Computers are so powerful when it comes to crunching numbers. You can feed a calculator (which is a computer) a myriad of operands and operations and it will spit the answer back at you many times faster than a human could. This intrinsic talent is what makes them so amenable to the sciences. A lot of physics, chemistry, and engineering involves performing calculations. The computer is a machine of precision. Its answers are exact numbers, yes, or no. Without their power, we (the human race) wouldn’t be as advanced as we are now. But what application does a computer have in the literature department? What else can a computer do for literature besides typing and spellcheck?
In Ted Underwood’s post, he demonstrates how difficult it is to actually grasp a definite understanding of literary history. Throughout the latter portion of his text, he walks the reader through his attempt at answering the question of what point of view is more common in works of fiction. And even offers the biggest reason why the process is so difficult: “we don’t fully understand the terms we’re working with”. Why not? It’s because literature can be subjective. It can have many forms, many interpretations, no definite answer, and change throughout time. And therein lies the problem.
Once again, this brings to mind a concept we discussed in the first few weeks of class: the mixing of the analog with the digital. That’s what digital humanities is. The texts that we read are the analog, and the computers are the digital. While we can muster up an interpretation to a excerpt from some work because of intuition, or a ‘gut feeling’, computers aren’t allowed to do that. It simply isn’t possible. You can devise all the complicated algorithms you can think of. A computer assigning a label to a work has to be based on some definitive evidence. In other words, you have to be able to communicate to the computer why you have this ‘gut feeling’ before you can expect the computer to have a more powerful application than finding ‘evidence’ (not even a definitive answer) of first-person or third-person narratives. Digital humanities is making progress, but there’s still much room for growth.