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March 30, 2011 / katextuality

A Review of James Cummings’ “The Text Encoding Initiative and the Study of Literature”

James Cummings presents a somewhat clear and comprehensive insight into the world of TEI. As somebody with a very limited knowledge of TEI, I did find a lot of the material quite dense and hard to digest but overall managed to gather the main gist of the initiative and what Cummings was trying to portray about it. Cummings manages to draw from many areas of information to construct his argument which I found to be quite an interesting format to read.

Cummings expertise in the field is obvious and I did find that sometimes the examples he provided were slightly off the point and perhaps even used as a medium to show off his knowledge. However in other scenarios I felt they were extremely concise and stuck to the task at hand. I cannot discredit him too much for the subject of focus as it was obvious that he was continually going to bring the discussion topic back to literature and TEI’s place in it.

I must admit that an awful lot of the subject matter went over my head, but I can see how someone with perhaps a bit more interest and knowledge in this area may have found this article to be extremely helpful and informative. I found that as the article moved on, the language got progressively more technical and difficult and despite the fact that Cumming’s seeks to allude this by offering more coding and technical examples I couldn’t bring myself to fully understand it.

One point which did stick in my head was when he mentioned that one of the central missions of the TEI is to cope with the continuously differing needs of scholars and that, to my shame is the main point which I came away with. If I was asked to give a definition of TEI, I would have to classify it as a set of guidelines with varying capabilities of different ways of studying literature. Its role is to make texts as accessible as possible. Despite the fact that this is one of the few facts which I gathered from the text, Cummings does seem to offer a balanced argument of the initiatives pros and cons.

Bibliography

–         http://www.digitalhumanities.org/companion/view?docId=blackwell/9781405148641/9781405148641.xml&chunk.id=ss1-6-6&toc.depth=1&toc.id=ss1-6-6&brand=9781405148641_brand

 

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March 30, 2011 / katextuality

Pillage My Texts. A Review of Jorge J. Rodríguez’s “The Rape of the Author: How Charles Mee (re)defines authorship and its manifestation in his play Big Love”

This essays seeks to draw a comparison between Mee’s figurative “raping” of texts and his portrayal of rape in his play Big Love, a play based on Aeschylus’ The Suppliant Women. Mee more or less preserves the storyline of the original play but bases it in modern America. He frames it within a pop-culture context and makes continuous reference to contemporary songs and themes. Rodriguez comprehensively explains how Mee takes both texts that belong to the public domain (e.g.: Greek Tragedy, Shakespeare) alongside those which do not and are copyrighted (e.g.: Brecht, Beckett and other contemporary playwrights). Rodriguez explains that the reason Mee blatantly plagiarises with no apology is to establish these works as violations and to force us to read them as so. This mindset encourages us to consider how amazing the possibilities may be if there was a free exchange of work amongst writers without restrictions. Mee continually argues that it is absolutely impossible for us to exist independent from culture and that we should embrace its obviously heavy influence on our writing. Mee’s utopian world would be one in which all copyright laws were abolished and all texts would be included in the public domain.

Rodriguez highlights the fact that Mee does in fact violate our “…most basic sense of what a responsible author is” and that by doing so, implies that there must always be some sort of violence involved to liberate writing from the notions we have imposed upon it. Big Love deals with a similar issue in its approach to the discussion of the subject of rape and Rodriguez explains how it provides a working analogy which is very helpful in our understanding of Mee’s writing techniques. Mee suggests in his play that rape, if interpreted from a completely figurative point of view is not necessarily the evil that our society has made it out to be, this immediately juxtaposes the notion that what Mee does with other writer’s texts is not necessarily the crime we have made it out to be. Big Love actually points out how this figurative rape may have some cultural value: “We learn to appreciate Mee’s plagiaristic tendencies not as a hindrance to writing, but as a useful tool for the production of literature”.

