Though this implication is potentially interesting, I'm doubtful that it's a terribly revolutionary. It seems the two primary insights to garner from McGann's wandering tour through his quasi-biographical research journal are rather less sexy, but still, I think, quite important. On the one hand, McGann's preference for digital tools for literary criticism seems to rest on his belief that books are in some way an informational subset of computational archival. The book, argues McGann' is a specific kind of informational engine which inscribes its own instructions for consumption in its corpus. Computers are much much better at encoding informational at the indexical level, and therefore, at least when it comes to the marking-up of structural and semantic information (a process which Mcgann seems to equate to criticism) and therefore offer us a new critical vantage point on the books we've always loved. The critic who criticizes using a set of tools that is made of the same stuff as his critical subject, argues McGann, necessarily starts at his task with a significant impairment. Computerization grants the critic the new tools he needs to adequately account for the structural and semantic complexity of bookish algorithm.
The second insight which I take to be particularly interesting is McGann's is his view of deformance as the specific mode of criticism which computational logic unlocks. Beginning from Dickinson, McGann looks to the efficacy of techniques of erasure, isolation, and arbitrary but physical reworkings of texts themselves as textual, typographical objects. Rhymes which were otherwise hidden (think here of Keats) suddenly spring out to digital humanist. Photoshop yields a newly chromatic Blessed Damozel. Herein I find the potential for genuinely illuminating self-reflexivity. It seems that despite all the apparent scientific rigor of digital experimentation, there is something delightful, almost Proustian, about the kinds of accidental aesthetic discoveries that newly mechanized recombinations of analog works, whether literary or otherwise, might enable. There is something refreshingly serendipitous about the whole affair.
I also find McGann's focus on generating a praxis out of his longsuffering sojourn with The Rosetti Archive and then the Ivanhoe Game to be refreshing as well. In his calls for critical praxis he reminds me of his compatriots in OOO who also lament the lack of what Ian Bogost calls philosophical "carpentry" in his book Alien Phenomenology. If some of McGann's formulations are lacking in precision (I'm still not sure why TEI or the OHCO thesis are regarded as important to the digital humanist) or reserve (say quantum one more time...) they make up for it in their self-consciousness. McGann seems genuinely invested in a constant reciprocation between his ideas, their implementations, their results, and the new ideas those results generate. This kind of scholarship seems to be particularly needed in a field which all too often falls into screechy optimism.
Having finished Radiant Textuality, I couldn't help but feel, however, that McGann had left it unfinished. Perhaps that is part of the book's own deformity, but I'd like to push for a moment at what I take to be an enormous oversight in McGann's conceptualization of digital-logic-as-critical-tool. If indeed editing is a critical activity (a proposition I find wholly agreeable) and if the power of the computer to illumine the book lies in its greater efficacy in processing the algorithmic logic which already inheres in its pages, what happens when we turn these critical apparatuses back onto the digital object? Nowhere in Radiant Textuality does McGann seem willing to admit the existence or even the possibility of a rich, wholly digital aesthetic text. I'm left wondering if his particular view of digital humanities could accommodate the relatively straightforward e-reader, let alone the meticulously crafted fictions of Heavy Rain and Spec Ops: The Line, or the vibrant simulated societies and economies of EVE Online. Indeed, the decidedly un-fun structure and implementation of the Ivanhoe Game lead me to believe that McGann, at least at the time of this book's publication has very little experience with the rich world of video games. Given that these objects (aesthetic works that I take to be thoroughly textual) exist on the same logical plane as the computerized critical tools which McGann advocates for deploying upon the analog book, I wonder what kind of critical apparatus McGann would imagine for them if he was given the opportunity. If one of the worthwhile products of the many projects in Radiant Textuality was an uncovering of the computerization's critical power as a deforming agent, how might we begin to imagine a deformed video game? A deformed Kindle? A deformed app? Would McGann even consider these things texts? At the very least McGann gives us some ground on which to start asking these questions, or as McGann might say, to imagine what we don't know.