English 738T, Spring 2015
Header image
X all the Y meme with text encode all the things!

Encode all the things... or not. Remixed from image by Allie Brosh of Hyperbole (hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com).

Update 4/24/2012: Oh, neat!: this post got the DH Now Editor’s Choice on Tuesday, April 24th, 2012.

Team MARKUP evolved as a group project in Neil Fraistat’s Technoromanticism graduate seminar (English 738T) during the Spring 2012 term at the University of Maryland; our team was augmented by several students in the sister course taught by Andrew Stauffer at the University of Virginia. The project involved using git and GitHub to manage a collaborative encoding project, practicing TEI and the use of the Oxygen XML editor for markup and validation, and encoding and quality-control checking nearly 100 pages of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein manuscript for the Shelley-Godwin Archive (each UMD student encoded ten pages, while the UVa students divided a ten-page chunk among themselves).

Team MARKUP is currently writing a group blog post on the process, so I’ll use this post to concentrate on some specifics of the experience and link to the group post when it’s published.

Screenshot of TEI encoding of Frankenstein manuscript in Oxygen XML editor

The Creature speaks.

Six takeaways from the Team MARKUP project:

  1. Affective editing is effective editing? One of my favorite quotations–so beloved that it shapes my professional work and has been reused shamelessly on my Ph.D. exams list, a Society for Textual Scholarship panel abstract, and at least one paper–is Gary Taylor’s reasoning on the meaningfulness of editing:

    “How can you love a work, if you don’t know it? How can you know it, if you can’t get near it? How can you get near it, without editors?”*.

    Encoding my editorial decisions with TEI pushed me a step closer to the text than my previous non-encoded editorial experience, something I didn’t know was possible. My ten pages happened to be the first pages of the Creature’s monologue; hearing the voice of the Creature by seeing its true creator’s (Mary Shelley’s) handwriting gave me shivers–meaningful shivers accompanied by a greater understanding of important aspects of Shelley’s writing, such as the large editorial impact made by her husband Percy and the differing ways she crossed out or emphasized changes to her draft. Moving between the manuscripts images and the TEI encoding–so similar to my other work as a web designer and developer–also emphasized the differences in the writing process of my generation and the work that went into inscribing, organizing, and editing a book without the aid of a mechanical or digital device. (more…)

“Metaphors will be called home for good. There will be no more likeness, only identity.”

Shelley Jackson, Patchwork Girl

Some interrelated thoughts on cyborgs/metaphors/prosthetics. Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl quotes Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 (“my mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”), bringing into a work already quite aware of the mimicries between body and text the idea of blason, the style of poetry that praises but pieces individual pieces of the loved one’s anatomy through metaphor (“she goes on”). Ever since I encountered the etching above, with its parodic response to such blason conceits as eyes like suns darting rays, cheeks like roses, and teeth like pearls, I’ve been unable to read that form of poetry as intended (i.e. describing a harmonious whole); the etching questions whether we can fashion the ideal from constituent ideals. Victor Frankenstein describes his Creature as an almost-functional blason figure (“I had selected his features as beautiful”), but precedes this claim by admitting another qualifier on his choices for materials: “His limbs were in proportion”. As with the etching, the Creature’s monstrosity comes partly from the failure of these parts, beautiful and proportionate as they may be, to coexist.

I’ve been thinking about extending these questions of the harmony and juxtaposition of parts of a whole (text/body) to prosthetics, whether these prosthetics are more metaphorical (e.g. prosthetics of memory) or physical additions like our cyborg mobile devices. When my group was developing a Cyborg’s Definition of “Women”, we identified “that species” as a group that faced extinction after failing to make use of certain prosthetics/tools; for Wollestonecraft, the tool in question was education. Success through the use of prosthetics was a mark of cyborghood.

With the addition of prosthetics, we’re facing (as with blason) the juxtaposition of disparate parts–except in this case, the metaphors by which we’re extending our bodies aren’t pulling us apart into unbalanced monsters. Certainly they can go either way, but I’m seeing a pattern where metaphors applied onto figures can create monsters like the one in the etching, and metaphors growing out of or chosen by a figure have greater harmony and utility. Perhaps prosthetics are a way of marking these piece-making bodily metaphors not as even more-idealized (and thus less utilizable?) objects, but as tools defined by their individual uses and qualities? I’d be interested in listing and comparing the Creature’s bodily parts with the Patchwork Girl’s; given their gender difference, it’s interesting to see the Creature’s parts as typical of blason inutility (lustrous black hair!) while the Patchwork Girl’s parts are defined (sometimes indirectly via anecdote) by their abilities to dance, dissemble, act.

Read on for more on distant reading…


I encountered this image in the readings for another seminar; it’s from an 1882 Punch. The caption reads: “The baleful and blood-stained Monster * * * yet was it not my Master to the very extent that it was my Creature? * * * Had I not breathed into it my own spirit?”

Created with Wordle. Hashtags, handles, “Frankenstein”, and variations of monster/monstrous have been removed.

Here’s the full list of tweets if you’d like to run them through other tools. The UCSB Toy Chest and the DiRT Wiki are good places to find more tools.

You might be interested in this essay by Jon Saklofske that evaluates the Blake Archive and imagines new ways of visualizing its content.

Also: how do doppelgangers fit into our definition of the monstrous?

1. Poor Ernest Frankenstein. Type his name into Wikipedia and you’ll receive an amusing but reasonable redirect:

Ernest gets little page time. He isn’t mentioned in a letter to Victor in which Elisabeth does spend time discussing his other brother (William), and he oddly drops out of Victor’s remembrance instead of becoming more dear as his last remaining family member. (Stuart Curran’s Romantic Circles edition of Frankenstein collects the few references to Ernest here) What is Ernest even doing in the novel? I’d love to compare his place in the different versions of the work–I think it was Curran who suggested that Ernest is written slightly differently in the 1831 edition, and the fact that he remains in the book by that point (with Victor’s forgetting uncorrected) suggests Ernest’s vanishing role is worth exploring.

2. What do you make of the strange painting of Victor’s mother posed by her father’s coffin (a particularly creepy subject for Victor’s father to specifically commission)? Does this fit in with Steven Jone’s Freudian reading of Victor’s dream? Or were such subjects par for the course at the time? (Photographs of recently deceased children made to look like they were sleeping weren’t abnormal for the Victorians–though why paint a remembered person as dead/encased in a coffin when you could imagine him as alive within the painting? Did showing his true state conform to some sort of belief about naturalness/reality as reflected by painting?)

I gazed on the picture of my mother, which stood over the mantel-piece.  It was an historical subject, painted at my father’s desire, and represented Caroline Beaufort in an agony of despair, kneeling by the coffin of her dead father.  Her garb was rustic, and her cheek pale; but there was an air of dignity and beauty, that hardly permitted the sentiment of pity. (Shelley, Frankenstein, unknown page located in Project Gutenberg e-text)

3. In Jones’ Against Technology, he refers to “the story of Frankenstein’s creature who turns into a monster” (my emphasis, 1), an assertion that writes the character as first simply a creature, later monstrous. Is the monster’s monstrosity a result of his manner of birth, his grisly components and visage, or his evil actions? Does he become more or less monstrous during the novel as he gains knowledge, civilization, and other attributes of “humanity”–or does he perhaps simultaneously approach and recede from humanity?