Close Reading with Computers: Genre Signals, Parts of Speech, and David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas

Martin Paul Eve
2017 SubStance  
Close Reading, Distant Reading, and Labor Reading literature with the aid of computational techniques is controversial. For some, digital approaches apparently fetishize the curation of textual archives, lack interpretative rigor (or even just interpretation), and are thoroughly 'neoliberal' in their pursuit of Silicon Valley-esque software-tool production (Allington, Brouillette, and Golumbia; see "Editors' Choice" for a good range of counter-responses). For others, the potential benefits of
more » ... plifying reading-labor-power through nonconsumptive use of book corpora fulfills the dreams of early twentiethcentury Russian formalism and yields new, distant ways in which we can consider textual pattern-making (Jockers; Moretti, Distant Reading; Moretti, Graphs). Indeed, there are many arguments to be made around the quantifying processes of computational stylometry that the humanities are -and should be -qualitative in their approaches. At the same time, we also know that the humanities do not hold a monopoly on aesthetics; mathematics, statistics, and computation have a beauty and intuition behind them that are as human as any works of art and need not demean the aesthetics of objects with which they have contact. Among the best metaphors that we might use for computational methods in literary studies is that of a telescope, allowing us, at a distance, to ingest, process, and perhaps understand texts within grand perspectives, even while losing some detail of the image. Literary history, we are told, can be seen unfolding over vast time periods when we simply do not have the time in our lives to read that many novels (Moretti, "The Slaughterhouse"). This allows, for instance, for the large-scale mappings of genre formations and their lifecycles over time (Underwood). In each of these cases, the computer becomes the tool that can read on our behalf; we will delegate reading labor to the machine and then expend our c l i c k h e r e to a c c e s s t h e e n t i r e i s s u e
doi:10.3368/ss.46.3.76 fatcat:zddq3brkcjalzhhjml5c7sesky