The writer’s process and digital archiving

Writing your life’s work or at least your next masterpiece electronically?  This article from the Chronicle of Higher Education considers the question of how the electronic medium affects what we can learn about the writer’s process from the writer’s own archive.

 Here is a snippet:

The influence of authors’ environments on their writing has always interested scholars. Marcel Proust, for example, is known to have been heavily influenced by the paintings he surrounded himself with when he penned the novel Remembrance of Things Past, between 1909 and 1922. Imagine if Proust had been writing 100 years later, on a laptop: What else we might be able to learn about his creative process.

The implications for scholarship are tremendous, Mr. Kirschenbaum says. Take a great digital-era author: “You could potentially look at a browser history, see that he visited a particular Web site on a particular day and time,” he says. “And then if you were to go into the draft of one of his manuscripts, you could see that draft was edited at a particular day and hour, and you could establish a connection between something he was looking at on the Web with something that he then wrote.”

In some cases, computer forensics can even hint at an author’s influences beyond the screen. Mr. Reside recently mined data from old equipment belonging to Jonathan Larson, the late composer and playwright who earned a Pulitzer Prize posthumously for the musical Rent. In an early draft, Larson had a character suggest that the moonlight coming through the window is really “fluorescent light from the Gap.” In the final draft, the lyric was “Spike Lee shooting down the street.”

“From the time stamp on the digital files,” Mr. Reside says, “I learned that the lyric was changed in the spring of 1992 … when, I believe, Spike Lee was shooting Malcolm X in New York City.”  Read more…

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