Pensament literari català: reflexions critiques
Given the confusion that exists about the Digital Humanities —what they are and what they are not— and that 452oF is not dedicated exclusively to this field of study, I would like to begin by daring to offer my own definition, though this is inspired by the wide range of literature written in recent years. Digital Humanities applied to literary studies is a relatively recent discipline that uses predominantly quantitative methods —calculations1— through digital applications,2 to extract information about a combination of texts and the more or less hidden relationships between them (and the circumstances surrounding them). It would not be possible to extract these relationships by other means, and this method also allows for a far broader range of texts in a corpus to be analysed than is possible through non-computational means.
The novelty does not exist, therefore, as much in the object of study. These can continue to be the same texts we have always studied —Las soledades, El romancero gitano, Respuesta a Sor Filotea, La casa de los espíritus…—, but in digital form, moving from paper to the screen, and processed in order to extract the text from the image using an OCR program to work with the text in its digital format3. Though these may be literary works in the classic and strict sense of the word, there is a fundamental difference stemming from the fact that, being able to exponentially increase the number of texts analysed through what has been called “distant reading» (Moretti, 2015), non-canonical texts can also be introduced; texts from journal collections, magazines or digital newspapers never before collected in book form, to use examples from my own work, can now be considered. Thus, when it comes to characterising literature from one time period or place, technically, we can avoid the partiality of the cannon and emphasise the possibility of making visible works from the periphery or those written by women, for example4. Further, apart from those works in the classical format, parallel to the digital methodologies digital texts are emerging —like, for example, fan fiction, literary blogs or online poetry—, that can also be analysed through digital methods and, as a result, are an object of study of Digital Humanities. The novelty of the field does not exist solely in using just any digital object, though, on occasion, their acceptance has been broadened5. Alan Liu, in “¿Qué significación tienen las Humanidades Digitales para las humanidades?”, an article translated for the first time into Spanish for the
present monograph, establishes a series of distinctions between Media Studies, in which traditional methods are used to study digital objects, and the Digital Humanities. Not infrequently, we find work that, under the title of Digital Humanities, discusses the adaptations of Lope de Vega’s comedies to WhatsApp by secondary school students. Or, we can find professors giving surveys to their students on their knowledge of Digital Humanities, asking about their use of social networks, online dictionaries, and Wikipedia when undertaking their normal tasks. The digital boom and its contemporary appeal —which includes, as we will see, the assertion of the use of scientific methods as a means of gaining funding from institutions, foundations, and companies— means that the surname “digital” applies to almost anything. However, though much has been written on the pedagogic application of Digital Humanities6, for example the volumes Digital Humanities Pedagogy (Hirsch, 2012) and Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom (Battershill and Ross, 2017), these focus on the use of digital methodologies whose ultimate focus consists in extracting information from texts, not necessarily to make a class or a task more dynamic or enjoyable. Though dynamism or enjoyment can be collateral effects, there is still the information-gathering component that cannot be overlooked.
The extraction of information is, in fact, a process that allows us to divide the field in two streams, both of which are currently housed under the same terminological umbrella of “Digital Humanities” and that, in the end, are directed towards the same objective. On the one hand, there is the preparation, the making visible, enrichment, and publishing of the corpus and related texts and, on the other, their analysis. Among the projects related to the preparation and publishing of the corpus is the digitising, labelling, processing for the rich text format, and the creation of online repositories or databases. Among these projects is the pioneering Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes that, despite the possibilities for improvement and updating that have been neglected, managed at the time to facilitate access and visibility to thousands of works (Martínez Poveda, Pérez Barroso y Villar Rodríguez, 2005; Sabido, 2001); the Biblioteca Virtual de Prensa Histórica7, the pages and repositories of authors created in recent years like the Valle-Inclán Repository (“Archivo Digital Valle-Inclán”); or more specialised projects like Post Scriptum, which introduced labelling of parts of speech and searches within the interface of the repository (Vaamonde, 2015); the Biblioteca Electrónica Textual de Teatro en Español (BETTE8), created by the International University of the Rioja, which presents the article by Jiménez-Fernández and Calvo Tello “Grafos de escenas y estudios literarios digitales: una propuesta computacional crítica – Concepción-María Jiménez-Fernández & José Calvo Tello”, included in this monograph; the collection of Spanish and Latin American novels compiled by the group CLIGS9; as well as the projects presented by Dolores Romero in this same volume, Mnemosine10 and Ciberia11, in her article “La lectura SMART. El acceso a la literatura a través de bibliotecas digitales —Mnemosine y Ciberia—”.
