Conclusion. English Summary: Embedded Writings in Digital Materiality

In: Ecritures digitales
Author: Claire Clivaz
Open Access

The conclusion summarizes the main points of this study, as presented in the introduction: new technology, in this case digital writing, contributes to the emergence of a “new relationship between the human body and the machines”, as announced by Jacques Derrida1. Such a thesis surely has consequences for the biblical Scriptures, this centuries-old text “corpus”. Moving outside the book, digital writing and digital Scriptures consequently weave new links with the body and living matter, notably through their multimodal cultural productions.

Chapters 1 and 2 have analyzed the general topic and the background of digital writing (Chapter 2) as well as digital Scriptures (Chapter 1). Chapters 3 and 4 elaborated on the main theses of these chapters. Last but not least, the double linguistic aspect of this book has itself been experimental, taking into account the modification of the French-speaking intellectual Humanities production alongside a kind of lingua franca English.

Chapter 1, “Scriptures outside of the Book”, has given an overview of the institutional marks of the encounter between the Bible and digital culture, such as research centers, postgraduate degrees, research groups and publications2. Reformed voices are discussing this cultural turning point that sounds like the potential end of the “religion of the Book”: opinions are ranged between feelings of liberation and loss3. Cultural echoes about the exodus of the humanities away from the book are useful to decipher the issues in a deeper way, such as Le fantôme dans la bibliothèque by Maurice Olender, who describes our mixed feelings regarding digital “material immaterial documents”.4 In this shifting landscape, NTTC is a lively field that has been an early adopter of the digital turn and which now faces a new kind of diversity with projects such as the NTVRM, along with the emergence of new Greek NT editions5.

Chapter 2, “On Naming Digital Humanities”, provides analysis of the DH label in its French, German and Hebrew versions, in order to better deeper what is at stake in such terminology, as well as what is added or gained in other languages, based on the Derridean perspectives concerning the issue of naming6. The French word “humanités”, whenever it is accompanied by “numériques” or “digitales”, signals the return in French of an outdated word, full of meanings including “body, flesh” which ties in to some of the broader arguments of this study. The terms used in German (digitale Geisteswissenschaften) and Hebrew (Ruaḥ Digitalit) point to the mind/spirit. An inquiry into paradigmatic texts of computing history demonstrates that the role of the mind, including sometimes spirit and/or brain, has been a recurrent issue beginning with the writings of Luigi F. Menabrea and Ada Lovelace, and would also be crucial for Alan Turing and Vannevar Bush7.

One can also add the dimension of the unthought to the sphere of mind/spirit vocabulary, a topic considered recently in DH by Katherine Hayles, but also decades ago in literature by Nathalie Sarraute8. Between mind, spirit, brain and the unthought, Digital Humanities has the power to reshape the humanities to the extent that the French needed to exhume the word “humanités” to express it.

Chapter 3, “Writing in digital materiality”, demonstrates that writing, when embedded in digital materiality, participates to build a new relationship to the human body and living matter. This transformation has first been analyzed as a change of rhythm, notably inspired by the work of Henri Meschonnic9, and the powerful return of orality in digital writing and cultural production, as seen in an OS like Unix10. The question of digital materiality as a specific place or locus is then explored in light of Bernard Stiegler’s concern about the disruption11, as well as the necessity to overcome the Platonic repulsion for the magnetic stone12. Finally, digital materiality is compared to the Ancient Greek khôra, the undetermined place, the location of which nobody knows exactly, but which exists nevertheless13. Digital rhythm and place transform deeply the auctorial “I”, in particular by making this “I” porous and collective, and by calling all of us to resist the power of the algorithmic governance by developing the strengths of our inner self, the for intérieur.

Chapter 3 then inquiries about the evolution of some of the main features of the book format in digital culture: the cover and its layout belong to what we leave behind; index and referentiality are used in the evolution of different writing material cultures; multimodality and code are novelties, implying a new relationship to the body and living matter, as DNA data storage demonstrates14.

Chapter 4, “The body of the digital Scriptures”, presents first a detailed state of the art about the Bible and its text status in digital culture, a history initiated in 1957 by John W. Ellison15 but described in a full monograph only in 2017 by Jeffrey Siker16. Such a gap has been explained by a lack of attention to the status of the digital biblical text, mainly assumed as stable by NTTC scholars, even if many in this field have been involved in digital culture from a very early stage17. This status of the text has been quite widely discussed in other theological circles outside of biblical studies, including in Siker’s monograph, with a recurrent concern about the loss of the canonicity of the Scriptures. But Tim Hutchings’ analysis of biblical applications like YouVersion and GloBible 18 demonstrates that interpretative frameworks are easily maintained19.

