Thursday 18 February 2016

Research Prospects in Digital Humanities and Cyberspace Textuality

Research Prospects in Digital Humanities and Cyberspace Textuality

How to cite this paper:
APA Sixth Edition:
Barad, D. (2016). Research Prospects in Digital Humanities and Cyberspace Textuality. In S. Prajapati (Ed.), Research In Indian Languages: Problems and Prospects (First ed., pp. 35-56). New Delhi, India: New Bharatiya Book Corporation. Retrieved from

MLA Seventh Edition:
Barad, Dilip. "Research Prospects in Digital Humanities and Cyberspace Textuality." Research In Indian Languages: Problems and Prospects. Ed. Sweta Prajapati. First. New Delhi: New Bharatiya Book Corporation, 2016. 35-56. <>.

(If you cannot read properly here, please download PDF copy.)

Research Prospects in Digital Humanities and Cyberspace Textuality

(Nepathya: Let me tweet n post on my FB wall that I am reading a paper on ‘The Prospects of Research in Digital Humanities and Cyberspace Textuality’ in UGC sponsored National Seminar on ‘Research in Indian Languages and Literature: Problems, Prospects & Perspectives” jointly organized by Oriental Institute, The M.S. University of Baroda and Gujarat Sahitya Academy, Gandhinagar. Well, I am going to tweetfeed with hashtag #oimsurill through twitter handle @dilipbarad)

This paper proposes to explore the possibilities of research in Humanities with reference to digital data mining and cyberspace textuality. The paper attempts to analyse:

  • The popular myth that ‗Humanities under threat‘. Is it really so? What does James F. English survey in ‗The Global Future of English Studies‘? (English)
  • What is Digital Humanities and Cyberspace? (Kirschenbaum) (Ryan)
  • What and how can we turn problems into research prospects? What sort of researches are initiated by Matthew Jockers (Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History), Aiden Erez (Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens of Human Culture)and Espen Aarseth (Aporia and Epiphany in Doom and Speaking Clock: The Temporality of Ergodic Art)

Let us plunge into the discourse with some observations with a purpose to problematize the issue.

Pierre Levy remarks in ‗Toward Superlanguage‘: ―No situation could be worse than that in which the cultured men and women isolate themselves in the territory of the alphabetical text and leave the language of tomorrow into the hands of technicians and salesmen.‖ (Levy and Stewen)

William Deresiewicz, Yale University professor wrote in Nation magazine (2008): ―The number of students studying English literature (for our purpose, let us read Gujarati, Hindi, Sanskrit literature), appears to be in a steep, prolongued and apparently irreversible decline. . . (it doesn‘t matter anymore where we may stand on questions of critical methods, canons, or ideologies) . . . the real story of academic literary criticism today is that the profession is, however slowly, dying.‖

Thomas Love Peacock‘s remark that famed for having evoked Shelley's great ‗Defence of Poetry‘ by way of response but is in its own right a brilliant satiric commentary on what Peacock regarded as the excessive pretensions and doctrines of Wordsworth and other Romantic poets: ―A poet in our time is a semi-barbarian in a civilized community. He lives in the days that are past. His ideas, thoughts, feelings, associations, are all with barbarous manners, obsolete customs, and exploded superstitions. The march of his intellect is like that of a crab, backward.‖ (Peacock)

Let us explore each of these quotes for our purpose of problematizing the issue to explore the possibilities if research in Humanities – from problems to prospective in research in Indian languages and literature.

