Augmenting Realities

Lit 80, Fall 2013

Macroanalysis thoughts

In my opinion, data encompasses all things that can be considered information. Information can vary in type and scope, and by looking at it from different angles we can reach different conclusions about its nature. Distant reading, or “macroanalysis” focuses on understanding beyond the minutia of individual works but rather more general understanding of a larger class – such as a genre or time period [1]. Just as close, detailed reading has it’s merits in understanding the implications of a particular work, macroanalysis can give understanding to it’s context. Take for example the use of macroanalysis to identify J.K Rowling as the author of the crime novel “The Cuckoo’s Calling” [2]. The book was released under a pseudoname, but by comparing it to Rowling’s other books using macroanalysis techniques, like comparing word length and adjacency.  Projects like Google N-Grams and roadtrip maps are useful because they provide visual context to a large amount of data. As a result, we can see relationships that would not so easily be spotted in close reading. In the n-gram project, we can see the relationship and uses of words across time periods in literature. We can make conclusions based on the use and disuse of a word over time, like the rise in the use of cities during the industrial period. Projects like these augment scholarship in a scope sense. They allow us to step further back and approach genres rather than particular pieces of literature. I don’t think they necessarily augment reality – but provide a new way of visualizing it.




Big data is just a tool

We live in an age when digital devices is everywhere. We live with our computers, phones, cameras that all can convert the analog signals into digital signals. In this way massive data are produced everyday which seem to be messy but can be powerful by data mining. We call this big data.

Before the discussion of big data, we have to figure out what is data. Data do not equal information. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, Data are information that are readable to machines. Or in other words, data are collection of 0’s and 1’s that carry information. So books are not data until someone like Google digitalize them. With massive data that seem to be messy for human, the most important thing is how to make use of them. There are many projects such as Understanding Shakespeare, MoEML and Google ngram Viewer show effective ways to make use of big data by data mining and infographics.

But as for doing literature study with big data, there are some scholars like Jean-François Lyotard claim their radical idea that this will destroy the humanity behind literature. I understand their concerns but they are really overreacted. Big data is just a tool used for literature study that can gives us a different view of literature. We use big data but we do not deny the importance of human in literature study. We use Google ngram Viewer to do literature study or technically macroanalysis but that does not mean that our scholars all retire and let machines do everything. The human is always dominating the study of literature but with a modern and powerful tool to see hidden aspects that cannot be found without big data. So our scholars get a powerful tool rather than become slaves of machines.


“Data.” Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 4 Oct. 2013. <>.

Understanding Shakespeare. <>

MoEML. MoEML. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2013. <>.

Google Ngram Viewer. Computer software. Google Ngram Viewer. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2013. <>.

“Literature Is Not Data: Against Digital Humanities |.” N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2013. <>.

Jockers, Matthew L. “On Distant Reading and Macroanalysis.” Web log post.Matthew L Jockers. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2013. <>.

Is Literature Data?

Is literature data? Yes and no.

From a layman’s perspective, no.  The fact is that nobody except critics of digital humanities has ever seriously considered this question. We were all brought up believing that every literature piece we read and see, whether fiction, non-fiction, poetry or prose, is an artistic piece that reflects the author’s intentions, aspirations and quite possibly hidden philosophical ideas. To consider a literature piece just an accumulation of written language symbols, alphabetical letters, individual soundwaves or paint strokes seems absurd to many of us, and fairly so. Literature is in a sense not data because merely analyzing this art in terms of scientific means takes away the most significant aspects of a literature piece: the author’s artistic and creative elements. These factors just cannot be simply “measured” and summarized like it can be done with computer algorithms. In fact, a specific literature work might garner thousands upon thousands of different interpretations, each with it’s own unique analytic aspects, whereas data, with its ultra-clear structure and quantitative properties, might merely yield one result. Stephen Marche, in his critique Literature is not Data, even goes as far as to claim that “the story of literature [regarded as] data is a series of…failures.” [1] Therefore, in this perspective, literature cannot be stringently considered to be data.

We also, however, have to accept the fact that literature works, though fraught with myriads of interpretations, are on the very basic level still a construction of numerous individual aspects that ultimately come together, and that those aspects can be analyzed one by one for finding principle and relationships in a literature piece. Franco Moretti advocated the notion of “distant reading”, which means that we should not interpret written literature in terms of studying specific texts, but “by aggregating and analyzing massive amounts of data.” [1] This may seem a radical proposal, but it does have some meaning attached to it and is a valuable exercise to engage in. Literature pieces themselves have been segmented by people into parts in terms of their many meanings, such as different genres, chapters, settings, plot details, persons (protagonist, antagonist etc.), archetypes, symbols and the list goes on. Furthermore, as books and the like appear more prolifically around us nowadays, it becomes increasingly harder to read and analyze all written text. Data accumulation software and websites such as Google Ngram [2] and Understanding Shakespeare [3] have opened up opportunities for people to achieve their research objectives without having to skim through the information from piles of books. With these new abilities, the digital humanities and its many revolutionary aspects (i.e. distant reading) have practically “augmented” scholarship and reality alike by creating new paths for research, interpretation and exploration both for classical and newly-emerging literature works.


[1] Marche Stephen, Literature is not Data: Against Digital Humanities, Oct. 2, 2013

[2] Google Ngram Viewer, Google Inc., Accessed Oct. 2, 2013.

[3] Understanding Shakespeare, Accessed Oct. 2, 2013.


Literature is Data

In reading the debate over whether or not literature is data I was very confused, possibly because the answer to that question seems so obvious to me.  If we think of a book, for example, as being a work of literature, then we have to acknowledge that literature is at least sometimes data, since we can store all the relevant information about the book on a computer*.  In fact, any piece of literature that can be kept on a hard drive is data.  The real question is whether we can create computer programs that provide meaningful and relevant insights about the works we feed them.

