Archive for October, 2011


Mapping the Steps Saussure Would Take

Step 1) First a Semiotician would read the words on the page and identify the location of the signs in the text.

Step 2) Next an image must come to mind in relation to these symbols, of which one at a time, the reader must ponder.

Step 3) Next the word’s meaning is determined based on a compare and contrast system. We eliminate all the things that the word is not, and eventually determine what it is.

Step 4) One must keep in mind that the signs used in writing are arbitrary and that the value of the letters themselves is purely negative as well.

Step 5) After performing steps 1-4 for each line individually, bring the entire piece together in a similar fashion.

Web Wednesday : Annotating Shakespeare (10/19)

O how shall summer’s honey breath hold out

When it comes to the article in “Shakespeare’s Sonnets” about piece 65, there are things a New Critic would agree with and things that the same critic would not. For example, the critic would applaud the post’s straightforward – line by line, at some points even word by word – breakdown of the text. Yet because these critics believe in excluding historical context from their analysis, they would not be a fan of the way the post explains the word “o’serways” in line two, especially when they tell the reader that the word is not used often in the present time. A new critic would look at the word, see what it means, and just take it as that.

Another example of an explicitly non-new criticism is the breakdown of line 5, which reads “O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out”. In the analysis the writers of the post focus heavily on the connotation of the individual words, and in this, imply a sense of interoperation from the reader, which new criticism prohibits.
The post is inconsistent though in the way that it shifts from purely connotative analysis to denotative anaylsis and back. For example, a new critic would enjoy reading the first few sentences of the post’s analysis of line 6, which describes the line “Against the wrackful siege of battering days,” by defining the word “wrackful”. The next few lines though, give historical context, which new critics loathe.

Overall, there are an equal number of aspects, I believe, of this analysis that new critics would applaud and despise. The tedious breakdown of individual lines and words would put a grin on any new critic’s face. Yet at the same time, some of the techniques used in this breakdown and analysis would leave those same critics scratching their heads.

A Semiotician would not advocate such an intensely close reading as a New Critic would. instead of meticulously breaking down each word, a semiotician will go for more of an overview of the poem, and in this overview, identify the important signs in the text.

After coming across the necessary sign, an image will then surface in the mind of the Semiotician, giving the reader a picture on which to base his interpretation of the word off of. For example, the phrase “summer’s sweet honey breath” in the annotated line above. Based on this sentence, we can picture the scene; sun shining, a warm breeze blowing through the clear skies, just over the fresh green grass.

This is what we think of, next we need to determine why. We can identify “summer” as “warm and pleasant” because we know winter is not these things. We also know that fall and spring are seasons that can have aspects of both warm and cold weather. Because we know that the season in question is not winter, fall or spring, we can assume it is summer, the time of warm air and beach days and pleasantries.

This view of summer allows us to successfully comphrend the rest of the line. Because the “sweet, honey breath” flows through summer, we know that it must be a warm, happy wind. It is not the brutal gusts of winter or the chilly winds of early spring and late fall. By a process of elimination and the image the sentence painted, we are able to successfully comprehend the line.

Adding the Digital Humanities to Richter’s Map

I think it’s fair to say that there is no one place the digital humanities can fall under on Richter’s map of literary theory.  Instead, there are undeniably qualities of different digital humanities tools that can fall into different sections of the map.  For example, the Ngram, which is nothing more than a statistical analysis of a text against others, has elements that would categorize it under the formal theory, which takes a quasi-sceintific approach to literature.  To me, analysis and line graphs scream “science”.  But then there’s the Wordle, a strictly visual tool that I’m not sure fits in anywhere on Richter’s map.  Then again, it has elements of the rhetorical approach, which stresses the relationship between art and audience.  If you can create art using words in a text, there is definitely a relationship  present between reader and literary work.  What seems pretty clear to me is that there is significantly less evidence tying the digital humanities to the expressive approach to literary theory.  There is not much in the way of author-work relationship when using the digital humanities.  In the experience in this class anyway, it has seemed much more audience-work driven.

Review of Web Wednesdays

Today we saw the introduction of the Wordle and the Ngram.  Both interesting tools, no doubt about that.  The Wordle is a program that takes a slew of texts and arranges the most prominent words in that text into a eye-pleasing image, one whose arrangement is based on the frequency of the individual words in question.  For example, one of the largest word in my Wordle was “Jupiter”, the name of one of the main characters in my story.  The Ngram, on the other hand, is a tool that analyzes word frequency data in published literature over time and expresses the data in line graph form.  You can search certain words in certain years and come up with some pretty impressive patterns.  I was very impressed by the Ngram.  It seemed like an extremely advanced system, one with a lot of educational background and purpose.  The data it spits out has historical definition, which is useful and interesting.  The Wordle, on the other hand, frankly, I thought just made a cool picture.


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