Mapping some Familiar Mark Z. Danielewski Tweets

A few days ago, I stumbled across a Twitter conversation about House of Leaves. That’s generally enough to get my attention. The people involved were an added enticement. But the conversation among Jesse Stommel, Chuck Rybak, Sean Michael Morris, and Paul Benzon took a different direction when Paul asked, if anyone had “theories on what’s up with the MZD numerical tweets?

This was the first that I had heard anything about this, so I quickly checked out Mark Z. Danielewski’s tweet stream. And it was very quickly apparent what Paul was talking about. MZD’s last 8 tweets have been a string of numbers. When I looked at them, my immediate thought was that they had to be linked to The Familiar, his 27-volume serial novel that should start being published in 2014. My second thought was that these numbers looked suspiciously like latitude and longitude.

I had a little bit of time that morning, so I quickly ducked into Google Maps to see what I could find out. The first of his numerical tweets appeared on 17 January 2013: 48-371204-9-7265. I decided to replace the dashes with commas and periods, and entered these coordinates: 48.371204,9.7265. A spot in the forest southwest of Schelklingen, Germany was the result. Easy enough. The second site was in Alles-sur-Dordogne, France.

The fourth tweet was a little more complicated, as it presented an em-dash instead of a dash in the middle of the tweet: 63-84823—20-8712. I decided that the em-dash was most likely a way of signaling a negative value for the longitude, and tried 63.84823,-20.8712. That seemed to work, placing me in Iceland; but to be sure, I removed the negative value, and found the spot in the ocean off Sweden. The sixth tweet contained a similar em-dash, and similarly dropped me in the ocean when I removed the negative. The same thing happened with the most recent tweet, which featured a negative sign at the front of the longitude.

So here are all eight locations:

View MZD Tweets mapped in a larger map

The locations are rather diverse, although only on three out of seven continents thus far. I suspect that we’ll see more places mapped soon. MZD has been tweeting once every two weeks, so I think in another 10 days or so I’ll be adding another location to this map.

It’s certainly possible that I’m completely wrong about these numbers being spatial coordinates. And they don’t begin to explain why he is tweeting a blank, black image along with every set of numbers. But if I’m wrong, I’ll be in good company. Someone blogging at had noticed the tweets before I did and had come to the same conclusion about them being best understood in relation to a map. There is, naturally, a post on the MZD forums, on the subject as well. Update: And, it turns out, some steganographic analysis that has been done on Reddit. 10 points to Paul for finding that as well.

It’s worth looking around the locations. Zach Whalen noticed, for example, that there seem to be several loops or circles near each point. That would work well with some of MZD’s thematics. But again, allways, and allready one must be wary of apophenia.

Introduction to Digital Humanities

I was thrilled to learn this summer that I would be teaching again in the fall. Both the English department (where I’ve taught previously) and the Library (where I’m a CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow) had supported the idea during the previous year, but this is the first that we’ve been able to make it work out. I was even happier that the English department was willing to support my teaching “Introduction to Digital Humanities” as a junior-level course. Not only do I continue to work on digital scholarship in the classroom as well as during the rest of my fellowship duties, but I got a chance to design a new course.

It’s always struck me as dishonest that my syllabi don’t have “Acknowledgments” sections like books or some journal articles. These courses tend to have obvious lines of evolution. I had some clear inspirations as I was working, including courses by Meagan Timney, Jeff McClurken, John TheibaultMichelle Dalmau, and many more. Both Ryan Cordell and Paul Fyfe were designing similar syllabi at the same time as me, and I corresponded with each of them individually about his ideas and mine. Others wanting to go about designing a digital humanities class need to be aware of the two tremendous resources that are Lisa Spiro‘s “Digital Humanities Education” Zotero group and the CUNY Digital Humanities Initiative’s collection of syllabi. Lisa’s presentation at Digital Humanities 2011 was especially useful for me to hear as a preliminary to most of this work. In beginning to design one of the assignments, I realized that I needed to know more about textual studies than I already did, and I asked for assistance in a previous post and at DH Answers, where several friends weighed in. Finally, Erin Sells shared with me her assignment for mapping novels.

There appear to be as many ways to teach DH as there are definitions of the subject. Along with reading some of those definitions—print and blogged—I’ve decided to organize the class around a few different projects. We’ll begin with geospatial work, building an interactive map of Mrs. Dalloway. The next big project is a cross-campus collaboration between my class and four others that are reading House of Leaves this semester: Paul Benzon (Temple U), Mark Sample (George Mason U), Erin Templeton (Converse College), and Zach Whalestoe Whalen (U of Mary Washington). Our students will be reading the book at the same time; we will have some joint Skype sessions between the classrooms; and we’ll be attempting to build something as convoluted as the House itself, which Mark has already blogged about. My initial inspiration for asking for people to participate in this project was just to see if it could be done. And then Mark’s post on sharing in the digital humanities solidified the idea. What this project will investigate is the degree to which digital networks can change our experience of reading a print text, albeit one that resists being comprehensible by a single reader.

The last assignment for the semester will tackle Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry. We’re fortunate to have her papers in our Library. In these papers is a letter about her 1999 volume, The World’s Wife. She is writing to her publisher to explain why she taking the volume from one press to another. In explaining her reasons, she mentions her belief that the volume is very different from the previous ones that she’s written. We’ll spend the last month of the semester testing this assertion—first with close reading and then with text analysis. For a final project, the students and I will write a joint paper about our findings, an assignment inspired by Gideon Burton’s recent ebook project.

As the number of links here should make quite plain, the creation of the syllabus was very much a joint effort. That’s just setting the stage for what I anticipate will very much be a collaborative experience with my students. It’s going to be a semester-long experiment, which is the best thing I can imagine doing at the moment.

The syllabus itself is available after the jump, and you’re welcome to watch the course website for developments.

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