distance readingdistance reading

Distant reading is an approach in literary studies that applies computational methods to literary data, usually

derived from large digital libraries, for literary history and theory. While the term is collective and is

used to refer to a range of different computational methods of analyzing literary data, similar approaches also

include microanalysis, cultural analytics, computational formalism, computational literary studies, quantitative

literary studies, and algorithmic literary criticism Distant reading refers to a professional reading method that relies

heavily on computer programs. This strategy, developed by Franco Moretti, represents an attempt at utilizing big

data analytics for literary scholarship.

Distant reading is an approach in literary studies that applies computational methods to literary data, usually

derived from large digital libraries, for literary history and theory.

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The term “distant reading” is generally attributed to Franco Moretti and his 2000 article, Conjectures on World Literature. In the article, Moretti proposed a mode of reading which included works outside of established literary canons, which he variously termed “the great unread” and, elsewhere, “the Slaughterhouse of Literature”. The innovation it proposed, as far as literary studies were concerned, was that the method employed samples, statistics, paratexts, and other features not often considered within the ambit of literary analysis. Moretti also established a direct opposition to the theory and methods of close reading: “One thing for sure: it cannot mean the very close reading of very few texts—secularized theology, really (‘canon’!)—that has radiated from the cheerful town of New Haven over the whole field of literary studies”.

He advocates what he terms “distant reading”: understanding literature not by studying particular texts, but by aggregating and analyzing massive amounts of data. We need distant reading, Moretti argues, because its opposite, close reading, can’t uncover the true scope and nature of literature. Distance Reading

However, Moretti initially conceived distant reading for an analysis of secondary literature as a roundabout way of getting to know more about primary literature: “[literary history] will become ‘second-hand’: a patchwork of other people’s research, without a single direct textual reading”. Only later did the term distant reading (via Moretti and other scholars) come to become primarily identified with computational analysis of primary literary sources.

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