- EM, who last time discovered something insipid in Moretti’s titular graphs and trees, highlights Moretti’s preference for geometry over geography in his discussion of maps (invoking, by way of contrast I imagine, Auden’s praise of an actual landscape1 ).
- Matt Wilkens’s essay on mapping inspires in Jordan a reverie about a two-track English department (a “traditional” track, and a data-driven track); Jordan quickly stops day-dreaming though, in order to look more closely at the differences in the spatial approach offered by Moretti and Wilkens. That difference (and the broader difference about the “great unread” of which distant reading promises some glimpse), for Jordan, has a political/critical edge: “Wilkens’ question has less to do with a hunch about the nature of the texts and more to do with the conviction that these other texts that lie outside the purview of canonization are indeed worth investigation.”.
- An ambivalence motivates Staci’s response to maps, at once interested and skeptical. She asks what relation these maps have to older literary maps—like the map of Yoknapatawpha County added by Faulkner to Absalom, Absalom!. Staci too notes that there is actually a rather broad diversity of method parading under the banner of “mapping” (admittedly, a banner I have created): “What Moretti does in the Maps section of Graphs, Maps, Trees seems worlds apart from what Matthew Wilkens does in ‘Canons, Close Reading, and the Evolution of Method’ in which he plots the geographical locations mentioned in 40ish novels of 1851, 1852, and 1874.” So, is mapping a “method” at all? Or is there, at best, a family resemblance between these various interests in space.
- Updated:Adam entertains Jordan’s fantasy of a split English department, but sees no reason to be either frightened by the proposition, or to necessarily change what he is doing: “even those uninterested or unschooled in the DH can benefit from the results of distant reading.” Let, as they say, a thousand flowers bloom?
This week things get crunchy; lots of nGrams follow. We’ll try to tighten up people’s grasp of topic modelling in class.
- Joseph’s post plumbs the space between signal and noise, to think about using machine learning techniques without simply turning them into confirmation engines. Bringing together Schmidt’s reservations about LDA with Heuser and Le-Khac’s concern that provocative data may too quickly be dismissed as erroneous, Joesph’s post ends with the question: mightn’t these sorts of apparent hiccups in the data be a spur not to better algorithms, but to closer reading?
- This week Peter gets excited about Victorian pets and martial arts, before getting disappointed on both counts. Along the way he gets frustrated by processor architectures, statistics, and has a great picture connecting suffragism and Jiu-Jitsu. Peter’s post nicely tries to balance the challenges of borrowing our methods from elsewhere with the excitement of new methods.
(I might have borrowed his concluding metaphor from his other area of concern in this post: pet ownership. Is training a classifier like training a puppy?) The comments thread here is already quite excellent.
- Chris Barnes is interested in space. His post wonders about what attention to space can contribute to our understanding of texts and of space in texts. We’ll be spending more time with maps next week.
- Jesse Menn worries about black boxes and data. When we start querying these sorts of databses, do we make a fetish of data we do not understand?
- Peter D uses nGrams to consider capitalism and communism, in both English and French. The results are provocative, but for Peter, doubts remain. “I remain unconvinced that quantitative methods will necessarily produce more reliable information about history (literary or otherwise).” Is more reliable information what we’re looking for?
This week we look at McGann’s Radiant Textuality, a book now more than decade old; returning to the book this week, I must say I was struck chiefly by how relevant it remains in many regards. Other readers, though, noted some other things—some were attracted/fascinated by the IVANHOE game, others by questions of interpretation and deformance; and others found that decade’s distance a more profound gulf:
- Adam offers some reflections on the lamented (by McGann) divide between “critics” and “editors”, before launching into an IVANHOE game of his own. (Will anyone play?) Adam intervenes in the IVANHOE game collected in the appendix of Radiant Textuality, in the character of ” John Booby. The descendent of the much famed Squire Booby who acted as a model for Fielding’s character of the same name, John is a red-faced, coursing gentleman who can run down texts with hart-like tenacity.” While Adam wonders “is what I did the IVANHOE game, or have I missed the point and written fan fiction”? (Are those categories mutually exclusive?) He certainly seems to have the spirit of the thing…
- Staci wonders whether the decade since the publication of Radiant Textuality might not have complicated the (enormous? inflated?) opportunities hypertext offers for literary study (that is, for the state of literature after the world wide web). Does the diversity of platforms available on today’s web beyond hypertext (can I say Web 2.0? or would I thereby have branded myself a charlatan foreverafter? or merely as a relic of an era now five years gone?) complicate (or even undermine?) the possibilities that McGann explores and seems to extol? Does an age of transmedia (and Staci here invokes Henry Jenkins) mean that literature’s textuality isn’t quite so radiant?
