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The Primacy of the Present, the Primacy of Place: Navigating the Spiral of History in the Digital World

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020

Extract

In her introduction to the english institute's e-book on periodization, the editor, virginia jackson, remarks on the ability of its “digital format” to invite innovative ways of interacting with texts. Marshall Brown's article in the book, for example, allows readers to hear Joseph Haydn's music while they read nineteenth-century literature, giving them an immediate understanding of the musical metaphors Brown uses for describing literary history. Our contemporary presence and capabilities in the digital world, Brown suggests, may help us to understand periods as “linked episodes within the rolling flood of time,” enabling what Jackson describes as “a literary historical process” that “is not progress but wave, not transcendence” but, as Brown writes, “the metrics and bar lines shaping the pulse of history'” (Jackson, par. 4). The authors of On Periodization suggest a practice of periodization that allows for simultaneities: “a new plane of historicity on which several temporalities unfold at once” (Jackson, par. 4). This conception of time is made possible by the present moment, the (relatively) new technologies we have in our midst, through which this e-book is expressed. This “new plane” of simultaneities reflects the primacy of the present in that the technologies we use are actively shaping how we experience literature and literary history (Martin 153–56). Furthermore, while chronological periodization can dis-embed events from their places, our process of reading rhizomically in the digital world may move us to reconsider the primacy of place.

Type
Theories and Methodologies
Copyright
Copyright © 2012 by The Modern Language Association of America

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