Book Review – Martin K. Foys’ Virtually Anglo Saxon
Virtually Anglo-Saxon is an interesting text that opens with the premise that the pre-print cultures of the Anglo-Saxon tradition are remarkably similar to the post-print cultures of digital media. The author explains how traditional approaches of critical theory as applied to print texts severely limit true interpretations of Anglo-Saxon texts, as the elements of these texts are closer to open, digital texts rather than to closed, print texts. Based on this, Foys makes the argument that Anglo-Saxonists, medievalists, and scholars who engage in academic inquiry of such texts should embrace new media theory in order to expand their conceptions of the texts, rather than simply take advantage of digital technologies – such as databases – to engage in research and criticism or than to create digital scholarly versions of print texts.
The author is successful in demonstrating critical application of his theoretical paradigm. He first compares Anslem’s religious texts to hypertext. By exploring how Anslem worked on his texts and how they seem to cohere to a greater extent through hypertext theory than through traditional critical approaches, Foys manages to paint a full picture of the meaning of the text.
Although his approach to text analysis is sound, Foys seems to overextend his theoretical paradigm to a nonsensical point when he attempts to draw parallels between virtual reality spaces and the Anglo Saxon Mapamundi. Foys states that “Maps and VR share the notion that manufactured representations of geography are able to conveniently provide an understanding of the world represented” (118). Certainly, both a VR world and the Mapamundi are susceptible to subjective interpretations of the maker. However, one must take into consideration that virtual reality worlds are not created with the intent of representing an already existing world, but with the intent of creating a new world where the reader can become immersed in a new experience. Virtual worlds allow for imbedded variable narratives and the existence of individual personas with which one can interact. They are not a point of reference. The Anglo Saxon Mapamundi, on the other hand, if nothing more than an artist’s representation of an already existing space. It is a static text that does not allow for any immersion. These, and the many other discrepancies between VRWorlds and Mapamundi which I will not explain here for spatial considerations, make the single similarity of authorial subjectivity irrelevant. In other words, to suggest that VRWorlds are similar to Mapamundi because they share an authorial subjective bias would be similar to arguing that an umbrella and Villa La Leopolda in Nice, France, are similar because they both protect one from the rain.
Overall, the text is an extremely solid read. The author’s ideas are sound, and his tests pass first inspection. Although he seems to want to overextend his theoretical paradigm, his overall transmediation of an entire genre is certainly intriguing. If you are someone who is interested in Anglo-Saxon or Medieval literary studies, multidisciplinary approaches to digital media, or transmedia genres, you should give this book a read.
Posted on March 15, 2011, in Book Reviews and tagged Anglo saxon studies, Book Review, digital media and medieval studies, foys, martin foys, virtually anglo saxon. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.