Copying is a creative “art of losing” that sustains culture and lends substance to heritage.
This talk will aim to unpack the meaning of this statement and unravel some of the many paradoxes inherent in copying what has been inherited as culture using digital technologies. How is it that cultural reproduction and representation always entail loss while also always perpetuate things and ideas valued as culture and as heritage? What kinds of loss do digital technologies ensure? In what ways do new digital technologies sustain culture and enable heritage to persist? Attempting to unravel some of the conceptual and practical knots that formulate riddles like these, the first half of the talk will investigate a few key terms—copying, culture, and heritage. It will also survey a few of the important technologies used to copy texts in East Asia and on the Korean peninsula—brushes, bamboo slips, paper, woodblocks, new and old forms of movable metal type, photography and various forms of lithography, digital imaging, encoding schema, and forms of machine learning. This brief survey will help to situate a discussion in the second half of the talk about the current state of our creative “arts of loss” as they concern creating digital copies of cultural heritage objects.
To suggest the current state of our arts, two research projects will be introduced. The first is an effort by nuns at the Taiwanese Buddhist Temple Fo Guang Shan to create an accurate digital transcription of every historical instantiation of the massive Buddhist canon. Their aim is to help ensure Buddhist heritage. The second is an effort by the National Library of Korea to make more of Korea’s textual heritage available to its patrons as digital transcriptions by using deep learning to overcome long-standing difficulties associated with the automated transcription of Korean texts. The American poet Elizabeth Bishop suggests in her poem “One Art” that “the art of losing is not hard to master.” This talk will suggest that Bishop’s poetic insight is helpful for thinking about digitization and cultural heritage. Loss is inevitable when reproducing cultural heritage by means of digital technologies. These losses are not necessarily a disaster. Each copy makes what has been inherited available again to new places and times. But how we practice this “art of losing” is important to consider since how we copy with our digital tools formulates what is inherited as cultural heritage.
Wayne de Fremery is an associate professor in the School of Media, Arts, and Science at Sogang University in Seoul and Director of the Korea Text Initiative at the Cambridge Institute for the Study of Korea in Cambridge, Massachusetts (http://www.koreatext.org/). He also currently represents the Korean National Body at ISO as Convener of a working group on document description, processing languages, and semantic metadata (ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 34 WG 9). Wayne’s research integrates approaches from literary studies, bibliography, and design, as well as information science and artificial intelligence. Recent articles and book chapters by Wayne have appeared in The Materiality of Reading (Aarhus University Press, 2020), The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to World Literature (Ken Seigneurie ed., 2020), and Library Hi-Tech (2020). Wayne’s bibliographical study of Chindallaekkot (Azaleas), a canonical book of modern Korean poetry, appeared in 2014 from Somyŏng Publishing. In 2011, his book-length translation of poetry by Jeongrye Choi, Instances, appeared from Parlor Press. Books designed and produced by Wayne have appeared from the Korea Institute at Harvard University, the University of Washington Press, and Tamal Vista Publications, an award-winning press he ran before joining the faculty of Sogang University. Some of his recent research projects have concerned the use of deep learning to improve Korean optical character recognition (funded by the National Library of Korea), technology and literary translation (paper forthcoming from Translation Review), and “copy theory” (paper under review). Wayne’s degrees are from Whitman College, Seoul National University, and Harvard.