Culture Magazine

The Paradox of the Text and Computational Criticism

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
Computational criticism, in Franco Moretti’s well-known terminology, is said to be “distant” reading. And there is an obvious sense in which it consistently deals with the text while so-called “close” reading often elides the text. It all depends on what we mean by “the text.”
There are situations where we mean the physical signs on the page, or even the pages themselves. But these situations are generally circumscribed. First of all there is old school textual criticism, concerned with the editing and preparation of texts. Then there are theoretical discussions about signs. More recently we have the history of the book. Practical criticism may deal directly with the signs on the page, or with the sounds of words (as in working out the rhyme scheme of a poem), but more often than not “looks through” the signs to their (various and possible) meanings.
Most importantly, in discussions of meaning and interpretation, the text is in fact a ghostly object – not the signifiers on the page, much less the pages themselves – which we apprehend through vague spatial schematization. In this schematization the text has an inside, an outside, and a surface. A major discussion has taken place around the question of whether or not the “meaning” of the text is determined only by items inside the text or items outside the text (such as authors and social context). Moreover the interior of the text is often presumed to have some kind of structure such that some meanings can be hidden within it. In contrast, other meanings are said to be on the surface of the text.
The general nature of the space that is articulated through these terms – inside, outside, surface, hidden – is unspecified. It is thus not clear where one must be in this space, or even how one can be in it, to render a so-called close reading. That a reading is close is generally indicated by extensive quotation of the text. Not only is such quotation lacking in so-called distant reading, but individual texts may not even be distinguished from one another.
And yet where the process of distant reading is mediated by digital computation, it is the text itself, the text understood as a collection of signifiers, that enters into the process. That is what I mean by the paradox of the text: computational criticism takes the text into account much more directly than does so-called close reading. The spatial schematization that guides our thinking about close reading is replaced by computational processes that operate directly with and on digital representations of physical signs (and the process by which those digital representations are created is a transparent one).
The critic, of course, supervises this digital processing. And the critic must select and interpret the visualizations of that processing. But that’s quite different from interpreting quoted passages. And the process of creating those visualizations is open to examination in a way that the selection of passages to quote is not. In “close” reading the process by which we get from the signs to meanings is opaque. By contrast, in “distant” reading that process is, at least in some respect, explicit and open to examination.
I note, finally, that this post is subject to deconstructive critique, but that critique will not erase the point that signs play a different role in computational criticism than they place in the many varieties of close and not-so-close reading.

You Might Also Like :

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

These articles might interest you :

  • Sixer’s Sevens: Middlesbrough Take One Point. Do Our Players Get Another?

    Sixer’s Sevens: Middlesbrough Take Point. Players Another?

    Jake: ‘it’s not always pretty’ We were 1-0 up when I started setting this up, just after half time. By the time I’d got the page ready for Pete Sixsmith we... Read more

    6 hours, 47 minutes ago by   Colin Randall
  • Who’s Hungry?

    Who’s Hungry?

    I flatter myself to think that some people enjoy my daily musings, although they’re sometimes grim. Religion often is. One curious example of this is the... Read more

    7 hours, 52 minutes ago by   Steveawiggins
  • “This Has Made My Intro to Keto VERY Easy”

    “This Made Intro Keto VERY Easy”

    Over people have signed up for our free two-week keto low-carb challenge. You'll get free guidance, meal plans, recipes, shopping lists and troubleshooting... Read more

    8 hours, 5 minutes ago by   Dietdoctor
  • Challenging Startup Challenges

    Challenging Startup Challenges

    Nowadays there are lots of startup challenges. Mostly they define a very broad area in where ideas are sought. It is a rather passive way to innovate. It is... Read more

    8 hours, 11 minutes ago by   Thinkibility
  • De Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver

    Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver

    @ Lake Hood, Anchorage, AK September 2017 Photographed this lovely lineup of Beavers tied up to a dock at Lake Hood.  Lake Hood’s oldest and largest seaplane... Read more

    8 hours, 54 minutes ago by   Htam
  • 6 Tools To Drive You To Promote Yourself In Business

    Tools Drive Promote Yourself Business

    Too many people, young and older, let their career and their lifestyle happen to them, rather than proactively making things happen based on their personal... Read more

    10 hours, 25 minutes ago by   Martin Zwilling
  • New Meal Plan – Emőke Csoma’s Favorites

    Our popular keto meal-plan tool gives you everything you need to succeed on a keto low-carb diet. Meal plans, recipes and shopping lists - no planning... Read more

    10 hours, 45 minutes ago by   Dietdoctor