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Zibaldone – Academia

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From virtual hyperlinks to hypertext: building a research tool for Giacomo Leopardi’s Zibaldone

by Silvia Stoyanova (Princeton University)

The Zibaldone is a fascinating text in its encyclopedic content and labyrinthine structure, but perhaps even more so in its function as incubator and repository for potential publications – a philosophical dictionary, a theory of the arts, scholarly treatises on a variety of topics from social behavior to linguistics, as Leopardi’s titles of projected works indicate.  It is this feature of potentiality that the project of the Zibaldone’s TEI-encoding and hypertext rendition, undertaken at Princeton University in the October of 2010 by Silvia Stoyanova (Lecturer in Italian) and Ben Johnston (Manager of the Humanities Resource Center), aims to activate and to thereby allow the inherent coherence of the text to emerge out of its fragmentary two-dimensional form.  Indeed, the project’s premise is that the Zibaldone’s internal network of references, layers of marginalia, and its elaborate thematic indexes at the paragraph level anticipate further formal organization.

Comparable to a miniature Wikipedia of reflections on a staggering variety of subjects, the Zibaldone has affinities, on the one hand, with the encyclopedic notebooks of eminent intellectuals of modernity, such as those of Joubert, Lichtenberg, Novalis, Coleridge, Musil, Valéry, and, perhaps most pertinently, Benjamin’s Passagenwerk, and, on the other, with the academic blogs of the digital age with their chronological stamps and keyword tags.  Although Leopardi was looking back at the Encyclopédie model of Diderot and d’Alembert, his verbal pointers referring to other passages and his precise but multiple thematic tagging of passages in several indexes, constitute the blueprint of hypertextuality.  What distinguishes the Zibaldone both from the genre of the research notebook and from its digital counterparts is its author’s exceptionally meticulous semantic encoding in the effort to chart a coordinate framework of high degree of relativity, reflecting a mind of extraordinary capacity to grasp particular phenomena and envision their numerous potential orders within a transcendent system.  Such comprehensive vision, however, could not be realized in the linear space of print or easily categorized in encyclopedic entries, but demanded a space which could represent the simultaneity of a fragment’s multiple valences.  The project of translating the Zibaldone into hypertext thus initiated in the aspiration to carry out the authorial design by enabling the swift navigation of its reference networks and connecting the thematic indexes to the main corpus.

The choice to use extensible mark-up language (TEI5) to encode the text allows to visualize and extract semantic information and to run various statistics on the text for its comprehensive and strategic perusal.  The text has been divided according to the date enclosure Leopardi writes after what he considers a relatively complete reflection, while the paragraph division widely adopted by the author in the 1827 index has been used for directing links, in order to represent the semantic association rather than the arbitrary formal division of the page number.  Users can read individual passages alongside an information window listing and linking their assigned index theme(s) and links to the page references coming from and going to other passages; access the text through a calendar listing passages written by month; query the text by keyword or a string of keywords and export the resulting passages either as a whole or individually; export text selections along with their thematic tags and link references; view and export passages by index theme along with a list of other index themes to which they are assigned; visualize graphic representations of thematic clusters and histograms; add and export their own comments on the text, etc.  For the purposes of providing the option to generate a hierarchal visualization of semantic clusters, the internal semantic network of associations has been distinguished in several degrees of relevance, namely: subordinate links to passages written as continuation of previous ones; parallel links to passages usually reciprocally linked in the course of composition or during re-reading; editorial links, which give specific page and paragraph references to the numerous unspecified verbal references Leopardi mentions, such as “as I have said elsewhere”, “to what I have said”, etc.; passages grouped under the same index theme.  The link semantics is rather complex and further subdivisions of these four general categories could be added, such as links that point exclusively to bibliographical citations on a previous page, links that explicitly cite a connection also to the additional references on the referenced page, links written in a different ink, etc.  Since some links point to a very specific location on a page, such as a marginal comment, the marginal and interlinear notes are also marked up and could provide the reader with a better understanding of an argument’s chronological development.  Custom settings for navigating the site offer the option to view versions of the text that show all or individual cases of authorial and editorial mark-up, namely: paragraph numbers, which are the most common reference used in the indexes; underlining; the demarcation of marginal and interlinear comments; editorially suggested links, and other editorial emendations.  In addition to its internal references, the Zibaldone has a substantial network of external bibliographic references, since it is to a considerable extent a commentary on other texts.  These have been marked up and extracted in a list, with the expectation to link their content by utilizing Google Library.  The site further provides a calendar histogram with statistics on the number of pages written in a certain month and their thematic frequencies, graphic visualizations of index themes with their cross-references, of the whole text, and of individual paragraphs with their network cluster.  The project aspires to become a collaborative platform for scholars, who could contribute to expanding the site’s apparatus, such as a database of its critical bibliography, linking the content of the bibliographical references and of the holdings of Leopardi’s family library, adding tags and comments in a database, which could be accessed by other users.  The Zibaldone Hypertext Research Platform has a bilingual (Italian-English) navigation menu and is free of charge, but requires user registration with name and a valid email address.

Silvia Stoyanova is Lecturer in Italian at Princeton University. She holds a PhD in Italian from Columbia University and in her dissertation explored the ethical and aesthetic dialectics of ‘Care’ in Leopardi’s work.  She is interested in theoretical and technological perspectives on the phenomenon and mediation of fragmentary discourse, especially in the context of scholarly criticism.


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This entry was posted on September 25, 2013 by in Academia.
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