Category Archives: Computation for Criticism

What makes an author?

A colleague and I applied stylometric methods to the work of the world’s best-selling author, James Patterson, in order to form an impression of how much he contributes to the writing of his co-authored books. The results of the study show that, in each of the collaborative novels (we checked all where there was a relevant sample to test against – where the co-author had written individual texts), the dominant style is that of Patterson’s co-authors. This is quantitative evidence that, when collaborating with a junior party, Patterson’s contributions to the literary process are more concerned with plot than style. This isn’t a “gotcha!” moment: Patterson has always given the impression that he’s more about the plot. But it is confirmation that the world’s bestselling author may not principally be a writer. Read more in The Conversation.

The Presence of Digital Process

The following was my contribution to the MLA16 panel, “Digital Scholarship in Action: Research”, January 10th, 2016. The panel was convened and presided over by Patricia Hswe. Contributions by my fellow panellists can be viewed as follows: Diane Jakacki (@dianejakacki), Laura C. Mandell (@mandellc), Paige C Morgan (@paigecmorgan), and  Katherine Rawson (@katie_rawson).

Computational methods are an essential part of the Digital Humanities, in that they are central to a range of disciplinary processes. By “process”, I refer to the digital means by which we produce new knowledge and meaning of significance to Humanities scholarship. While process—the application of the computer-assisted methods we develop, manipulate, and adopt—can be an act of interpretation in itself, I would argue, and I am sure that few would disagree, that this act is always in the service of the product, the new insights, be that into the literary or otherwise, offered by our fields’ many esoteric approaches. Herein lies part of the value of the Digital Humanities: the way we approach research allows for new questions to be asked and existing debates to be revived. While it is now comprised of a great many, and often dissonant, scholarly, and indeed creative, activities, our community first emerged out of a fascination with the potential for the computer to be utilised as an instrument for scholarly enquiry. The very essence of the Humanities is criticism, and so if the methodological foundations of the Digital Humanities are to continue to mature, then we must continue to be critical of this essential element—repeatedly, we must ask of our machines, how and why. Continue reading

The magic that is literature

This morning, I was proofreading an introduction that I recently finished, and wanted to share the following passage with the community:

“An analogy which jumps readily to mind can be traced back to a particular exchange at one of the community’s largest annual gatherings, the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, hosted by the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Each year, DHSI instructors welcome participants with an outline of what materials they will be covering throughout the Institute. Typically collegial and informal, this particular welcome session took on a Harry Potter theme, with the majority of instructors promising to teach students new bouts of computational wizardry. When the turn of David Hoover came, there was a change in the theme. Professor Hoover, an eminent figure in the field of computational stylistics, was quick to point out that his participants would not be doing anything magical with computers, but rather, using computers to assist their understanding of the magic that is literature.”

It’s a sentiment which I believe we would all do well to remember as we go about our work as digital humanists.

Using stylometry to weigh in on the Finn’s Hotel debate

For a more detailed account of this topic, see the article, “Finn’s Hotel and the Joycean Canon”, which appeared in Issue 14 (Spring 2014) of Genetic Joyce Studies.

Finn's Hotel analysis

Ithys Press controversially published Finn’s Hotel in June 2013, describing the collection as “almost certainly the last unpublished title by James Joyce”.[1] Ithys and Rose contend that the fragments warrant consideration as a standalone collection, the style in which they are written suggesting that such was Joyce’s intention: “The prose pieces of Finn’s Hotel … are written in a unique diversity of styles, much more so than Ulysses. Taken together, they form the true and hitherto unknown precursor to the multi-modulated voices of the Wake—but these first utterings from Finn’s Hotel are far easier to understand.”[2] This view is not unanimously accepted, with some scholars countering that the writings are merely early drafts for what would later become Finnegans Wake, and thus should not be published as an independent addition to the Joycean canon. Terence Killeen notes, in The Irish Times, that “the pieces scream of Finnegans Wake itself”.[3] He states: “It is true that one or two of them did not end up in the final text, but it is quite normal for a writer to draft and then abandon various passages in the initial stages of a major work.”[4]

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“Fear will keep the authors in line. Fear of stylometry.”

Star Wars fans with an interest in novels from the franchise will be familiar with the works of Michael Reaves and Steve Perry, authors of Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter and Shadows of the Empire, respectively. Reaves and Perry have also collaborated on a number of books, the most recent being Death Star, published by Del Rey in October 2007. Using the aforementioned single-author novels, I formed an authorial signature of both Reaves and Perry. Then, utilising stylometry’s rolling Delta* method, I analysed their contributions to the text of Death Star.

Death Star

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