Network Mapping is alright?

I am having a hard time mustering up any strong feelings about Moretti's concept of network theory in either a positive or negative manner. On one hand, I think creating a network of the character relationships or whatever elements is a rather nifty notion. I can see it being extremely intersesting and useful, and Moretti's methodology seems to be egalitarian, giving each word the exact same value and weight as every other (3). However, I also share a lot of Steven's frustrations, as none of the conlcusions that Moretti comes to are particularly earthshattering. Yeah, removing some characters from Hamlet raises questions about the dyanmics between characters and why it is that some people are more central than others despite being secondary characters in terms of plot. But, as Steven said so well, this isn't really new?

I think these network maps are super cool, and could definitely prove useful. But I'm just not sold on the necessity of it all.

Eh

I kinda liked this reading. I also kinda didn't like this reading. (Good start to this post, right?) 

Look, I spent a decent amount of energy last class harping on Jockers, and a decent chunk (can you use chunk in academic writing?) of what I didn't like about Jockers is also what I don't like about Moretti, namely that they both get so far ahead of themselves in their arguments. (Steven pointed out several instances of this in his post.) Can one, as Moretti claims, say "nothing about Shakespeare’s words – but also, in another sense, much more than it..." (4). Can or should a protagonist really be considered "non-anthropomorphic" (11)? What is the benefit of seeing "different genres... as different shapes" (10)? I understand and even appreciate the enthusiasm, but there is a fine line between ambition/excitement and pedantry. Sometimes Moretti and Jockers toe that line; sometimes they cross it (ahem, "layman"). 

On the other hand, there were various aspects of this essay that I really enjoyed. I think that the network graphs and histograms are enlightening to say the least, and the article offered some much needed inspiration. Imagine creating a network graph of a novel like Catch-22. It would be fasinating to see the shapes that arise from an exercise like that. I also found Moretti's discussions of clustering, symmetry/assymetry, and the cultural import of network graphing through the concept of guanxi to be interesting as well.

However, I still find there to be some traces of interpretation devaluing here that rubs me the wrong way. "This is not a long term solution, of course," Moretti writes, "but these are small networks, where intuition can still play a role; they’re like the childhood of network theory for literature; a brief happiness, before the stern adulthood of statistics" (3). I don't know about you, but I've kinda wanted to avoid that "stern adulthood of statistics" - in fact, that's part of the reason why I chose to study literature in the first place. If one is completely honest about their process, I see no reason why intuition or interpretation shouldn't be a valid and honored part of literary studies. 

Moretti's Recency Bias is Showing (or, DH is not the only interpretive mode we have)

Moretti's problems are evident by the time he gets to section 4. He is explaining network mapping in the context of Shakespeare (Was this a thing? Do a lot of DH'ers use Shakespeare as some kind of control by which to prove their DH tools?), and highlights a pretty serious concern -- how do you weigh interactions between characters? How do you highlight that weight? What about one way communication? I would assume that you could just use arrows (one-way arrow means a one-way conversation, bold/different colored arrows show different levels of communication, depending on an included table/chart), but apparently that's not a thing. So alright, that's a problem that should be solved. I can see that, 100%.

But then section 2 comes along and Moretti seems to lose the plot. It starts off well enough in the beginning sentences, when he says that using a network map like this can reduce the play into something that is far less than its consituent components. Basically, we shouldn't forget the context in which all of these character interactions take place in. Alright. I'm on board.

But then, he says "a model allows you to see the underlying structures of a complex object. It's like an X-ray: suddenly, you see the region of death of Figure 5, which is otherwise hidden by the very richness of the play" (4). What? Is he saying that it's particularly hard to note the fact that everyone in Hamlet's court is killed at the end of the play? That was noted back in my junior Shakespeare class in 2010. I wrote it off as miswording, perhaps a bit of overzealousness even, but he continues. He says on page 5 that "What is done is never undone; the plot as a system of regions; the hierarchy of centrality that exists among characters; finally - and its the most important thing of all, but also the most difficult - one can intervene on a model; make experiments. Take the protagonist again. For literary critics, this Figure is important because it's a very meaning-ful part of the text; there is always a lot to be said about it; we would never think of discussing Hamlet - without Hamlet. But this is exactly what network theory tempts us to do: take the Hamlet-network, remove Hamlet, to see what happens: And what happens is that the network splits almost in half."

