Print, Anatomy, and Eucharistic Language in The Anatomy of Melancholy

“Content to be Pressed”: Robert Burton and the editio princeps hominis

by Christopher Mead

The essay begins:

In a note added to the last leaf of the fifth edition of the Anatomy of Melancholy (1638)—the last edition published before the author’s death in 1640—Robert Burton prefaces the list of errata with an attack on his printers. Addressed “Lectori,” the Latin complaint shares a number of details about the publication history of the volume that the reader holds in her hands:

Listen, good friend! This edition was begun at Edinburgh a short while ago, but was at once suppressed by our printers. After a time, with the consent of the printers of Edinburgh, it was continued at London, and finally completed at Oxford; and now, such as it is, it makes its fifth appearance in public. If the beginning does not match the end, nor the middle part either of them by reason of the numerous blunders and omissions, whom will you blame? The corrector, the printer, this man or that, or every one who has had a hand in it? As far as I am concerned, you may blame any one of them you like,—or the whole lot. Meanwhile I, the author, who have been almost cast on one side by them, am subjected to these worries, and pay the penalty for their waywardness. At their whim I am first drowned in the deep, and then caught up again and brought upon the scene, fastened to doors and posts, and exposed for any one to buy. But methinks I had better remember Harpocrates, lest I say anything too harsh against these my masters. For all my anger I keep myself in check, and,—what better—correct their faults and blunders thus.

After four editions that identify their printers, the fifth does not name one. It was, as E. G. Duff puts it, “nobody’s child,” printed in parts in Edinburgh, Oxford, and London that were then collected and put together in Oxford. The details of what led to this arrangement are unknown and subject to a good deal of speculation: Duff suggests they involve the effort of Henry Cripps, half-owner of the book’s copyright, to bring Robert Young, Scot and piratical printer, to heel.

Burton describes the broadside title pages posted by the bookseller around town as if they are his body—a literalization that makes more sense when we remember that from the third edition (1628) onward, the title page included a likeness of Burton as “Democritus Junior.” As we shall see, this paratextual scene in which the author is rescued from the oblivion of Lethean waters only to be publicly affixed to doors and posts (“auctor . . . portis & postibus affixus”) corresponds to the moments in the text proper where he identifies publication with a series of humiliating punishments wrought on his passionate body. As the richness of these protestations demonstrates, Burton accepts and even embraces the punishment of print publication, for it provides the means by which he hopes to cure his melancholic readers. In printed pages of the Anatomy, Burton enacts what might be called a eucharistic fantasy in which his body is distributed and then consumed by distant readers who are transformed from within. Paradoxically, this amplifying effort brings the author both fame and oblivion: while print allows him to communicate to a multitude of readers distant from him in time and space, the nature of the print market is such that ever-increasing amounts of printed materials ensure that his effort will soon be buried under piles of new publications. On one level, then, the press makes eucharistic amplification available to human authors for the first time. On another level, however, the press’s amplified product is a commodity bound for market. The author’s feeling of enlarged distributivity is only temporary: soon he will be forgotten, replaced by newer products—unless, of course, he is resurrected in the form of a new edition.

These passionate scenes of authorial display, often dismissed by critics as characteristic bits of Burtonian excess or even fun, testify to the remarkable historical period in which The Anatomy of Melancholy circulated. During the long transitional period between the small print runs of the incunabula and the rise of the corporately authored newspaper in the early eighteenth century, authors turned to the Eucharist—Christ’s chosen means for communicating his bodily presence to believers separated from him in time and space—as they sought to conceptualize their mechanical amplification through the press. Because the Eucharist has often been parsed for its doctrinal content, especially since the reformation, its original status as a medium of communication tends to be overlooked. For Burton, along with a number of other important English authors, the Eucharist offers a way to think through the still novel feeling of being amplified “in print.” Doubly Christological, the author’s dissemination in type involves suffering and fame in equal measure.