Rodriguez examines Mee’s method of collaging and creating texts. Mee considers a work that is completely of the writer’s own to be impossibility. An outcome of using a collage-like technique for his writing is that all of his texts seem fragmented and unfinished, but this is purposeful. In A Nearly Normal Life he explains why this aesthetic appeals to him:

I like plays that are not too neat, too finished, and too presentable. My own plays are broken, jagged, filled with sharp edges, filled with things that take sudden turns, careen into each other, smash up, veer off in sickening turns. That feels good to me. It feels like my life. (214)

Rodriguez draws the conclusion that Mee gives his plays these sharp edges in order to distinguish them from the more presentable works we are very used to hearing and seeing. Mee wants to create a more global database of “cultural commons” and his first step towards creating this is offering his plays to his readers for them to freely use in their own compositions of work. He extends an invitation for them to use them as a resource for their own “original” work. This act resolves the tension originally created by Mee using the copyrighted texts of previous playwrights and authors by “paying it forward” as such. Rodriguez draws attention to the fact that Mee himself had made a conscious decision to “play dead” so that his texts would be treated as if he were. He wants to guarantee that those who want to change or elaborate on his texts have endless possibilities in which to do so.

However, Rodriguez also remarks upon how it’s strange that despite everything, Mee’s own work is still copyrighted. He then explains comprehensively that Mee’s intention in doing this is not proprietary, it is more to encourage his readers to completely (re)make his texts and to put their own name on the work that results without crediting him whatsoever: “Ultimately, having his plays copyrighted forces readers to fully commit to the idea of (re)making one of his plays instead of just cutting a few parts and calling it their own”. Rodriguez delves into Mee’s theory that “…some of history’s greatest playwrights were what today’s critics might call plagiarists”. The ever more-repressive pressure of copyright laws is preventing masterpieces from being devised in the same fashion in which masterpieces like Shakespeare and Greek tragedy were created. Rodriguez discusses how Mee utilises this liberty in his creation of his work Big Love.

The only aspect of the original piece which Mee utilises is the plot. He radically changes every other aspect of the story presented. Both Aeschylus’ The Suppliant Women and Mee’s Big Love tell the story of fifty sisters who flee from their home country when fifty of their cousins threaten to impose an ancient marriage agreement. The cousins eventually discover the whereabouts of these women and impose the marriage upon them. Surprisingly enough, Rodriguez points out that there is no direct reference to sex or incest so perhaps this “rape” that these women speak of is not necessarily explicitly sexual. The “rape” seems to solely point to the violation of their will, a definition that implies rape is taking anything by force. The play seems to try to demonstrate how the concept of rape should stretch beyond its definition of sexual violence and that in these other forms; it may prove a beneficial strategy. Rodriguez surprisingly states that Mee’s plays and his technique of writing

…appears to encourage us to think of rape as a useful model for how we should approach culture itself. If we are able to get rid of our preconceived notions of rape, we can then see the violence of rape, as represented in Big Love, as an analogy for the dramatist’s notions about how writing should appropriate the work of others in an effort to create what he defines as a “cultural commons”.

Mee’s figurative rape of other author’s texts is his way of helping to free copyright restrictions and to establish a free textual exchange of work among writers. In this essay, Rodriguez seeks to clarify that that Mee’s violation of texts is not a malicious attempt to “rape” the writings of others in the traditional sense of the word, but more so to question the conventions of copyright which we are so tightly bound by in this day and age.

Bibliography

–         http://triceratops.brynmawr.edu/dspace/handle/10066/1024

 

March 30, 2011 / katextuality

Charles Mee and The Open Source Revolution

Charles Mee and the (re)making project is something which I came across while completing a module in adaptation in my second year of Drama and Theatre Studies. Ever since then his revolutionary approach to theatre has stuck with me.