The last quote by Peacock was used by Northrop Frye in his book ‗ Fables of Identity: Studies in Poetic Mythology‘ (Frye, New Directions from Old 53). He wrote: ―In chemistry the periodical table of elements may have replaced the old tetrad of fire, air, water, and earth, but it is the traditional four that reappears in the Eliot Quartets. The Universe of Dylan Thomas‘s ―Altarwise by Owl-light‖ sonnets is still geocentric and astrological; the structure of Finnegans Wake is held together by occult correspondence . . . Critics have often remarked on the archaic, even the altavistic, tendencies of poets, and nowhere are these tendencies better illustrated than in the reckless cosmological doodling  that may be traced in poetry from Dante‘s Convivio to Yeats‘s Vision” (Frye, New Directions from Old 52) . Today, we have moved quite ahead of Northrop Frye, in time and in science (and technology). Nevertheless, the issue he questioned still remains quite contemporary and relevant to our times. It will be injustice to say that the poets, or for that matter, any literary writer, do not capture zeitgeist in their creation. They do. In addition, quite often, popular literature captures these nuances quite effectively. So, it is not a mere coincidence that ‗Call Centre & Malls‘ recurrently surfaces in Arvind Adiga‘s ‗The White Tiger‘, Chetan Bhagat‘s ‗One Night at the Call Centre‘ and Danny Boyle‘s feel-good movie of the decade1 ‗The Slumdog Millionaire‘. Similarly, use of mobile phones / technologies in the mythos of the narrative also recurs as motifs. Such writings are bracketed into ‗popular‘ writings and so not considered ‗high‘ literature or sometimes, even ‗literature‘ at all, make extensive use of mobile phones. We find Chetan Bhagat contriving a plot wherein God makes a call or Dan Brown used mobile technology quite effectively in his myth-buster-conspiracy novels. We are all familiar with Aristotelian argument – which, time and again, critics like Sir Philip Sidney (1954-86), John Dryden (1631-1700), Matthew Arnold (1822-88), Northrop Frye (1912-91) etc have supported - about the relation of poetry to action. ―There is . . . a close analogy between the poet‘s subject-matter and those significant actions that men engage in simply because they are typical and recurring.‖ (Frye, New Directions from Old). Thus the question: what are the significant recurring and typical actions of the men of our times? How are their thoughts constantly modified by the intervention of technology in day-to-day life? Are creative writers of our time representing these changing phenomenon in their ‗just and lively image of life‘ (Dryden)? If the answer is ‗No‘, then why? And if the answer is ‗Yes‘, then how? The questions fall in the court of the critics. The contemporary critics are also divided in two categories: that of the ‗classic‘ and the ‗popular‘. This classic group of critics is those who are in power positions in the academia. It is these people who decide, by the sheer power of their positions, what the young, new generation students shall study – and of course, what they shouldn‘t!

If we can visualize this phenomenon – that of control by a few learned scholars, professors of literature – we can perceive the issue of ‗crisis in Humanities‘. This leads us to our second observation – that of William Deresiewicz. What makes Deresiewicz‘s diagnosis especially alarming is that he is writing from some of the highest and safest ground our field has to offer. . . In accordance with the global shift to a late-capital social and economic paradigm, academic labor has been cheapened . . . while the fortunate few, atop the most elite enclaves, are enjoying unprecedented rates of compensation . . . Students are lured to the most competitive private institutions with spacious campus apartments, organic cafeteria food, and state-of-art fitness centers, while their peers at under-resourced public institutions cannot een find seating space in the dilapidated lecture halls . . For teachers and students alike, there has never been a wider gap between the haves and have-nots of the university system, not so many who have next to nothing.‖ (English). The study of Humanities is certainly disturbed by this cataclysm and catastrophe. The studies in English language and literature in the West, and all regional languages (except for English!) in our country, is the most affected.

Well, James English remarks, and quite rightly: ―. . . we should recognize that, in comparison with many disciplines, not just in the Humanities but also in the social and natural sciences, English enjoys reasonably robust institutional health and fair prospects for the future.‖ (4-5). He further writes, which is quite important to all of us who are concerned about the status of research in Indian languages and literature: ―Whether this (definite positional advantage of English) is a happy state of affairs for higher education or for the world is a separate question, and one that deserves more serious and measured treatment than those of us who profess English for a living tend to give it. But to address that question honestly, we need a clearer view of our present circumstances and out actually possible trajectories. We need to move beyond our habitual posture of hand-writing, self-
1 ‘Feel-good movie of the decade - is from the poster of the film.

defense and self-justification toward genuine disciplinary reflexivity; beyond the normative thinking of a discipline in crisis toward a realistic appraisal of our choices and responsibilities as a discipline with a future (5).

―Without poetry, our science will appear incomplete; and most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced by poetry. Science, I say, will appear incomplete without it.

