The rise of the abstract model

After reading many books that made us philosophise about the implications of new technologies and media and their possible uses to Digital Humanities, we have got to one that shows the practical uses of applying computational analysis to literature.  This is Franco Moretti‘s Graphs, Maps and Trees. Abstracts Models for Literary History (2005).  However, he won’t mention computers as the needed tool to create a new envisioning of literary history.

First of all, the nature of this kind of study  is going to interconnect shapes, relations, structures, forms and models – connections that have been avoided in literary studies. Moretti believes in the many possibilities that the natural and social sciences can offer to our field as models, though abstract, can show “what literary history has accomplished so far (not enough), and … what still remains to be done (a lot)” (2). Hooray! I think this statement is sufficient enough for the book to be read, as it tells us humanists that we can still have a future, unlike those claiming that it is a field on its deathbed. But that is not the point today. Lets see how the author exemplifies how his abstractions can “widen the domain of the literary historian” (2).

Why turn to graphs? Because their quantitative approach (besides empowering cooperation) can force the study of the collective system of published works. It can lead to the discovery of new facts regarding literature as a whole – for studying the canonical works does not show the complete literary field and its collective system. In order to provide an example of the extent of this type of work he focuses on the so called the rise of the novel. Graphs allow the study of its pattern as a whole, or cycle, in Britain, India, Spain, etc. Genres being the primary cycle that produce the rises and falls on the graph. This allows to theorise about the longevity of genres along history. “Is the wave-like pattern a sort of hidden pendulum of literary history?” asks Moretti (18). Unlike what could be interpreted by the hegemonic market system, a study of data shows that over 44 genres play their part on 160 years: they cluster both to rise and to fall. Another question arises then: why the clustering? Audiences/generations; or ideologies; or none of them. Data doesn’t offer the why directly. These cycles indicate “a conflict that remains constant throughout the period” (Pomian, 117). Like the discussion about the bleeding death and rebirth of Humanities. Like Doctor Who’s regenerations over his 50 years on TV.

Now, the book brings us to maps. Or, better put, diagrams (check Carmen’s post for further reading). What knowledge can diagrams add to literary studies? In his first example Moretti demonstrates that the space of narrative can take several different shapes. In this case it takes a circular one and, as with data, this allows further exploration of the literary system. Maps are not “already an explanation; but at least it shows us that there is something that needs to be explained” (39). They can elucidate those experiences of social systems in the past, that we usually want to analyse in books, in order for us to understand how people framed their thinking, their ideologies. A map (see Christaller’s Central Places in Souther Germany) in which it is possible to see that daily life needs no big urban space – till things changed. Commerce and industry develop and with them the central region gives way to stronger, or new, networks and grapevines. Interconnections that pluralize needs, novelties, products, memories, emigration, crime, repression. The village against the city, the province in between. These kind of maps are going to show “a matrix of relations, not a cluster of individual locations” (54). And I reckon he has a point here: with maps we can easily visualize the connections as a matrix, a diagram of forces, in order to establish the meaning of society as a collective realm.

The third diagram in the party is the morphological one: the tree.  How are they practical to literary studies? Well, “a tree is a way of sketching how far a certain language has moved from another one, or from their common point of origin. And if language evolves by diverging, why not literature too?” (70). Interesting point of view, for he compares Darwin’s natural selection to languages and literature; “literary survival” (71) he calls it. When “a genre is visualized as a tree […] the genre becomes an abstract ‘diversity spectrum’, whose internal multiplicity no individual text will ever be able to represent” (76). No particular work can stand as the representative of the genre. Like graphs, trees can show the entire compound of literature – as “technology-of-language” (80)- to manifest the barriers in culture and their transformations. In the end, this creates a new conception: the study of literature both as it “moves for forwards and sideways” (91), being inclusive to all the participants in the corpus.

All in all, I loved the book! The reason why I liked it is because Moretti gives a great example of how to apply these abstracts approaches to literature. They can change -not that the traditional models are wrong- our theories, redesign them. Also, he doesn’t get lost in without actually showing himself in the kind of desperate need of  attention to computing/coding/digital/maths that I noticed on other writers, and that made their text somehow muzzy.

