When I first came across the term distant reading I was I’ll admit somewhat perplexed. What would my life as a literature student be without the seemingly continuous but enriching process of analysing texts in great detail through the facet of close reading? Upon reading Franco Moretti’s article on this so called distant reading I remained somewhat unconvinced.
Moretti’s call upon students to abandon their close study of books in favour of graphs which map facts and figures of literary works seemed to be a sterile and clinical way of approaching literature. How could one possibly call themselves an expert of Victorian literature if they haven’t read Jane Eyre but merely fed its pages into a computer in order to construct a graph of just how many times the names ‘Jane’ and ‘Rochester’ are used?
As you can probably tell I was at first completely dismissive of Moretti and his call for distant reading, but I can now see the benefits that such a method would bring. However, I would still only employ distant reading as a means to support the information gained from the traditional close textual analysis which has served me well throughout my years of study.
But what Moretti’s ‘Distant Reading’ leads in to is the question of whether books, print culture, publishing and the act of reading itself is dying out in favour of a digital transition of the written word. In his chapter ‘Are Books Dead?’ Gomez speculates that in future years books will become precious artefacts, sought and collected by the eccentric to marvel over like a piece of art. Upon the publication of the first ebooks this is a future I think that many envisaged but as we move even further into the age of the digital I feel that this fear is somewhat unfounded.
Having had the opportunity of a six week placement in an academic publishing house in November of last year I learnt that there is far more to publishing than just the editing and printing of a work of literature. Working in the marketing department I saw first-hand the extensive effort that goes into promoting and selling books, and the way publishing houses work to both support the author and market texts. I also learnt that far from ebooks outstripping printed volumes, the reality is quite the opposite. In this sense I feel that the call for printed books and the need for publishers to both help construct and market them will never truly go away.
While Moretti’s distant reading and the ebook may appear to be somewhat counterintuitive to the process of someone studying literature I now feel that they can work as a vital accompaniment to close reading and the printed book. While I never feel I would abandon these latter methods of study, since reading Moretti’s article I have inadvertently found myself contemplating the bigger picture of my chosen area of research. And the more I think about it the more I realise just how much I access academic books digitally. I therefore feel that it is not simply a case of choosing one mode of study and thought over another, but rather learning to use them in conjunction with one another, to compliment rather than attempt to outrank each other.