It is no accident that the eucharistic potential of typographic life is felt most strongly in England, where late-medieval expressions of sacramental culture like the Charters of Christ allowed writers to imagine duplicative transcendence by adopting Christ’s subject position as their own. Under manuscript conditions, the author’s ability to write eucharistically is limited, the writer’s textual amplification constrained by the slowness and irregularity of chirographic reproduction, a method of duplication that differs greatly from that of the eucharistic wafer, recently described by Aden Kumler as a “serially produced monochrome multiple in a world filled with handcrafted unica.” In the Charters of Christ, writers imaginatively transcend these conditions by mapping the human technology of the charter onto the divine technology that is the Eucharist; with the rise of print, however, they are able to overcome these conditions altogether. Of course, while the Eucharist and print are analogous, they are not identical: Christ’s miracle binds Satan, but publication in type is Faustian at best, involving a loss of agency to capital, public opinion and, as Burton describes in his prefatory note, to the dominators who own the mechanical means of his literary reproduction. To understand the logic behind what might otherwise seem an unlikely alignment of eucharistic and typographical reproduction, we must turn to the recent history of the salvific technology that Burton seeks to emulate. Continue reading …

CHRISTOPHER MEAD is a PhD candidate in English at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is currently completely his dissertation, “Mass Communication: Eucharistic Authorship in Early Modern England.” His research interests include the history of technology and the relationship between religion and literature.

Death with Interruptions

Death With Interruptions premiere and associated events 

In conjunction with the premiere of the opera Death with Interruptions, co-created by Representations founding editor Thomas Laqueur, two free public discussions will be held at UC Berkeley. Based on Nobel Prize winner José Saramago’s novel of the same name, Death with Interruptions features music composed by Kurt Rohde and a libretto by Laqueur.

Translation1

On Wednesday, March 18, longtime Saramago translator Margaret Jull Costa will join in discussion of the opera with Dennis Washburn (Jane and Raphael Bernstein Professor in Asian Studies and Chair of Comparative Literature at Dartmouth and translator of the forthcoming Norton edition of Tale of Genji), Robert Alter (Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley and translator of Genesis and The Five Books of Moses), and Paula Varsano (Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at UC Berkeley and translator of premodern Chinese poetry). The event will take place from 5:00-7:00 pm in Room 308A in the Doe Library.

On Thursday, March 19, Representations editorial board co-chair Mary Ann Smart leads a discussion of the opera with Laqueur, Kurt Rohde (Professor of Music at UC Davis), Majel Connery (Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Music at UC Berkeley and co-founder and executive director of Opera Cabal), and Shalom Goldman (Professor of Religious Studies and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University). The event will take place from noon to 2:00 pm in 3335 Dwinelle Hall.

Ticketing information for the San Francisco performances at ODC Theater on March 19 and March 21 can be found on the Left Coast Ensemble’s website.

A free noon concert will be offered Monday, March 16 at UC Berkeley in Hertz Hall. Please see the event listing for more information.

Leah Price presents “Reading Against Time”

Leah Price, Francis Lee Higginson Professor of English at Harvard University, will present a talk at UC Berkeley entitled “Reading Against Time” The event will take place on Wednesday, March 18 at 4:00pm in 3335 Dwinelle Hall.

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Price’s article, “From The History of a Book to a “History of the Book” appeared as part of the Representations 108 special issue on “Surface Reading” (Fall 2009). More recently, she contributed a response to the “Search” Special Forum, available in Representations 127 (Summer 2014).

Neoliberalism + Biopolitics | Conference

Neoliberalism + Biopolitics | Conference

February 27-28, 2015

Maude Fife Auditorium, Wheeler Hall, UC Berkeley

Featuring Representations editor Colleen Lye and authors Christopher Newfield and James Vernon. (Lye, Newfield, and Vernon are also the editors of the Representations special issue The Humanities and the Crisis of the Public University, 2011.)

The Neoliberalism and Biopolitics conference investigates the role of neoliberalism and biopolitics as both contemporary objects of study and paradigms of analysis for humanistic and social scientific inquiry. Organized by Berkeley’s Program in Critical Theory, the conference brings together diverse scholars to evaluate contemporary work on neoliberalism and biopolitics, while also interrogating the compatibility of different approaches seeking to deploy both concepts.