And because Whovians have created a lot of graphs, and maps, and trees, and diagrams, about their favourite show, which is on its 50th anniversary now, and has this “conflict that remains constant throughout the period” a little video I post.

Setting Balance Between the Parts: the Human and the Digital

Reading Walter Benjamin‘s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” for week, I have again had an understanding towards media that makes it a tool towards our control. This literary critic and philosopher takes the cinema as one of the biggest challenges to art since it changed reproductivity of the world. With mechanization came a new form of reproduction. It was no longer something manual that took human exertion. By creating a product generated by the sum of little reproductions, its artistic value moved from an individual devotion to a communal exhibition. As a consequence, a new force was given to art: political function. Let’s see.

The characteristics of film lie not only in the manner in which man presents himself to mechanical equipment but also in the manner in which, by means of this apparatus, man can represent his environment (16).

Here, I understand that one of the main functions of art in terms of its presence in society of art is to set up a balance between the human and the system (the apparatus). This would sound familiar if you read my last post, where I quote Moretti‘s notion that “the substantial function of literature is to secure consent.” Real consentire (together+feel), is attained only by guaranteeing a balance between the parts. But, how can be get balance in this age of technology where the content is so much limited for each individual? Surely, it is impossible to “make of the entire globe, and of the human family, a single consciousness” (61) as McLuhan wonders. 

In an attempt to exemplify the difference between a sculptor, a writer, a photographer, and an actor, Benjamin takes us to literature, as an art. While in the old days there were just a bunch of authors who exhibited their works in front of a rather big audience, thanks to the press those readers were able to become authors. This led to a blurred line between writer and reader, for the later was able to get some knowledge of the craft. Taking into account that literary competence became polytechnic, it was possible for literature to be a “common property.”

And I ask myself…since being able to use media or computers is also a polytechnical competence, is new technology a “common property” that can help us all? Is it building a balance? Each day, a bigger number of people use technology and become writers as they can post, comment on news, chat, show their daily routines, etc. Nonetheless, if “mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art” (Benjamin, 15), isn’t media changing the reaction of humans towards art, life, and more importantly, self-consciousness? That’s dangerous, innit?

Internet access is now, in my opinion, overrated. We certainly have access to more information and research, we can text our roommate, who is sitting next door, or video call our family, that is thousands of kilometers away. That’s really nice, because I do both things.

Nevertheless, like cinema – which is not a so much a common property as it has distorted reality with its huge apparatus of publicity,- social media is the goose that laid golden eggs, but not all the glitter is gold. First, in spite of the ability to use Internet as a encyclopedia to learn about basically anything, users tend to focus their attention towards their main interest. It closes the scope of self-consciousness in that we cannot be aware of our position within a whole community (Benjamin posses this idea when arguing that capitalist driven cinema can make audiences oblivious to their social class or position). Moreover, unlike the common perception that we are all being turned into a homogenous and beautiful world, smaller cliques are created. Both set apart, cordoned off from each other in some cases.

Between 1963 and 1968, Pierre Bourdieu carried out a research to demonstrate that personal taste is driven by education and social class, and, thus, exclusion. “Tastes are the practical affirmation of an inevitable difference. It is no accident that, when they have to be justified, they are asserted purely negatively, by the refusal of other tastes” (56). With it a conflict of the legitimacy of culture is created. Thus, since it is the ruling class who has access to knowledge, it is going to govern the tastes. And as distinction is declared, distance between the groups, the classes, the cliques is increased. No homogeneity here.

Finally, I would like to try to connect all the above said with Humanities and Digital Humanities. So, the first is, I guess, the ruling class in this case, for it has centuries of tradition to back up their reasonings. Humanities are a “common property” for they study human knowledge and benefit humanity. DH, on the other hand, use technology as an approach to that human knowledge and, since technology is seen as a force that is changing perception, the DH is disregarded by H. But, if human perception is changing, Humanities should study the new variation, right?. How are they going to do it if they don’t pay attention to computers? As Humanists, there should be an awareness of the danger in making a distinction between one and the other. H has to take into account new media. Only in such a manner it would be able to comprehend self-consciousness of the 21st century on. For that is the only way to gain balance between the human and the apparatus.

