“…using computation, and reframing the scale of literary inquiry, are two distinct things.”

Given all of the possibilities digital text creates for address (Witmore), I really appreciated the pieces from this week that trouble text analysis by questioning the over-reliance on computational methods to conduct it. 

By re-centering the physical book and its susceptibility, as it regards analysis, Witmore and the essence of the Underwood quotation for the title of this post inspired me to think about the conversation both readings provoke about the limitations of text analysis (as it stands) and why it matters to society at large.

When I think about the salience of distant reading and lemmatization (or categorizing text) as a means to digital text analysis, I am reminded not only of the analytical flaws that are probable in research reliant on it, but that the aggregated processing of information feels predetermined in our data-world. It is not enough to point out the cultural nuances lost in analysis, but that the surveillance and capitalist-driven attitudes toward a rapid, digitized world was widely accepted as an objective route to information and readership alike. 

I can recall very few public discourses that speak to the value of the manuscript such as the one that emerged when Amazon’s Kindle became popular in the late 2000s. While much of it spoke profit margins, modernity, and access (versus institutional research and DH), a handful of arguments advocated for the physicality of books and the analytical processes unique to it that computational analysis is missing.

In advocating for a better addressability in text analysis to yield the qualities associated with analyzing the manuscript, Witmore insists that a phenomenological shift would have to occur: 

“We need a phenomenology of these acts, one that would allow us to link quantitative work on a culture’s “built environment” of words to the kinesthetic and imaginative dimensions of life at a given moment.”

Much like Drucker (2014), there is a cultural address that should precede and become valued by non/DH-ers that concerns the way we analyze textual information as a society — past and present— and that begins with our foundational relationship to text.