Morgan's Notes on Ramsey, chaps 1 - 3


To re-cap from last week

Reading Machines has been about the question of

What does literary interpretation and lit crit become in the age of the digital?
Ramsey is calling this approach to lit crit algorithmic criticism

Two points to make about practices
first
this is a common DH practice right now: re-envisioning the practices of humanists, which were originally and historically formed for paper and print as practices that take place in digitized media and networks, using computer tools. Hayles did it in her work. We'll see it again in e-crit.

second
he's taking the opportunity at this moment to question and set aside assumptions that developed in that print-textual environment, such as, in this case, a romanticism surrounding authors, books, composing, and the literary artifact.

hermenutics -

this approach to literary interoperation - algorithmic criticism: a re-conceived computer-assisted literary criticism

doesn't become wholly scientific - although it uses methods drawn from the sciences,
because what does a text mean and how does it mean - lit interpretation - are not questions of the same register as a scientific question. see below.

NOT because of the adage, it means different things to different people - but
but because it's a different kind of question

NOT because a literary text is so complex as to be never understood
but because it it isn't and we know how language works

and it is NOT because using a computer/scientific means to interpret a literary work squeezes the life out the work by reducing it to enumeration, measurement, and verification — That reduction is fully compatible with the goals of lit criticism. it's even a useful method.

the lit question v the scientific question this
A literary interpretive question is one that opens up and continues the discussion about meaning

> [In the sciences], However far ranging a scientific debate might be, however varied the interpretations being offered, the assumption remains that there is a singular answer (or a singular set of answers) to the question at hand. Literary criticism has no such assumption. In the humanities the fecundity of any particular discussion is often judged precisely by the degree to which it offers ramified solutions to the problem at hand. We are not trying to solve Woolf. We are extending the conversation.

chap 2
Ramsey turns to mid 20th century texts and lit schools as a starting point for algorithmic-critical methods. Gotta have a method.

> To the degree that algorithmic criticism tries to enter [extending the conversation], it does so by considering a third culture that is at once the product of both scientific and artistic investigation and has subtly suffused both cultures since the turn of the twentieth century. It begins with the “’pataphysics” of Alfred Jarry, and in particular with that extraordinary “neo-scientific” novel Gestes et opinions du docteur Faustroll, pataphysicien, in which the science of “imaginary solutions” is put forth. (p. 20).

to state, if not elucidate, three main ideas

1. De-familiarization is a critical move - a way of reading to understand. De-familiarization is a stalwart method of science.

to illustrate, he quotes at length a passage from Faustroll, of F enconuntering a water droplet in what seems to be a thought-experiment
> This extraordinary passage is more philosophy of science than science fiction. The defamiliarization proposed by the alternative vision of science—

2. Literature is always written as working between potential and constraint.

3. All reading is like reading a combinatorial poem
The work is written almost as a machine that potentially generates interesting combinations of lines and effects
> one consciously and deliberately looks for interesting combinations of lines and poetic effects.

To see this, we can look at
100 billion sonnets
haiku generator
I ching
etc

He seems to define the algorithmic critic as a patyaphysician, engaging the science of imaginary solutions.

Chap 3
opens with a re-cap of the work to move to method

> “Algorithmic criticism”— the term I use to designate a reconceived computer- assisted literary criticism— shares with Oulipo a desire to use the narrowing forces of constraint to enable the liberating visions of potentiality. Its medium is the computer, but it looks neither to the bare calculating facilities of the mechanism nor to the promise of machine intelligence for its inspiration. Instead, algorithmic criticism attempts to employ the rigid, inexorable, uncompromising logic of algorithmic transformation as the constraint under which critical vision may flourish. The hermeneutic proposed by algorithmic criticism does not oppose the practice of conventional critical reading, but instead attempts to reenvision its logics in extreme and self- conscious forms. As such, it is of a piece with recent work on the notion of “textual intervention” as set forth by Rob Pope; of “deformance” as proposed by Jerome McGann and Lisa Samuels; and with the computationally enacted “tamperings” undertaken by Estelle Irizarry. All three set forth a bold heuresis— one that proposes not a radical exegesis, but a radical eisegesis (perhaps a katagesis) in which the graphic and semantic codes of textuality are deliberately and literally altered.

that is,
> The best way to understand how a text works is to change it: to play around with it, to intervene in it in some way (large or small), and then to try to account for the exact effect of what you have done. In practice— not just in theory— we have the option of making changes at all levels, from the merest nuance of punctuation or intonation to total recasting in terms of genre, time, place, participants and medium.