On the other hand, in the area of analysis, Digital Humanities applied to literary studies have among their potentialities the capacity to make more precise and perhaps even redefine the history of literature thanks to the joint vision they offer. Through digital means we can, for example and using the most common applications, facilitate the collation of texts in order to create an edited text (Bermúdez Sabel, 2017); analyse the relationships between writers through texts published in newspapers or through institutional affiliations that might previously have gone unnoticed (Schloen and Schloen, 2014); see how a given concept is represented, like, for example, a country or abstract concepts like “age”, in a collection of texts; examine the attitudes that existed around a certain concept by means of “sentiment analysis”, and how these attitudes have evolved, and could be linked to certain phenomenon outside of literature; authorship can be clarified12 or stylometry can
distinguish between different genres (Daelemans, 2013; Eder, Rybicki and Kestemont, 2016); references and allusions to other texts can be examined, or the relationships between characters in a novel and a play, thinking in terms of which ones are most central to the plot, which ones disappear and which others appear (Matthew Jockers’ example is paradigmatic in this sense as it explains how, in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, when the whale appears, Ahab disappears, and the two are almost never in the same chapter simultaneously (2014: 38-41)); or, in simpler terms, we can observe statistical associations between certain words and certain works or authors, while in others certain key words never appear. Benamí Barros García presents some of these methods in their article on Dostoyevsky in this monograph.
In the Spanish-speaking world, the Digital Humanities are growing more slowly than in the English- speaking world, the speed depending on the country and even the region, at times slowing down and at others speeding up. In Spain there was a veritable boom between 2013 and 2014, right after the creation of the Asociación de Humanidades Digitales Hispánicas, as seen by the number of works published in those years. Recently, this appears to have returned, given the number of Master’s programs on the subject13, the appearance of specialised journals14, a number of monographs in Spanish15, and the multitude of conferences and academic gatherings16 that, along with the specific calls for funding for this topic, are institutionalising the field17. At the same time, in the English- speaking world, the Digital Humanities have been well-regarded institutionally for some time now (Liu, 2013: 409; Cecire, 2011) and the end of the discipline’s ‘bubble’ has been predicted (Luengo, 2016) even though it has yet to be properly defined (Piotrowski, 2020). Indeed, in what is perhaps the most recent attempt to define the field, and as the second footnote indicates, texts that seek to define the field are a genre unto themselves, Michael Piotrowski takes up a series of comments on Twitter that argue for a split in favour of the computational specialisation given the impression that those projects with a greater weight of programming and statistics tend to be marginalised within the discipline because their proposals for conferences and journals are more often rejected (Piotrowski, 2020: 5-7).
These and other debates, many of which have periodically been collected since 2012 (2016 and 2019) in edited collections from the University of Minnesota, occur in part due to the hybrid composition of a field in which many humanists converge18. In this case, we are focused on literary studies and so avoid a discussion on what a humanist is. Some come from the field of computing and/or computational linguistics, and are years ahead in the creation and application of computational methods for the objects of Humanities studies, and some experts come from either end of the spectrum: from the most computational and the most Humanities based. Thus, the interests and perspectives are also varied. For the purists in the Humanities, the Digital Humanities are comprised of a series of digital methods that, basically, allow them to ‘count words’ and that thanks to the computer they can arrive at conclusions about the texts they study that would not have been possible by other means, or justify quantitatively intuitions that would otherwise have been supported by the claim “x idea appears prominently/recurrently/frequently… in x texts”. For the ‘computational humanists’ texts tend to be a akin to a practice field for trying out algorithms and statistical calculations to create new methodologies. They are more interested in how they reached a conclusion than in the conclusion reached and its interpretation. In Digital Humanities gatherings, it is easy to distinguish between the talks, roundtables, and workshops of these two distinct groups. Those rooms dedicated to the humanistic are filled with a series of people attracted by the ambitious, at times pompous, titles, and disappointed by the limited innovation they offer, with sideways glances at the slides that display rather theoretical assertions while typing on their computers. In those spaces where the computational reigns, there is a group in the back, armed with a paper and pencil, eager to learn
new methodologies to apply to their field, who give up because they are unable to understand the graphs and numbers that appear on the screen. This distinction has led to the idea of “builders” and “interpreters” (Ramsay, 2016), with Alan Liu emphasising the importance of collaboration between the two.
