…and not reading at all?!

You’ve worked hard these last few weeks with the two close readings (where you honed your close analysis with poetry) and the wiki (where you learned to use descriptive prose). I mentioned briefly in class yesterday that there was another approach to reading currently much debated in the humanities: distant reading. And I promised you some extra reading (feel free to read it distantly! — this is something extra to the course syllabus and I post information for interest only).

The main proponent of distant reading is Franco Moretti. He founded the very innovative Stanford Literary Lab. See the write-up in the NYTimes, here. Moretti talks about distant reading in his book Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History (UVic call number PN3331 M67) as well as an essay “Conjectures on World Literature” in the New Left Review. See a review of his approach in the Inside Higher Ed, here.

What do we do with all the literary texts offered up to us through digital initiatives like Google Books? Moretti’s approach is macro-reading, a quantitative analysis of literary texts based not (or not necessarily) on reading texts but on using digital tools to see trends and synthesize data. Visualization of the results is important and often distant reading depends on the graphs and maps of his book title.

Is distant reading more literary history than literary analysis? How accessible is distant reading to student participation? What does distant reading have to say about poetics? And would you be interested in doing an assignment in the future on distant reading?

There are a number of open-source, user-friendly, digital tools available to allow for such a macro-approach to literature. For example, see the Digital Research Tools Wiki.