The Episteme of the Archive

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By Michael R. Fox

Alan Liu recently gave a talk at UNC-Chapel Hill entitled “Key Trends in Digital Humanities: How the Digital Humanities Challenge the Idea of the Humanities.” It culminated in a discussion of the hermeneutics of the digital humanities. He showed how certain long-standing epistemological modes, such as mimesis and similitude, have exploded into new modes in this new discipline. I want to explore one of those traditional modes, similitude, as it relates to the Blake Archive. At the front end of the Archive, the mode is familiar. At the back end, it becomes unrecognizable and forces one to rethink what it means at the front end.

Liu explicitly referenced Foucault’s “The Prose of the World,” in which Foucault discusses four types of similitude that once made possible the knowledge of things. Four types, all of which are represented to a significant extent in the editorial paradigm of the Blake Archive. Under the first, convenientia, things mean by virtue of being placed next to each other. Disparate objects grouped together in an instance of the virtual lightbox.

Under the second, aemulatio, meaning is “freed from the law of place,” and things are by virtue of being imitations of each other no matter the distance …read more