431.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 28 Oct 2011 12:54:03 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: linearity of text

The era of hypertext as revelation has, I'd suppose, passed, but if my 
ear-to-the-ground is hearing properly, the denegration of linearity has 
not. It is in some contexts a dirty word, a transcendental vice. 
Precisely for that reason it is most refreshing to run across Meir 
Sternberg's "Telling in Time", distributed across three numbers of 
Poetics Today (11.4, 13.3 and 27.1), published from Winter 1990 to 
Spring 2006. I suspect Sternberg's robust defense of chronological 
narration will be familiar to the narratologists here, but it is new to 
me. Not so new, but brought to mind at almost the same time, is R. G. 
Collingwood's observation about time:

>  Time is generally . . . imagined to ourselves in a metaphor, as a
>  stream or something in continuous and uniform motion.... [But] the
>  metaphor of a stream means nothing unless it means that the stream
>  has banks.... The events of the future do not really await their turn
>  to appear, like the people in a queue at a theatre awaiting their
>  turn at the box office: they do not yet exist at all, and therefore
>  cannot be grouped in any order whatever. The present alone is actual;
>  the past and the future are ideal and nothing but ideal. It is
>  necessary to insist on this because our habit of 'spatialising' time,
>  or figuring it to ourselves in terms of space, leads us to imagine
>  that the past and future exist in the same way . . . in which, when
>  we are walking up the High past Queen's, Magdalen and All Souls
>  exist.

Putting Sternberg and Collingwood together, I conclude that we have two 
powerful ways of imagining, (to use the former's argument) one 
Biblical-linear, the other Homeric-nonlinear. Once again, as Tertullian 
said rather aggressively, Athens and Jerusalem at loggerheads -- but 
precisely for that reason all the more powerful.

I raise this matter here to ask about current thinking with regards to 
digital editions: how are these two ways of imagining text being deployed?


Professor Willard McCarty, Department of Digital Humanities, King's 
College London; Professor (fractional), University of Western Sydney; 
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.isr-journal.org); Editor, 
Humanist (www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/); www.mccarty.org.uk/

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