Forgiving the awful writing, this reads a lot like "The only way people can even think of these types of problems, let alone actually see how Hamlet survives without Hamlet as a character at its center, is if they are using network mapping." That is...incorrect at best. Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead did this rather humorously (but also effectively in a literary context) back in 1966. Or is he, perhaps, saying that these types of questions are network theory questions? I am honestly confused, and his writing does not help matters. This reads a lot like "Only Digital Humanities can solve these problems," when it should say "Digital Humanities can help us visualize these problems." I am willing to admit that I have simply misread him, that I'm missing a fundamental humility or angle of his, but even in the final section he says "So, from its very first section, the essay drifted from quanitification to the qualitative analysis of plot: the advantage of thinking in terms of space rather than time; its segmentation into regions, instead of episodes; the new, non-anthropomorphic idea of the protagonist; or, even, the "undoing" of narrative structures occasioned by the removal of specific vertices in the network" (11). This is why I'm so frustrated. This angle of literary investigation isn't new!

He does take a moment to address my issue with his position. Apparently, he has been asked often "Did I really need [network theory] to speak about Horatio and the State?" to which his answer is "No, I did not need network theory; but I probably needed networks. I had been thinking about Horatio for some time -- but I had never "seen" his position with Hamlet's field of forces until I looked at the network of the play....What I took for network theory were less concepts than visualization: the possibility of extracting characters and interactions from a dramatic structure, and turning them into a set of signs that I could see at a glance, in a two-dimensional space" (11). His answer to the problem is more an excuse for his bias -- he couldn't even think of these questions before he utilized network theory/mapping, so network theory/mapping is presented as the only way to see these questions are even there. People have been talking about character relationships -- and the centrality of protagonists -- for long before Moretti happened upon using network mapping on Hamlet. He should reflect that in his writing, or at least acknowledge that this is not the only way for people to think of the relationships between characters.

 

I have been struggling to see how people could be so against DH and its uses. After having read this paper, I'm beginning to understand.

Ramsay and Patterning

I've long entered a debate with close family members over objective/concrete evidence and its often assumed absence in literary criticism. But I was struck by Ramsay's argument, in particular by his definition of data mining. According to Ramsay, who borrows a definition from Witten, "data mining is the extraction of implicit, previously unknown, and potentially useful information from data." This data, processed through algorithms, destills to "regularities" and "patterns" (185). It continues, "Many patterns will be banal and uninteresting. Others will be spurious, contingent on accidental coinicidences in the particular dataset used. And real data is imperfect: some parts are garbled, some missing. Anything that is discovered will be inexact." And this inexactness made me think of Derrida's Archive Fever, notably how the data in an archive is also far from perfect, subject to irregularity, and will never be approached from a neutral, purely rational, or objective standpoint. Interpretation will always be encoded in the human, in the moment, from our place of cultural understanding. It will never occur in a vacuum, always informed by data and previous patterns or discoveries.

Likewise, Ramsay comments on this lack of neutrality as several of my classmates have already discussed. Ramsay states that software cannot even be neutral as "there is no level at which assumption disappears" and instead, argues that this "lack of neutrality" should be "assert[ed]" with "candor, so that the demonstrably non-neutral act of intrepretation can occur" (182). If I see Derrida as looking to encode the cultural archive, I see Ramsay on a smaller scale, attempting to show how Derrida's truisms (or at least what I see as truth out of Archive Fever) also function on a smaller scale in data extraction. Both comment on the subjective human-process of patterning and privileging information. 

Serendipity in the Digital Age

I have admitted previously to being somewhat of a skeptic (or, at the very least, a doubter) on the topic of “The Digital”, since I am often finding myself rather alarmed by the rapid progression of technology within what would seem just the past 20 years or so, and regarding which I usually wonder if the benefits of convenience necessarily outweigh the potential negative effects that we perhaps do not even fully understand yet.  I am thus probably a bit of a—gasp—traditionalist, in this respect.  So on some level, the process Stephen Ramsay describes in “In Praise of Pattern” showcases just what I had feared: that much of the purpose of such Digital Humanities projects just might be for the sake of mere curiosity.  What, I was poised to ask, might be the cost of such curiosity for its own sake? (I will still ask this, but maybe with less apparent certainty/disdain, as if I already know the answer, because I honestly don’t.) (I do know, too, that I am oversimplyfying the issue and there are certainly reasons besides curiosity alone, and that curiosity may, in fact, be a blessed thing at times.) After all, Ramsay notes himself that stage directions for Shakespeare’s plays are notoriously sparse, and we also have reason to believe that sets often did not change from scene to scene, instead leaving any mention of a change of scene to the imaginations of the play’s viewers.  He thus explores the fact that in order to explore the topic he was interested in a certain level of guesswork was necessary: And so, faced with this computationally intractable buffet of confusion, I did what any good humanist scholar would do: I guessed” (182).  But for what ultimate purpose is it truly to work at “guessing” in such wise? 

