Wrong Search, Wrong Answer

Distance reading is an undeniably useful tool in helping us to search for data which encompasses a large pool of texts. On its own, however, distance reading lacks context and requires us to couple the knowledge we gain through close reading with the data we gain through distance reading in order to create accurate search terms, and accurate answers. We can see this through our graph, which provides the data for works of fiction published between the years of 1660-1799 (according to the ESTC) which contain the term ‘adventure’, seen in Figure 1.

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Figure 1.

This data can raise various problems; the first of which is the potential to be mislead, as the data  does not take into account synonyms or translations of the term ‘adventure’. Therefore, this may not provide us with accurate data for the amount of texts. Additionally, the amount of texts is not taking into account multiple editions published in the same year, and would therefore require further distance reading. Although this is a rudimentary analysis, and could be further examined taking into account other popular terms (e.g. ‘adventure’ and ‘romance’ for example), it does provide us with a rough point at which to start.

However this would require further close reading of the texts in order to gain a greater significance for evidential use. Franco Moretti, a scholar in the field of digital text analysis, is a strong advocate for distance reading; however he cannot deny that close reading is often still necessary, Moretti concedes that things didn’t unfold as planned. Somewhere along the line, he writes, he “drifted from quantification to the qualitative analysis of plot””.

The answers we are looking for can only be found through specific search terms. If we search for the wrong terms, we receive the wrong answers. The right information can be known through the process of close reading, proving to us that both close reading and distance reading are needed in order to gain reliable and accurate information.

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About GarethMWilliams

English Literature Student at Bath Spa University. Sharing my quite interesting life in all it's glory. Interested in my ramblings, then get reading!

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