For finely and truly does Wordsworth call poetry ‗the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all science‘; and what is a countenance without its expression? Again, Wordsworth finely and truly calls poetry ‗the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge‘; our religion, parading evidences such as those on which the popular mind relies now; our philosophy, pluming itself on its reasoning about causation and finite and infinite being; what are they but the shadows and dreams and false shows of knowledge? The day will come when we shall wonder at ourselves for having trusted to them, for having taken them seriously; and the more we perceive their hollowness, the more we shall prize ‗the breath and finer spirit of knowledge‘ offered to us by poetry.‖ (Arnold). Yes, these rhetorical lines are from the famous essay ‗The Study of Poetry‘ (1880) by the high priest of Victorian ‗high‘ culture, Matthew Arnold. Knowing it very well, and also understanding a bit of it,

I would rather take stand close to Northrop Frye. He seems to be near our time, not only chronologically, as compared to Victorian Matthew Arnold, but also in thoughts. Let me quote him at length, so to make my position clearly understood: ―Every organize body of knowledge can be learned progressively; and experience shows that there is also something progressive about the learning of literature. . . Art, like nature, is the subject of a systematic study, and has to be distinguished from the study itself, which is criticism. It is therefore impossible to ‗learn literature‘, one learns about it in a certain way, but what one learns, transitively, is the criticism of literature. . .

So while no one expects literature itself to behave like a science, there is surely no reason, why criticism, as a systematic and organized study, should not be, at least partly, as science. . . Certainly, criticism as we find it in learned journals and scholarly monographs has every characteristics of a science. Evidence is examined scientifically; previous authorities are used scientifically; fields are investigated scientifically; texts are edited scientifically. Prosody is scientifically in structure; so is phonetics; so is philology.‖ (Frye, The Archetypes of Literature).

I would prefer to replace the term ‗science‘ of the days of Arnold or Frye, with that of ‗digital technology‘ of our contemporary times. This brings us back to the initial remark of Pierre Levy in essay ‗Toward Superlanguage‘ – how can we afford to leave our language into the hands of technicians and salesmen? Thus, we enter into the final part of this paper – Does the prospective of research in Indian languages and literature lie with Digital Humanities and cyberspace textuality?

Marie-Laure Ryan quite categorically argues in ‗Introduction‘ Cyberspace Textuality: Computer Technology and Literary Theory: ―Computers were once thought of as number-crunching machines; but for most of us it is their ability to create worlds and process words that have made them into a nearly indispensable part of life. If computers are everywhere, it is because they have grown into

‗poetry machines‘. The digital revolution of the last decade has let words on the loose, not just by liberating their semantic potential, as most avant-garde movements of the past hundred years have done, but in a physical, quite literal sense as well.‖ (Ryan). She further remarks which opens up the floodgates for those who wants to research on language on the screen. She puts its quite beautifully:

―Sometimes the words on the loose become malleable substance in our hands, as we grab them with a hand-shaped cursor, move them, erase them, banish and recall them, pull more words form under words, cut them out and paste them into a new context; sometimes they become actors and dancers on the stage of the computer screen, animated by the script of an invisible program; sometimes they fail to regroup at the end of their trip, and the screen fills up with garbage, dismembered text, visual nonsense, or surrealistic graphics. Whether we play with them or watch them perform for us, whether we control them or they rebel against us, electronic words never stand still for long, never settle down on a page, even when a copy is sent to the printer; for the printer merely outputs a lifeless replica, as still photograph of objects in motion.‖ (Ryan). Thus, she classifies new forms of discourse and literary genres born out of computer technology into three categories:
·         Technology as author or co-author
·         Technology as medium of transmission

·         Technology as space of performance what Brenda Laure calls the computer as theatre (Ryan)

I have replaced her word ‗machine‘ with ‗technology‘ as it represents the entire phenomenon for precisely. This technology is not the analog one. The analog clock is the one that shows the ‗time‘ by means of ‗hands‘ on a dial (face). How interesting! This is the digital technology, which like the digital clock processes, stores, transmits, represents and display data in form of numerical digits.

