Translated by R. Allen Shoaf
Introduction (Version 06.09.99)
In the file you are about to open is a table containing links to the prologue and 33 chapters of The Testament of Love in a modern English version. I would like to tell you about this version of The Testament so that you can make optimum use of it. At the same time, I would like to share with you some thoughts on the larger implications of what I am doing here. This introduction, then, will fall naturally into two parts. Strictly speaking, you need to read only part one to start using the translation. But I hope you will also read the second part because the larger implications that concern me have ramifications, I think, that should concern all scholars on the eve of the millennium.
Because The Testament of
Love exists in such a corrupt state, it is an important test case for
the use of the WWW in scholarship. In other words, just because a definitive
or translation of the Testament is very unlikely, the work is an
ideal test case for scholarly cooperation on the WWW: is scholarship claustral
or rhizomic, coterie or collegial — fiefdom or community? By making available
a translation of the complete Testament on the WWW, where scholars
can access it, test it, and use it in their own research and/or teaching,
I hope to contribute to the ongoing conversation about the uses of computers
in literary studies.
I recognize numerous problems in this decision. I welcome commentary on them from the scholarly community.
Obviously, there's a problem with copyright. The top page of the site will include a copyright release that will grant permission to use the translation for any non-commercial purpose, on the stipulation that with each use an email acknowledgment of the use will be sent to me. Currently, I think I will leave the site online for an experimental period of six months. At the end of this time, I will take the site down and assess the results of the experiment and report again by email to various e-lists likely to be interested in the outcome.
There's also a problem of cynicism: it might run, "Well, he's just trying to get others to do the work for him and take the credit"; as petty as this may seem, it is by no means far-fetched to expect to hear it. (I have also heard derision that I waste my time on typing — as if a professional typist could do the work of decision-making and micro-formatting I am doing.) Academics suffers corrosive cynicism at the best of times (which, certainly, these current are not), and so I think it prudent to go ahead to acknowledge that I am exposing myself to such corrosion — at some point, we all have to take responsibility for it and try to do something about it. To those who are disillusioned, embittered, or worse, I can only offer my good will as a colleague interested in change: I hope that they and all others will accept this trial effort as an earnest of scholarly hope and aspiration.
Then, too, there's the problem of, so to call it, indolence: readers may use the text without paying much attention to upgrading and updating it. This, of course, is always a problem, but the WWW casts it in a different light: contrary to the constraints of print, on the WWW any reader can intervene at any time if s/he chooses. And so here my best hope is that those with enough interest in the work will also care enough to intervene in it to improve it.
Then there's the problem of keeping track of uses of the site as well as of proposed corrections and updates to it. For this latter problem, I propose the following. At the head of each chapter-file of the translation, I will include an email link and request that each time a visitor accesses that file, she or he use the link to send an email to me, with "Usk" as the subject line. This extra step will provide numerous benefits: I will be able to build a database of the names of those who have visited the site and I will be able to count the visits in this way much more accurately than a webcounter would do; I'll also be able through these email links to help anyone who wishes to respond to the site send his or her comment, criticism, suggestion, or update directly to me. Also, this data will be useful to me for arguing with my institution for bandwidth!
Finally, I would like to comment on possibly the most fraught element in what I'm doing. This will again cause me to approach the issue of cynicism. The easiest way to formulate the matter is to ask the question, what is the value of what I'm doing? At a simple level (though not, for that, a trivial one), the value of it is not measurable in dollars, at least not immediately — there are no royalties accruing to publication on the WWW. This observation leads to an even less trivial point: my work will not be "preserved" and "privileged" in a bound volume, and for some — perhaps for many — this will mean that it really isn't important. "Importance" goes by what administrators are wont to call "separate pagination"! And since my work will be on the WWW, if Professor Y publishes a translation in print, that one will clearly be more important (of course, it may also, in fact, be better, but the prejudice, for many, will engage before the judgment of value is made). This, in turn, leads to the crux of the matter: what is the value of the WWW for humanistic scholarship? For the cynic, I imagine, "not a helluva lot"! (But see the remarkable essay "We would know how we know what we know: Responding to the computational transformation of the humanities" by Willard McCarty.) After all, the quantity most prevalent on the WWW right now is advertising — who can possibly take this seriously? In the end, I have to resist this kind of thinking if I want to press forward (see, further, my essay "World Wide Humanities?"). I understand perfectly well that advertising (and pornography) will always be more prevalent on the WWW than the kind of scholarship I am undertaking. But if I simply resign myself to this fact, I'm a defeatist. As those who know me will attest, I am no defeatist. I refuse, then, to capitulate to cynicism. But I suspect such risks as these inevitably attend a new technology as pre-emptive and as pervasive as the digital. I have elected to run the risks, all the same, because I think the rewards are correspondingly great, at least potentially — but the risks are nonetheless very real.