The third group to appear is the digital meta-humanists who undertake studies on the state of the question, theorisations on the field, its products and its implications. This third group can be comprised of individuals from the two previously mentioned branches.
The occasionally virulent debates have resulted in some fatigue and a division of the Digital Humanities, developed primarily in English, Dutch, and German. However, this fatigue is being somewhat countered by the strength of the field in other languages that have previously been peripheral, as is the case of Spanish20. The opening of Latin America with associations like the Red de Humanidades Digitales (RedHD), that gathers associations from different countries within the region21, and in countries generally considered to be in the “Global South”, has facilitated a shift in the axis, to the point where, in 2018, the largest international gathering in the field, the conference of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO), was organised in Mexico by the RedHD, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and the Colegio de México (ColMex), and coordinated by Élika Ortega (University of Colorado) and Glen Worthey (Stanford University). ADHO, on their end, had already opened the way for multilingualism, a process which, in 2018, resulted in a bilingual English/Spanish conference, by publishing the “Protocolo revisado para el Comité Permanente de Multilingüísmo y Multiculturalismo”22. This displacement or opening towards other languages and cultures, as Élika Ortega (2019) attests, has brought new debates and concepts to the field (Fiormonte et al., 2015: 207), like the question about the ‘whiteness’ of the field (Risam, 2016; McPherson, 2016; Noble, 2019). These questions include the Postcolonial Digital Humanities and the opportunities countries in the Global South have to make the field theirs and apply methodologies according to their own needs (Risam, 2019; Olsen and Risam, 2016) or the Digital Humanities as a means of confronting the canon, given that they offer the opportunity of drawing attention to, and including in literary studies, objects from regions, languages, and ethnic communities that have traditionally been marginalised (Earhart, 2012).
The Digital Humanities in Spain are also achieving international recognition and competing in calls for funding. At present, there are at least two projects on literature from the European Research Council located in Spanish universities that have at their core the use of Digital Humanities23. It would seem that, to receive funding for research projects on literature within Europe, it is almost obligatory to have a “digital” component. It also appears that almost anything goes: from a blog to a database or a digital tool. What on the one hand is positive –new tools are created and new data generated that can ideally be reused in other projects and to make them more visible– on the other hand they lead to promises of studies for which either the components are not yet ready or the value the digital adds to the research proposed is not apparent. As a result, we can find studies that extrapolate results from applications with little statistical rigour, for example, which, in the attempt to quantitatively justify a given analysis, loses credibility. These critical lines are traced in the state of the question argued by Concepción-María Jiménez-Fernández and José Calvo Tello, included in the present number of 452oF. The authors also evaluate the methods most frequently used in research on theatrical relationships and propose some adjustments so that these can be more significant.
On the other hand, institutions feel justified in demanding methods and types of results, like citations of literary studies that follow the structures of other fields like, for example, science or linguistics, which is detrimental to traditional Humanities and in a sense feeds the fallacy that the digital should be included at any cost.
As such, another series of problems emerges based on the uncontrolled enthusiasm of institutions which is not always accompanied or controlled by professionals. Thus, we see the rapid creation of programs of study that boast the name of digital with the idea that this will massively attract students to the faculties of the Humanities, which have been impoverished in recent years24. Given that the Digital Humanities are a conjunction of fields, it is necessary to integrate and adapt different teams and the groundwork necessary to create something truly new. However, the weight of the teaching requirements is being transferred to those in Computer Engineering, Communication Technology and Library Sciences25, leaving aside the importance of the humanistic or literary research questions being posed, and that make the techniques valuable. That is to say, what use is it knowing how to create graphs and databases if I don’t know how to create knowledge, meaning, or interpretation based on these? What problems can they help me solve and how can they be interpreted? The question of meaning, like the importance and value of the meaning extracted by digital means for the Humanities in general, is what Liu discusses in depth in the article translated here, and which has previously been debated in terms of education (Cordell, 2015).
