The ideological questions about the Digital Middlemarch Project are, in part, ethical questions about the nature of the project. What, exactly, is at stake in the process of creation—which may more rightly be called a process of conversion from written text to a digital object? In Karl Marx’s essay “The Fetishism of the Commodity and Its Secret,” taken from his larger work Capital, Marx writes, “The mysterious character of the commodity-form consists therefore simply in the fact that the commodity reflects the social characteristics of men’s own labour as objective characteristics of the products of labour themselves, as the socio-natural properties of these things. Hence it also reflects the social relation of the producers to the sum total of labour as a social relation between objects, a relation which exists apart from and outside the producers” (165). If it is true for Marx that commodities represent both the crystallization and the concealment of the social labor—and therefore, the social relationships—behind the production of the commodity object, then the process of creating the final object for the Digital Middlemarch Project is also a process of reification.
The commodity result of the Digital Middlemarch Project, which equates character relationships with a numerical value based on social ties and the strength of those ties, conceals not only the nuances of the social relationships that are exposed in the novel, but also the social labor and its products that went into the making of the object itself. On the first point, the social relationships that the novel seeks to explore in its “Study of Provincial Life,” become objectified. Though the methodology behind assigning numerical values to relationships had particular standardized rules that were designed to render those relationships as objective as possible, it is a task that ultimately cannot succeed in the way in which the Digital Middlemarch Project desires. The danger in these numerical values, however, is not so much their failing to be exact in regards to the novel, but in the fact that these values now appear—to us and to other viewers—to stand as factually true. On the second point of concealing relationships, the members of the Digital Middlemarch Project group each have their own social and academic ties, which undoubtedly influenced the methodology of the project. Though this write-up represents an attempt to expose the process behind the object’s creation, it does not function as a narrative of social relations—it is simply an explanation.
On this note, it is important to recognize that this project does not represent a triumph of digital media over a literary text. The Digital Middlemarch Project may be a remediation of Eliot’s novel, but it is not a substitute for reading the novel itself. The object can perhaps show us how to read the character relationships differently, but the project sprang from—and can exist only within—the novel.
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