Reading from a distance: computational text analysis with Voyeur and its implications on literary criticism.

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  • Computing has had a transformative effect on the natural and applied sciences, yet humanists remain skeptical of the benefits that digital technologies can have on their work. If they do, in fact, understand what computer-mediated text analysis offers, they imagine its effect limited to mere counting of word use. While word count is certainly a component text analysis, I believe that literary scholars can gain new insights and understandings of texts they study by employing text analysis tools like Voyeur. Using these tools has several advantages for literary researchers: ability to process large amounts of text, speed of analysis, and creative new avenues for examination. Computational text analysis is often seen in opposition to a “holistic” method of close reading of literary texts most often employed by academics, as it breaks apart the narrative and seems to go against the humanist methodology. However, while disassembling the text, as if into blocks of Lego, may not necessarily lead immediately to its understandings, it is likely to contribute to the cumulative experience of the text in new ways. As such, text analysis can be used to analyze and explore formal qualities of literary texts, attribute authorship, and demonstrate rhetoric and theme construction over the entire body of an author’s work. In fact, in this paper, I argue that using text analysis tools like Voyeur allows the scholar to construct a new interpretive and engaging model of the literary text that emphasizes the critical process of reading that is the result of the interaction between the reader and the text.

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    Conference/Workshop Presentation
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    Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 International