Lit 80, Fall 2013

Is Literature Data?

October 4th, 2013 | Posted by Mithun Shetty in Uncategorized

Generally, whether or not literature is data depends on your definition of data. If one is to classify data simply as information that can be quantified or analyzed in some way, then literature would absolutely fit that definition. Data is not just scientific observations, mathematical figures, or sets of graphs – media can be considered data as well. Music, literature, even paintings – one can perform all sorts of analyses on these works to generate data, both quantitative and qualitative. Marche’s article refers to the analysis of literature as data as “distant reading.” While he argues that this type of approach to reading ruins the experience as we know it, I believe that it is instead a different, valuable sub-discipline of literature. Distant reading, or macroanalysis, allows one to have a multidimensional understanding of a work. Its context in a larger literary ecosystem (period in time, cultural significance, etc.) can be understood by treating the book on a more holistic level. One can understand writing styles, forms, and conventions by looking at literature objectively; temporarily staying away from subjective plot or thematic analyses and looking at the mechanical details of literature opens it up to an entirely different type of scholarship, namely digital humanities. This additional perspective on the same work should be welcomed and valued. The projects studied in the course improve the quality of literature scholarship – they are tools we can use to gain another perspective beyond the scope of unassisted brainpower alone. Especially with larger volumes, using tools to perform distant reading can almost instantly compile word patterns, trends, and more and present them in such a way as to facilitate our digestion of the information. In this sense, these projects augment reality. They give us “superpowers” of analysis. They allow us to access an entire history of literature and academia instantly, which would be otherwise impossible.  The most obvious value in using digital tools to analyze literature as data is that it allows us to handle large volumes of information much more easily and efficiently.

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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