Our class reading of Matthew L. Jockers’ Macroanalysis: Digital Methods & Literary History (http://www.matthewjockers.net/macroanalysisbook/ ; http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/88wba3wn9780252037528.html) lead to lively discussions of many of the topics raised by this book. In this blog post, I would like to focus on a few points that particularly interested me.
Close reading vs. macroanalysis (or Moretti’s “distant reading”)
While we certainly discussed this topic, there are two quotes that I would like to address further.
“These examples underscore how the micro scale (that is, close reading) must be contextualized by the macro scale…” (91)
One of the contentious aspects (perhaps especially for literary scholars) of a certain form of digital humanities revolves around the topic of close reading. Some digital humanists seem to argue that close reading is no longer necessary – we probably think immediately of Franco Moretti, for instance in his Distant Reading (2013) (http://www.versobooks.com/books/1421-distant-reading), although in Macroanalysis Jockers’ argues that this is a misunderstanding of Moretti’s point of view (48) – a perspective that concerns many who study literature. In Macroanalysis, however, Jockers offers a method that is clearly more balanced, when he argues that close reading and macroanalysis are two complementary approaches. More specifically, as per the previously cited explanation, close readings are considered microanalyses that occur within the larger context of the macroanalysis. To me, using digital humanities tools for the purpose of elucidating the more wide-reaching context of several literary texts appears advantageous as an addition or complement to the close reading of those specific texts.
A second quote helps calm certain other concerns I have had concerning the idea of trends discovered via such a macroanalysis:
“When considering these findings, it is important to remain mindful of the exceptions. These are macro trends we have been exploring, and they provide a generalized view of the whole. These are not necessarily the tendencies of individual authors or even of individual books” (153).
Once again, the balanced nature of this argument – that macroanalyses can provide information on general tendencies but that this does not contradict the variations of specific texts or authors in relation to these trends – reassures me that the introduction of digital tools does not necessarily require an “overthrowing” of the literary analysis tools and perspectives many of us have only used up until recently. In the context of my own research, for instance, I do see how a macroanalysis through digital means of a large body of texts could provide an overarching context for the more specific close readings of the particular texts that are a part of my thesis corpus.
Further, in writings on digital humanities, discussions of the relation between microanalysis and context is quite common, and that in a variety of circumstances. Tara McPherson, in her “Why Are the Digital Humanities So White? or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation” in Debates in the Digital Humanities (http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/29), argues for the need to embrace a certain idea of macroanalysis when she writes, “our very scholarly practices tend to undervalue broad contexts…” (154). Similarly, although concerning a quite different topic, Elizabeth Losh (see “Hacktivism and the Humanities: Programming Protest in the Era of the Digital University,” also in Debates in the Digital Humanities (http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/32)) describes the work of literary scholars analyzing an instance of hacktivism as follows: they “have focused on close reading the text of the actual computer code generated by the [hacktivist groups…], while also acknowledging the importance of ‘reframing’ code and thus preserving the ‘context of its circulation and creation’ (Marino)” (172).
Such comments and my previous reflections lead to more questions: What are the roles of micro- and macroanalyses in Digital Humanities? And, more broadly, what are the roles of micro- and macroanalyses in the Humanities as a whole?