Slowly but Surely Approaching an Approach

How and where to start? http://www.deviantart.com/art/Puzzle-336201098

How and where to start? Time to assemble something: http://www.deviantart.com/art/Puzzle-336201098

Next week we’re giving a presentation on our project for this course. We’ll be talking about what we’ve done so far in our course, what our project is going to be about (Gender and the Body in Modernism) and we’re going to demonstrate our progress so far. While the project is going to be a collaborate effort, there are still sections of it that we will work on individually. Each of us has chosen a modernist novel in which the topic of gender and/or the body features prominently and we’re each trying to find an appropriate digital scholarly approach to these texts.

I have chosen to examine D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love for my analysis, but it has taken a while for me to figure out how I could sensibly approach this novel with the methods that digital literary studies have to offer. In recent weeks, the focus in our Digital Modernisms course and particularly in the lab class has been on methods and the usefulness of (mostly geographically) mapping locations in texts. While for some novels this approach may be useful (in class we mapped the paths of different characters in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway through London and noticed that they really mostly stay in Whitehall), Women in Love does not seem to provide enough non-fictional and identifiable places that could be mapped. Geographical mapping thus does not work very well here and would probably not yield interesting conclusions. There is also the issue that geographical maps would somehow have to be connected to our critical approach to modernism, i.e. gender and the body. Via Gaston Bachelard, who, according to Thacker sees “the house as a kind of body” (Thacker 15) and perhaps other theorists that analogise space/terrain/the house/home with the body in various ways, a geographical map might thus be justifiable. Nonetheless, it seems to me that this kind of approach would be a little too complex and lengthy for our project and the time available. I also feel that it might have to deviate too far from the primary text under scrutiny, as well as from the topic of gender and the body to actually fit into our project thematically.

I therefore think that maybe I should approach my contribution to our project not with the idea of a geographical map based on its fictional physical world in mind, but instead consider Women in Love and other, more identifiable physical locations in it. The thing that came to mind was to have a look at mentions of body parts, which I feel are quite frequent in the novel. A quantitative text analysis showing how often which body part is mentioned would at the very least serve to confirm or revoke my suspicion. However, while I think that text mining with a focus on body part frequencies maybe an interesting approach to the novel, I’m not sure the procedure is guaranteed to yield results that I personally will be able to analyse and discuss in an interesting way. I haven’t worked with text mining yet and so I’m not sure how capable I am of deriving meaningful conclusions from quantitative data taken from the text. Furthermore, I do not intend to compare Women in Love to other texts, and although quantitative methods certainly can be applied to single works of literature, comparative literary analysis is where they really come in handy, as David L. Hoover suggests. On the other hand, Hoover mentions that one of the most important areas where quantitative methods are used in literary studies is stylistic analysis, which I think is worth keeping in in case I decide to have a look at the textual environment and the stylistic use of certain body parts.

To ensure that I won’t end up with just a couple of word occurrence statistics and the realisation that feet are mentioned marginally more than I’d expected, however, I feel that another, perhaps more easily interpretable analysis/visualisation might be useful. Having considered the importance of gender and the body in Women in Love, I decided that I would like to create a network analysis visualisation (as in the image above, although perhaps more colourful) based not on conversations or relationships between characters, but specifically on instances where physical contact is established between them. I know that the characters in the novel touch, stroke, hit and choke each other, so it would certainly be interesting to visualise these relations and see if they reflect other aspects of the novel. There are still a lot of things I have to figure out in order to implement this kind of visualisation (how do I find instances of physical contact, how can I visually distinguish between violent, sympathetic and neutral examples, do I need to differentiate between imagined and real instances of characters touching each other etc.), but it seems to me that seeing physical contact as a literary/characterisation device will allow me to remain slightly closer to the text than I could in a quantitative approach. And although I am fascinated by the idea of distant readings with powerful digital tools, I cannot help but feel that when only one novel is being analysed, a close reading supported by digital methods is much more appropriate.

Sources:

Hoover, David L. “Quantitative Analysis and Literary Studies”. A Companion to Digital Literary Studies. Eds Susan Schreibman and Ray Siemens. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008. Web. (http://www.digitalhumanities.org/companionDLS/)

Thacker, Andrew. Moving Through Modernity: Space and Geography in Modernism. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003. Print.

Exam No. B054532

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