Lit 80, Fall 2013
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Literature as Data: Expanding our Literary Experiences

October 2nd, 2013 | Posted by Kim Arena in Uncategorized

The argument of whether literature is data depends upon the definition of data. Data can be viewed in a negative connotation, in a way that removes the artistic and creative elements and turns something into a quantitative subject. It can also be viewed simply as a form of information, from which we can establish interpretations and analyses that we can learn from. In his article Literature is not Data: Against Digital Humanities, Stephen Marche makes several bold statements claiming the introduction of digital books have brought about the “…end of the book as we know it”. However, digitizing literature offers us an additional medium through which literature can be experienced, analyzed, and interpreted in different ways. It is not the end of the book as we know it, but rather the expansion of the book as we know it. Literature has always been taken apart—quotes, syntax, characters, plots, symbols, themes, and more have been discussed, interpreted, debated, and given meaning since their origin. Digitizing books doesn’t put an end to this kind of thinking, but rather provides tools that allow us to go even further in depth. Digital tools, such as n-gram, allow us to compare thousands of types of literature in seconds. Computer algorithms allow us to delve into details that would take years of collecting and studying to analyze in as little as a few seconds.
Literature has always been data—we have always learned from it and always used it as a tool to examine different elements of writing, human psyche, cultural reflections, and more. Just because there are new means to examining this data doesn’t mean that the old form is nonexistent. The book as we know it today still exists, and personally I prefer reading a hard copy of a book. I can choose not to associate with the digital tools that are being developed and experience books in the more nostalgic form. However, the fact that those digital tools exist provides the opportunity for me to expand my knowledge and understanding of a book, if I choose. Digital tools open the window for books to be examined on a large scale, to go in depth with details, such as word choice, while covering a wide sample, which could range from several works to an entire era’s worth of literature.

Marche, Stephen. “Literature is not Data: Against Digital Humanities.” Los Angeles Review of Books. 28 Oct 2012: n. page. Web. 2 Oct. 2013. .

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