Interfacing Milton: the supplementation of Paradise lost
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Jacques Derrida argued that a supplement "adds only to replace." Since the blind Milton dictated his epic to amanuenses, the text of Paradise Lost may be conceived as a supplement to an aural performance. This dissertation itself supplements another project, a digital "audiotext" or classroom edition of Paradise Lost on which I am collaborating with Professor John Rumrich and others. In the audiotext, we reassert the duality of the work as both a print text and an oral epic by integrating an audio recording with an electronic text of the poem. This pairing is informed by our own experiences teaching Paradise Lost as well as by cognitive research demonstrating that comprehension increases when students read and hear a text sequentially or simultaneously. As both a wellspring of the audiotext project and a meditation on its aims, this dissertation investigates the actual effects on readers of print and digital supplements putatively designed to enhance their appreciation or study of the work. The first two chapters examine the rationale and influence of the authorial and editorial matter added to early editions. The final two chapters explore the ways in which digital technology is changing how scholars and readers interact with Paradise Lost and other works of literature. I begin by examining why the first edition of Paradise Lost arrived in 1667 bearing no front matter other than a title page. In Chapter Two, I argue that critics have undervalued the interpretive significance of the prose summaries or Arguments that Milton appended to Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes. Chapter Three relates the current emphasis on electronic textual encoding in editorial theory to the ideological dominance of Richard Bentley's conjectural approach in the early seventeenth century and of Fredson Bowers's copy-text approach in the 1960s and 70s. Chapter Four introduces the audiotext project and contrast its goals with those of other projects in the Digital Humanities. The audiotext's interface offers multiple viewing modes, enabling the user to display the reading text alone or in parallel with annotations and other supplements. Unlike prior editions and archives, therefore, it accommodates both immersive and analytical reading modes.