If ever we are convinced at this point of time to do research in this sort of fields, we are primarily confronted with the question of naming it. What would be the name of the discipline for this sort of research dynamics? The researchers like Brett Bobley (in What is in a Name: NEH and ‘Digital Humanities (2010)), Willard MsCarty (in Humanities Computing (2005)), Cynthia Selfe (in

Computers in English Departmtnets: The Rhetoric of Technopower (1988) and The Landscape of Digital Humanities(2010)), John Unsworth (in What is Humanities Computing and What Is It Not)(2010) and Matthew G. Krischenbaum (in What is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in

English Departments?(2010) have raised storm over the issue of naming this discipline. (It would be too early to call is ‗discipline‘ – and I am not sure if it would ever develop as a discipline). Ultimately, it zeroes down to a few names, out of which ‗Digital Humanities‘ can be deduced as widely accepted name.

It is right time to give some space to the question - what is ‘Digital Humanities’?
We could simply Google the question. Google takes us to Wikipedia, and what we find there is not

bad: ―The Digital Humanities are an area of research, teaching, and creation concerned with the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the Humanities. Developing from the fields of Humanities computing, humanistic computing, and digital Humanities praxis, digital Humanities embrace a variety of topics, from curating online collections to data mining large cultural data sets. Digital Humanities (often abbreviated DH) currently incorporate both digitized and born-digital materials and combine the methodologies from traditional Humanities disciplines (such as history, philosophy, linguistics, literature, art, archaeology, music, and cultural studies) and social sciences with tools provided by computing (such as data visualization, information retrieval, data mining, statistics, text mining) and digital publishing. (Wikipedia)

An interesting event happened on 18th March 2009 and then on same day in 2010 and 2011which was initiated by University of Alberta, Canada in collaboration with other teachers, worldwide. Let me quote from their website about this project: ―A Day in the Life of the Digital Humanities (Day of

DH) is a community documentation project that brings together digital humanists from around the world to document what they do on one day, typically March 18. The goal of the project, which has been run three times since 2009, is to bring together participants to reflect on the question, "Just what do computing humanists really do?" To do this, participants document their day through photographs and commentary using one of the Day of DH blogs set up for them. The collection of these journals (with links, tags, and comments) is, after editing, made available online. This paper discusses the design of this social project, from the ethical issues raised to the final web of journals and shares some of the lessons we have learned. One of the major challenges of social media is getting participation. We made participating easy by personally inviting a seed group, choosing an accessible technology, maintaining a light but constant level of communication prior to the event, and asking only for a single day of commitment. In addition, we tried to make participation at least rewarding in formal academic terms by structuring the Day of DH as a collaborative publication. In terms of improvements, we have over the iterations changed the handling ethics clearances for images and connected to other social media like Twitter. (Rockwell). This project continues to survive even today and it supports the idea of research prospects in Digital Humanities. This can be considered as yet another umbrella term like Cultural Studies. Such studies mirror the phenomenon of globalization in the arena of literary criticism. It is obviously a step further, progressive movement, in the words of Northrop Frye (8), which makes for Criticism as an organized body of knowledge.

However, this paper would seem to be incomplete if some examples of the work done under the umbrella of DH is not discussed as a case studies or samples for further research in Indian languages and literature.

There are several examples, which can be studied as case studies for Research in DH, but let us concentrate here on three of them. The First one is by Espen Aarseth, second is that of Matthew Jockers and the thirds one is by Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel

Espen Aarseth is a figure in the fields of video game studies and electronic literature. In ‗Aporia and Epiphany in Doom and Speaking Clock (Aarseth), he makes some observations on the temporality of Ergodic Art. He remarked that except for the most conservative observer, the development and proliferation of personal computers and related technologies ―appear to have an all-important role to play in our culture‘s future, not only socially and cognitively, but aesthetically and academically as well.‖ (Aarseth). He comes up with idea that the theories of past were not developed with the digital media in mind, (but) their original objects are still valid as the focus of their perspectives; so to say, we may reject theoretical template but rejection of theory is not a welcome idea. It is not to scrap off theories of the past and rethink of new theories. That would not suffice the basic aim of criticism as a knowledge, which grows progressively. We have to stand on the shoulders of the theories of the past and look beyond the horizons towards hypertext novel or a 3D computer games or the possibility of

‗another way for time to envelop narrative‘ mentioned by Paul Ricoeur in Time and Narrative.