Charles Mee was born in Evanston, Illinois and lived a typical middle-class Midwestern boyhood up until he contracted polio at the age of 14 which lead to his difficult life. After graduating from Harvard in 1960 he moved to Greenwich Village and began to write plays. However he quickly had to switch from playwrighting to novel writing to support himself and his family. Mee returned to playwrighting in 1985 and proceeded over the next few years to stun critics.

In 1992, Mee wrote his breakthrough play, Orestes. The play was the first of ten plays that would use Greek texts as scaffolding upon which he would stick the new fragments of text and then “…throw away the scaffolding and call what remained ‘The Script’”. As source material, Mee would use mainly the framework of Greek tragedy, but also Shakespeare, Molière, Anton Chekhov, Rèné Magritte paintings, Bollywood musicals and his own writing. For example, his play Full Circle is based on Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

Mee began making his own work freely available online by posting three of his plays on Carnegie Mellon’s humanities English server in the mid 1990’s. By 1996, along with the help of his friend Tom Demrauer, “The (re)making project”, a website with his full scripts, was launched. It contained an invitation for people to “… do freely whatever they want with them.” He is the first and only playwright to make his full body of work available for free. Mee did not at all view this as a challenge to the current copyright law or a vehicle through which to raise issues of intellectual property. It was done as a populist gesture towards his utopian vision of a free and democratic internet. In 1996, he said: “I’m attracted to the idea of things being owned in common.” National Public Radio called Mee the “Public Domain Playwright” in 2000 and credited him with touching a raw cultural nerve by making his work freely available.

“Do unto my writing as I have done unto the writings of others.” In an explanation about the (re)making project on the website itself, Mee says that his plays are protected by copyright if they are essentially or substantially performed as he has composed them. He continues however to invite others to freely pillage his texts to make their own work without any attribution to him. In other words, you can perform the plays in their complete entirety as Mee has written them or take advantage of the fact that he offers up all of his plays for anyone wishing to plunder his texts for their own work.

As part of the adaptation module which we covered, we had to take an original text and adapt it to theatre in our groups of four. My group came across the work of Charles Mee and we couldn’t help but spot the raw potential in what we could create, considering the nature of his work ethic. Seeing as we had previously covered a lot of Greek tragedy in our first year, we took great interest in his method of using the format of a Greek tragedy to be the framework of his work. We then almost took this full circle by adapting his play Trojan Women: A Love Story into a piece revolving around the subject of sex trafficking. A Chorus of Prostitutes re-instated the traditional Greek Chorus which Mee had removed on his re-working of the framework of the Greek text and took advantage of the unified group of antagonists which so often inhabit this genre of tragedy.

We played on the usual dynamic of the protagonist being the hero and the antagonists being of an opposite opinion by making the “chorus” a group of victimised and de-moralised prostitutes and sex-workers. The protagonist was a man arriving to avail of their services. Mee strives to have people continuously re-working his texts in this manner, he delights in the idea of “(re)making” and collage. Since the foundation of Mee’s writing is built upon collage, the homepage image echoes this technique. Each visit reveals a newly composed image of multiple parts. I feel that this small detail is amazingly effective in highlighting how he feels about the art of playwrighting.

As regards the idea of Open Source in general the term itself describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end products’ source materials. Some consider Open Source itself to be a philosophy while others consider it more of a pragmatic methodology. Someone who has continued to argue for a freer internet has been Apple’s own Steve Wozniak. He continually expresses a high degree of frustration and concern about the future of the internet and begs that it be kept as open and as free as possible. He has very famously written a heartfelt letter to the Federal communications commission of the US pleading with them to stop the monopoly. “Please, I beg you; open your senses to the will of the people to keep the internet as free as possible.”

Tim Berners-Lee is another advocate of net neutrality. Similar to Wozniak, Lee has expressed the view that ISPs should supply “…connectivity with no strings attached,” and should neither control nor monitor customers’ browsing activities without their express consent. He states that “… threats to the internet, such as companies or governments that interfere with or snoop on internet traffic compromise basic human network rights.”

