Reading Literature with Computers: Week Six Journal

I’m famously horrible at reflective writing, especially in blog format, so I’m catching up on these embarrassingly late. In Week Six we looked at a lot of the theoretical context surrounding “distant reading” the term and other related concepts in the digital humanities. I was introduced to Moretti as a side conversation in Dr. Barrenechea’s SP 2020 Great American Novel class, during the part of the semester where we read a lot of theory surrounding “the canon” and its sustainability or unsustainability as a concept. At the time I was deeply unimpressed with “distant reading” as a concept, but this week’s readings acquainted me to a great degree with the way the concept is often positioned in either/or variety, adversarial terms that we don’t have to accept at face value as any kind of literary critic.

I always like acquainting myself with the theory that surrounds a concept, including critical disagreements within the field; I like growing to understand any field as a multivocal sphere, and I think it’s important to position academics read in classes as people who are often in disagreement with each other, in a critical conversation we, too are allowed to partake in. The week’s second reading, Ted Underwood’s “A Genealogy of Distant Reading,” was a fascinating piece in this regard, in that I was skeptical of a fair amount of it but nonetheless found it a very illuminating piece.

I also really enjoyed talking over the three pieces in class – I was glad we’d chosen to “divide and conquer” them rather than just getting acquainted with one side of the conversation. I wish a little that we’d been able to funnel the small group discussion into a large group discussion, because that might have exposed us to a more diverse variety of takeaways from each piece, but I still found it a good way to get acquainted with the critical conversation (and eternal metadiscourse found within) about various forms of computational literary studies, distant reading, and the digital humanities.

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