Machine Reading: Literary "Deformance," Electronic Literature, and the Digital Humanities

Tuesday Aug 14   03:45 PM to 05:00 PM (1 hour 15 minutes)

Under the banner of the Digital Humanities, scholars of literature increasingly use algorithmic and statistical techniques to understand individual texts and vast corpora. Often these "machine readings" depend upon positivist epistemologies directly imported from the sciences; machine readers unearth statistical facts, proving or disproving literary hypotheses. This panel will reflect upon the concept of machine reading from a competing vantage point: that of electronic literature. Since Theo Lutz's algorithmic transformation of Kafka's Das Schloss into his "Stochastische Texte" (1959), works of electronic literature have often taken the form of machine readings, programmatically illuminating hidden potentialities in other texts or corpora through literary "deformance" (Samuels & McGann, 1999; c.f. Ramsay, 2011). This panel of practitioners will reflect on the ways in which their own machine readers incorporate but also creatively repurpose contemporary digital technologies (e.g. NLP, visualization, and crowdsourcing) to re- imagine what it means to read with a machine. In the process, the panel will explore the hermeneutic value of these new forms of reading: what "knowledge" (including "affective knowledge") can artistic machine readings provide that scientific forms cannot? How can such machine readings complement traditional, non-digital ways of reading and interpreting texts or corpora? To help bridge the gap between the Digital Humanities and electronic literature, this panel will re-position the latter at the center of the former: as a field of practice, electronic literature is uniquely equipped to develop counter-epistemologies at the boundary of human and machine reading.

New York University
Neukom Institute, Dartmouth College
Postdoctoral fellow
Brown University

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