Works cited and further reading:

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” (1936). Web.

Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. 1979. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extension of Man. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1997.

Moretti, Franco. “The Soul and the Harpy.” From Signs Taken for Wonders. 1988. Web.

El protagonista de la Feria de Durango 2009

La ceremonia de inauguración de la Feria Nacional del Libro Durango 2009 se realizó en el patio principal de Palacio de Gobierno y contó con personalidades del ámbito entre las que destaca  una de las figuras literarias más importantes del México contemporáneo, el escritor, cronista y crítico Carlos Monsiváis.

En la feria del presente año se han ofertado más de 20 mil títulos de poco más de 150 sellos editoriales. Además de las actividades propias del edificio Landako, la Feria ha programado más actividades culturales que nunca. Ahotsenea, el espacio de literatura infantil, la sala de presentaciones y el Elkartegia han acogido más de 100 espectáculos y representaciones, teniendo todo una buena acogida por parte del público. También es de destacar la presencia de la cultura Catalana -cuya intención es seguir participando en las próximas ediciones gracias a las ayudas en la traducción y la presencia de autores catalanes.

Pero sin duda alguna, la gran novedad y protagonista de este año ha sido la presentación del libro digital o ebook. Y es que como explican el presidente de la Asociación de Editores Vascos y editor de Alberdania, Jorge Jiménez, ; Enric Faura, responsable del portal; e Ignacio Latasa, director de Leer-e, empresa distribuidora del lector electrónico, el libro digital aspira a convertirse en algo imprescindible para los usuarios de la cultura escrita.

Aunque es “un mercado que todavía no ha explotado” y que aún falta tiempo para que se consolide, el e-reader va a suponer una revolución en el mundo editorial. Ignacio Latasa afirma, como ya veníamos discutiendo en anteriores artículos, que el e-book no es una amenaza para los libros de papel y no va a suponer la desaparición del “formato tradicional”. Por otra parte, recomienda acercarse al stan del azoka (feria) para informarse, y afirma que por lo general, el libro digital está teniendo muy buena aceptación.

Dichos stans eran informativos y aunque también se han vendido títulos, la funcion de los puestos era acercar a los ciudadanos a la nueva forma de lectura e invitar a comprar un libro aunque no se tenga el lector, ya que se puede leer en el ordenador.

La feria ha cerrado sus puertas tras cinco días con una valoración muy positiva a pesar de la presente crisis.


El libro digital, protagonista de la Azoka de Durango. Visitado el 20/12/2009, 20:34

Inauguran la Feria Nacional del Libro Durango 2009 Visitado el 20/12/2009, 20:35

Cierra sus puertas la 44 edición de la Feria de Durango Visitado el 20/12/2009

A blog as a literary genre

¿Are posts a brand new literary genre? Maybe, but not yet.

Thanks to the web2.0 today it is possible for almost everyone to have our own Blog. And there people can write about their life, worries, ask somebody for advice, share images or whatever we can imagine. But the amazing point is that nowadays more and more good writers appear on the Internet.

But, which are the consequences on this use, different from the common one? We know that with new technologies, written text have come into digital information. And so has done the literature. This new way of writing can combine text, images and even music at the same time; with it, authors can play with the literary creation. Electronic text is called hipertext and it base is the principle of association and there is no line way as in a book. Then we have two types of hypertext:

  • Static edition: A CD for example, we can not change what it has, and the limit is what the computer can read.
  • Dynamic edition: Internet, where is a wide range of possibilities.

Another important point in literature on the Internet, is that the reader is asked to be selective, capable to relate information and to decide his own route. This is because through the different links on a text, we can go directly to the information we are interested at. Furthermore, there is no tyrannical voice. In a blog, the writer create a story, but ask his readers their opinion -which they can write straight away- or even there are more than one writers.

Taking this points into account we conclude that on the one hand it is obvious that we can find blogs use as literature sources, were no published writers can find a way to their popularity; but, on the other hand, this new method will in a future coexist with the traditional book. The choice will be in our hands: paper or screen.