Reading Literature with Computers: Week 7 Journal

Firstly, I’ve really been enjoying the experience of reading through Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve. I mentioned in class that it feels friendly in a way for it to be written by someone unfamiliar with the field, who therefore evades the typical and sometimes circular metadiscourse that we witnessed the week before, and rather jumps straight to a potential hypothesis and experiment. I don’t think all of the experiments are equally convincing – the gender guesser one, for instance, feels to me like it’s searching for an essential quality in prose that I just don’t think of as existing. I’m sure the social constructions of gender have some impact on writing style, but the numbers of the experiment itself demonstrates how flighty they are. I tried the gender guesser on some of my own academic writing and got “Weak Male,” but I guess given that I’m nonbinary it didn’t have a chance at guessing me right in the first place. (No data blueprint of ‘they/she academic writing’ exists, thankfully, and presumably one never will.)

Going along with my enjoyment of the book, and the discourse we’ve had surrounding it, I’ve really enjoyed our in-class applications of the experiments from Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve. My favorite was probably the stylometry experiments we did on Friday, even though I know we were doing them with a very limited dataset. Even though I get that the scholarly applications of stylometry are somewhat limited to anonymous texts, I think the fun applications are also worth looking at – a program like the one we used in class could be used on one’s personal writing as a sort of equivalent of classic writing-procrastination-website I Write Like, which I have beefed with ever since two of my closest friends and I (all of whom have vastly different writing styles) input our prose and all got Agatha Christie.

Moving through this book and these experiments has also been giving me more grounding points on what I could potentially do for my final project, broadening the scope of what computational literary studies can do a lot further than just experimenting with Voyant. I look forward to continuing it after the break!

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