in the Age of Digital Reproduction
The tectonic shift from print culture to the digital age is transforming practices of reading and writing, turning a once solitary endeavor into an interactive, dialogic, and multimedia activity. The shift is also affecting scholarly practices, albeit more gradually. Humanities scholars, rooted as we are in print-based traditions and methodologies, tend to approach the digital revolution with attitudes ranging from healthy skepticism to horror. The popular “blog,” for example, seems the antithesis of the thoroughly researched, well-reasoned analysis that we expect in academia. Yet as Kathleen Fitzpatrick, co-founder of the digital scholarly network MediaCommons, points out,
the blog is not a form but a platform.
The blog is not a genre that precludes sustained analysis or concentrated attention, but a “stage on which material of many different varieties—different lengths, different time signatures, different modes of mediation—might be performed” (48).
Fitzpatrick and other scholars have begun to utilize digital platforms for academic writing, with promising results. These innovators recognize that in the scholarly enterprise, as in book publishing, we must avoid simply relocating print-based practices to the digital realm. Independent writer, designer, and publisher Craig Mod urges us to be open to radical transformations of our products and processes:
Everyone asks, ‘How do we change books to read them digitally?’
But the more interesting question is, ‘How does digital change books?’ (Mod 2).
Academics may be similarly inclined to wonder,
How do we change our scholarship to publish it digitally?
But the more interesting question is:
How does digital change scholarship?
Rather than simply uploading our articles as PDFs, we must put our minds and imaginations to the task of using digital platforms to invent new methods and forms of scholarship—forms capable of presenting long and deep inquiry, fostering intellectual exchange, and maintaining rigorous standards of peer review.
This project uses a digital platform to publish research on Mina Loy’s migration from Italian Futurism to New York Dada and French Surrealism, a geographic journey that coincided with her turn from poems to plays, fiction, and painting. Loy’s peripatetic career, which traverses multiple continents, genres, and avant-garde circles, does not fit neatly into the linear form of a scholarly monograph. As Carolyn Burke explains, “her transits describe not linear progress but a series of motions like the epicycles on the celestial maps in which she sought inspiration” (vii).
A multimedia, interactive digital platform provides more flexibility for mapping the coordinates of genre, geography, and gender that delineate Loy’s artistic development. It allows you to choose different paths for situating her work in relation to theories of the avant-garde, gender, and performativity, as well as to the transatlantic avant-garde movements of Futurism, Dada, and Surrealism. It also allow you to comment on unfolding arguments, interact with authors, and participate in a dialogic process of scholarly inquiry.
If a digital project can enable peripatetic reading and writing not constrained by genre, geography, or period, then it may bring us closer to post-canon literary studies that is not always reading women writers against a presumed norm for a genre, period, or movement but engages with their work on its own terms. Digital scholarship may allow us to navigate new pathways for understanding the historical avant-garde in all its complexity and diversity.