In the transition from one technology of "literacy" to another, which some already call "after literacy," and others, like Nancy Kaplan, e-literacy ("the knowledge and skill required to make marks in an electronic age with electronic devices," Kaplan, 11) a "great book" like the Decameron (the definition that in the course catalogues of Brown University has already replaced the controversial word "classic") is well suited for an experiment with textuality which is bound to test our very notion of "literacy" as well as "literature."
Implicit in Kaplan's coinage is in fact also a pun on elites, what we might think of as literacy elites, "those who now have and will struggle to maintain the power to structure the ideological zones within which it is possible to make and replicate and disseminate meanings..." While we should be cautious in declaring the obsolescence or the end of books in the making and dissemination of "meanings,"(1) the question as to what happens to traditional teaching and learning practices within the new technological ecosystem - one that appears no longer exclusively centered on books - is today unavoidable. The theoretical implications of such a transition are crucial and involve what George Landow calls (in the subtitle of his 1992 book Hypertext ): The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology.
To renounce the idea of the Decameron as a "book" seems dangerous, if not historically absurd. And yet, we are now in the privileged position of being able to retrospectively review the history of the Decameron across three textual paradigms: the chirographic, the typographic and the "compugraphic." In short, we now possess three different embodiments of Boccaccio's text: the manuscript (or manuscripts), the typescript (first of all the "critically established" printed text that we find in a library, buy in a bookstore or read in our classrooms), and the compuscript (which simply means the electronic codifications of the first two that we read on our computer screen or we can access as a hypertext online). The transition from the manuscript to the printed text of the Decameron is the object of a fascinating chapter in the history of textual criticism, to the point of becoming almost a philological thriller or "giallo ecdotico" as Vittore Branca recently called it (Bragantini-Forni, 419); a chapter still unfinished, to be continued with ongoing text encoding initiatives in the electronic environment.(2)
The ultimate consequences of this transition from the printed to the electronic text are still mostly (and understandably) the object of sheer speculation or theory. And yet, a fascinating common thread can already be seen tying the application of computing to textual criticism and electronic editions of old manuscripts - including a possible database representation of the entire textual tradition beginning with Lo Zibaldone Laurenziano di Boccaccio (3) - to the new interpretive and theoretical perspectives opened by the new technological framework. In this transitional phase, from printing to computing, it is the set of "master metaphors" which we use in the description of our object that is, first of all, beginning to shift.
1. See what Robert Coover writes on the June 21, 1992 issue of New York Times Book Review.
2. "Dalla sua prima trasmissione attraverso lettori affascinati e copisti per passione nella società mercatantesca - e non amanuensi di professione e centri culturali ecclesiastici o laici - fino all'identificazione dell'autografo scrutato e non riconosciuto per due secoli da grandi studiosi e filologi - da Salvini e Manni e Zeno a Biadene e Tobler e Hecker e Massera e Barbi - il Decameron sembra avere riflesso lungo quasi sei secoli e mezzo la sua estrosità e la sua singolarità letteraria nelle sue vicende testuali, sino a sfiorare il giallo ecdotico."
3. The International Symposium held in Florence and Certaldo, April 26-28, 1996 is entirely devoted to "Gli Zibaldoni di Boccaccio: memoria, scrittura, riscrittura." Among others, R. Mordenti (Università di Roma II) spoke of "problems and perspectives of a hypertextual edition of the Zibaldoni."
(M. R.) Renzo Bragantini and Pier Massimo Forni, Lessico critico decameroniano (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri, 1995); Nancy Kaplan, "E-literacies," Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine 2.3 (1995); George Landow, Hypertext. The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992).