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DigiCULT
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19
taught them to be. In other words, they
must be both scrupulous teachers and
enthusiastic learners.
DIGITAL CONTEXTUALISATION AND THE
RISING CONSCIOUSNESS OF KNOWL-
EDGE ACQUISITION
T
he fact that most participants criti-
cise the multimedia format as not let-
ting them explore notions at leisure and the
elements they are interested in at will is of
high importance; indeed, participants often
feel sorry that choices have been made for
them, or that there are not enough links.
What they seem to forget (or not appreci-
ate) is that, whatever the support, choices
are always set up beforehand by the design-
er (be it by the writer, the cartographer, the
photographer or the painter) except that,
in these more traditional modes of repre-
sentation, such choices are simply not made
plain. They are implicit and concealed,
thereby causing confusion, blurred bounda-
ries between the actual representation and
what it refers to, between different levels of
subjectivity and objectivity all being rela-
tive and not absolute. Thus, no matter how
scientific, maps are also highly symbolic
tools. Pictures show a single point of view
while also referring to the period in which
they were made (for example: a nineteenth-
century romantic representation of a medi-
eval building); films are modern fictions
even when reconstructing the past; texts,
whether taken from novels or historical
compilations, always point to their writers'
conceptions and perspectives.
A
n illustration of this kind of blur-
ring phenomenon between rep-
resentations and their objects lies in the
following fact: when participants read the
text describing Matthew Bramble's stroll
through Edinburgh, many of them believed
that the narrator was meandering through
the city in a more or less erratic fashion,
whereas, when looking at the maps on the
CD-ROM, activating the animation that
propped it up and re-reading the text, the
same participants soon realised that his path
was absolutely straight. From a topographi-
cal viewpoint, he was simply going straight
along the Royal Mile.
T
herefore the literary rendition of a
straight path impressed us as refer-
ring to a random stroll through the city;
this is due to the very structure of the let-
ter made of subtly intertwined impres-
sions, as seemingly chaotic as if we were
in Bramble's horse-drawn carriage trot-
ting on the town's cobblestones. We had
been fooled by Smollett's prose but the
CD-ROM aptly put things back into per-
spective thanks to the inclusion of other
documents on the same topic (such as maps
and animations); thus contextualisation not
only added to the overall comprehension
of town planning issues but it also provided
students with a better understanding of lit-
erary mechanisms.
I
ndeed, even for scholars well trained to
spot literarity when it occurs, it is some-
times difficult to pinpoint exactly what
makes literature what it is. Everyone I asked
gave me a different definition, or rather
impression, even those specialised in litera-
ture; some found for instance that the text
was obviously a piece of literature whereas
others thought it was far from being that
clear.
F
or that reason, digital contextualisa-
tion may enhance our own under-
standing of literature's specific nature from
the outside, by outlining its contours rather
than trying to reach the more obscure core.
Consequently, by juxtaposing or hyper-
linking literature to what it isn't, one may
bring to light what is literary in docu-
ments that are not meant to be literary and,
vice versa, what is non-literary in docu-
ments that are meant to be, thus shedding
light on a process which is otherwise diffi-
cult to teach. Indeed, one can teach the his-
tory of literature, of writing, or figures of
speech but how can one teach literary sen-
sitivity? This, I believe, is a good introduc-
tory method. Conversely, if we go back to
the literary excerpt at stake and avoid look-
ing at it through the distorting lens of lit-
erary fiction, but merely in terms of what
the excerpt can add to our knowledge of
eighteenth-century Edinburgh (i.e. in terms
of Cultural Studies), again the issue of
trans-disciplinarity clearly surfaces. Students
will gradually understand that, in a literary