For the conference schedule, please visit nbpc.berkeley.edu.

Sponsors: Cultural Services-French Embassy in the United States, French American Cultural Society, and the University of California Humanities Research Institute along with UC Berkeley’s Program in Critical Theory, Divisions of Arts & Humanities and Social Sciences, Center for the Study of Law & Society, Class of 1936 First Chair of Political Science funds, Departments of English, Political Science, Rhetoric, and Sociology, Maxine Elliot Professor funds, and The Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities.

New Issue, Representations 129

Representations 129

CHRISTOPHER MEAD   ‘‘Content to be Pressed’’: Robert Burton and the editio princeps hominisREP129_Cover_1.indd

PETER SAHLINS    The Beast Within: Animals in the First Xenotransfusion Experiments in France, ca. 1667–68

NOAH HERINGMAN    Deep Time at the Dawn of the Anthropocene

JONATHAN BROOKS PLATT    Snow White and the Enchanted Palace: A Reading of Lenin’s Architectural Cult

ALEXEI YURCHAK    Bodies of Lenin: The Hidden Science of Communist Sovereignty

Endō Shūsaku and Frantz Fanon

Crossed Geographies: Endō and Fanon in Lyon

By Christopher L. Hill

Textual evidence indicates that the novelist Endō Shūsaku read the anticolonialist writer Frantz Fanon in the early 1950s, incorporating Fanon’s arguments on color and colonialism into his depiction of Japanese subjects after 1945. In this essay, examination of that heretofore unnoticed encounter provides an opportunity to reconsider the paradigms by which each writer is understood today and the terms in which they imagined a world not ordered by empires, whether European, American, or Japanese.

The author writes:

“The paths writers trace in the world tell as much about the geographies scholars give them as the geographies they lived. Figures of international repute pass each other unnoticed if the conventions under which we labor don’t allow a meeting. Once acknowledged, such encounters are an opportunity. Unexpected encounters reveal greater forces at work; new questions demand answers. Through crossed paths we can see the world in a different shape, but only if we are willing. In disciplinary and conceptual terms, we shy away from the leap of scale that making sense of an encounter between, say, a novelist from Japan and an anticolonialist from Martinique requires. It is easier to blow up or clone—to ‘globalize’ a national field or to deploy a theory anew—than to struggle toward a geohistorical problematic, a transnational frame for criticism, that would not reduce the unevenness and heterogeneity of the geography of lived experience to a comforting, because familiar, model. Two discomforting journeys may suggest the way.

200px-Frantz_Fanon“In early 1943 Frantz Fanon, who later became famous for his writings on colonial psychology and the struggle against colonialism, dropped out of his lycée and took a boat from Martinique to Dominica, where he hoped to join the Free French army. He was sent home, but the following March, after Martinique rallied to Charles de Gaulle, he sailed for Morocco with some one thousand volunteers. Fanon told a teacher that when freedom was at stake, all were concerned—but only the officers and some of the noncommissioned officers onboard were white; the rest of the volunteers were black. In the training camp in Morocco, soldiers from Martinique and Guadeloupe (‘old’ French colonies) ate the same food and wore the same uniforms as white soldiers; they lived apart from recruits from Morocco, Algeria, and sub-Saharan Africa. Fanon and his friends quickly saw that the army that had been formed to fight fascism had a racial hierarchy: whites at the top, North Africans at the bottom, and black West Indians ambiguously above the African Tirailleurs sénégalais in the middle. When Fanon’s unit decamped to Algeria in July, he discovered that the locals loathed black men. By the time he was fighting in France, in autumn, he was doubting his position between European soldiers and the Tirailleurs, because the black soldiers seemed to face the worst action. In January 1945 he wrote his brother that his reasons for joining up had been wrong; in April he wrote his parents the same.

