This essay explores the politics, poetics, and ethics of metadata in response to two frequent critiques of the digital humanities: the incompatibility between humanistic and computational methods of interpretation; and the continued undertheorization of its practices. By placing metadata in conversation with metanarrative and metafiction, this essay examines, first, the ways metadata markup is often produced with an aim to totalize interpretation for a data set. In this way, metadata's relationship to data is analogous to that between metanarrative and narrative. Unfortunately, this also positions metadata within ethics of fixity, closure, mastery, hegemony, and patriarchy—ethics that may be required for digital computation, but that run counter to the values structuring contemporary American studies. To disrupt this operability, the essay looks to metafiction and self-reflexive poetry. Specifically engaging the poems in Susan Howe's Singularities collection, the essay imagines methods of and possibilities for metadata markup that can resist its operation as metanarrative, in favor of its operation as metafiction. Rather than introduce false or fictitious content, metadata that operate as metafiction provide self-reflexive commentary on their own condition, which, in turn, allows for the ambiguity, historicism, and relativism that describes both humanistic and contemporary American studies values.


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pp. 561-587
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