“The Waste Land” for iPad

Following on from my previous musings on this subject, the first scholarly edition designed for the iPad was launched yesterday – an app of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land. I haven’t purchased it yet, and I won’t be rushing to (it’s £7.99 – pretty expensive as apps go, and it’s not a text that I teach or research so my decent and well-annotated edition serves me well enough) but the Guardian videocast (linked above) and description on the Apple Apps store give a good idea of the features. My first impressions are that it looks like a well thought out and potentially very useful material: the surrounding material includes critical commentary and annotations, recordings of the text by Eliot, Ted Hughes, and a filmed performance of Fiona Shaw’s reading, as well as facsimile manuscript pages. All of this is not only very helpful for student use, but especially so in the way that it’s been designed for use on the iPad – the ease with which you can switch between recordings, watch video alongside text, and bring up different recordings all make use of the iPad’s features and the simultaneity of different media the iPad allows for that you just can’t get as easily on a Pc.

WL app

(Screenshot from the Apple website, where more info and screenshots are available)

It strikes me that this would be a very useful teaching tool – recordings and manuscript versions are resources that I use in teaching Ginsberg’s Howl, and having such an app would handily cut out the sometimes tedious work of compiling resources before a class- no more trawling the internet to find the best recording, or trying to get a good photocopy of poor-quality manuscript pages, it’s all just there and readily available on an easily portable object. But the size of the iPad and it’s lack of connectivity to an external device means this isn’t going to work for anything more than a seminar, and even then it’s limited if you want the students to interact with their own copy of the material; and once the students leave the classroom it’s useless unless they own iPads (and if they did, would I recommend they buy the iPad edition over the printed text? Unlikely).

I also wonder at how far the usefulness of these extra materials goes; visual and auditory media might stimulate some aspects of seminar discussion, and having annotations for a complex text like The Waste Land are undoubtely valuable in freeing-up discussion time that might otherwise be spent simply explaining the many references and intertextual points; so with a text like this, you can cut out some of that textual work and move more swiftly to the critical analysis. But at the end if all this, it’s the text itself that really matters and the students’ interpretations and responses to that which I’m really interested in getting to in the seminar – the extra media and material provides the stimulus for that, but I wonder if having all of this in such a format enables or inhibits the individual response? Is this all that different to the usual scholarly annotated edition? It feels to me as though having all of this material compiled together might somewhat inhibit the student response outside of those parameters- there seems to be something formalised and thus limiting about the material being set in screen, as though this is all the “right” material that one needs to understand the text, perhaps? There’s also something about the barrier I feel this puts between the reader and text – from my brief experiences in reading on the iPad for my own research, I do feel at one remove from the text; without getting all nostalgic about the look and feel of a book, you can’t scribble notes or underline the etext, it doesn’t feel you can make it your own in the same way. And although there’s an ease to reading and moving around material quickly on the iPad screen, the easy skimming through the text further encourages a move away from slow and detailed reading and the response that such a reading generates.

Despite these reservations I’d certainly be willing to give this a go if there was a similar app for a text I teach, and it’d be interesting to see if this could enhance teaching and learning, and how students and tutors might use this as a starting-point for more interactive work.

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3 thoughts on ““The Waste Land” for iPad”

  1. Thanks for posting about this. I’d buy this for the Fiona Shaw/Deborah Warner performance alone – I had no idea that this kind of material – so recent and so high-profile – would be available in e-book form. Hugely exciting.

    At a focus group I was at recently, the issue of being able to underline and mark-up e-text was the major discussion. Most forthcoming online platforms are going to include exactly this feature – the ability to mark up, add to, annotate etc. the text freely and store your annotated versions alongside the ‘clean’ version, thus creating a composite text. I don’t know if that’ll ever get as close to a book as I think we’d all like, but it’s a move in the right direction.

  2. Thanks, that’s interesting to know about the features to annotate the text yourself etc.- I’m still not convinced that /I/ would find such a text usable, but can see that others would find it a workable alternative with many advantages, especially those (of, dare I say it, the younger igeneration) who are already more adept at using technologies in this way. It’ll be interesting to see if/what other editions follow and if, like you point out, they make use of such recent and high-profile material (the more I think about it, the more I’m wanting to see an edition of /Howl/ like this for next term!)

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