“Fanon returned to Martinique in late 1945 and finished his baccalaureate. With funds provided for veterans’ education, he sailed late the next year for Paris, where he planned to study dentistry. He left Paris abruptly a few weeks after arriving there and went on to Lyon, where he enrolled in the Faculty of Medicine at its university, specializing in psychiatry. He read widely, attended classes by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and gave some lectures of his own. In May 1951 he published ‘The Lived Experience of the Black Man’ (‘L’Expérience vécue du noir’), an essay on Antillean men’s discovery that in France they were considered to be black. He took a temporary post in Dôle while he finished his thesis, which he defended at the end of November. He spent several weeks in Martinique in February and March 1952, but, deciding against practicing there, he returned to France and took a post at the clinic in Saint-Alban run by François Tosquelles, where he developed the foundations of his social psychiatry. In February he published an essay on the psychosomatic illnesses of North African men in Lyon, ‘The North African Syndrome’ (‘Le Syndrome nord-africain’), and in June, Black Skin, White Masks (Peau noire, masques blancs). (‘The Lived Experience of the Black Man’ was its fifth chapter.) After another temporary assignment in 1953, he took a post in Blida in Algeria, where he moved in November, and began learning about the struggle against French rule; in 1955 he began his work with the anticolonial Algerian National Liberation Front. He never returned to Martinique.

b2767b0b“In June 1950, Endō Shūsaku, who later became famous for fiction about Catholicism, began a journey in a different part of the world that, like Fanon’s, took him to Lyon. The first leg was a fourth-class voyage from Yokohama to Marseille. As Endō observed in his diary, relations among the passengers were determined by wealth, race, and the hierarchies of Western colonialism. A group of African soldiers from the French colonial army shared his compartment. They were returning to Saigon after escorting war criminals to Japan. During several port calls, Endō, and other Japanese students too, were treated as war criminals by local authorities. In Manila they were assembled on deck, while Filipinos on the docks shouted ‘Murderers!’ and ‘Assholes!’ in Japanese. In Singapore they were forbidden to disembark. While passing through the Suez Canal he learned of North Korea’s invasion of the South and US President Harry Truman’s order to intervene. After arriving in Marseille, Endō spent July and August with a Catholic family in Rouen, where he encountered a Japan-hating young man whose brother had served in Indochina during the Asia-Pacific War.

“In September Endō settled in Lyon, where he enrolled at the Catholic University and the University of Lyon’s Faculty of Letters to study French Catholic writers. In the streets Endō encountered plaques marking locations where fighters in the French Resistance had fallen; he also learned about a massacre of civilians by the Resistance in the town of Fons. His experiences on ship and the traces of the Resistance in France pushed him in the following years to write several stories, two novellas, and a novel about collaboration, resistance, and war crimes in France and Japan. Twice in 1952 Endō spent time in sanatoria in the Alps for tuberculosis. He moved to Paris in the autumn of that year and was hospitalized there in December. One of the patients in his four-bed room, a veteran, berated Endō with memories of his treatment by the Japanese army in Indochina. In January 1953 he departed Marseille for Japan because of his health. In 1954 he published a semi-autobiographical story called ‘As Far as Aden’ (‘Aden made’), about a Japanese student’s time in France, where he discovered he was un jaune, a yellow man, in the eyes of French whites….

“Yet the geographies of each writer’s lived experience are not as distinct as those in which scholarship presently confines them. The circumstances that shaped their writings on color and colonialism were at once personal and part of a history that encompassed both the Caribbean and East Asia. Reading Endō’s work through Fanon’s, and Fanon’s through Endō’s, reveals a mid-twentieth-century history of race and racialization on a large (I will not say global) scale. In this history decolonization and what should be called the de-imperialization of Japan by the victors in the Asia-Pacific War are entangled with the demise of the European empires and the rise of the American. The transformations coincided with manifold changes in the social meanings of black, white, and yellow and the rights associated with them. A history and a criticism in which this kind of encounter is plausible and meaningful must dismantle the analytically separate problematics of anticolonialism and decolonization, on the one hand, and of “postwar” and the Cold War in Asia, on the other. Reconstructing the history that connects Endō and Fanon does more than historicize these two writers’ early works. It suggests too what can be gained from an intellectual history and a criticism that ignores divisions more constructed than real while acknowledging, rather than trying to reconcile, the heterogeneous and sometimes contradictory qualities of the geography that results.” Continue reading …