(Ricoeur). He makes a brave attempt to theorize this process of writing or reading the text by naming

it ‗ergodic discourse‘. In his own words, ‗ergodic‘: ―is appropriated from physics, and it is constituted by the two Greek words Ergos – ‘work‘, and

Hodos – ‗path or road‘, and in this context it is used to describe a type of discourse whose signs emerge as a path produced by a non-trivial element of work. Ergodic phenomena are produced by some kind of cybernetic system, i.e. machine or human that operated as an information feedback loop, which will generate a different semiotic sequence each time it is

enlarged.‖ (Aarseth). To explain the concept, he further writes that the film like ‗The Sound of Music or novel such as ‗Finnegans Wake‘ is not ergodic or only superficially so. They are not ergodic because their signs will invoke same sequence of signifies every time. He adds, ―The experiences of their audience, though individual in an interpretational sense, are singular as for as the material sign production is concerned. . . (in ergodic) the experience sequence of signs does not emerge in a fixed, predetermined order decided by the instigator of the work, but is instead one actualization among many potential routes within what we may call the event space of semio-logical possibility. . . which means that, for every individual system, we have, to some degree, an individual medium, and not just an individual message . . . (thus) the ergodic work is individualized or quasi-individualized on the audience level, in that different audiences at different times may have experienced very few (if any) of the same sign vehicles.‖ (Aarseth). He further leads us into deep waters and of course, deeply problematic also.

―This raises an ontological question: Can we then still talk about the same work? Seemingly similar questions have been evoked by hermeneutical relativists like Stanley Fish, but it is important to note that this time it is not the interpretation and construction of the ―text‖ that is questioned, but rather the stable and continuous identity of the material foundation for the ―text‖: the work.‖ (Aarseth). He further problematizes by asking: ―Is a work in which two actual readers do not encounter a single common word, still recognizable as the same work?‖

Either of the way we are trapped. If the obvious answer is ‗yes‘, ―then we must be prepared to accept a type of textuality that is not readily understood and described by the traditional theoretical basis for textual understanding.‖ At this point in the discourse, it becomes quite clear that the traditional positioning of the text and then doing its textual analysis with or without the help of intra-textual or extra-textual sources, will be of no use. He extends his position further: ―Instead of anchoring our metaphysical concepts of text in the vague but well-known philological span between oral literature and written documents, we must re-conceive the notion as a type of object that can reveal different aspects at different times and places, less like a book and more like a complex building with many entrances / exits and labyrinthine, come times changing , innards but one with is still recognized as occupying the same ―site‖ in cultural history.

Aarseth, further, tried to define it in the terms of traditional theories. Identifying difference is the best way to define. Thus, to him: ―the relationship between the narrative and the ergodic is dialectic, not dichotomic. Narrative structures and elements can be found in ergodic works, and narrative works may contain ergodic features, to the extent that only a single element from one mode is found in a work belonging to the other‖. (Aarseth)

A typical example is a narrative work that contains multiple endings, such as The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969) - a postmodern historical fiction novel by John Fowles or The Unfortunates - an experimental "book in a box" published in 1969 by English author B. S. Johnson or an ergodic work (Multi-User Dungeons – MUDs like adventure game) that forces a narrative structure on its players. Both these novels have elements of ergodic work but they are not wholly ergodics. Similarly, the MUDs, have narrative and even event spaces that are little more than closed event sequences in disguise, such as an animated but static beginning of a graphical adventure game where the player is not yet in control of the character‘s actions.

There are dangers of misunderstanding the aesthetics of ergodic art, as it goes on changing form one art to another.

There is no one type of ergodic art and so no single theory can generalize it. And it is too early to address it as ‗the aestheics‘of ergodics, it would be safer to address aesthetics of individual works. To sum up the difference between narrative and ergodic modes, Aarseth, used Gerard Genette‘s distinctions between description and narration very useful. He writes: ―For Genette, description (―the house was white, with a red colour‖) and narration (―the student pulled a knife and stabbed the professor‖) are two different levels of discourse, with the latter dominant but relying on the former. This model may be expanded to describe ergodic discourse levels as well. To explain this concept in a better way, he used examples of various computer games.

