Distant Reading and Digital Reading Practices

In my home discipline of 19th Century Literature, Franco Moretti pioneered the notion of “distant reading,” in contrast to the close reading beloved by New Critics and deconstructionists alike. While close reading’s value to student engagement with both literary texts and their own writing in both classroom and writing center contexts has been demonstrated in practice, what about the value of distant reading for these endeavors?

Distant reading is known for the “graphs, maps, trees” of Moretti’s work of the same name; the results of a textual encounter with the CATA software Voyant remind one very much of a perusal of one of his scholarly works. Engaging with a literary text with CATA software enables students not only to read digital texts but also to contextualize the work on a larger scale, noting patterns of language, structure, and so forth, thus creating material for an effective distant reading.

Distant reading also comes into play in the writing center. CATA software useful in assisting students with brainstorming and reading technique within the writing center, enabling them to approach texts in critical ways. In addition, writing center studies themselves form a suitable subject for distant reading. Just as Moretti’s distant reading helps us understand trends in cultural production by looking beyond a narrow range of canonical texts, distant reading in the writing center can help us to draw patterns in understanding the actual needs of student writers.

Participant
NJIT
Director

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