Culture Magazine

An Interesting Response to Moretti on Digital Humanities

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
On Saturday I ran up a post on Franco Moretti’s assertion that the results of computational criticism have “so far been below expectations”, as he remarked in his LARB interview, conducted by Melissa Dinsman. In response Ted Underwood assured me
I'm more sanguine than I have ever been about the intellectual and historical payoffs for computational criticism. What I've seen in recent papers, and in forthcoming ones, makes me very confident that we are going to engage, challenge, and in some cases frankly refute important existing theses about literary history. Big Ideas and broad theories of the nature of literary change won't be scarce.
I’ve found another response in an interview with Richard Jean So, also by Dinsman in LARB. He’s an “assistant professor in modern and contemporary American culture at the University of Chicago” and has done “computational work on race, language, and power dynamics.” In her last question Disman references Moretti’s reservations and asks So to “look backward and speak to what you think the digital in the humanities has accomplished so far.” Here’s how he responds:
As a younger person in the field, I don’t like the gesture of looking back. I find it problematic for someone to justify a field by saying to people, “Look how great my field is because of all these accomplishments.” If you are in a field and the accomplishments don’t speak for themselves, then you have more work to do. It is a position of potential weakness or insecurity to constantly say, “Look what we’ve done.” There is certainly a place for that, but in trying to build out the field, this looking back can be problematic when done in a defensive way. If our work and accomplishments are not instantly recognizable outside the field, then we have to do more work. So I would definitely say that I am more future minded. It isn’t obvious yet that DH is here to stay, so rather than meet critiques with a “look what we’ve done” mentality, we need to go back to our books and computers and do better work until we don’t have to answer this question any more.

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