Meanwhile, the present and future of digital editing is the subject of lively discussion among DHers, underlining the total changes it represents: digital editing is extensive, collective20 and multimodal21, and has a “decanonizing” effect22. To hypothesize as to what textuality will become in such an environment, new metaphors are required beyond the stemma tree, such as the rhizome, the mycelium or the blob23.

The second part of Chapter 4 begins by describing the transition from text corpus to digital collection, as highlighted notably by Mombert24. A digital collection defragments – drawing on computing vocabulary – the knowledge and means of production, and in return, the ancient cultural metaphor of the lost manuscript and of the fragment can be overcome. Here again a new symbolic metaphoric background is required to think about what is at stake, as seen, for example, in the artistic performance of Eduardo Kac, Genesis 25.

Finally, Chapter 4 comes back to the centuries-old link between the body and textuality, with diverse examples, and situates in history the emergence of the label “religion of the book”26, an idea that cannot be absolutized, but corresponds rather to a specific historical period in the history of Christian theology. Digital culture draws our attention in a decisive way to the impact of the writing material on ideas and concepts, an issue which is clear in the debates concerning the categorization of Ancient Christian texts.

In conclusion, Chapter 4 returns to the important topic of multimodal digital expressions: moving beyond the “text corpus”, digital writing and digital Scriptures have the opportunity to build a new relationship to bodies through multimodality. As for Christian communities, this might mean a return to ora­lity within communities, where each person has the potential to become “living chapters” of the book, like the fireman Montag in Fahrenheit 451. Meanwhile, our common cultural challenge moving forward is learning how to engage the multimodal materiality of writing in general, and of the Scriptures in particular.


Derrida, Sur parole, Kindle edition, l. 484.


See Introduction, p. 13-14.


SEK, Sola lectura ? Aktuelle Herausforderungen, p. 10 ;FEPS, Sola lectura ?, p. 30.


Olender, Un fantôme dans la bibliothèque, p. 28.


INTF & ITSEE, New Testament Virtual Manuscript Room, <>; Pierpont – Robinson (éd.), The New Testament in the original Greek Byzantine Textform 2005, 2005 ; Version 2011 : Pierpont –Robinson – Dodson (éd.), The New Testament in the Original Greek : Byzantine Textform 2018, 2018; Holmes (éd.), The SBL Greek New Testament, 2010 ; Jongkind – Head – Williams, The Tyndale House Greek New Testament (THGNT), 2017.


Derrida, Sauf le nom.


Lovelace, Notes on Menabrea’s Sketch, p. 691-731 & 732-735 ; Menabrea, “Notions sur la Machine Analytique de M. Charles Babbage”, p. 352-376 ; Turing, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” ;Bush, “‘As We May Think’”, <>.


Sarraute, Tropismes ; Sarraute, L’Ere du soupçon ; Hayles, How we think ; Hayles, Unthought.


Meschonnic, Critique du rythme; Meschonnic, Politique du rythme.


Stephenson, In the Beginning… Was the Command Line, Kindle edition, l. 937-947.


Stiegler, Dans la disruption, p. 433-434.


Platon, Ion et autres textes.


Derrida, Khôra, “Prière d’insérer” and p. 53.


Goldman et al., “Towards practical, high-capacity, low-maintenance information storage in synthesized DNA”.


Jones, Roberto Busa, p. 13.


Siker, Liquid Scripture.


See Aland, “Novi Testamenti Graeci Editio Maior Critica” ; Fischer, “The use of computer in New Testament studies, with special reference to textual criticism”.


Youversion, <> ; GloBible, <>.


Hutchings, “Design and the digital Bible”, p. 215-216.


Pierazzo, Digital Scholarly Editing, p. 22.


Mombert, “From Books to Collections”, édition Kindle, l. 5157.


Mombert, “From Books to Collections”, édition Kindle, l. 5128.


CNRS, “Le ‘blob’ capable d’apprendre…”, <>.


Mombert, “From Books to Collections”, Kindle edition, l. 5128.


Eduardo Kac, Genesis, <>.


Müller, “Second Lecture Delivered at the Royal Institution”.