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Monday, 23 September 2013

XLML: eXtensible Literary Mark-up Language

It could be conceived only from the fused perspectives of a founding father of computer science, and a towering giant of post modernist literature. And conceive it I did. Before reading more of this historic post, note the date, the time, and your immediate personal circumstances, so that years hence you may tell family and friends exactly where you were when eXtensible Literary Mark-up Language (XLML) was announced to an unsuspecting world...

Whatever one might think of the theoretical attributes of literature, it is hard not to be ever conscious of its main practical shortcomings: inefficiency and ineffectiveness. To see this, let us follow the path of Schell and others, and consider a simplification of literature as a parallel with painting.

When we thrill at a still life by Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh, or Rubens, it is the style of the artwork that we appreciate, not the subject. It is not a case of  'Ooooooooh look, grapes!' Instead we admire the miraculously evocative way in which the grapes have been depicted.

Likewise with literature. To follow again Schell's simplistic model, all literature is a story (the grapes) depicted with literary style (the painting technique); and it is the style that differentiates literature from simple story-telling. Indeed, Schell would say that the purpose of the grapes is to provide a bland form upon which to drape the glittering embroidery of style. With this in mind, let us go on to model in a simple way the intended transaction between author and reader as follows:

1 The author has a story.
2 Consciously or otherwise the author's mind picks literary techniques and devices to depict aspects of the story: autoclesis, asyndeton, asteismus, and so on.
3 The author agonises over the words to convey the selected literary effect.
4 The reader reads the words.
5 A warm appreciation of the literary technique is triggered in the reader's mind.

This simple model makes stark the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of literature, since at Step 3 the author may struggle for hours to achieve the intended effect, while at Step 4 the reader may in seconds allow the intended effect to pass right over their head. Surely an inventive mankind can find a clearer way from Step 2 to Step 5.

Indeed. I have found it.

XLML, as its name suggests, is a development of the ideas of computer science brought to solve the problems of literature. Thanks to HTML, when I write this blog post I need not struggle to render my ideas in different presentational styles such as bold or italic print. Instead it is sufficient for me to mark the text as being intended to be rendered in that way, using the tags <b> or <I>. Likewise XLML. If I wish that an aspect of my story should be understood to be expressed with alliteration say, I don't struggle for hours to craft an alliterative phrase, I simply write whatever comes most naturally into my head and mark it with the alliteration tag <Alit>. Because the style is now rendered explicitly, the reader cannot overlook it, and the triggering of warm appreciation of the style is now guaranteed.

The further development of XLML will require the establishment of a standards body in the world of literature, akin to the W3C organisation which develops and defines standards for the Internet. I have today instructed the EDSRF to set aside a fund to cover the anticipated operating costs of such a standards body for the first five years of its existence. Nominations for the board of the body are now invited. Please use the comment facility at the foot of this post.

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