TEI for Non-linear Narratives

This project served as my Digital Humanities course final, taught by Prof. John Walsh. I worked among a team of 4 students to create a set of guidelines for encoding non-linear narratives. We applied Deleuze’s metaphor of the rhizome to identify these texts: works with plots that can be entered and exited from multiple points, that progress geometrically and multiply, and don’t necessarily depend upon time as an ordering factor. We were attracted to TEI as a vehicle for addressing such narratives because of its extensibility — once an encoder learns the basics of TEI and XML, he or she can adapt the system to his or her particular needs.

Our final project included instructions for using existing TEI elements and attributes in the context of non-linear narratives and introduced new elements and attributes suitable for encoding non-linear narratives. Each of us selected one or more narratives to identify issues and provide examples for future scholars to refer to. The novels we selected were from the 18th century (Tristram Shandy), 19th century (Moby-Dick), 20th century (Naked Lunch), and 21st century (House of Leaves.) The short stories both came from the 20th century (“In a Bamboo Grove” and “—All You Zombies—”). Each team member was dedicated to encoding 10 to 15 pages.

We identified the following features in our encoding:

1. Spatial non-linearity, as seen in Tristram Shandy and House of Leaves. The images below from the print versions of these respective texts demonstrate unconventional uses of space in the narrative. For example, in Tristram Shandy, this includes the usage of hand-drawn figures and blank space. In House of Leaves portions of the text are often presented in different columns, oriented upside-down, or framed in boxes.

2. Instances in which the text addresses the reader, instructing him or her to read or interact with the text in a certain way. For example, in Naked Lunch, the narrator instructs the reader that the novel can be started at any point in the narrative, as there is no one insertion point to the narrative.

3. Events presented out of chronological order in the narrative.

4. Multiple plot lines throughout the narrative, be they interconnected or otherwise.

5. Themes; literary styles; literary forms; and other semantic structures that proliferate from the printed structure of the narrative to form “unseen” structures written into the narrative. For example, one of the structures in Moby-Dick, Or, The Whale is an exploration of the body of the whale, including its various parts, which creates an exploration of structure strewn in a particular structure throughout the printed structure of the narrative.

6. Disparate points-of-view recounting the narrative.

Each of my fellow team members also had a background in English Literature, so we were excited to be able to discuss our texts with one another and share our theories on their non-linear features. Each of my teammates also had previous experience with TEI through their participation with the Victorian Women Writer’s project, so I was very grateful to benefit from their guidance in learning TEI. I elected to encode Moby Dick and had a great time reading the text, encoding to reflect my viewpoint of the text, and working together with my team.

Feel free to download our instructions and encoded texts and check our class presentation below.