Methodological Analysis #4 (The Last One!)
English 8120 – Dr. Thomas
Ed Finn’s combination of literary review and digital methodology using network analysis is, as Finn states, is an intentional mirrored paradigm for the rationale and mechanics of the book reviewed, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Finn is explicit in almost every facet of his essay/review, including the question behind the pursuit: What is the framework of fiction that constitutes literariness? This is in response and modelled from the intuitive methods of Junot Diaz’s book, which seems to seek an unapologetic blending of “ethnic studies” (a term which is largely disparaged within the essay), mainstream reader culture in the digital age, and “nerdom”, a decidedly “hyperwhite” subgenre of mainstream culture. Using a combination of close reading for the text in question, compiled data about associated books, writers, and sci-fi/fantasy universes from Amazon.com, professional reviews, and the LibraryThing network, Finn creates a “middle ground” analysis technique which puts just enough distance between himself and the primary text, Oscar Wao.
First, the data for such analysis comes from two distinct locations: the close and loose associations created by recommendations on Amazon.com, tracked over the course of several months for shifts in books included and excluded, and an obvious close reading of the text itself. Finn is careful not to show preference to the larger source of data in the thousands of transactions from Amazon as opposed to the ten reviewers from LibraryThing, specifying that the scale is not necessarily indicative of veracity. Interestingly, Finn’s network diagrams do not seem to differentiate between node types, in that authors, works, and subnetworks are given equal weight within the diagrams. For example, in Figure 9, Tolkien is a separate node from The Lord of the Rings, and Diaz is a node separate of his works. Furthermore, the nodes Star Wars (a subnetwork), Watchmen (a graphic novel), and The New York Times (a published multi-media news outlet) are all simplified as non-differentiated nodes within the network. This strategy creates a network of “pure association” within the context of Amazon Reviews for Oscar Wao, which intentionally equates canonicity and personal preference, for the purpose of demonstrated relatively unbiased relationships to and around the novel. Such diagrams are embedded where appropriate within the essay, paired with textual analysis contingent on close-reading strategies. It is important to note that within such diagrams, directionality is often important in the networks, especially the networks built from Amazon transaction data. In using directionality in this way, Finn shows how associations between a novel (here, Diaz’s novel), and other writers and genres of fiction might shift over time. In an ever fluid online community of reviewers and Amazon’s flexible algorithms, such network strategies are useful in seeing the odd nexus that Diaz seems to fill for the public readership at large. Finn addresses cultural study concerns, particularly in the framework of language, as he describes the strategies employed by Diaz’s unwillingness to compromise in his syntax within Oscar Wao.
Language presents both barriers and open doors for Diaz, and indeed within Finn’s analysis. Diaz keeps the foreign language un-italicized, forcing readers of Oscar Wao to either contextualize and thus learn the Spanish elements and the “nerd” elements, or else conduct outside research to fill the gaps. Finn addresses the importance of “social reading”, a phenomenon that is especially relevant in the age of Amazon, specifically, and digital texts more generally. Just as Diaz’s text seems to assume or force a familiarity with the topics and references contained therein, Finn’s article is at once intuitive and technical, forcing those new the digital humanities methodologies to either research or contextualize the data collection strategies. And within the context of Diaz’s emerging place within the literary community, Finn’s model of literary discourse is well suited. It allows access to data and interpretation surrounding a text which is not contingent on having read anything by Diaz. With the presence of network diagrams which feature some familiar and some foreign elements to the casual or specifically academic reader, Finn allows for ready associations and connections to be made with Oscar Wao.
Finn’s stated goal is most concerned with finding a middle ground, a contested ground which challenges the networks presupposed by both the literary communities, the amateur and professional, all within the overarching context of Diaz and Oscar Wao. One of Finn’s earliest assumptions, that reading is social in nature, leads to his strongest concluding argument: “the literary is one more collaborative network, and it’s time to get everyone thinking about who and what we include in the conversation” (Finn).