Novel Devotions: Conversional Reading, Computational Modeling, and the Modern Novel

What would it mean for a novel to turn us as we turn its pages? How are we not simply moved, but transformed—turned around—through the novel’s combination of gestural and affective structures? How might we think, in other words, about the correspondences between the novel’s technics and its tropes in its ability to assume meaning for us as a genre on a profound personal level? This essay explores the use of computational models to understand the novel’s relationship to the narration of profound change as a vehicle of readerly devotion. It aims to give us new techniques for thinking about the novel’s significance as a genre, a significance that depends less on forms of critical estrangement and more on felt experiences of pronounced transformation. In doing so, it outlines the potential impact that the practice of computational modeling might have on our own affective attachments as critical readers.