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Humanist Archives: Aug. 22, 2021, 7:08 a.m. Humanist 35.199 - pubs: on computation and interpretation

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 199.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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        Date: 2021-08-21 08:01:35+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: computational literary studies

From the latest issue of Critical Inquiry:

John Mulligan, "Computation and Interpretation in Literary Studies" (CI
48.1, Autumn 2021,


> The article suggests that the best examples of textual work in the
> computational humanities are best understood as motivated by
> aesthetic concerns with the constraints placed on literature by
> computation’s cultural hegemony. To draw these concerns out, I adopt
> a middle-distant depth of field, examining the strange epistemology
> and unexpected aesthetic dimension of numerical culture’s encounters
> with literature. The middle-distant forms of reading I examine
> register problematically as literary scholarship not because they
> lack rigor or evidence but because their unacknowledged object of
> study is the infrastructure of academic knowledge production. Work in
> the computational humanities is approaching a point at which the
> scale of analyzed data and data analysis washes out readings, the
> algorithms are achieving opaque complexity, and the analytical
> systems are producing purposive outputs. These problems cannot be
> addressed without attending to the aesthetics of data-driven cultural
> encounters, specifically the questions of how we produce
> readings/viewings and how they change our perceptions and
> characterize the interesting, critical theorization on method and
> meaning that make the best work in the computational humanities
> legitimately humanistic. I contribute a working example: a
> recommendation system for passages within the Shakespearean dramatic
> corpus, built using a large bibliographical dataset from JSTOR, a
> counting/ranking algorithm used at large scale. The system returns
> passages as intertexts for the passage a reader has selected. I
> explain how and why this system provides meaningful intertextual
> connections within the Shakespearean dramatic corpus by tracing the
> legible structural effects of disciplinary knowledge formation on the
> shape of this dataset. I close by suggesting how the computational
> and more traditional methods in the humanities might begin to stop
> debating past one another.

Read it tonight!


Willard McCarty,
Professor emeritus, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist

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