cultivating candide


Hello! I wanted to spread the word about an exciting new project I just launched at the New York Public Library, Candide 2.0, a digital reading experiment produced in conjunction with a wonderful exhibition currently on at the central library celebrating the 250th anniversary of Voltaire's Candide.

As some of you will see, this project builds directly on the "networked book" experiments I developed with Bob Stein and others at the Institute for the Future of the Book, and also builds upon the Golden Notebook project Bob led with the support of HarperCollins and Arts Council England.

We've put an entire public domain edition of the book up online using a WordPress plugin, based on the Institute's CommentPress, which enables paragraph-level commenting the margins of a text.

Taking inspiration from the famous last line of Candide, "let us cultivate our garden," we have invited authors, scholars, curators and playwrights to work as "gardeners" in the text, sowing seeds of commentary and preparing the ground for a fertile public conversation. So far we've covered six chapters (of 30) and will be working our way through the text over the next two months. Chapters 4-6 were just annotated by acclaimed satirist and science fiction author James Morrow, author of The Last Witchfinder and The Philosopher's Apprentice — amazing stuff, which is already picking up a lot of responses from other readers (including another famed sf writer, Joe Halderman). Earlier chapters have been glossed by Oxford Voltaire scholar Nicholas Cronk, playwright Stanton Wood, plus others.

This is definitely a first for NYPL, which is of course eager to explore how reading is changing in the digital age and to experiment with new ways of building community through literature and the web. Our "networked edition" of Candide is both radically new in its incorporation of social media and blog-based conversation, and yet reassuringly timeless is its echoes of the age-old practice of margin annotation, a key practice of Enlightenment philosophes like Voltaire.

Whereas in the past, the page margin was a private zone for the reader to jot down notes, this page margin is a public square, a way of having an open discussion about the book in intimate proximity to the text. Were Voltaire alive today, he would no doubt be doing something similar: debating on blogs, deploying acid-dipped barbs of satire via Twitter, scribbling digital commentaries in the margins of networked books.

We're also tracking the experiment and opening up a wider conversation on a blog on the newly revamped NYPL website called "All Possible Worlds."

There, invited authors and NYPL librarians will be posting various commentaries on Candide, and Alice Boone, curator of the Voltaire exhibition and editor of Candide 2.0, will be posting regular digests of the commenting activity in the book. Her fascinating recap of James Morrow's contributions was posted earlier today:

I hope you'll come on over and take a look at this exciting experiment in public reading. We'd also greatly appreciate it if you could help spread the word. This is a rough first stab at what could potentially become a more common occurrence at the Library. Feedback welcome!


Ben Vershbow

Digital Producer, New York Public Library, Strategic Planning
188 Madison Ave., 4th fl., New York, NY 10016-4314
*** Explore Candide 2.0! ***


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