This book aims to demonstrate how digital writing contributes to the emergence of “a new relationship between the human body and the machines” as Jacques Derrida proposed when he considered the effects of new technologies1. This new relationship will surely influence the digital future of the Jewish-Christian textual corpus known as the Bible, also referred to as “the Scriptures”.
The French title brings together this duality in one expression: Ecritures digitales. The English subtitle makes explicit the double meaning of the unique French word Ecritures: Digital writing, digital Scriptures. Given the predominance of English as a scientific language, it must now be counted as a full partner to francophone humanities research: consequently, each chapter will be summarized in English. For the complete argumentation with evidence, the French version will need to be consulted.
This general introduction is followed by two chapters on digital Scriptures (Chapters 1 and 4), and two chapters covering digital writing (Chapters 2 and 3). Chapters 1 and 2 focus on a general topical analysis and key issues, whereas Chapters 3 and 4 develop the general hypothesis presented above. Finally, the conclusion summarizes the main points of this journey through the digital humanities landscape.
2 Scriptures, Writing, Bodies and Words
According to Jean-Claude Carrière in N’espérez pas vous débarasser des livres, the Modern history of books begins with the history of The Book - the Bible: “With the religions of the Book, the book has served not just as a container, as a receptacle, but also as a ‘wide angle’ from which it has been possible for everything to be observed, everything related, maybe even for everything to be decided”2. The historical weight of the Bible as world symbol of books still persists today; as an example, consider the welcoming entry gate to the International Reformation Exposition in Wittenberg in May 2017, a “riesiges Buch”: a 27 meter high Bible3.
Considering this historical weight and the available evidence, the Bible should be considered at a deeply symbolic level in terms of the definitions of books and with respect to the digital turn – especially since the place of Jewish-Christian traditions is constantly changing in Western culture. Erich Auerbach, while writing Mimesis in Istanbul during the Second World War, was still able to clearly link Homer to fiction and the Bible to history, using the “anchor of the Christian teleology” according to Edward Said4. Thus, digital humanities (DH) culture can be said to have already been in incubation during the Second World War5. The decades between 1945 and 2000 represent a transition period, as demonstrated in an overview paper on DH in 20126. Within this general era of evolution, biblical scholars, like Jeffrey Siker, were often influenced by Auerbach’s Christian teleological anchor model. Siker is the first author of a monograph on the digital Bible, and he proposes that: “The Bible […is] not just a unified book, but the Book of all books. It is no wonder that the Bible continues to be the best-selling book of all time, year after year, version after version, translation after translation”7.
If Carrière started a discussion about Scriptures as symbolic of books and the digital turn in N’espérez pas vous débrarasser des livres, Umberto Eco notably focused on the body in his work; he argues that only handwriting is biological8. However, this might sound outdated now that we have multiple examples of continuity between bodies and electronic writing, including a full biological inquiry into the influence of the smartphone on some parts of our brain9.
It is more benefitting to consider Jacques Derrida who described how much paper “held our body”10: to go outside paper equates to bodily seism11. Such a perspective challenges Humanist scholars to examine the consequences of the transition to digital writing: the body will be a recurrent topic in this book. Chapter 2 in particular will bring to light a forgotten meaning of the French word humanités: the body, the flesh. By bringing back to the fore this word humanités, the expression humanités numériques or humanités digitales can thus be interpreted as returning the “body” to the Humanities. Therefore, the English expression “digital humanities” can be transformed and gain other meanings in French. Such linguistic hybridity is fertile ground in French-speaking research12.
Paying attention to writing, words, bodies and Scriptures, this book seeks to confirm Derrida’s proposal regarding the specific case of digital writing: it contributes to the emergence of “a new relationship between the human body and the machines”13.