June 27, 2013 by Amanda Visconti

Infinite Ulysses: Project Precedents and Caveats

A quick review of contextualizing and digital resources for Ulysses editioning, plus some notes on how I'm imagining (and limiting my imagination of) the final "Infinite Ulysses" digital edition.

Contextualized Joyce

My project builds on previous Joycean contextualizing work: on the print side, Blamire's New Bloomsday Book and Gifford's Ulysses Annotated, and online, the James Joyce Online Notes and Michael Groden's notes and prototypes. Previous contextualizations (especially those on a higher, more macro-level of understanding the basics of Ulysses rather than specific allusions) carry an increased risk of authorial bias because of their individual authorship (e.g. the Bloomsday Book is very interested in charting Bloom's development as a Christ figure); while the sources I've named here are all excellent and useful pieces of scholarship, I'm very interested in seeing how a participatory edition apparatus moderates among a variety of higher-level contextual interpretations and whether we might thus prevent a canon of interpretation from calcifying around the text. Ulysses is also an interesting contextualization problem in that there are many sets of contextualizations floating around the web from both scholars and amateurs (in the old and new senses of the word); I’m interested in bringing diverse sets of interpretation together in one place and seeing how they overlap or contend with one another.

For digital projects that deal not only with annotation proper, but with how we can best display annotations for reading, check out Michael Groden's work (again), the James Joyce Text Machine, or my 2008/2009 (dated) prototype UlyssesUlysses.com (jump into reading from here; the navigation is a bit misleading).

Scholarly Precedents

Some key print precedents for this project are variorum and other editions that deal with a large quantity of variants, marginalia, or other annotation, such as the Shelley-Godwin manuscript notebooks and Hans Gabler’s synoptic Ulysses; these last two examples have convenient (though not-completely-realized) digital counterparts in Michael Groden’s Ulysses in Hypermedia prototype and the developing Shelley-Godwin Archive. I will also build on my own research into handling multiple categories of annotation begun with the 2008-2009 UlyssesUlysses prototype (UlyssesUlysses.com), which is a dated site in terms of my technical and design abilities, but shows some of my first thinking about how we deal with the experience of accessing contextual annotations while reading.

Caveats, questions, notes

  • Ulysses is an amazing text to test the possibilities of digital edition work, but for the quality of the site's main goals (and my desire to complete my dissertation in a reasonable amount of time), interesting and important edition features such as topic modeling the episodes, or giving more than a nod and an infrequent annotation to acknowledge the growth of the text into the form readers see in front of them (i.e. presenting a versioned text), aren't planned for this phase of the project.
  • I'll be releasing this project's code (Drupal modules, themes) on GitHub so that anyone can reuse or modify my work in their own digital edition.
  • I'm expecting the first phase of this digital edition to emphasize pedagogy as modeling knowledge: how do we pass through the text, how do we conceptually annotate what we're reading with some degree of "certainty"? I like to think that as we create annotations and visualizations and other features with the first-time reader in mind, we’re modeling and testing our scholarly knowledge: I’ll be able to do some analysis of data on how people read and annotate the text, explore the exploded Ulysses, examine debates over interpretation occurring on the site, and think about best practices for interface design for the public humanities. This digital edition will best flourish with input from all levels of Ulyssean experience, though; a public humanities discussion isn't at its richest if it's all public, no humanists. If you're familiar with Joyce, Ulysses, Modernism, and/or scholarly editing and have any suggestions for how this site could develop into a tool that’s useful for scholars visiting it from the front-end (and not just for my own behind-the-scenes theorizing), please do let me know (contact page). Or if you don’t have suggestions for this site because you don’t think you’d use it, tell me about how you like to access contextualizing information and what tools you wish existed for locating and working with it!
  • Can this site serve both first-time readers and scholars (people with different needs for the level of contextual annotation)? What about readers versus browsers versus searchers?
  • Questions like the last one are what makes framing this as an experiment useful--not only do I not know the answer to these questions of scope yet, I won't know how the site breaks or elicits unintentional (organic) usage until I test it with real users. In a future post, I'll discuss some of the ways I've anticipated real versus ideal use of the site, as well as some unanswered questions about the site's use.

I successfully defended my digital humanities doctoral dissertation in Spring 2015. The now-available Infinite Ulysses social+digital reading platform is part of that project; come read with us!