Temporality and the NewRadial Model

Posted by on Oct 3, 2013 in Blog, Modeling/Prototyping, Projects

[Submitted by Marc Muschler]

INKE’s current focus on the journal and the monograph presents a new and interesting challenge for the modeling and prototyping team of NewRadial regarding the visualization of critical scholarship and the source text. As Adam Foster mentions in his blog entry, a tension exists between primary and secondary sources that requires a reimagining of the way in which we understand and apply criticism in a digitized environment. While the highway/side street model that Adam suggests is an interesting way to visualize the relationship between primary and secondary discourse, this environment insists on the temporality and linearity of a text which complicates methods of digital visualization and directly confronts the methodology behind NewRadial.

In the context of NewRadial, the idea of a temporal relationship between texts is particularly challenging. If we are to represent a primary text as the primary concern of the radial environment, how exactly are we to visualize criticism in relation to this text? The relationship between primary and critical material has been overtly complicated by the advent of digitized scholarship; the vast quantities of criticism on any text have an enveloping affect which ultimately changes the way in which the source text is perceived. I do not see the source text/critical scholarship relationship as a Point A/Point B dynamic, but as a continuously fluid exchange that has no end or beginning. For instance, the opinion of the reader would change significantly between the initial reading of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde and a reading after reviewing critical scholarship on the subject. Critical scholarship is just as important to the reader as the initial text itself, an idea which essentially breaks down the methodology behind primary and secondary scholarship to reframe our conceptualization of the relationship between source and criticism.

NewRadial offers an alternative method of imagining the relationship between source and criticism by breaking down the temporal binaries (i.e. those regulations which complicate the visual representation of temporality) that prevent this new method of consideration. The radial itself is representative of this methodology: with no beginning or end, a text is represented as a source of continuous thought, thereby reconsidering how a text is visually conceived and represented in relation to scholarly analysis. However, this methodology is complicated by the inclusion of academic criticism in the NewRadial model because it adds another layer of complexity to the program, which must be addressed. As previously mentioned, my belief is that critical discourse is just as important to understanding a source text as the text itself. If this is the case, how can we represent this concept within the NewRadial framework? Do the current affordances of the program allow for visualization of this data on a comprehendible level, or do we need to revisit the basic principles of the NewRadial model and reassess the validity and accuracy of envisioning texts through this program?

One of the fundamental building blocks of scholarship within the NewRadial environment is the edge, which operates as “a connection between one node and another… and should consist of a title, user-created content, creator username, creation date, two endpoint nodes, and a comment thread” (Bruce 6-7). Edges are essentially points of scholarship which provide the user with the ability to postulate their own connections within the NewRadial environment, as well as visualize the connections that other users have already made. The inclusion of critical scholarship in the program requires us to reconsider this idea because it becomes increasingly challenging to properly represent this data as it increases in size and complexity. For instance, it is relatively easy to visually represent the connections between one critical scholarly piece and one source text. The nodes and edges are recognizable on this level and bear some significance to the user. However, we know that that vast majority of source texts have been written about dozens, hundreds, or thousands of times. With such a large body of work to consider, how can this data be organized in a succinct and understandable manner, yet do justice to the big picture concept that NewRadial represents? Would edges be able to maintain their utility as a method of commentary and criticism, or would their role change to that of signifying bibliographic influences as the user moves through the environment? Would this new role for edges introduce a temporality and linearity into NewRadial which we would otherwise hope to avoid? Theoretically, NewRadial could be used to track emerging ideas and thoughts back to their original sources of criticism, but this would complicate the visualization of data due to the fact that most critical works have multiple sources. Trying to properly link the vast quantities of datasets would ultimately detract from NewRadial’s intended use and complicate the matter of actually visualizing data. If we were to somehow find a way to avoid the complications that this temporal relationship presents we could easily circumvent these issues and thus maintain the methodology upon which NewRadial was founded.

The vast majority of literary critical scholarship addresses ideas within a source text – this in itself is an understandable and comprehendible relationship. The complexities lay within the actual quantity of critical scholarship and how one would accurately represent the true breadth and depth of this material via a data visualization application such as NewRadial. NewRadial breaks down temporal and linear binaries, dramatically altering that way in which we perceive and relate to literature. I believe that one of the major focuses of the modeling and prototyping team this year will be to address this issue and determine whether or not such a methodology can operate in conjunction with critical scholarship as well as the source text.

Bibliography

Bruce, Jake. “Development and Adaptation of the NewRadial Web Application to Arbitrary Data Sources.” Honours Thesis, Acadia University, 2012. Online. http://openarchive.acadiau.ca/cdm/ref/collection/HTheses/id/814.

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