Katherine Bode on ‘How (Computational) Literary Studies Matters’

Join us for this week’s CuSPP Seminar (taking place via zoom)

Thursday 29 July, 4.30 – 6pm (see CuSPP email or contact monique.rooney@anu.edu.au for zoom link).

How (computational) literary studies matters 

Are computational engagements with literature the same as, or different from, established ones? For many in both the mainstream discipline and its emerging computational component, the answer to this question seems obvious: computational literary studies (CLS) is clearly distinct from established forms of the discipline, even if the conclusions from this point can differ considerably. Polemically, CLS replaces (or threatens to replace) literary studies; strategically, it supplements or complements (or has the potential to supplement or complement) established practices; alternatively, it has nothing to do with the existing discipline, whether that means it should be excluded from literary studies and left to wither and die, or – a view increasingly common amongst CLS scholars – that it should escape disciplinary confines in order to flourish. 

In this work-in-progress presentation I propose, in contrast to this oppositional perspective, that established and computational approaches create literary knowledge in fundamentally the same way, even as they have – both internally and comparatively – many significant and important differences. I make this argument by demonstrating the relevance, initially for established enactments of literary studies, and then for dominant enactments of CLS, of a central tenet of science and technology studies (STS): that knowledge practices are inseparable from the subjects and objects that supposedly employ and are subject to them. Based on this entanglement of epistemology and ontology, I suggest that the discipline be defined in normative terms rather than with respect to institutional or medial distinctions. 

Katherine Bode is Professor of Literary and Textual Studies and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow in the School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics at the Australian National University. Her most recent book is A World of Fiction: Digital Collections and the Future of Literary History (2018).

Image credit: On Kawara, from the artist’s collection One Million Years, 1999.


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