When I was studying Ezra Pound, I thought a lot about imagery and his use of the page. I’d never considered the real visual complexity of his most challenging poems, The Cantos, until I started thinking about the encoding challenge. Our group discussed concrete poetry and other forms where the arrangement of the words on the page contributes to the meaning.
And then you have things like this:
These pages are excerpts from “Canto 85” (LXXXV), the first poem in the Rock-Drill Cantos.
The poem combines English, Chinese, Greek, Latin, French… I may have missed a few. What makes this most interesting is that Pound only spoke English. Responding to criticism about the incomprehensibility of the Cantos, Pound response was: if you don’t understand something, skip it until you do understand. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Carroll F. Terrell‘s Companion to the Cantos of Ezra Poundis a larger volume than the Cantos.
Besides the difficulty of encoding the various languages and accounting for the placement of the Chinese characters, what interested me with this poem is the interpretation. Pound didn’t understand Chinese (alhtough this didn’t stop him from translating traditional Chinese poetry) but, rather, he worked from Ernest Fenollosa’s translations. If these characters are integral to the text, it’s likely that their placement is just as (if not more) important for the overall experience of the poem than their actual meaning. This would have to somehow be addressed.
I was searching online to see what people have made of the Cantos and I found The Cantos Project. This project is a scholarly, interactive edition of the poem with criticism and multimedia annotation. Unfortuneately, they have not reached “Canto 85” yet (they are only on the third Canto). Given that this is already a project, it would be interesting to consider how the various visual elements of the poem could be encoded properly.
If someone knows of an online version of a Canto that has characters or symbols, please let me know! Everyone seems to avoid these particular Cantos online. The whole book is on Internet Archive, though!
For our encoding challenge, our group decided to look at House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. The book looks simple, until you start looking at the composition, layout, and structure of the narratives in this book. It is an example of ergodic literature, where narratives are driven by user interaction. The novel involves several character threads that transcend time. I have not read the book but the layout alone is something to look forward to reading in the future.
There were many interesting pages to choose from in this book. The spacing, columned text, and even mirror images were interesting. One set of pages that piqued my curiosity contained text that was presented vertically on the page with boxes of text embedded within it.
On the reverse page, this same text was placed vertically and as a mirror image of the text on the previous page.
The complexity of the page was beyond my skill level to represent using XML. It would be fascinating to see how a page like that would be represented digitally, or even through a web browser. Consequently, that brought up issues of digitization and the materiality of the book, House of Leaves. It would be easier with the physical copy to hold a mirror up to the page verso and compare the mirrored text, or even fold the pages. How would something like that be presented digitally and what would that look like? These were some of the thoughts running through my head as I looked at the pages. Ultimately, we chose a simple page with three narrative structures for our encoding project. It will be challenging and interesting to see how we end up representing these structures for the assignment.
As an aside, the author’s sister is the musician Poe. Her second album Haunted is a counterpart to the book, House of Leaves. The album follows the same narrative structure as that of the book and tells the story of the characters (Wikipedia,2016).
For the encoding assignment, Aneta and I have chosen to do an excerpt from my 1907 Baedeker’s Guide for Southern France. Tucked into the front of the book is a hotel card for the Grand Hôtel du Helder in Vichy, which we contemplated using for the assignment but decided against it. The hotel card is essentially a little brochure advertising the hotel and its services. Here is a picture of the cover:
And the verso:
As you can see, the front cover and the left two panels from the recto advertise the hotel, its services, and its main features (location, views, proximity to the établissement thermal de Vichy, room types, languages spoken, etc.). There is a two-panel table of fees for taxis to various destinations (aller-retour), drawn by one horse or two, and a one-panel table showing entrance fees for the casino and theatre.
We had thought it would be an interesting document to encode, but thought twice when we realized how much the two-panel advertisement focused on form, and how little on content. Given the varying sizes of the fonts and the degree of white space, much of the page is dedicated to aesthetics. The tables contain more information, but we didn’t want to spend all of our time figuring out how to depict the information from the table. We opted, finally, to use a few pages of the Baedeker’s guide itself; its content is more substantial given how dense the text is (see Aneta’s post for pictures). Since it is a pocket-sized travel guide, Baedeker (the author and publisher) evidently wanted to cram as much information in as possible. While the hotel card remains an interesting artifact, we wanted something a little meatier for our project.