ACH at MLA 2015: “Digital Deformance and Scholarly Forms”

On Friday, January 9 from 12:00 to 1:15 PM in room 212 at the West Vancouver Convention Center (East VCC), ACH will be sponsoring a panel titled “Digital Deformance and Scholarly Forms” (#s292) at the Modern Language Association’s Convention (#mla15).

Building on the previous two years’ success at ACH panels at MLA, our CFP prompts participants to share the interpretive fruits of their work. De-emphasizing focus on methodology in deference to increased attention on the scholarly benefits of their digital process, participants will spend fifteen minutes each considering the ethical, procedural, and/or representational challenges of their approach, as well as offer fresh insights opportuned by the act of deformance.

Abstracts and biographical statements for the following presenters can be found below:

  • Brandon Walsh (University of Virginia), “The Devil in the Recording: Deformative Listening and Poetry”
  • Christina L. Boyles (Baylor University), “(Re)shaping Scholarship, (Re)claiming Folklore: Reassessing Hurston’s Oeuvre Using TEI”
  • Christopher Gabbard (University of North Florida), “Have Qrafter Ready: What Literature Students Can Learn from Digital Deformation”

Additionally, presenters were offered the opportunity to write brief blog posts regarding their methods, as well. Brandon Walsh has taken up that invitation, and we have cross-posted it on the ACH site.

There is one change from the MLA program. Unfortunately, Danielle Gustafson-Sundell (Minnesota State University) will be unable to attend the conference and has withdrawn her paper “songs that start with i.”

We look forward to seeing those who can attend at MLA in Vancouver and invite you to follow along and participate in the conversation via Twitter using the hashtags #mla15 and #s292.


Presenters’ Abstracts 

Brandon Walsh (University of Virginia), “The Devil in the Recording: Deformative Listening and Poetry”

Modernists at the turn of the twentieth century were enamored of sound recording technology for the new possibilities that it offered for preserving their work, but they also obsessed over the materiality of the new media: skipping needles, record grooves, and the hiss of the recording. This talk examines the possibilities for listening to sound recordings of modernist works in ways  newly enabled by digital technologies so as to reflect back on modernist engagement with sound and media. Lisa Samuels and Jerome McGann invoke Emily Dickinson’s suggestion of reading backwards line-by-line as a model for deformative reading. Retrograde constructions have been part of music theory treatises for centuries, and my work works in dialogue with these modes of thought to take the backwards turn a step further by listening to poetry recordings in reverse. Listening to recordings backwards alienates us from the semantic meanings of a text, but the process offers us a new sense of the recordings as sound objects, allows us to reconceive sonic and interpretive enmeshings, and enables us to hear anew the relationship between verse and music in song settings. Ultimately, I suggest that deformative listening practices offer heightened forms of close listening. Digital tools used will likely include Audacity and Sound Arguments, and I will discuss recordings of works by T.S. Eliot and Langston Hughes.

Brandon Walsh is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Virginia, and the title of his dissertation is “AudioTextual: Modernism, Sound Recording, and Networks of Reception.” He has work published or forthcoming in Literary and Linguistic Computing, Conradiana, the James Joyce Quarterly, and the International Trumpet Journal. He was a 2012-2013 Praxis Program Fellow in the UVA Scholars’ Lab, and he currently serves as Project Manager of the Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship (NINES).

Christina L. Boyles (Baylor University), “(Re)shaping Scholarship, (Re)claiming Folklore: Reassessing Hurston’s Oeuvre Using TEI”

While scholars realize that Zora Neale Hurston’s works were heavily censored, none have as of yet examined the impact of those changes on her oeuvre. Analyzing previously omitted passages in her texts may provide the key to redressing assumptions made in Hurston scholarship. In particular, critics have failed to consider Hurston’s oeuvre in light of its use of folklore which, for Hurston, is a knowledge-sharing, identity-forming practice that both unveils and masks the self by providing “feather bed resistance” to outsiders. Since scholars often disregard folklore for being “non-academic” or “unrefined”, critics such as Susan Meisenhelder, Trudier Harris, and Cheryl Wall have viewed Hurston in terms of race and gender rather than in regards to her connection to folk tales.

By transcribing the previously censored portions of Hurston’s autobiography into TEI, I will both preserve the text and provide a new venue by which to assess its content. My digital analysis will demonstrate the need to view Hurston as more complex than previous scholarship allows. In particular, the digitized text will show, through an analysis of word frequency, that Hurston spends far more time discussing folklore and storytelling than she does discussing race. As a result, Hurston’s published works, particularly her nonfiction, need to be “unmasked” and analyzed through a different lens: folklore. By looking at folklore, it becomes evident Hurston engages with the race issues and also seeks to move beyond the restrictions often applied to studies of race. Folklore, then, is crucial to understanding Hurston’s nonfiction texts because it “unmasks” her connection to race and culture.

Christina Boyles is a Ph.D candidate at Baylor University specializing in cultural studies, feminism, digital composition and digital humanities. Her work has been published in Southern Literary Journal, South Central Review, Pupil, and The Write Book. She is currently working on a project involving the folktales of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft.

Christopher Gabbard (University of North Florida), “Have Qrafter Ready: What Literature Students Can Learn from Digital Deformation”

Digitally inflected scholarship opens up novel approaches to literary interpretation and challenges traditional literature-classroom pedagogies. In Fall, 2014, I conducted “Galerie de Difformité” (inspired by Gretchen Henderson), a seminar for English majors at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. The students—deformants—read five texts in which themes of defect, deformity, monstrosity, disfigurement, and/or disability are prominent: Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face, Pomerance’s Elephant Man, Shelley’s Frankenstein, Swift’s Gulliver‘s Travels, and Shakespeare’s Richard the Third. The deformants then undertook projects of deforming one of the texts and digitally capturing the results. At the end, they uploaded their deformations collectively to the “Difformité Chapbook” ( Operating with understanding that creation is deformation and vice versa, they responded to the texts in unconventional ways to produce a new truth-content as it related to the originating text.

While each student produced an interpretation, each also recognized the role imagination played in composing it. As Jerome McGann and Lisa Samuels write in Deformance and Interpretation, “we may usefully regard all criticism and interpretation as deformance. Scholars murder to dissect, as Wordsworth famously observed.” The students of “Galerie de Difformité” responded to the texts by using visual / digital media, as opposed to writing traditional interpretive-analysis essays. This alternative acknowledged and foregrounded what McGann and Samuels describe as “the inevitable failure of interpretive ‘adequacy.’” The course instructed both students and professor about the possibilities digitally inflected scholarship offers for working “toward discovering new interpretive virtues” (McGann & Samuels).  The proposed paper will explore a few of these new interpretive virtues.

Dr. D. Christopher Gabbard earned his doctorate at Stanford University. Since 2001 he has taught at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, where he specializes in British eighteenth-century literature, Disability Studies in the Humanities, and Narrative Medicine. His essays have appeared in PMLA, Eighteenth-Century Studies, SEL, ELN, and other journals. His chapter on the implications of care giving in Jane Eyre appeared in The Madwoman and the Blindman: Jane Eyre, Discourse, Disability (Ohio State UP, 2012), and he has work forthcoming in Keywords in Disability Studies (Routledge) and Six Sorts of Sots: Critical Histories of Intellectual, Developmental and Learning Disability (Manchester University Press). He is working on two books: Idiocy and Wit: Deforming the Mind in the Age of Reason, and a personal memoir, The City of Small Dreams: Reports from the Other Side of Parenting.



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