Mark Sample posted a very interesting blog this week, Notes towards a Deformed Humanities. Mark has always believed that digital humanities is about sharing and not building, but in his post, he looks at destroying things as a mode of learning. He proposes a theory of deformed humanities which is made of broken and twisted, yet beautiful things which hold knowledge. This has much to do with “deformance” which is all about misreading the text intentionally. By breaking apart the text and not reading it in the intended manner, you are able to see it in new ways. An example he shares is reading a poem backwards line-by-line. He uses a comparison of carpentry and deformed humanities to really get at what deformed humanities is. The difference, he says, is that
“Carpentry aspires to build from scratch, whereas the Deformed Humanities tears apart existing structures and uses the scraps.”
Another main message he tries to get across is that there is no need to go back to the original text. By viewing it in a different way, going in a different direction and getting at the makings of the text, you are creating an entirely new text itself.
This reminds me of our discussions about the many e-lit projects we looked at. ”Star Wars, one letter at a time” and “Cruising” stand out to me the most. The point of each of these is not about the text itself. It is going beyond or behind the text and giving a whole new perspective on it. I’m not saying that I loved all of the e-lit works, because many of them confused me and made me dizzy, but I think Mark is right in the fact that by this “deformance” of the text, you are creating an entirely new meaning of the original text. When watching the letters fly by one at a time telling the story of Star Wars, it is nothing like the original text the author intended. If this was the first time you encountered it, you would have no idea of the meaning of the story, so obviously the intent was not about learning about Star Wars. It went beyond the text. It is the same for “Cruising.” If I were asked what the story in “Cruising” was about, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. The nature of the work was not intended for you to simply read the story and know what it was about. It was very interactive and got the subject to learn how to control the screen. Even though the story was read aloud, it is not the same as simply reading the plain text.