As I explained in my post last week, I’ve been working on a transcription of Object 13 of The Four Zoas. After my revelation at DHSI, I decided to try encoding two basic transcriptions of the object in order to see how viewing it as an object or as a text changed my results – just as an experiment.

The British Library- Add 39764 7

As you can see, Object 13 contains a few lines of text in the right-hand margin of the page. In addition to being written vertically, there is a line connecting this verse to the text that appears in the central part of the page. According to Blake Archive conventions, we would ignore any instructional content that this line might suggest and both encode and display the text on the right separately from the main body. I started out by taking this approach. Using <zone> to differentiate between the two, I transcribed first the body text and then the lines written in the right-hand margin. This is the final stanza of the body text, the catchword, and the marginal writing:

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N.B. Since the course I took at DHSI was an introduction to TEI, this is not our usual Blake Archive schema. It is also just a skeleton transcription.

Then I took a different approach and tried to think about the textual content of the object. Here, the line joining the two sections of text takes on a much more important role and so I inserted my transcription of this part of the page in the spot where the line suggests that it seems to belong.

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So what’s so interesting?

First of all, I realised that even when prioritising the intellectual content of the text, I was still able to include important information about the material object. For example, I could point out that the right-hand area was written vertically and if I wanted to, I could include coordinates that would describe the placement and size of the right-hand text.

Secondly, it felt weird. In doing this I felt like I was taking on a huge responsibility in not only interpreting this line, but in re-arranging the text around it. The transcription I was creating was a new work, an argument about how I thought the Four Zoas ought to be read. But at the same time, I really do think that this line is a clear instruction about how the words on the page are organized – rather like a asterisk or a caret. So yes it felt weird, but at the same time, it was OK.

All in all, trying out new approaches is a reminder that whatever we do, however we choose to encode a text is an argument. I had become so comfortable with “transcribe what you see” that it had ceased to be an act of interpretation, and just one of reproduction. This experiment was a helpful reminder that there is not only one way of doing things. And what does this mean for the Four Zoas? I’m not sure yet, but I’ll keep you posted.