Patterns and Interpretation
Presidents Hall, Franklin Hall
Digitization has completely changed the literary archive. Historians of the novel used to work on a few hundred nineteenth-century novels; today, we work on thousands of them; tomorrow, hundreds of thousands. This new size has had a major effect on literary history, obviously enough, but also on critical methodology; because, when we work on 200,000 novels instead of 200, we are not doing the same thing, 1,000 times bigger; we are doing a different thing. The new scale changes our relationship to the object of study, and in fact it changes the object itself, by making it entirely abstract. And the question arises: what does it mean to study literature as an abstraction and by means of abstractions? We clearly lose some important aspects of the literary experience. Do we gain anything?