On studying and building in Latin American literature

Hi everybody! I’m Julia. I am a PhD student and this is the first time in my career that I have taken a course about something that is so far from the debates I am used to studying and participating in. And I am very happy for that!

I find it really interesting to read about a debate inside DH (for example, how to name this “academic practice”, the borders of the field) when the debate I am used to studying is over what internet and digital texts have to do with literary studies. I come from Latin American literature studies (my interests are contemporary Latin American literature and especially Brazilian, as I am a literary translator from Portuguese into Spanish) and it is not common to hear about DH in our departments. At least not without the confusion between “scholars who use digital technologies in studying traditional humanities objects and those who use the methods of the contemporary humanities in studying digital projects,” as Kathleen Kirkpatrick says. It is a field that everybody finds interesting but prefers to keep at a safe distance.

Even though the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world has a great many digital literature projects, electronic literature, etc.: topics like those are not discussed in depth in our literature courses. I do not know if that is because it is not a “hospitable setting” for DH to grow, as Matthew Kirschenbaum affirms regarding DH in English Department. We do not have a tradition of studying the history of publishing alongside the history of literature– not to mention the history of translation.

Almost two years ago, I developed a digital project about contemporary Brazilian literature translated into Spanish (www.brasilpapelessueltos.com). I understand if  you do not know anything about Latin American literature, since the quantity of books translated from other languages represents only the 3% of the books published per year in USA. But there are some (digital!) projects that aim to revert this poverty, such as wordswithoutborders.com, a site I admire. Something similar happens between Spanish-speaking readers and Brazilian writers, although not by such as great margin. Some translations are available, but Brazilian literature is not very known in the rest of Latin America. So that’s why I thought of creating a web page to post my and others’ translations, as well as adding a data base about what has been published in Spanish in the last ten years, news, literary events and so on.  The idea was to bring Brazilian literature to Spanish-speaking readers and possible publishers.

It was during the creation of my page (I had to learn how to work with WordPress, CSS, HTML) that I became aware of the huge possibilities that publishing digital texts had not only for reaching certain community of readers but also to think about literature, translation and language. So I decided that this project could become part of my MA thesis, as it entered in a very academic but rather new field as the Digital Humanities. But through the readings for this week I came to know that the name and the boundaries of the discipline are not well established so far. Some do not like the term, others do not like the ways some scholars present the field. Sometimes the problem is asking the same questions, so we have to create new ones. Golumbia’s text and its comments triggered a set of questions that I found interesting: is DH a field in itself or is it part of different fields?

I do not belong to the DH field, and I am beginning to get to know the debates, but having in mind the project that I am developing, I found Stephen Ramsey’s text “On building” to be very true  and as enthusiastic as I am regarding the specificity of DH as a building practice. It is all about “building and making,” Ramsay says. I realized that the web page I was building was doing more than transmitting information: it had to do with creation and creativity, and also with studying certain concepts –translation theories– through the work with digital text: how to think (and publish) translation in texts with the characteristics of hypertexts. When I found that I could innovate and research at the same time, I found a different approach to my study: I could theorize and create something at the same time! Studying and building things –that is what Ramsey defines as the radical “move from reading to making.”

In my project, I discovered little by little new objectives that a web page could satisfy: being useful for readers, publishers, Portuguese students, Translation students, translators, and scholars. It was an academic but also a literary work. I was designing, writing, theorizing, and communicating with readers, publishers, and translators. As Trevor Owens, from the Library of Congress, posted on Day of DH: “The digital allows for scholars, librarians, archivists, and curators to engage much more directly with each other and the public. Further, it allows them not simply to write for each other, but to build things for everyone.” I like the idea of “community” in DH, where the reader is more active, and the author could be not just one. But also in the sense of a community of people doing the same: DH “is both a methodology and a community,” says Jason Farman in his comment for Day of DH. A community that I did not know about and I am amazed to have discovered, for I used to have no dialogue with colleagues or professors about digital topics.


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