In a Network of Lines that Enlace

Despite having spent nearly a whole term camped under the digital humanities Big Tent, I think we are still very much literature students at heart, and sometimes it does show.  For instance, however distant or computational we might get with it, the text is still king.  And there is no reason why it should not be – after all, texts are the basis of literature – but there is a wealth of other aspects outside of the text that could offer interesting insights as well.  Gérard Genette’s idea of paratext, for instance: prefaces, footnotes, frontispieces, all those parts of the book outside the text itself that nevertheless act as a ‘frame’ for the text and thus work upon it.  The great backstage labour that is publishing – how publishing houses operate, who gets what published, how relationships between disparate authors are cemented by appearing in the same publication, and so on.  And an interesting point which our tutor has endeavored often to bring to our attention in seminars: criticism and bibliographies.  If we treat those as texts in themselves, what can we learn from studying the referencing and intertextuality that connects whole webs of secondary literature together?

This fortnight, we have been looking at a new tool that can visualize these connections: network analysis.

Network graphs, in their simplest form, illustrate individuals or items – ‘nodes’ – and how pairs of them are connected – along ‘edges’.  (Estrada et al. 2010: 2) It ‘emphasises dynamism and reciprocity’, as Helen Southworth writes in her introduction to The Hogarth Press and the Networks of Modernism. Network analysis can be an effective tool with which to undermine the myths of individuality and centrality that often, erroneously, frame discussion of the Modernists.  (16-7) Modernism did not come into being when Ezra Pound said ‘make it new’ (though I think we have all been a little guilty of over-quoting that myth into existence). It was an incredibly inter-dependent network that pulsed through publishing houses, bookstores and salons, that did not just revolve around key figures like Pound and T. S. Eliot and the Woolfs, but was also shaped by lesser-known and often more marginalized groups.  Network analysis brings the contributions of these border groups into equivalent bearing with their more influential contemporaries: one example is the ‘Tangled Mesh of Modernists’ (Broe and Scott 10) which draws links between Modernist heavyweights, such as D. H. Lawrence and Gertrude Stein, and lesser-known writers, such as Willa Cather and Jessie Redmon Fauset.

‘Tangled Mesh of Modernists’ from The Gender of Modernism (Scott & Broe: 1990, 10)

‘Tangled Mesh of Modernists’ from The Gender of Modernism (Broe and Scott 10)

Network analysis is capable of subverting hierarchies and ‘master’ narratives to present a vision much closer to what Modernism itself was striving towards.  We could take this a step further to say that it also allows us to look beyond the hierarchy of the text, at its so-called ‘secondary’ aspects that I discussed at the beginning of this post.

One area of Modernist studies that is flourishing through network analysis is that of periodical studies, the study of the myriad small magazines, journals and periodicals whose publication boom reputedly drove the rise of Modernism.  Richard So and Hoyt Long’s Global Literary Networks is one such digital project that uses social network analysis to illustrate the Modernist networks through the publication history of these magazines in the United States, China and Japan.  Using the sociological concepts of ‘brokerage’ and ‘closure’, So and Long explore the movement of ‘brokers’, who bridge the gap between clusters through publishing with figures from other groups, and those who enforce ‘closure’, facilitating a tighter cluster closed against incoming brokerage.  The project studies the movements of such ‘brokerages’ and ‘closures’ across time, and analyses how these decisions of connectivity affect the evolution of these magazines and the groups that sustain them.

Networks  are also a crucial part of citation analysis, which derives networks from bibliographic data using authors as nodes and collaborations or citations as edges; this can then be used to analyse patterns of citation of the literature of a field of study, and also to extrapolate the directions in which the literature may be headed.  (Batagelj and Cerinšek 845)

This line of study gets particularly dynamic with the recent rise in electronic literary studies: Jill Walker Rettberg gets meta-networked here in her network analysis of electronic literary works – themselves arguably networked texts – that are referenced across a database of 60 or so PhD dissertations. While electronic literature is still too young a movement to have given rise to any kind of established canon, Rettberg has observed a great deal of diversity among the different clusters of primary texts that are cited in the dissertations, which bridge the gaps between genres that vary from interactive fiction to kinetic poetry to story generators.  The project is still a work-in-progress, but Rettberg reports promising patterns that may inform the canonical aspirations of electronic literature.

An early draft of Rettberg’s network graph of electronic literature referenced by at least two dissertations.

An early draft of Rettberg’s network graph of electronic literature referenced by at least two dissertations.

‘The net is not a net until it begins to work.  Work your net today!’ Thus reads an inspirational post-it pad I got at a careers event ages ago.  It was probably more geared towards LinkedIn than 1920s poetry magazines and dissertations on hypertext fictions, but the sentiment stands.  Not only does network analysis generate insights on connectivity within texts, it can also give rise to valuable understandings as to how literature operates beyond texts.  So – work your net today.

  • Batagelj, Vladimir and Monika Cerinšek. “On bibliographic networks.” Scientometrics 96.3 (Sept 2013). 845-64. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.

  • Broe, Mary Lnn and Bonnie Kim Scott, eds. The Gender of Modernism: A Critical Anthology. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1990. Print.
  • Estrada, Ernesto, Maria Fox, Desmond J. Higham and Gian-Luca Oppo, eds. “Complex Networks: An Invitation.” Network Science: Complexity in Nature and Technology. London: Springer, 2010. 1-12. Print.
  • Genette, Gérard. Paratexts: Thresholds of interpretation. Trans. Richard Macksey. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997. Print.
  • Long, Hoyt and Richard Jean So. ‘Network Analysis and the Sociology of Modernism’. boundary 2 40:2 (2013). Web. 17 Nov. 2013.
  • Rettberg, Jill Walker. ‘Beginning a network analysis of creative works of electronic literature as cited in 28 PhD dissertations’. jill/txt. July 5. 2013. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.
  • Southworth, Helen, ed. Leonard and Virginia Woolf, the Hogarth Press and the Networks of Modernism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2010. Print.

Images used are the ‘Tangled Mesh of Modernists’ from The Gender of Modernism, re-posted from cordite.org.au,  and an early draft of Rettberg’s network graph of electronic literature referenced by at least two dissertations.

The title is taken from a chapter heading in Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller

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