Literary Computing and Literary Criticism: Theoretical and Practical Essays on Theme and Rhetoric

Literary Computing and Literary Criticism: Theoretical and Practical Essays on Theme and Rhetoric

Literary Computing and Literary Criticism: Theoretical and Practical Essays on Theme and Rhetoric

Literary Computing and Literary Criticism: Theoretical and Practical Essays on Theme and Rhetoric

Synopsis

How computational analysis can yield significant insights into texts. These essays show that literary computing enables close examination of theme and rhetoric, and vastly expands the amount of data available to the thoughtful critic. Includes a carefully compiled bibliography. Annotation copyright

Excerpt

The mystiques of computer science and literary criticism differ considerably. These disciplines appear to stand at opposite extremes of knowledge -- one rooted in facts, the other rooted in ideas; one focusing on the replicable, the other on the unique. This book consists of essays written and selected to demonstrate that computing, the ultimate tool of late twentieth-century life, can be effectively applied to basic questions of literary criticism.

The assertion that computers can be useful tools in literary study is, of course, no longer controversial. Constructing large critical editions or dictionaries, collating variant readings from different texts, concording entire corpora of prolific writers, deciding questions of disputed authorship by using indices of style so minute that they escape the most attentive reader -- all of these activities, and numerous other equally complex tasks, now are routinely performed by computer methods; in fact, very few of these projects get funded without computers. The practice of computing is widespread and little disputed in these supporting areas of literary study. Essays about the utility of editorial or textual applications have therefore been excluded from this collection. This book confronts the more controversial question of what literary computing offers to literary criticism.

Several quotations from John B. Smith 1978 essay, "Computer Criticism" (published in Style in Fall 1978 and included in this volume as chapter 2), will help to map out the shared ground between computing and criticism. Smith's analysis of twentieth-century criticism allowed him to assert that "the mainstream of recent critical thought has moved steadily, inexorably, toward greater formality and toward the notion of a 'science' or 'sciences' of criticism." Smith notes trends in the work of the Russian Formalists, the London School, the Prague Structuralists, the New Critics, and the French Structuralists which, taken together, form a "pattern of development in twentieth-century criticism." Smith's essay attempts to place Computer Criticism within the context of these other, more generally accepted, forms of criticism. His arguments do not imply that computer-aided criticism will supplant other, less "scientific" kinds of criticism. Literary computing does not, for instance, replace New Criticism's emphasis on the text as the central focus of study; indeed, it permits the closest possible . . .

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