Bode 2017

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Bode, Katherine. "The Equivalence of “Close” and “Distant” Reading; or, Toward a New Object for Data-Rich Literary History." MLQ 78.1 (March 2017): 77-106.

Moretti and Jockers as primary proponents of distant reading; criticisms of them "describe the symptoms -- not the essence -- of a problem, which in fact inheres in Moretti's and Jockers's common neglect of the activities and insights of textual scholarship: the bibliographical and editorial approaches that explore and explicate the literary-historical record. In dismissing the critical and interpretive nature of these activities, and the historical insights they embody, Moretti and Jockers model and analyze literary history in reductive and ahistorical ways. Their neglect of textual scholarship is not an effect of importing data into literary history but is inherited from the New Criticism: contrary to the prevailing view, close reading and distant reading are not opposites. Building on significant—though uneven and unacknowledged—departures from distant reading and macroanalysis by Underwood and other scholars in data-rich literary history, I present the case for a new scholarly object of analysis, modeled on the foundational technology of textual scholarship: the scholarly edition." (78-9)

move in distant reading from literary history to categories of literary analysis

"Moretti's neglect of the scholarly infrastructure supporting his arguments" (81) -- assertions of "comperhensive access to the literary-historical record" (82)

"In presuming to overcome the selections and biases of mass-digitized collections by using analog bibliographies to generate “a random sample” of what was published, the authors overlook that both digitized collections and analog bibliographies are derived from “the archive,” predominantly the collections of the major university libraries." (84)

Moretti and Jockers don't make their data sets available; "Far from an incidental oversight, the refusal to publish data sets maintains the fiction that literary data are prior to interpretation: it removes the need either to describe the procedures for collecting, cleaning, and curating data sets or to expose the inevitablyselective and limited collections resulting from that construction." (85)

"in not recognizing the critical and constructive nature of the scholarly infrastructure they use, Moretti and Jockers ultimately fail to capture the historical nature of literary works and how they connect to produce literary systems." (86)

Drawing on William St. Clair, The Reading Nation and the Romantic Period -- rejects "parade of authors" but also "parliament of texts" approach, where all texts published at a particularly time are taken to be debating each other

"The date of first bok publication overlooks the differeint avilability of literary works in the years after theya re published, and the first book edition is not necessarily -- for manyp eriods is rarely -- the first time a literary work is avialable." (87)

"Where textual scholars accordingly conceptualize literary works as events, unfolding over time and space and gaining different meanings in the connections thereby formed (e.g., Drucker 2009; Eggert 2013), Moretti and Jockers construct literary systems as composed of singular and stable entities while also imagining that they capture the complexity of such systems in the process." (88)

"Where distant reading and macroanalysis are celebrated—or decried—for their departure from close reading, these approaches share a disregard for textual scholarship and an assumption that literary works are stable and singular entities. Close reading is largely protected from the worst consequences of these underlying assumptions by the documentary and infrastructural context in which it occurs." (91)

"What literary history needs is not close or distant reading, or a simple integration of the two, but a new scholarly object for representing literary works in their historical context, one capable of managing the documentary record’s complexity, especially as it is manifested in emerging digital knowledge infrastructure. Building on existing work in digital humanities, I adapt the theory and practice of the scholarly edition to mass-digitized collections and to the modeling of literary systems on that basis." (91)

"A broader way of expressing the point is to say that outcomes of analysis are inevitably tied to the object analyzed. When a gap exists between the contemporary object assessed and the historical object it supposedly represents—and when the critic is unconscious or dismissive of that gap—no degree of nuance or care in the reading can supply that historical meaning." (93)

Calls to integrate close and distant reading -- "But the focus on methodological capacities or limitations overlooks the lack of an appropriately historicized object for data-rich analysis, more specifically the fact that producing such an object is itself a critical and interpretive enterprise. 14 Lack of a scholarly object capable of representing literary-historical systems—that is, literary works that circulated and generated meaning together at particular times and places—is the real reason it has proved so difficult, in practice if not in theory, to integrate data-rich and traditional methods for literary-historical investigation." (94) -- yes!

"Where Moretti and Jockers assume that works first published around the same time and by authors of the same nation automatically constitute a literary system, other projects model literary systems in terms of specific spatial, temporal, and social interconnections between literary works." (95) -- opportunity for feminist historiography

"Ultimately, neither the analog record nor the digital one offers an unmediated and comprehensive view of the literary-historical record; both are partial, and not necessarily in complementary ways. The nature of the challenge thereby facing data-rich literary history—of proposing a historically coherent whole (a literary system) from a collection, or collections, of parts (the disciplinary infrastructure and the literary data and digitized documents it presents)—also suggests the means of meeting it." (96)

"Applied to the literary system, the scholarly edition offers a framework for acknowledging that models of literary systems are not simply arguments about the existence of literary works in the past; they are arguments made with reference to the bibliographies and collections, analog and digital, that transmit historical evidence of those works and their inter-relationships, and to the interpretive processes that translate that evidence into literary data." (96-7)

Using her own curated data set of 19c fiction published in australian newspapers as example

"Grounding data-rich literary history in scholarly editions of literary systems emphasizes that constructing literary data is just as much an interpretive and critical activity as its analysis and that the historical nuance of such analyses foundationally depends on the historical knowledge embedded in those constructions." (101)