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    Close-Reading Cloud Atlas with Computers

    Eve, Martin Paul (2017) Close-Reading Cloud Atlas with Computers. In: David Mitchell Conference 2017, 3 June 2017, University of St Andrews, Scotland. (Unpublished)

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    Reading literature with the aid of computational techniques is controversial. For some, digital approaches apparently fetishize the curation of textual archives, lack interpretative rigour (or just, interpretation), and are thoroughly 'neoliberal' in their pursuit of Silicon Valley-esque software-tool production (Allington et al. 2016). For others, the potential benefits of amplifying reading-labour-power through non-consumptive use of book corpora fulfils the dreams of early twentieth-century Russian formalism and yields new, distant ways in which we can consider textual pattern-making (Jockers 2013). In this paper, I bring a range of computational stylometric approaches to bear on David Mitchell's genre-bursting novel Cloud Atlas. In particular, I focus on the micro-linguistic changes between the different generic sections of the novel. Specifically, I demonstrate that it is possible to discern between all-but-one of the novel's chapters purely on the frequency clustering of the six most-frequent words and ignoring all others: “the”, “a”, “I”, “to”, “of”, and “in”. Usually such granularity would be seen as an unconscious feature of an author's writing, but in Cloud Atlas Mitchell's stylistic virtuosity goes beyond regular expectations. To understand how and why this subtlety of language mutation could be so pronounced, I also present the results of various part-of-speech trigram analyses that I have conducted on the text and give an extensive presentation of the linguistic make-up and mimetic language-accuracy of the Pacific Diary section. In so doing, it is my attempt in this paper to begin to understand the link between Mitchell's formalist language approaches and the generic effects that the text so deftly engenders. For, if we want to understand novels, then we need to understand the functions of words and language. And, as Mitchell himself puts it in Cloud Atlas: what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?


    Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
    School: School of Arts > English, Theatre and Creative Writing
    Depositing User: Martin Eve
    Date Deposited: 15 May 2017 17:47
    Last Modified: 28 May 2017 13:44


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