Close Reading with Computers: Genre Signals, Parts of Speech, and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas


Reading literature with the aid of computational techniques is controversial. For some, digital approaches apparently fetishize the curation of textual archives, lack interpretative rigor (or even just interpretation), and are thoroughly ’neoliberal’ in their pursuit of Silicon Valley-esque software-tool production (Allington, Brouillette, and Golumbia; see “Editors’ Choice” for a good range of counter-responses). For others, the potential benefits of amplifying reading-labor-power through non-consumptive use of book corpora fulfills the dreams of early twentieth-century Russian formalism and yields new, distant ways in which we can consider textual pattern-making (Jockers; Moretti, Distant Reading; Moretti, Graphs). Indeed, there are many arguments to be made around the quantifying processes of computational stylometry that the humanities are – and should be – qualitative in their approaches. At the same time, we also know that the humanities do not hold a monopoly on aesthetics; mathematics, statistics, and computation have a beauty and intuition behind them that are as human as any works of art and need not demean the aesthetics of objects with which they have contact.

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