Posted by: soniahs | July 22, 2010

Exam reading: “Radiant textuality”

This is a summary of “Radiant Textuality,” by Jerome McGann. The book stems from the author’s work with applying digital tools to analysis of both literary and visual works. One of his major projects is the Rossetti Archive, which indexes the works of Dante Rossetti, an author/painter. Since my interests don’t lie in literary analysis of this sort, the things I pulled out of this book may not be McGann’s major points of emphasis.

Summary: In this book, McGann explores the applications of digital tools to critical analysis and interpretation of texts. He advocates a “quantum” model for textual analysis, which recognizes that textual interpretations are inherently variable. This method of analysis is performative, rather than traditionally interpretive/hermeneutic. He outlines two major methods for doing this, both of which can be aided by digital tools: 1) “deformations”-deliberately altering words or structure (using filters, in the case of images) to let you make out the underlying structural rules of the text; and, 2) using essentially a role-playing game method (“Ivanhoe Game”) to explore multiple possible constructions of the text. Rather than being vehicles for transmitting meaning, it’s more important to consider texts to be a set of algorithms that enable critical, introspective thinking about the text. Texts contain both graphical (design) and semantic signifying parts, and it’s the latter that have been the subject of traditional interpretation, where he focuses on the former. These “invisible” design elements (organizational & linguistic) constitute a “textual rhetoric” or bibliographic code. Studying “deformations” is useful because it gets at what the text doesn’t do; this lets us see the underlying textual rhetoric.

Comments: McGann’s “radiant textuality” of the title refers to writing (and other types of text) in which the medium is the message and promotes introspection, rather than writing for which the purpose is information transmission. He states that his methods are most appropriate for creative/poetic texts, rather than expository writing, because these texts deliberately lean towards the creative/design end of the spectrum (rather than the expository/”scientific” end). My interests lie on that other end of the spectrum, so I don’t really see myself putting his methods into practice that often. On an aside, the arrangement of this book could be a series of variations on a theme, exploring the same ideas  in various ways in a set of essays.

Links to: O’Gorman (Blake; informational vs. design elements of texts), Hayles (how interaction bet. user & interface co-creates [Hayles] or explores [McGann] texts), Tufte (questions form/design of texts), possibly Sullivan & Porter (quantum poetics rejects set methods of analysis or single interpretations)



  1. […] to: Lessig (Byzantine copyright laws); Burnard et al. (XML); McGann (example of online […]

  2. […] to: McGann (HCI); Manovich (transcoding-multiple layers of meaning); Norman (knowledge of the mind and of the […]


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