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The image of the letter: from the anglo-saxons to the Electronic Beowulf

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This essay examines the Anglo-Saxon letter considered as an image. The use of high-end digital technology to create facsimiles of manuscripts turns text into an image that can be manipulated in very useful ways. However, the status of the digital facsimile as a textual object raises questions about the relationship between image and text that appear to repeat past investments in the letter as a custodian of history. In Anglo-Saxon writing the letter saves the past from oblivion, and in the Early Modern typographical remediation of Old English documents, the letter is represented as a material encryption of the past. The digital letter, like these predecessors, makes an impossible promise to provide unmediated access to the past.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2003-10-01

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