“I know what to do when I see words on page; when I look at this graph, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to read it.” Andrew Stauffer, quoted by Laura Mandell, sums up how I’m feeling at this point in the class. The entire time I read Mandell’s essay, and the second time, I vaguely followed what she was explaining, but ultimately could not see a reason to mimic or pursue similar studies in visualization. It was interesting to see her map out Southey’s letter writing relationships, but funnily enough, the entire time I kept thinking that I would have rather worked with straight data and created a visual myself. (Through pad and paper no less.)
I found it interesting that in both Moretti and Mandell the issue of interpreting data correctly was a common thread, and both made caveats that “errors” or “miscalculations” were common. Maybe I am a skeptic, but it seems that every assumption or “interpretation” that was made of the data, in Moretti especially, was unfounded. Mandell explains that “a major principle of Information Visualisation is that the first thing we will see when we look at a visualisation is “errors” in our data.” Moretti also states that “quantitive explanandum and a qualitative explanans leave you often with a perfectly clear problem— and no idea of a solution.” (26)
I think both of these authors were interesting in what they were pursuing or attempting to visualize, but their exercises seemed more effort than they were worth. Mandell’s graph could be used to graph character relationships, especially in novels such as War and Peace or anything Homer, to aid with following which character is related to whom and why, but many people create their own methods for figuring those relationships out. Moretti’s graphs could be used to visualize when an author published during their lifetime, which could help frame an understanding of the life events that influenced the novels- which would be very helpful, but could be visualized in a more coherent way.
These visualizations to me seem like a PC person created them, and my Mac brain cannot compute. Voyant’s tools seem more universal in comprehension, and could be used in the classroom setting with more ease. I especially like the “Termsberry” that connects the top words in the novel (based on volume) with other words that are used with it. That could be useful in comparing and contrasting the meanings of these words and how those meanings affect the characters, plot, etc.
My favorite tool thus far was “tagcrowd.” I think that could be useful in many assignments, such as handing creative writing students the most used words from their favorite book with the assignment of writing a poem using only those words or a poem encompassing every word. For example, you could limit Frankenstein to 6 of its most used words and ask students to write a sestina with them.
Personally, visualizing novels is a personal discovery, and to lose that process to collaboration or having to view the data through someone else’s visualization, makes the process more difficult and time consuming. Ultimately, I will need to play with these tools more as for now I’m baffled by what they are visualizing and how that helps to further our knowledge of novels. (554)