Robert Brissey

Methodological Analysis #2

English 8120 – Dr. Lindsay Thomas


Moretti’s “Operationalizing”

Moretti’s primary purpose for this article is to show some potential ways of using digital humanities techniques that apply toward a deeper understanding in a literary, as opposed to strictly statistical, sense. The strategy Moretti has in mind specifically describes a way in which one might move from concept to measurement to presentation in a meaningful way. He describes the credence of exactitude, namely in terms of exactly how much one or another character speaks. But this is acknowledged as something that might not lead to startling or indeed useful information about a text. For example, we assume that Phedre would speak most in as the titular character in a play. However, his following examples, which show the direction, volume, and relatedness of speech patterns between characters does offer new insight: in Phedre, Thesee is more central than Phedre, despite her having more spoken lines. This can very much inform on literary scholarship and is thus potentially worthwhile to incorporate into one’s own research strategies. From there, we learn about different levels of interaction between characters, the information indicating the gradient of interaction using digital humanities methodologies and the implications of the levels of interaction. The final example, in which Moretti describes and shows the word count of conversations between main characters (in his example, between Creon and Antigone), which clearly has much greater use in a branch of cultural studies or critical theory than standard quantitative interpretation. The questions that arise from such methods are, for instance, “What implications are there in Antigone’s use of family themed nouns juxtaposed with Creon’s more ominous and esoteric vocabulary? Finally, Moretti leaves us with a very real potential for more oblique, cultural, and literary critique options that find genesis in the digital humanities, a most unlikely place in the minds of many strict humanities scholars.

As one might expect from Moretti, the methodological tactics are logically constructed, systemic, and very precise. However, unlike typical Moretti, this piece does not seem to be nearly as polemic as his typical writings. Moretti is careful to define his terms as he progresses from concept to concept, beginning with the title of the piece. Each topic builds upon the preceding one, giving a sequentially constructed argument. However, for this piece, the most effective strategy employed by Moretti is the use of several types of graphs and charts. As this is Moretti, one must generally expect some form of statistical data, but in this case it is thoroughly valuable in terms of augmenting his argument. His charts move with the same progression as his argumentation, which has the effect of allowing one, potentially, to understand the basics of Moretti’s argumentation without actually reading the strictly textual elements of the article. The most important aspect of using such tools is in the exact strategy behind operationalization; that is, moving from concept to something useful. Specifically, the descriptions found in figure 2 indicate without knowledge of Antigone itself who has the most inter-character interaction, who has the most spoken lines, and who might be non-essential to the development of the plot. In this case, all the steps are aptly demonstrated in each chart. Furthermore, new concepts became evident; for example, the concept of centrality can be easily discerned upon a moments glance at figure 2. This strategy takes the clichéd adage of freshmen composition, “show, don’t tell,” to a literal level, which is nevertheless effective.

Given the topic, the choice in argumentation style is in and of itself a rhetorical choice which reinforces the strategies proposed by Moretti. Moretti’s writings usually deal in some capacity with the idea of exact numbers or quantitative methods, and this essay is no exception. And much to his credit, Moretti’s strategy here seems to somewhat seamlessly blend exact percentages, graphic displays of such information, and textual explanations which increase the value of the statistical data presentation. The examples are almost so intuitive that the textualized version of the argument is supplementary to the charts, which is an odd phenomenon in the context of a critical essay. Ultimately, Moretti’s pamphlet is successful in its argument for the extension of the usefulness of digital humanities techniques and quantitative methodologies. Such strategies might be used to build upon certain analyses, but more likely, to challenge certain basic assumptions, about texts that we “know” thoroughly. This methodology seems to be poised to make use of discovery-based critical synthesis, and may yet lead to more strategies that make use of quantitative analysis methods, specifically those that show relationships both between characters and to each characters relative importance and contribution to a narrative.