―Compared to a non-textual game such as football, which has only action (i.e. ergodic elements), the computer game has both ergodics (action) and description (graphics, sounds), but not narration, since the event space is not fixed before the time of play. Thus, the computer game is textual (it has description, unlike football) but it is not narrated, since there is no such thing as the unfolding of a predetermined story. . . Once realized, the ergodically produced sequence may be regarded and narrative reproduced as a story, but not one told for the player‘s benefit at the time of playing.‖ (Aarseth)

In conclusion, of the aesthetics of ergodic arts, he described that semiotic theory is not well equipped to describe ergodic modes of discourse. The semiotic theory can give meaning to various readings and interpretations or for that matter, stage performance or movie version of the ‗narrative‘ work, but not to the video-recordings of the computer game. He explains: ―The production and reproduction of such a sequence are two very different things, just like the difference between the video-record of an event and the event itself. A video of the game is not the game itself, any more than a photograph of a cake is the cake itself. . . (In the traditional theoretical reading, the photograph also has a meaning.) The problem of confusing these two types of phenomena comes, however, when we make the mistake of comparing only the (identical) semiotic sequences, with no concerns for what goes on beneath the surface This is why purely semiotic theories of computer-mediated phenomena generally fail: they are not concerned with the sign-producing mechanisms, without which the cybernetic sign processes cannot be properly understood.‖ (Aarseth)

After theoretical position of Espen Aarseth, let us see what sort of readings Matthew Jockers has in his ‗Macroanalysis‘ under Digital Humanistic study of literature. Davin Coldewey reports for NBC news that: ―Matthew Jockers, assistant professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has devised a method of comparing thousands of books to one another in order to find systems of influence, schools of thought and other groupings that may not be obvious to literary theorists. He calls it macroanalysis. "We need to go beyond our traditional practice of close reading and go out to a different scale," Jockers told NBC News. "The traditional practice of close reading allows us to look at the bark on the trees, while the macroanalytic allows us to see the whole forest." Modern programming and data mining tools, combined with widely available digital texts, make this approach possible. (Coldewey).

The digitization of literary texts by projects such as Gutenberg ( or other libraries which converts books into digital formats for distant reading has helped digital humanists to enter the realms which were never thought of before and ask very big questions. The simple keys like

‗Ctrl + F‘ opens up a child window and typing key words, phrases and linguistic patterns helps the researcher to scan the book/s in almost no time. This not only saves time and thus gives opportunity to the scholar to read, rather scan, large (almost unimaginable) number of books in a life span, but also helps him to draw conclusions based on quantifiable evidence regarding how literary trends are employed over time, across periods, within regions, or within demographic groups, as well as how cultural, historical and societal linkages may blind individual authors, texts, and genres into an aggregate literary culture In ‗Macroanalysis‘, Matthew L. Jockers introduces readers to large-scale literary computing and the revolutionary potential of macroanalysis--a new approach to the study of the literary record designed for probing the digital-textual world as it exists today, in digital form and in large quantities. Moving beyond the limitations of literary interpretation based on the "close-reading" of individual works, Jockers describes how this new method of studying large collections of digital material can help us to better understand and contextualize the individual works within those collections. (Jockers, Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History)

Macroanalysis is really a showcase for the range and the potential of what the author calls ―big data‖ literary study, more than it is a report on its discoveries. And his larger claim for this broad-sweep combination of lexometric and demographic correlation-hunting – what Moretti calls ―distant reading‖ -- is that it can help frame new questions about style, thematic, and influence that can be pursued through more traditional varieties of close reading. And he‘s probably right about that, particularly if the toolkit includes methods for identifying and comparing semantic and narrative elements across huge quantities of text. (McLemee). With the help of this method of textual analysis, he envisions to go far beyond simple detection of entities such as

·    Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott are rated very highly for originality and influence.

·    The reasons for a decline in the visibility of Irish-American authors early in the 20th century, closing a gap in knowledge that had been speculated about for years (for those interested, it turns out they temporarily changed the seat of their literary voice to more rural, western climes, away from the urban, eastern areas with which they are traditionally associated).

