Jul 19, 2013

A note on religious engagement with texts

At the Social, Digital, Scholarly Editing conference at the University of Saskatchewan, Paul Eggert began by saying an edition is a transaction between the editor and the reader.  Wendy Phillips-Rodriguez's talk entitled “Social, Digital, Codicological Editing?” discussed how sometimes that transaction can involve the highly specific needs of a group of readers.  The Digital Shikshapatri is an edition of an Indian religious text, and is accessed at the Bodleian Library most often by people who use the text to aid in worship. To accommodate this type of reader, the digital edition has some unique features: readings of the text by Yogi Charan Das, and audio files to accompany each page.  It was also mentioned that this method of display acknowledges the belief that the spoken word realizes the true power of language in a way that text does not.

This type of engagement with text is a common context for medieval manuscripts, and some designs show a great amount of care for the reader experience.  Daniel Connolly discusses the itinerary to Jerusalem in Matthew Paris’ Chronica Majora, which is a large mapped sequence, as an "Imagined Pilgrimage" for clerical readers who were unable to leave their monastery due to religious vows they had taken.  The Chronica Majora uses sophisticated indexing techniques to take the reader quickly from the written text to illustrations of various cities and scenes in the margins, which often take up most of the page.  The sign “φ” is used, and when the connected text or image is oriented sideways, the sign is also rotated to give a visual cue for the reader, suggesting the proper orientation.  Other times, the paraph mark is repeated beside an image, suggesting that an image corresponds to each section of text.  These indexing structures support a quick transition between text and visual content that helps maintain an immersive imagined experience.

 When I first came across the Chronica Majora, I couldn’t help thinking about another imagined pilgrimage I had recently come across, the video game Journey by thatgamecompany. It’s one of the most beautiful games I’ve played, with an amazing soundtrack and not a word of written or spoken text.  In this virtual Hajj, a succession of trials brings the character closer to the mountain’s peak.  Though the game is likely not intended primarily for a religious audience, the experience is highly meditative and serene.  I won’t force this comparison, but I would like to suggest that this type of religious engagement and imagined or virtual experience can be an important part of the creation of text designed to facilitate meaningful interactions with the reader.

Ben Neudorf

Connolly, Daniel K. “Imagined Pilgrimage in the Itinerary Maps of Matthew Paris.” The Art Bulletin 81.4 (1999): 598–622.

Matthew Paris, Chronica majora, ca. 1250, vol. 1, Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS 26.

Phillips-Rodriguez, Wendy. "Social, Digital, Codicological Editing?" SDSE Conference. U of Saskatchewan. 11 July 2013. Address.

1 comment :

  1. This is a good reminder that readers may value texts -- and documents -- for reasons other than getting information out of them. With respect to medieval England, it is worth noting that devotional texts tended to have a far wider circulation than the 'literary' texts that have been more commonly studied by modern scholars. The Middle English text that survives in the most manuscript copies is the Wycliffite Bible; the Middle English poem of which the most manuscript copies survive is a penitential poem, 'The Prick of Conscience'. Medieval Books of Hours are also good examples of objects designed to aid worship. In some cases they may have been used by readers who were not skilled in Latin -- in other words, they would not have been able to 'read' the text in the usual modern sense -- but who nevertheless interacted with these books in ways that they found meaningful.