In the article “Text: A Massively Addressable Object,” Michael Witmore celebrates the work he and his colleagues have been doing in the digital humanities. Their 1,000 text compilation of quantifiable, data driven digitized text is no small feat. However, he calls attention to the primary problem scholars face when handling these digitized texts, and managing them as objects.
Witmore contends that these large compilations of digitized texts are “massively addressable at different levels of scale.” Where “addressable” means that “one can query a position within the text at a certain level of abstraction…[and] implies different levels of abstraction (character, word, phrase, line, etc.), which are stipulative or nominal…they are, conventions” (Witmore). That is to say, in this new way of organizing text as digitized, data objects we are able to make different conclusions about the literature that extends beyond the established mode of critical analysis of what a text represents.
Moreover, Witmore contends that we need a new way of reading which he describes “as the continual redisposition of levels” (Witmore). He proposes that scholars “need a phenomenology of these acts, one that would allow us to link quantitative work on a culture’s ‘built environment’ of words to the kinesthetic and imaginative dimensions of life at a given moment” (Witmore). In other words, Witmore recognizes the digitized text as an actual object for analysis and interpretation that is capable of being interpreted similar to some of the historically established modes of analysis. However, there is an intellectual gap between the way we conceive data, and its interpretation than the way we have interacted with physical books. According to Witmore, there is a need that extends out of the digital humanities to bring the physical, phenomenological, kinesthetic and imaginative as a means to interpret these large sets of quantifiable data.
While Witmore makes a productive call to action, he doesn’t exactly provide a viable solution to his problem. How might we imagine, or re-imagine examining and interpreting the quantifiable conventions that the addressable text presents?