Monday, March 21, 2005

Virtual Text Artifacts II

The use of paratextual elements (objects, charts, maps, formulated languages and ciphers, manufactured photos, and illustrations, letters, advertisements, reviews) in early modernist literature seems to have been all the rage. Having stumbled into the area thanks to the below mentioned potting skills of Sir Henry Rider Haggard's sister-in-law, I have since encountered a large and growing body of texts that employ similar strategies to develop narrative engagement.
Much at this stage of my inquiry has been learnt from Michael Saler's 2004 essay for Philosophy and Literature 28.1 (2004) 137-149 , Modernity, Disenchantment and the Ironic Imagination. Here Saler concentrates on the concept of "ironic imagination" as a means to reconcile the domination of the rational, secular, democratic, urban, industrial and bureaucratic elements of Modernity with the Romantic movement's veneration for the imagination. Interesting in its self, but I am concerned with tracing elements of digital textuality in pre-digital texts. The concept of the information laden object existing both independantly of and interwoven within the text is completely consistent with narrative constuction in our contempory digital mediums. Think hypertext link, think energy cube, think adaptation of film to game using visual memes as guides.
From Saler's essay and my own thoughts I have come up with a few more examples of pre-digital virtual text artifacts:

* The map in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1881)
* The cipher in Edgar Allan Poe's Gold Beetle (1843)
* The scroll in Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1898)
* Photos and illustrations in Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1910)
* Letters, advertisements, and reviews in Rudyard Kipling's With the Night Mail (1905)
* A language, maps, runes and the subsequent fan empire of The Lord of the Rings series by J R R Tolkien (1937-68)

I will continue with this investigation and maybe write a longer piece on it.

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