Funding is, without a doubt, fundamental for undertaking the work. The Digital Humanities are expensive: a healthy budget is needed to coordinate teams that combine the technical experience and interest in the field of literature, to pay the people who design and program, to buy equipment, storage space on servers, licences, training, people who do jobs like cleaning up OCRs or introducing date into the databases, and a series of tasks that humanists are not used to including in the budgets for our projects. The money that the Digital Humanities require, despite their ethical interest in data and tools that are open access, create inequalities in their development, and this leads, despite what was mentioned about the opening up of areas that have been peripheral, to the epicentres being located in North America, Europe, and Australia. Further, being dependent on foundations and associations leads to the self-censuring of the cultural criticism of the Humanities, who cannot bite the hand that feeds them26. Within this extensive and complex overview, the question is: what can this monograph offer?
As mentioned earlier, the scope of 452oF exceeds the field of Digital Humanities by including literary theory and comparative literature. As a result, the target reader of the following articles will not necessarily be a specialist in the field, but rather someone who is curious, likely researchers in literary studies and likely Spanish speaking. Thus, this monograph is offered as a short guide to the multiple debates within the Digital Humanities that have been outlined here, in a variety of ways, and will shed light on the uses and applications that digital methods and methodologies can have for humanists with little experience in the digital, without having to fully submerge themselves in the field. In fact, for the “interpreters” it is not necessary to publish in the emerging journals on the Digital Humanities, rather any research, whether it be on the Golden Age, colonial literature, the representation of the city in contemporary Mexican literature, for example, can have a digital component and continue to be read as humanistic research. It is possible to include a graph in order to visualise certain calculations and still be published in the journals of a given area of literary studies. It is also not always necessary to innovate in terms of methodologies, using instead those that already exist in service of the topics that interest us.
Given the plethora of literature on the Digital Humanities, the present monograph follows in the footsteps of the previously mentioned publications also published in Spanish between 2011 and 2020 (see footnote 15). Here, we are focused on the question of the debates and the possible areas for exploration in Spanish in the field. Within this framework of expectations, we include five articles that approach the different aspects of the digital and the humanist.
To begin, the article by Dolores Romero López mentioned at the beginning of this editorial, “La lectura SMART. El acceso a la literatura a través de bibliotecas digitales —Mnemosine y Ciberia—”, is located within the subgrouping previously described as the creation and publication of online corpus. Romero’s proposal surpasses the simple presentation of the repositories created by the Mnemosine digital library, containing “textos digitalizados y datos de autores y obras que pertenecen al repertorio de raros y olvidados (1868-1939)”, and the digital library Ciberia, of digital literature in Spanish. Dolores Romero broaches the possibilities for reading that emerge due to the digitalisation and compilation of texts and information on these digital forms, and the possibilities for relationships between these texts and others. Contesting the prejudice that exists around reading on screen, the author highlights the benefits of what she calls Smart reading, which is significant and suggestive, and which can be broadened to include reading applied to other repositories and digital libraries.
Following this, using Dostoyevsky as an example, Benamí Barros García, in “El texto literario hecho datos: F. M. Dostoievski en el marco de las Humanidades Digitales y los enfoques cuantitativos”, unfolds a variety of possibilities for digital analysis by responding to the hypothetical question that can be asked of researchers in literature, and detailing the tools used and the expected results. In this case, more than just the information that can obtained about the works of Dostoyevsky, the catalogue of possibilities is especially interesting for the uninitiated to see examples of the application of some of the analytical activities of the second group discussed above (of those who do not compile, publish digital texts and prepare them as a corpus, but rather analyse them).