CHRISTOPHER L. HILL is Assistant Professor of Japanese literature at the University of Michigan. The author of National History and the World of Nations: Capital, State, and the Rhetoric of History of Japan, France, and the United States (Durham, 2008), he is currently completing a book on the transnational career of the naturalist novel and beginning a project on Japanese writers in the “Bandung moment” of the 1950s.

Eric Hayot presents “What Happens to Literature If Persons Are Artworks?”

Eric Hayot, Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature and Asian Studies at Pennsylvania State University, will present a talk at UC Berkeley entitled “What Happens to Literature if Persons are Artworks?” The event will take place on Thursday, February 12 at 4:00pm in the Maude Fife Room (Wheeler Hall, 3rd floor).

Hayot for blog

The premise of the talk is that the ethics of reading that dominates the human sciences is borrowed essentially wholesale from a Romantic relation to the humanistic object of study, one of whose origins can be found in Kant. Hayot argues that this ethics is neither practically nor philosophically viable, and so he proposes an alternative to it that also, along the way, would produce a new way of thinking about the relationship between humans, artworks, and the market.

The first decade of Hayot’s career focused on what he describes as “the ways in which China (and a variety of correlates each working to undermine the geographic, cultural, or political singularity of the word “China”) have affected the intellectual, literary, and cultural history of the West (similarly undermined).” His “Chinese Bodies, Chinese Futures” is available in Representations 99 (Summer 2007).

Shelley’s Lucretianism

Growing Old Together: Lucretian Materialism in Shelley’s “Poetry of Life”

by Amanda Jo Goldstein

Goldstein’s essay, published in Representations 128, explores Percy Shelley’s The Triumph of Life as a strategic revival of Lucretian poetic science: a materialism fit to connect the epochal, romantic interest in biological life to the period’s pressing new sense of its own historicity. Shelley mobilizes Lucretian natural simulacra to show how personal bodies produce and integrate passages of historical time, exercising a poetics of transience that resists the triumphalism characteristic of both historiography and vitalist biology in the post-Waterloo period. Representing aging faces as mutable registers of the “living storm” of a post-Napoleonic interval, The Triumph depicts the face-giving trope of prosopopoeia as the unintended work of multitudes—demonstrating a nineteenth-century possibility of thinking biological, historical, and rhetorical materialisms together.

faces

The Triumph of Life was made famous,” says Goldstein, “in late twentieth-century criticism, for the way its ‘disfigured’ faces allegorized the verbal and material violence inherent in figuration as a function of reparative reading. In this article, however, I attempt to show how The Triumph’s last lines pointedly cease to construe figuration as a principally verbal or cognitive process at all. The neglected ‘new Vision’ (434) with which Shelley’s poem breaks off instead urges readers to review the scene of life that The Triumph of Life has been showing all along, but this time under changed philosophical and poetic premises about the relation between life, matter, and trope. For Shelley summons a very old poetic science to achieve his ‘new Vision,’ pointedly depositing the poem’s speakers and its readers in the midst of a closely adapted scene from Lucretius’s classical materialist epic, De rerum natura (c. 55 BCE). This ancient atomist scene construes the sensation of ‘Vision’ itself as a mode of figuration and a feature of material transience.” Read more …

AMANDA GOLDSTEIN is Assistant Professor of English at Cornell University. She is the author of essays on Herder’s poetic empiricism, Goethean morphology, and William Blake and the present-day revival of Lamarckian evolutionary theory.