Both Wozniak and Berners-Lee seem to be on the same page as Charles Mee. Mee continues to be the only playwright to have made all of his work completely available for free online. If more novelists and playwrights would jump aboard the route to a completely free internet perhaps Mee’s utopian vision may have more of a chance of becoming a reality.

Bibliography

–          Lotus & Pixel. “The (re)making Project”. http://www.lotusandpixel.com/the-remaking-project/

–           The (re)making Project. “About the Project”. http://www.panix.com/userdirs/meejr/html/about.html

–          Wikipedia. “Charles Mee”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_L._Mee

–          Wikipedia. “Steve Wozniak”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Wozniak

–          Wikipedia. “Tim Berners Lee”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Berners-Lee

 

 

February 23, 2011 / katextuality

The Consciousness of the Contemporary Person. A Review of Aimée Morrison’s “Blogs and Blogging: Text and Practice”.

In this article, Morrison seeks to enlighten both a knowing and unknowing readership on the very broad subject of blogging. She provides an extremely cohesive and brief history of the weblog or “blog” and an insightful overview of it’s everchanging role as an alternate medium of citizen journalism. Morrison feels no need to envelope her speech in technical jargon or to complicate her sentences. This made for a very comfortable and unintimidating read and helped me to easily define for myself what exactly I believe a blog to be.

Morrison argues the salability of the blog, why it has become such a popular phenomenon, and why statistically most of us will now turn to it over a form of traditional media. Within the print media, writers are limited by cost and a very two dimensional form of communication. The blog offers a multi-dimensional and multi-faceted way of communicating both fact and opinion through the form of hyper-links, images, video and audio. All of these features make writing and reading a blog more enjoyable, and overall, a more informative form of personal media. There is almost no aspect of a blog which is not customisable for its creator or it’s target audience.

Morrison makes absolutely sure to back all of her information up with statistical data. This data also acts to confirm the sheer popularity and growth of the cleverly named “blogosphere” within the last few years. She continually refers to research carried out by Herring et al (2005) and other studies that have purposely been held to help map and understand this relatively new medium of  writing.

It is also important to congratulate Morrison on the fact that she provides us with quite an unbiassed outlook on blogs despite her obvious enthusiasm towards the subject. Morrison highlights the fact that in this “blogosphere” there is absolutely no guarantee that the blogger knows  a lot about which they speak. The content of a blog is not always factual, in fact more than often, it is not. This is often grounds for attack on the blog. Its lack of both censure and editorship deems it an easy target to be accused of lower standards than the general print media. Morrison then introduced an idea which I can confirm I had never heard of before. The “Blog Carnival”. This is a type of site which almost acts like a magazine and where the blogs are treated like articles. They have some level of editorship and annnotation. Upon research prompted by this article, I discovered that bloggers can also be asked by a carnival to prepare a piece on a certain topic for a certain deadline to be overviewed by the “host” and then are rewarded by internet traffic depending whether the host gives the piece a good review or not.

The power of blogs no doubt lies in their immediacy as Morisson states, but she also briefly mentions how there may already be too many new blogs daily in circulation. The mere idea that a blog is created per second is mind-blowing but Morrison speculates that this may have a bad effect on blogging as a genre. I must admit that I certainly do not agree with the writer on this matter. I imagine the blogosphere to be a world who’s existance depends heavily on literary freedom and to remove this aspect would be to destroy it’s true genre. Although it is important to note that material is often used within blogs without any attention being paid to copyright laws, the ethical matter seems to be less prominent than the success the “Weblog” has achieved over the last decade and Morrison has done an excellent job in accurately portraying this picture of  successful digital scholarship.

February 21, 2011 / katextuality

Welcome to my very first blog!

I hope to record my progress in my seminar module “Textuality: Texts, Technotexts and Hypertexts” on this blog… I have no doubt it will be an invaluable skill to learn for the future!

 

February 20, 2011 / katextuality

Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!