In “Grafos de escenas y estudios literarios digitales: una propuesta computacional crítica”, Concepción-María Jiménez-Fernández and José Calvo Tello go beyond showing the possibilities of analysis to engage critically with some examples of digital analysis that are usually undertaken on the relationships between characters in a play, and to propose a new method. Based in the critical literature that describes the diverse problems in the Digital Humanities and the digital library BETTE of Spanish theatre, the authors suggest the deficiencies of the model of analysis widely used, which is the centrality of the characters depending on which other characters accompany them in a scene, to propose an analysis based on the centrality of the scenes according to how they are related through the characters they contain in common with other scenes. Thus, Jiménez-Fernández and Calvo Tello develop various hypotheses on the significance of the change in characters between different scenes.
Pablo Ignacio Vallejos Baccelliere’s article “El archivo digital como objeto de estudio para comprender mecanismos de subjetivación que ocurren en la red” on the other hand, pertains to the field of meta-reflection or the critical and philosophical reflection on the consequences of the Digital Humanities and the society that surrounds them. Vallejos reflects on the role of subjectivity in the studies proposed by the digital, both as methodology and as an object of study.
Finally, the monograph presents the translation of Alan Liu’s “What Is the Meaning of Digital Humanities?” [“¿Qué significación tienen las Humanidades Digitales para las humanidades?”], until now unavailable in Spanish. Alan Liu is full professor in the English Department at the University of California in Santa Barbara, and is specialised in the application of Digital Humanities to Modern literature in English, and in the reflection on the discipline. The selected article was published in 2014
in PMLA and discusses the importance of the Digital Humanities within the fields of the Humanities while simultaneously looking for the relevant significance for the Humanities of what is produced by the Digital Humanities. To do so, the author follows, from beginning to end, the creation of a project by young digital humanists related to 19th century British novels. The text mixes observations on how they technically carried out the project, and the new significations and information the results offered for understanding certain evolutions in the corpus of the novels that could not have been appreciated without the use of technological methods. Thus, the author reconciles some of the difficulties discussed in this editorial and others within the field. For example, he refers to the question of whether or not the Digital Humanities are “a large tent” in which everyone can fit, the “builders”, the “computer humanists”, the “interpreters” and “contemporary humanists”, to use Ramsay (2016) and Pietrowski’s (2020) nomenclature. Even though it was written some years ago, I believe it is still a relevant and interesting text in 2020, given that it is a practical introduction to the work of the Digital Humanities and takes on questions that all of us have had, about, for example, the added value that the digital offers to studies in our field. Further, the article combines some of the discussions in the articles that make up this monograph and draws them together: it discusses the distinction between configuration and publication of the corpus, as in the article by Dolores Romero, and its analysis, as in the article by Benamí Barros. It further considers how we obtain meanings relevant for literary studies, as do Jiménez-Fernández and Calvo Tello, and the meta-interpretations in Digital Humanities found in Vallejos Baccellier. Though the state of the question Liu presents is no longer current, the debates mentioned continue to occur in contemporary literature.
The monograph concludes with the timely critical note by Juan Escourido, “Esto ya se publicó: común medieval – común digital”, which reflects on the freedom and appropriation of knowledge in the age of tension and coexistence between the physical and the digital, with interesting references to prehistory, from which the situation is derived, based in medieval literature.
Four articles have contributed to the Miscellaneous section, the first of which is related to digital creations (and the analogic analysis of them). In “El monstruo desde la exterioridad y la virtualidad: prácticas digitales en César González”, Emily Rangel Manrique approaches César González’s blog and his text ¿Qué puede un cuerpo? to study the processes of marginalisation in contemporary culture. In the next article, “El ‘cuentero’ como punto de encuentro entre la literatura popular y el cine moderno: Alias Gardelito”, Lucía López Riva further studies the processes of marginalisation in the 1970s through Bernardo Kordon’s short story Alias Gardelito and the subsequent film version. The third article, “Como en el principio. El balbuceo del lenguaje poético” by Eduardo Pellejero, presents a study on the origins and the essence of poetic language. Finally, in “Socratic dialogues on a complex body – soul relation in Plato’s Phaedo and Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights” Anna Bendrat uses the body-soul relationship that Plato establishes in Phaedo to analyse the limitations of the corporeal experiences and the exploration of the human soul in Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights.
Rocío Ortuño Casanova (coord.) Universiteit Antwerpen