 

The Mask of “Judaism”

“Judaism” as Political Concept: Toward a Critique of Political Theology

by David Nirenberg

The author begins:

“Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies bears an enigmatic subtitle: A Study in Medieval Political Theology. Enigmatic because although ‘political theology’ may be an allusion to Carl Schmitt’s 1922 book by that name, the meaning of the allusion remains elusive: Kantorowicz provided no commentary. My title, too, is meant to resonate with one of Schmitt’s, in this case his Concept of the Political. I will not be cryptic about my claim, which is that key European conceptions of the political—including Carl Schmitt’s—emerged through thinking about Judaism. Here I don’t mean Judaism as a historical or lived religion, but Judaism as a figure of Christian thought, a figure produced by the efforts of generations of thinkers to make sense of the world, a figure projected into that world and constitutive of it.

“’Political theology,’ I will suggest, is a conception of the political that emerged through Christian projections of Jewish enemies. Like so many other concepts, its meanings are multiple and unstable across time, but I will use the phrase only in a very general sense common to Schmitt and Kantorowicz, as well as to many other thinkers: that of a grounding of human political action in a commandment of obedience to the sovereign authority of God. I hope to convince the reader, first, that the representation of Jewish enmity has been historically important to the theorization of Christian political theology; and second, that this importance is not primarily the product of some essential aspect of lived (not to say ‘real’) Judaism, but was rather produced by the key terms and practices of Christian thought.” Continue reading …

Nirenberg In this article David Nirenberg traces a long history in Christian political thought of linking politics, statecraft, and worldly authority to the broader category of carnal literalism, typed as “Jewish” by the Pauline tradition. This tradition produced a tendency to discuss political error in terms of Judaism, with the difference between mortal and eternal, private and public, tyrant and legitimate monarch, mapped onto the difference between Jew and Christian. As a result of this history, transcendence as a political ideal has often figured (and perhaps still figures?) its enemies as Jewish.

DAVID NIRENBERG is Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Professor of Medieval History and Social Thought at the University of Chicago, Dean of the Division of the Social Sciences, and Founding Director of the university’s Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society. His books have focused on how Jewish, Christian, and Islamic societies have interacted with and thought about each other. These include Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages (1996); Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition (2013); Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism Medieval and Modern (2014); and the forthcoming Aesthetic Theology and Its Enemies: Judaism in Christian Painting, Poetry, and Politics (Spring 2015).

Three Responses to “Ulysses by Numbers”

Eric Bulson’s “Ulysses by Numbers” (Representations 127) asks the literal question, “Why is James Joyce’s Ulysses as long as it is?” Here we have three responses to his question, his methods, and his conclusions:

JAMES F. ENGLISH | The Resistance to Counting, Recounting

Eric Bulson takes it as given that “quantitative readings of literature . . . get a bad rap.”   Indeed, the presumed hostility of literary scholars toward quantitative analysis provides the necessary friction for his essay, lending argumentative force and methodological point to what might otherwise seem a rather narrowly focused piece. And it is to highlight the wider stakes involved in Bulson’s contrarian decision to count rather than simply read the words of Ulysses that the editors have invited this accompanying cluster of responses and reflections.

I’m in no position to challenge the view of literary studies as a bastion of numerophobia. I wrote a few years ago that a “negative relation to numbers” is “foundational” to literary studies, which occupies a structural position in the university as the quintessential non-counting discipline. But what strikes me now is that neither Bulson nor I, nor anyone else hoping to expand the space for quantitative analysis in literary research, has presented any quantitative evidence to support this picture of literary scholars as the determined enemies of counting. Wouldn’t “quantitative data… actually help us” in this respect, too, enabling us to take the measure of our presumed hyper-commitment to the qualitative, to calculate its degree and scale relative to other disciplines and to other moments in our own history? (Continue reading … )

DAVID KURNICK | Numberiness

“We can indeed count” words, Eric Bulson observes, and concludes that therefore “the counting must go on” (4).  The reasons to move from the first remark to the second will not be self-evident to everyone.  But “Ulysses by Numbers” gives an unprecedentedly intimate sense of Joyce’s compositional practice, offering not just a fascinating picture of how Ulysses grew but also an account of why it grew in the increments it did.  Perhaps the most surprising discovery here for Joyce scholars is the fact that, as Bulson puts it, “even after serialization stopped, Joyce was still writing by the numbers” (26): even released from the 6,000-word increments suggested by Pound for the novel’s serial installments, Joyce kept creating at scales of 6,000.  It turns out that “Circe,” which seems to obey no rules save the volcanic logics of the unconscious and Joyce’s own ambition, is dutifully designed to fit into eight installments of The Little Review.  Figure 9, where you can see this finding visualized, offers a startling picture of genius in compromise with the materiality of publication.