That an algorithmic analysis of literature can be fruitful has already been demonstrated by distant reading, which has already revealed, for example that the frequency of the word “the” changes throughout literary periods[1], or that in the 19th century, the Irish were four times more likely than the English to appear in court on trial for their lives[2].  Insights such as these are certainly relevant to their respective fields, so they augment research in the humanities, and by extension augment reality.


*Ok, we can usually store all relevant information about the book.  If the physical structure of the book is important, then things become more difficult, but I would argue that even in these special cases we either can or will soon be able to fully digitize them.

Is Literature Data?

Sure. But it isn’t just data. Literature, like anything that can leave an impression on someone, is greater than the sum of its parts. But as powerful as it is, literature is certainly made of information, in the same way that people are made of cells. A novel is just a sequence of words and symbols, information that was printed and distributed so that someone could read it and be moved by it. It wouldn’t even be fair to say a particular book is a novel in the truest sense. When my friend talks with me about The Hobbit, he isn’t referring to the battered tome gathering dust on my bookshelf back home. He is referring to the story those weathered pages conveyed to me, as another set of pages did for him. The Hobbit itself is just a very specific idea, an object without a body. Transmission of information is literature’s modus operandi, its only way to exist.

So of course data is an integral part of literature. We can study literature as information without compromising its deeper meaning just as we can study biology without compromising our identities as people. New ways of viewing literature, like distant reading, allow us to view this information in ways that are only just now becoming possible. We can observe trends across entire genres, which has already been attempted has never truly be feasible before. Even the most well-read scholar could only possibly have personally read a fraction of any major genre. This scholar can only claim to know about the genre in general by learning what other scholars think about its remaining items, filtered through all of their biases and misrecollections. This isn’t true knowledge of the genre, just a copy of a copy of a copy. Scholars make their best inferences based on what they know. When they are drawing from a sufficiently large data pool, we can assume that their conclusions are reasonable enough. But with distant reading we may at last be able to conclusively say what characterizes a gothic novel, or the zeitgeist of the 1920’s, or the answers to any number of other questions that we can’t properly conceive of just yet.

We can now identify an author as a pen name for J.K. Rowling through forensic analysis. This probably seems cold and calculating to some, but it is just a new way of looking at information that people notice all time. Most people can do an impression of a friend’s style of speaking, or correctly identify a book’s author by reading a few passages. We recognize linguistic trends.  We don’t do this in an effort to break the world down into data, but there are patterns in language that we notice without any particular effort. Now that we are casting a more rigorous analytical eye to literature, we may be able to finally put a name to those ineffable qualities that make up style.

The process of distant reading may seem inane now, since it’s producing things like statistics on the usage of the word “the”.  But it shows that patterns exist which we have not been able to see before, and that we can develop the tools to make sense of them. As we get more familiar with the process of examining large bodies of literature, we should expect to find fascinating patterns which we may not have thought to look for 15 years ago, or even have the vocabulary to describe today. The conception of literature as data is not a threat to literary tradition. It is a tool for augmenting reality.

LA Game Space

I recently downloaded a really, really cool game pack from LA Game Space, a nonprofit, interdisciplinary center for art, design, and research. They got some great developers, artists, and creative minds (including Pendleton Ward, the genius behind Adventure Time) to help develop some really cool independent games that I think fit really well with this course, or at least the types of games we tried out in class. They are all over the place, and mess with perception, perspective, and even how you input controls . 30 different games were released in a game pack that was supported by a kickstarter campaign.

Experimental Game Pack 01

This video is the promotional teaser for the games, and the second link shows some videos of a few games as well as descriptions of the others:
Experimental Game Pack 01

Game Pack Description

If any of these games interest you, or you want to try them out, let me know. They’re definitely worth playing around with.

Is Literature Data?

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.

Literature as data?

The question of literature being data brings up a lot of controversy depending on who you ask. To answer this question, one must define what data is. Data does not really have a set definition, and can vary depending on what kind of data you are talking about. In terms of data being a quantitative set of points that can be analyzed, I argue that everything is data. Therefore literature is data. But I don’t believe that treating literature as data is ‘the end of the book as we know it’ as Stephen Marche believes. Treating literature as data, or distant reading literature and other forms of writing adds to  the experience one can attain from reading. But distant reading and treating literature as data is completely optional, a practice that one can abstain from if they chose. In that way, books can have a multidimensional character to them that can allow a literary scholar to simply analyze the text of a novel, while a digital scholar could analyze the word count and frequency of that same novel. Both people could come to significantly different conclusions of the meaning of the novel, but this just adds to the creativity the author put into it rather than taking away anything. Distant reading and treating literature as data can only add to the experience of reading, and can give us a grasp of ideas that could not have been discovered with just human brainpower. Tools like Google N-Gram, or text analysis of ‘JK Rowling’ novels use the idea of distant reading and the data in literature to elucidate complex patterns that show real meanings. Projects like these, especially Google N-Gram, augment scholarship by analyzing sets of data that are so large and impossible for one person or even universities of people to analyze by themselves. Through digitizing and searching over 6% of all literature ever published, N-Gram gives us insights into times of history when record-keeping only took place in literature. It allows us a holistic insight into periods of history, that could only be achieved in the past by reading as many books from that time as possible. Now we have libraries upon libraries at our finger tips.

Literature as Data: Expanding our Literary Experiences

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. .

Video Game Flow Chat

Hey Everyone,


I randomly came across this so I wanted to share. It reminded me of how we were discussing interactive and impassive video games, but this gets very specific.

I included the actual image and site where I found it.




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