Digital Poetics: Genetic Criticism and Digital Scholarly Editing

Public Lecture ‘Digital Poetics: Genetic Criticism and Digital Scholarly Editing’

Presenter: Dirk Van Hulle
Date: Monday 4 December 2017
Time: 5pm-6.30pm
Location: New Law School LT106

Poetics is the theoretical study of literary discourse and literary forms, the most famous one being Aristotle’s Poetics. In discourse analysis, poetics is defined from the readers’ perspective, as the readers’ opinions and presuppositions of what literature is, what it does or what it should do. From a structuralist point of view, Jonathan Cullers gave a different definition to the notion of ‘poetics’: ‘Poetics starts with attested meanings or effects and asks how they are achieved. … Hermeneutics, on the other hand, starts with texts and asks what they mean, seeking to discover new and better interpretations’. Culler’s structuralist approach focuses on the finished product (the text as it was published). Genetic Criticism, the study of written invention and creative processes, adds a temporal dimension to poetics; its answers to Culler’s question ‘how they are achieved’ involve traces of the creative process (such as notes, drafts and other manuscripts). This kind of ‘poetics’ goes back to the etymological sense of the word, derived from Greek ‘poiein’, ‘to make’. Genetic Criticism starts from the basic assumption that knowing how something was made can help us understand how it works. The thesis of this paper is that digital scholarly editing can be a way of doing this type of poetics research, not just as a tool, but as a form of ‘digital poetics’. To explore this digital poetics, the Beckett Digital Manuscript Project will serve as a case study (

Dirk Van Hulle, professor of English literature at the University of Antwerp and director of the Centre for Manuscript Genetics, recently edited the new Cambridge Companion to Samuel Beckett (2015). With Mark Nixon, he is co-director of the Beckett Digital Manuscript Project ( and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Beckett Studies. His publications include Textual Awareness (2004), Modern Manuscripts (2014), Samuel Beckett’s Library (2013, with Mark Nixon), James Joyce’s Work in Progress (2016) and several genetic editions in the Beckett Digital Manuscript Project, including Krapp’s Last Tape / La Dernière Bande, Molloy (with Magessa O’Reilly and Pim Verhulst), L’Innommable / The Unnamable (with Shane Weller) and the Beckett Digital Library.

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