Reading Literature with Computers: Week Three Blog

I’m late writing this one, possibly because I’ve had a lot of thoughts about the process of reading Beloved in this class percolating in my head this week, which I’ve had to take some time to process and articulate. Firstly, I’ve really been wowed by the stylistic shifts in Book Two. The stream-of-consciousness style dramatic monologues . I suppose one worthy investigation for when we investigate text analysis methodologies in relation to this book would be whether one can stylistically track the shift in narration style through text analysis tools, or whether there’s distinct patterns within Sethe, Beloved, and Denver’s narrations that distinguish them from one another. I guess this extends further into the differing points of view the novel shifts fluidly between, too. Is the inside of Sethe’s head linguistically distinct, for instance, from that of Paul D?

Even as I make these speculations, though, there’s something of a sense of anxiety or profanity in my head relating to using text-analysis with Beloved specifically that I don’t think I’d experience about something older and hypercanonical like Austen or Shakespeare. I know that text analysis is a tool used by human beings, that ultimately we are still human beings using a particular methodology to examine a literary texts, and examining the limits of that methodology even while we examine its possibilities. But it’s still unsettling to me in some unexpected ways; I don’t know if I can reconcile text analysis and its act of metaphysical pulling-apart with the unified, engrossing wholeness of Morrison’s novel. There’s definitely more room to unpack and articulate my anxiety about these intersections in my head, and they certainly don’t counteract the ways in which the coming weeks of class might engage us in a productive conversation.

Also: in the past week, the banning of books, particularly in Virginia, has continued to be a news item; I appreciate the particular current-events bent of our class in that sense, and the way we are integrating contemporary discourse about the novel into our own examinations of it. It’s a strange time in many ways to be completing a four-year degree in literature (something that often feels materially unreal to me, if still important, compared to the immediate material crises of the contemporary world). Still, this news cycle does remind me that understanding and furthering the public discourse about literature carries material importance of its own.

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