Bulson thus indisputably helps us get a sharper sense of how “the serial logic of length” (6) conditioned this particular masterwork.  Accordingly, my questions about his essay are less about the findings themselves than his account of them, and they concern the charisma that the rhetoric of number itself exerts in the essay.  Surely Bulson’s most provocative claim is that his method will help us get at Ulysses’ “numerical unconscious” (4).  The formulation suggests an opaque but determining structure whose revelation will be decisive for our sense of the meaning of the whole.  And Bulson does tend to connect number with causality in just this way.  “More words on the page but fewer seconds passing in the plot: that is a discovery Joyce made while writing Ulysses” (19).  This can’t really be said to be a discovery, though, since Joyce could have learned that discursive time affects diegetic time from (to pick a name not quite at random) Homer, who interrupts a classic action-movie moment—an arrow whizzing by Menelaos—with a startling simile about Athena deflecting it “the way a mother / would keep a fly from settling on a child / when he is happily asleep”[1]: the words take longer to read (or to hear recited) than an arrow to miss its mark, and even longer if you pause to think about them.  And “more words” is only one way texts slow down story-time: arcane or boring or made-up words can achieve a similar end with relative verbal economy, as can disorienting shifts in point of view, or a lot of jokes, or odd images.  Every attempted reader of Finnegans Wake knows that the number of words on the page has relatively little to do with how long it takes to read that page and how much time it seems is passing in the “plot” as you do so (if I had to quantify, I’d say that word count in the Wake isn’t even the half of it). (Continue reading … )

HOYT LONG and RICHARD JEAN SO | “A Hail of Information”: Ulysses, Topic Modeled

What can a quantitative analysis of style tell us about James Joyce’s Ulysses? Quite a lot, according to Eric Bulson. In his “Ulysses by Numbers,” Bulson uses some of the simplest forms of “stylometrics”—word counts and measures of lexical diversity—to provide new insights into some fundamental questions: why do the novel’s episodes get longer? What’s the relationship between an episode’s length and its plot? Bulson productively correlates the concrete evidence given by word counts with questions of composition and the material constraints of serialization. While the straightforward empiricism of his argument is a strength, it left us to wonder what it misses by treating words as homogenous numerical units abstracted from their semantic contexts. But not because we believe numbers and counting are unsuited to an interpretation of the novel. One of Bulson’s great insights is that counting is hardly alien to the project of reading Ulysses, an insight encapsulated in an epigraph from Hugh Kenner (“‘Words’ are blocks delimited by spaces. So we can count them.”). For us, the question is how to push this counting further. Can we count the words in ways that do not elide their contextual signifying power? Kenner too was interested not just in the number of words on the page, but the likelihood of certain words appearing with others, in what he called “space-time block[s] of words.”[1]

As quantitative approaches to text analysis have evolved, they have similarly shifted from counting words to counting collocations of words, and even collocations of collocations. One popular innovation along these lines is probabilistic topic modeling, which we propose here as a method for exposing what Kenner calls Ulysses’s larger “verbal systems.”[2] What we discover in the process is in part obvious—that topic modeling as a method of counting is also constrained by its assumptions about words as numerical units and their relation to each other. Ulysses troubles these assumptions, which amount to a highly particular theory of information. Precisely because it does so, however, topic modeling the novel also reveals something of how the novel functions as its own form of literary information. If word counts help us understand Joyce as a “mechanical counter,” topic models help us understand him as a careful “arranger” of latent verbal structures.[3] (Continue reading … )