We already do this in approaching literature: summaries, synopses, using scholarly editions and anthologies. In fact, the text we encounter has already been played with - as part of the literary apparatus of preparation and distribution. editing, arranging, annotating, setting on paper, in a codex, between covers ...

BUT methods of changing the text to see what happens can be controlled and limited to legitimize some rubrics. Ramsey calls this move/method deformance, following McCann.

And he argues that it is already the way lit interp - all reading - proceeds:

Critical schools attempt to delimit deformation, control it, shape or direct it by assigning names to patterns, privileging patterns over others, legitimize some procedures of deformation, to stabilize the text, and to limit the potential meanings.

That is,
> to read within a rubric - whatever it is - is precisely to impose a set of procedures upon a text. ... For a critical argument to succeed, it must present its alternative text as a legitimate counterpart — even a consequence— of the original. 55

That is, to read the poet as a self expressing an emotion or idea is to deform the text in particular ways, to privilege some patterns over others. But that way of reading has to be presented as a legitimate consequence of the text.

So: we defend or explain our treasured deformances of The Belle of Amherst by appealing to her time, her place, her self-imposed isolation - suggesting that these historical and biographical circumstances legitimate our way of reading as one that emerges from the text and it's creation. Perhaps these moves looks like they stabilize the subjectivity of deformation. But they don't.

We can see that if we bring in a deformation of reading Dickinson backwards to explore how her poems work to mean. It's a curious effect that some of the poems read backwards and go right on making sense.

Ramsey uses "Tell all the truth but tell it slant"

Tell all the truth but tell it slant—
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise;

As lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—

The algorithm he uses is to read the poem backwards by lines. We expect nonsense but this poem works read backwards - works not only to make sense but as ground to elucidate meaning: the actual act of reading it slant reveals - as with the humament - another poem - even to the extent that is reaches a rhetorical climax in the last (first) line - a different conclusion reached than the original order.

Or every man be blind—
The Truth must dazzle gradually
With explanation kind
As lightning to the Children eased

The Truth’s superb surprise
Too bright for our infirm Delight
Success in Circuit lies
Tell all the truth but tell it slant—

To note
this is applying an algorithm in a systematic way to see how the poem can mean
this is a pataphysical thought experiment to make the familiar strange
this confounds the privileged deformance of The Belle of Amherst expressing herself
this acknowledges, however, a poetic practice that has gone on before Dickinson: that of concealing alternative ways of reading within the work. Poetic anagrams, lines that spell out the subject's name, allegories!... as well as what we've seen in humament.

We still need to legitimize the move, and do to so means stepping outside of bio crit and into algorithmic criticism.

> But any reading that undertakes such changes (as all reading must) remains threatened with the possibility that deformation signals loss , corruption, and illegitimacy. Even now, in our poststructuralist age, we speak of “faithfulness” to a text, of “flawed” or “misguided” readings, but any marking of a text, any statement that is not a re-performance of a statement, must break faith with the ability of the text to mean and re-guide form into alternative intelligibilities. Algorithmic criticism is, in this sense, nothing more than a self-conscious attempt to place such re-performances into a computational environment. pp. 56-57

> Algorithmic criticism is, in this sense, nothing more than a self-conscious attempt to place such re-performances into a computational environment.

So algorithmic criticism seeks to
narrow forces of constraint to enable the liberating visions of potentiality.

A couple of commonplaces about literary and other interpretation this method throws into question

So, tonight, in keeping with how DH tends to work - Make/Do as a way of theorizing - I asked you to read a text. A little practice in reading as a digital reader.

Gave you a couple of traditional articles on literature - the kind that are based on already-legitimate ways of deforming - as further way of orienting self to work. But what really counts here is what you did and how you see that as a way of encountering deformance.

Reading cybertexts, etc require investment beyond the typical reading.
ergodic
ludic
technotexual - where materiality comes into the foreground

I gave you some practice with texts that seem to be constructed to force reading as deformance. That is, they don't seem to readily yield to the deformances we typically invoke.

Radio salience
Jews daughter
2translation
Dakota

Look at
what we did
how we proceeded
what else we did
what we found
what we encountered unexpectedly
what we make of that

Choose one from the list above. For a week, read it, explore it, work w/it. Encounter it more than once. Get to know the work. Figure out how it works: derive the algorithm. You may look up background on the work - artist's statements, reviews, critical commentary - but that's not necessary. We're not really interested in what others have to say. We're more interested in what you encountered, what you did, how you proceeded, what you found.

Work with these questions
Come with notes, illustrations, ways of deforming and re-forming.


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