CHWP B.3 McCarty, "Implicit Patterns in Ovid's Metamorphoses"

8. Conclusions

In the early stages of a new technology, people tend to think that its purpose is merely to replace and improve on something they already know. The promise of the new is thought to be quantitative: the new thing will do the old job faster, more efficiently, and more cheaply; it will increase 'productivity'; and so forth. Tools, however, are perceptual agents. A new tool is not just a bigger lever and more secure fulcrum, rather a new way of conceptualizing the world, e.g. as something that can be levered. Thus the final question here, as I promised at the beginning, is what a fully realized -- as opposed to merely imitative -- electronic edition of a literary work such as the Metamorphoses would be like.

Certainly an electronic edition of the kind whose progress I document is not for reading, like a book on paper, rather for reference. Experience with such a reference tool shows immediately how silly is the technophobe's fear of a resulting decline in reading. As I suggested earlier, the old saw about computers -- 'garbage in, garbage out' -- has a more positive and inspiring inverse that applies to the user (as well as the editor) of an electronic edition: 'wisdom in, wisdom out'. Putting the wisdom in means more, not less, study of the printed page.

The mutability of an electronic edition, which we frequently see only as a problem, is certainly one of the most significant facts to be considered. There can be no doubt that the untouchable stability of a conventional edition is a great virtue: it makes the edition a necessary foundation for scholarly progress, liberating those who follow by allowing them to turn their attention elsewhere. At the same time, however, its immutability, enshrining judgments, discourages further experimentation. Thus, perhaps, the very failing of its electronic counterpart opens the door to great promise.

Because it is so easily changed, the electronic edition is inherently tentative and experimental, therefore paradigmatic in a new sense. If the editor does the job well, that is, the electronic metatext offers access not only to the evidence, but also to the editor's processes of reasoning. (It is thus something new, an intermediate form between the established text and the criticism it engenders.) A good electronic edition points the way to further experiments with the text, and it offers its user both the means with which to conduct them and some guiding examples. For this reason, I would argue that whenever possible the electronic edition should contain all marked-up text files as well as the compiled database.

The mutability we need protection from is the accidental, irresponsible, or malicious kind. Rather than protecting the text by sealing it within the hermetic container of some retrieval package or encrypted CD-ROM, what we require are reliable means of review, publication, and distribution. The problems entailed in making these means reliable are, however, outside the scope of this paper.

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