These were my thoughts upon initially encountering Ramsay’s article.  What I didn’t expect, however, was to be struck by the genuine earnestness of his argument.  I found it particularly refreshing what he writes about neutrality, for instance: not that we should strive eternally for neutrality in our work—which I sometimes feel is desired but inevitably impossible—but instead that we should acknowledge openly the inherently subjective nature of something created by another individual person (in this case, software) that even so does not discount the value of one’s work: “This does not imply that the software should be neutral, as many tools and web sites in digital humanities try to be. It cannot be neutral in this regard, since there is no level at which assumption disappears. It must, rather, assert its utter lack of neutrality with candor, so that the demonstrably non-neutral act of interpretation can occur” (182).  Additionally, I was very charmed by the sense of discovery Ramsay describes and claims to experience while occupied in The Search (he even calls these moments of unearthing something new “epiphanies”—as strong a description as I ever heard!), and the very human—even endearing—manner in which he describes first feeling rather sheepish about discussing his curiosity with those outside the field of English, before ultimately finding greater worth in his own internal yearning for discovery.  The candor with which Ramsay discusses the particular scholar’s joy in the serendipitous encounter was, I found, very compelling in this piece, and, from my perspective, quite a nice argument for the worth of such research methods.

Ramsay, Assumptions, and Neutrality

I rather enjoyed the Stephen Ramsay reading and was particularly struck by his perspective on the notion that DH tools and algorithms cannot be objective or neutral, nor should they be. "It cannot be neutral...since there is no level at which assumption disappears. It must, rather, assert its utter lack of neutrality with candor, so that the demonstrably non-neutral act of interpretation can occur" (182). This ties into the topic of selection bias and preservation we were talking about with the archive, but comes up repeatedly in Ramsay's essay as well. He stresses early on that the point of DH is not to find objective answers to interpretive problems, which is an easy leap to make when including algorithms and math into the humanities. Rather, data visualization is another way to present and sort through data that already exists, allowing for new avenues of interpretation of patterns that would be harder to notice otherwise.

It feels good to see a scholar outright acknowledge and interrogate the notion of neutrality in algorithms. As this is all in favor of interpretation and analysis, the tools being used and/or created are being crafted for that specific purpose, and will thus be 'tainted' by our academic assumptions from the outset. People have a tendency to assume algorithms and math are impartial and immune to bias, and it is oddly validating to see Ramsay outright saying that is silly and everything is biased by our assumptions in some way.

Binaries

I'll make this short and sweet. It's yet another Monday and, yes, another blog post in which I will mention that I am, at the moment, very tired and very much fighting the urge to float cartoonlike towards my bed. It is a hard-fought battle, one that I am certain to lose - the question is only when. 

I very much enjoyed the Stephen Ramsay article, specifically when he touches on serendipity (that friend everyone in academia likes to pretend they don't hang out with) and the relationship between the positivism of "real" scientific pursuits and the necessarily interprative quality of literary studies (a relationship that I think is presented rather problematically in the Jockers reading). I feel often that, when prompted or wanting to bolster and defend the sociocultural significance of literature studies, the spectre of STEM lingers in the background and, consequently, any defense of literature is figured necessarily in the comparison between the humanities and the sciences. Thus, Ramsay's ackowledgment of a difference but potential symbiosis between these studies provided a nice moment of optimism. 

I've got some more thoughts but I'll save those for class tomorrow. The battle is over. Therefore, time for sleep. 

Patterns and Evidence

(Full disclosure, the download link for the Ramsay reading was not working, so I went online and found a copy of his article "In Praise of Pattern.")