- In a dizzying post which capitalizes on and continues the most dizzying flights of abstraction in McGann’s book (questions about “what is text” and “what is interpretation”), EM presses on the relationship between interpretation and deformance; between the text as incarnation and the text as vehicle; between the intelligible and the sensible. (The post also features the use of the word caboose as a verb. This is no small achievement.)
- Jordan happily notes, in McGann’s book, a tendency that moves in a contrary direction from the focus on quasi-scientific, statistically grounded data crunching that we might associate with DH: “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.” For all that, however, he notes how very far McGann’s proposed game, IVANHOE, is from the world of video games available to us now. What should we make of this gap?
Last week we spoke in broad terms about media and remediation; this week those broad concerns are given a more local habitation and home, in questions of text encoding and markup.
- Chris does a nice job connecting last week’s readings to this weeks, before asking some questions about the purposes and uses of encoded texts—and how such encodings, and indeed digital texts in general, may provide an illusion of democratized knowledge.
- Jesse expresses skepticism about the value of markup; agreeing often in spirit (if not always in letter)1 with David Golumbia’s comments on “linguistic computationalism.” Jesse asks, doesn’t TEI reify a notion of the “text itself”?
- Joseph wonders about the limits of text without semantic markup; he offers, as an instance of Cummings’s point about the multiplicity of versions which a single marked-up text can afford, an imagined edition of Moby Dick and asks, I think quite wonderfully, “would you like to read Moby Dick on easy, medium or hard?” This strikes me as a rather savvy converge of the possibilities of markup and of traditions of the video game. (And, as a bonus, Joseph’s post includes a nice link to a Radiolab story featuring a good example of text analysis; if you haven’t heard that story, I recommend it!).
- Peter K’s post brings together questions of markup and literary theory (and his anecdote of theory being itself a formalization, not so far from quantification, might be worthy of discussion) and imagines an experiment too. “Search this text,” he writes, “and mark up all the places where someone could do a reading with Theory X.” Perhaps the key phrase here is “quantification of the subjective”. (Hmm… has he been looking at Prism?).
- Peter D expresses skepticism about David Golumbia’s concerns about the monolingualism (and concomitant asymmetries of power) of the Web. At the heart of this question seems to be a relatively fundamental question about the separability of a technology from its effects; Peter invokes Saussure in the course of trying to separate computer “languages” which bear some relationship to English. We’ll see…
- Please, please, please, tell me that the salience of this metaphor, and its failure, is not lost here. Please. [↩]
We are beginning the semester by trying to think through the question of digital textuality. In concrete terms, we might imagine ourselves wondering: how does the fact of digitization change our study of works of literature (and, indeed, culture more broadly—a breadth worth remaining sensitive to, especially for you folks interested in film, new media, and visual culture)? Does it? This is a question most appropriate to media studies and we might fairly wonder if it is relevant to works of literature (etc) at all. After all, we don’t study paper, do we? (And here, students of book history and bibliography should already be on high alert).
In our first set of blog posts we find folks picking up discussions from our first meeting as well as venturing into (and off from) the essays and chapters we’re reading this week; the discussions are sufficiently numerous that I’ll leave the potential for cross-pollination until class meets.
In this week’s posts:
- Adam Kozaczka follows a footnote from Kirschenbaum in order to explore nineteenth century textual materiality and forensics as practiced by Persifor Frazer. In Frazer, Adam finds: “a kind of inter, extra, meta (and maybe even hyper) –textual[ity]. Adding a nineteenth century voice to the ‘is literature data?’ debate, Bibliotics expands the concept of ‘text’ by locating the technical aspects of writing as evidence.”
- EM pleasantly amplifies a note from our first meeting by tracing Stephen Marche’s fascination with Macbeth‘s “rooky wood” to Empson, in order to tease out a more sensitive reading of the relationship between “literature” and “data.” Along the way he suggests something potentially scandalous: “The goodness or badness or literary scholarship is a question, simply, of verve.” I’ll reserve my own scandalized response for the comment thread.
- Staci ruminates on remediation and wonders about the contradictions inherent in the model of relation between media Bolter & Grusin’s account. She focuses in particular on their description of hypertext and their claim that “replacement is the essence of hypertext,” wondering to what extent this description falls into the trap Kirschenbaum describes, of treating new media as fleeting and ephemeral.
- Jordan’s post treats of sacred cows and petting zoos, in order to find, in Latour and Lowe’s rejection of Waler Benjamin’s famous account of aura a lingering (and, to Jordan I take it, pernicious) residue of auratic conservatism. At the heart of this critque is Jordan’s insistence: “Interpretation != replication.” I take it that Jordan (in the spirit of Benjamin?) wants to preserve the progressive tendency of the former against the conservative tendency of the latter—and doing so requires us to not, as Latour & Lowe do, so easily collapse them.
I’ll see you folks tomorrow evening.