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Reading Machines

Toward an Algorithmic Criticism

Stephen Ramsay

Publication Year: 2011

Besides familiar and now-commonplace tasks that computers do all the time, what else are they capable of? Stephen Ramsay's intriguing study of computational text analysis examines how computers can be used as "reading machines" to open up entirely new possibilities for literary critics. Computer-based text analysis has been employed for the past several decades as a way of searching, collating, and indexing texts. Despite this, the digital revolution has not penetrated the core activity of literary studies: interpretive analysis of written texts. _x000B__x000B_Computers can handle vast amounts of data, allowing for the comparison of texts in ways that were previously too overwhelming for individuals, but they may also assist in enhancing the entirely necessary role of subjectivity in critical interpretation. Reading Machines discusses the importance of this new form of text analysis conducted with the assistance of computers. Ramsay suggests that the rigidity of computation can be enlisted by intuition, subjectivity, and play.

Published by: University of Illinois Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

When Willard McCarty proposed that we “ask in the context of computing what can (and must) be known of our artefacts, how we know what we know about them and how new knowledge is made,” he undoubtedly meant to lift our gaze above the merely practical matters suggested by the term “humanities computing” (McCarty 1231). ...

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1. An Algorithmic Criticism

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pp. 1-17

Digital humanities, like most fields of scholarly inquiry, constituted itself through a long accretion of revolutionary insight, territorial rivalry, paradigmatic rupture, and social convergence. But the field is unusual in that it has often pointed both to a founder and to a moment of creation. ...

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2. Potential Literature

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pp. 18-31

The word “algorithm” is an odd neologism. Most scholars now believe that the word relates back to the word “algorism,” which is in turn a corruption of the name of the Persian mathematician al-Kwārizmī from whose book, Kitāb al-jabr wa’l-muqābala (“Rules for Restoring and Equating”), we get the word “algebra” (Knuth 1). ...

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3. Potential Readings

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pp. 32-57

“Algorithmic criticism”—the term I use to designate a reconceived computerassisted literary criticism—shares with Oulipo a desire to use the narrowing forces of constraint to enable the liberating visions of potentiality. Its medium is the computer, but it looks neither to the bare calculating facilities of the mechanism nor to the promise of machine intelligence for its inspiration. ...

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4. The Turing Text

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pp. 58-68

Even scholars working far outside the disciplines that make up the field of artificial intelligence are familiar with the basic elements of the Turing test, in which the machine’s ability to mimic human language is presented as the touchstone of intelligent behavior. It is usually presented in the following way: ...

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5. ’Patacomputing

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pp. 69-82

A few years ago, Martin Mueller, the animating force behind the text analysis system WordHoard, decided to perform what we might call an experiment but would better be thought of as the fulfillment of a brief moment of curiosity. Using the system’s powerful word-counting and lemmatization features, Mueller was able to create lists of the most frequent words in Homer and Shakespeare: ...

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pp. 83-86

In many respects, digital humanities is a scholarly discipline like any other. It has, first and foremost, a community with a history. It also has books and journals, scholarly societies, yearly conferences, sources of funding, programs, curricula, students, faculty, and a vast network of scholars both traditional and nontraditional. ...


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pp. 87-90

Works Cited

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pp. 91-94


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pp. 95-98

Further Reading, About the Author, Publication Information

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252093449
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252036415

Page Count: 112
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 785781161
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Reading Machines

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Linguistic String Parser (Computer grammar).
  • Discourse analysis -- Data processing.
  • Reading machines (Data processing equipment).
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