I read the Ramsay first, and it read as a great example of the type of methodological write-up that I would want to turn into Dr. Drouin for our final semester projects. It was easy to read, he had quite a few lit-nerd jokes in there, and I walked away understanding his central premise. That is, we can use digital humanities to find larger strokes in the source texts (in Ramsay's case, the use of scenes in Shakespeare's plays and how it differed over genres), but those larger strokes don't necessarily scientifically prove anything out of hand. So what if comedies, tragedies, romances, and history plays have a different average of different scene locations? To say that the scene variance means something thematically is not, then, a scientific argument. It is a literary/humanistic interpretation of the fact that comedies, tragedies, etc. have a differing amount of locations. Ramsay is, essentially, making sure that we understand what the tools digital humanities scholars give us. They give us hard, scientific data, yes. But they do not give us the key to some unimpeachable literary position. Our theses, our journal articles, those are still the same interpretative statements that we have been making since the dawn of the academy.

The Jockers seems to easily line up with this. Jockers spends time stating that digital humanities tools are, essentially, strip-mining texts for broad tendencies. Digital humanities is, essentially, best used for gathering evidence on a large scale, and less useful for taking on the intricacies of a single novel. It makes sense on a certain level -- why use text miners on a 50-page short story when you could be using them on an author's (or authors') body of text? Again, what you find doesn't necessarily prove anything out of hand. But you can use them as keystones to search out material in the text, or alongside material in the text, to formulate your opinion and lend it the weight of scientific evaluation.

The biggest thing I take away from these readings is that I want my project for the semester to focus on collating/interpreting a large collection of data. My focus on late Victorian/early Modern texts will make that an easy ask when Project Gutenberg .txt files exist. They are, also, an important reminder that a English scholar in digital humanities cannot forget their roots in literary criticism. Graphs don't mean anything without the interpretation that we do everyday, and the data we uncover does not limit our ideas. As Ramsay says, "We are so careful with our software and with our mathemat-ics—so eager to stay within the tightly circumscribed bounds of what the data “allows”—that we are sometimes afraid (or we forget) that all of this is meant to lead us to that area of inquiry where such caution and such tentativeness has no place."

Discussing Derrida and Decay

Before this week I hadn't read much Derrida, and I surprisingly found our section of Archive Fever this week quite interesting (I also hope this was the correct reading, since I wasn't sure about page numbers!). The aspect of Derrida's that I found most compelling is his discussion of why we archive the way that we do; from whence does this urge to catalog pour fourth?  What drives our seemingly inherent completionism?  In Archive Fever, Derrida asserts that archiving is an attempt to work against the impending and ever-present threat of loss.

Although this thought has permeated much of our discussion this class, I was quite struck by it here.  Of late I've been considering the processes of loss and mourning, and wondering about how these might filter into all of a life that ever in a process of decay.  Fascinatingly, Derrida suggests that one of the ways we might combat this knowledge of decay and impermanence is through the archive, for indeed:

“There would indeed be no archive desire without the radical finitude, without the possibility of a forgetfulness which does not limit itself to repression. Above all, and this is the most serious, beyond or within this simple limit called finiteness or finitude, there is no archive fever without the thread of this death drive, this aggression and destruction drive” (19).

As we have been working through various journals and other archives lately, and further discussung just how fluid, subjective, and difficult the archival process is, I've personally been hit with a few doubts as to the possibility of ever "properly" documenting or archiving anything.  What is the purpose, after all, if one cannot be sure that their attempt at presevration is ever good enough?  But when considering the possibility that we archive to work against the decay of an inherently physical, this process begins to take on new significance for me, and I almost begin to feel a greater respect for the yearning expressed in the attempt than for the result itself.

Two Masses and Voyant tool

I tried to make a comparison between two issues of Mases. One is issue of June, 1914, and the other one is issue of June, 1915. One of the most salient characteristics in frequency of words was the use of the word 'women' and 'men'. The frequent words in Masses of 1914 showed both 'men' and 'women' in a similar ratio, but in case of 1915 issue, I could only find the word men occurred frequently. I want to ask about the reason for this difference of frequency in words of men and women, because this would implicate the relationship between class and women. In addition, in the issue of 1914, I could find some words related to the nationality such as Mexico, and American, but in the issue of 1915, I could not find such words. It seems important theme to me, because this can be an evidence of the fact that the magazine also tries to encompass different social movements in different countries. Both of two issues seem to focus on the word ‘masses’ and ‘new’. From this idea, I could find the fact that the magazines seem to focus on the movement of masses and making a new change in the society and I want to study more about this.

 

https://voyant-tools.org/?corpus=35656c0d778e402b90e1fd908408b708

https://voyant-tools.org/?corpus=a0ad76061cedf99cff8b30c61951abba

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