And other powerful patterns emerge: female authors, for instance, were grouped closely at one end of the book space, even though their gender was not part of how they were placed. You can see it in the rendering below; the darker-colored areas represent groups of women authors. So female authorship is indeed detectable, not just by well-honed human intuition but by objective measures.
Figure 1 Matthew Jockers / University of Nebraska-Lincoln - Female authors
·      Other themes and measures can also be shown to group or separate themselves, so certain styles, eras and so on can be described not just anecdotally, but systematically, using nothing but the text as data. (Coldewey)

The Holy Grail that he sees here lies not in detecting the presence or absence of individual characters but in detecting and tracking character archetypes on a grand macroscale. What if we could begin to answer questions such as these:
§     Are there different classes of villains in the 19th century novel?

§      Do we see a rise in the number of minor characters over the 20th century?

§      What are the qualities that define heroines?

§      How, if at all, do those qualities change/evolve over time? (think Jane

Austen‘s Emma vs. Stieg Larsson‘s Lisbeth). (Jockers, Characterization in Literature and the Macroanalysis Lab).

Matthew Jockers is not the lone crusader. There are data miners, we may call them digital humanists like Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel. They have collected and contextualized their findings in the compelling

Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture (public library) a stimulating record of their seven-year quest to quantify cultural change  through the dual lens of history and digital data by analyzing the contents of the 30,000 books digitized by Google, using Google‘s Ngram viewer tool to explore how the usage frequency of specific words changes over time and what that might reveal about corresponding shifts in our cultural values and beliefs about economics, politics, health, science, the arts, and more. (Aiden and Michel). Aiden and Michel, who met at Harvard‘s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics and dubbed their field of research ―culturomics,‖ contextualize the premise:

At its core, this big data revolution is about how humans create and preserve a historical record of their activities. Its consequences will transform how we look at ourselves. It will enable the creation of new scopes that make it possible for our society to more effectively probe its own nature. Big data is going to change the Humanities, transform the social sciences, and renegotiate the relationship between the world of commerce and the ivory tower. (Popova)

The finding of Aiden and Michel are equally interesting. The corpus of the works they crunched and analyzed with digital programmes has culturally and historically important findings. The study of the use of words has interesting upheavals. Have a look at the below given charts. Their captions are self-explanatory.
Figure 2: Decline of Religion and Rise of Science (Popova)
Say for instance, the word ‗religion‘ is showing steep decline in its usage compared to the word ‗science‘. Similarly, there is mammoth rise in the use of word ‗I want‘, as compared to the word ‗I need‘.
Figure 3: Decline of 'I need' and increase in usage of 'I want' (Popova)
Quite interestingly, post-1970s, the word ‗cancer‘ has been used thousand times more than its counterpart, which was leading before 1970 – ‗fever‘. In the names of city, New York surpasses

London, during 1920s.
Figure 4: The shift in the power centre from British Empire to USA (Popova)
The action words like ‗make love‘ and ‗have sex‘ have increased in its usage in 20th century. But coming to 1990s, the word ‗have sex‘ has been used more and there is decline in the use of word‘ make love‘.

These simple epistemological outcomes ought not to come as a surprise to anyone trained in interpreting cultural objects, but the hermeneutics short-sightedness produced by the theoretically hegemonic paradigms of traditional discourse can be very hard to overcome for the scholar who encounters such form for the first time.

With whatsoever limitations these digital studies of Humanities offer, it still has great scope for mining the truth about the literature – and the quest for truth is the only prime objective for the writer who questions the universe or the critic who questions the text.

To conclude, I would like to draw an attention to the trajectories, at least two – making itself visible. One trajectory moves towards the creation of text – hypertext, cyber text with its ergodic art form. The text, which gets constructed, being written, with the acts of the reader. Such a text required its own poetics – the poetics of the aesthetics of Ergodic Art.

Another trajectory moves toward the historical study of the text – which has variety of traditional approached in its gamut. The studies such as cultural, historical, theological, psychological, Marxist, colonial-postcolonial, modernist-postmodernist, influence, ecocritical, queer etc can be enhanced with the help of data mining tools of digital humanists. Let me end on optimistic note with James F.

English‘s observation: ―It is time to stop fretting over the imagined disappearance of literature form literary studies (or considering digital as an enemy Humanities – let us rather make it an attributive adjective to Humanities) and start considering how an essentially stable and healthy discipline, its tendencies toward innovation and interdisciplinarity tempered but not negated by its inherent conservatism, can best take advantage of its new global circumstances.‖ (English)

Works Cited

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