Laurie Epps

Methodological Analysis #3

Dr. Lindsay Thomas

26 March 2016

Ed Fin’s “Revenge of the Nerd:  Junot Díaz and the Networks of American Literary Imagination”

As a reader of this essay in regards to Junot Díaz’s novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, I am compelled to want to read it because it seems Fin’s overall goal is to expand the typical literary corpus into something most marvelously inclusive.  He is quite convincing in his procedures too and in fact, states “I seek to redefine reading by expanding the contested territory.” It seems a lofty goal, but Fin pulls it off in his networking diagrams of Díaz’s work in comparison with some various others that he has managed to gather from reviews (professional and regular readers) from Amazon and a site called LibraryThing, a social endeavor that uses a “thumbs up or thumbs down” scale.

Fin’s research leads him to a “nerd creole” of readership that connect Díaz’s work with a variety of other writings—from J.J. Tolkien to Toni Morrison—which result in Fin’s idea of the nerd pushing the white boundaries and instead looming in the cultural arena of immigrant struggles throughout history.  He finds that Díaz crosses and overlaps regional/Latino literature and a very mainstream popular readership—making the nerd character Trujillo appealing to a variety of readers.  Fin claims this boundary has never been blurred as this and compares it to an intersection of “experimental work and the bestseller.” These conclusions also confirm his belief that reading is changing and “not just among critics and scholars but also among a general readership online.” (2)

Fin uses his data to from networks, filled with nodes and various connections, to “see where books cluster and where they remain solitary.” His diagrams are fascinating in the connections that are made between nodes, because the belief that nerds are “acting white” is complicated by these overlying connections through Fin’s nodes of cross-culture similarities.  So he asks us how can this be possible . . . a reader that would typically pick up a comic book or story of adventure could also or just as likely choose a book of cultural adventure and immigrant struggle. He used a Perl script which I wasn’t aware of but upon looking further learned it is another programming language, along with a handwritten “dictionary of proper nouns” to begin he analysis.  He then stored connections in  a MySQL database and through making connections, it spit out numerous titles and authors—a network of nodes and connections.

Fin complicates and defends the issue of bias or as with Amazon, primarily for profit business, and LibraryThing being a more social outlet, both seemingly different.  But the difference of the two plays to his advantage in that it poses a more well-rounded readership of comparison.  And in Fin’s conclusion, he sees that Díaz “not only earned accolades but also achieved the rare accomplishment of eliciting the same reaction across the board, from both professional and non-professional readers.” (13) This is quite an accomplishment for any author, Pulitzer Prize or not.

So Fin’s goal in his data and methodology is complicated in his overall theme of what digital humanists battle with every day.  DH professionals are at odds with language and all sorts of language.  The digital humanists are overlapping data every day and trying to make meaningful connections in regards to what we know as the “rules of reading.” (19) Is computer language literary?  Is it meant only for the professional readers and scholars or can we use it to generate a more reader friendly literary environment so everyone can explore it, comment on it, and learn from it.  We have to understand the networks that we are putting in to get anything out.  Fin’s example shows exactly that through his methodology of challenging the boundaries of data overlapping culture, race, and the popular divide.