Introducing Rachel Shabalin

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This is the inaugural post by the incoming Zeugmatic RA Rachel Shabalin, an English major at the University of Calgary. Rachel brings a fresh perspective to the project, as this post (about her journey into DH) makes clear.

The summer after high school I felt tranquil—I was officially free from the torture of finding the value of “x.” The world harmonized. Mathematics was a fading, distant memory—or so I thought! During the first year of my English degree, I found home in the ambiguous and paradoxical, and rhetoric’s refusal to make “logical” sense only made me dig deeper. Feeling new questions pulling on my perception, fraying the familiar answers, I found myself in a new world. The desire to write creatively swept over me. Words and sounds were fragments and pieces I arranged, and whether I was aware of it or not, my poetry appropriated and followed patterns. Although I felt liberated from what I understood as the mathematical, little did I know I was working within patterns (math), networking and translating signs (language) into meaning.

What drew me to the Zeugmatic project was the unique opportunity to work with the patterns of rhetorical figures in a text and a desire to understand the separation between natural and poetic language. Now in the third year of my undergrad, I find myself reanalyzing my approach to writing and pushing myself to understand how the mathematic permeates through language. I also find myself questioning how the patterns of language are related to form, but also how form promotes certain patterns of reading.

The Zeugmatic project is an example of discovering an alternative reading to a text through a process of algorithmic criticism1. As Stephen Ramsay notes, algorithmic criticism is not a method for settling questions, but rather a tool investigating new lines of knowledge that promote a continued discussion. Although the digital takes a quantitative approach, it still imposes a type of reading, and like any other type of reading, it does not enter the realm of objectivity. All forms of “critical reading practices already contain elements of the algorithmic” and “any reading of a text that is not a recapitulation of that text relies on a heuristic radical transformation.”2 By reading a text(s) through a distant lens3, the literature’s ambiguity enriches itself through a scope of solutions displayed in a kaleidoscopic vision. As Viktor Shklovsky, a Russian Formalist, states: “the purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known.”4 The defamiliarization of texts using algorithmic manipulation imparts a sensation that touches and forms new knowledge. Through digital humanities, familiar texts are defamiliarized and renewed into uncharted discussions.

Works Cited:

Moretti, Franco. Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models of Literary History. London:
Versa, 2005. Print.

Ramsay, Stephen. Reading Machines: Toward an Algorithmic Criticism. Urbana: U of
Illinois Press, 2011. Print.

Schlovsky, Viktor. “Art as Technique.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin
and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2004. p.15-21. Print.

  1. “A criticism derived from algorithmic manipulation of text” (Ramsay, Reading Machines, 2). []
  2. Ramsay, Reading Machines, 16. []
  3. “‘Distant reading’ where distance is however not an obstacle, but a specific form of knowledge: fewer elements, hence a sharper sense of their overall” (Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees, ix). []
  4. Schlovsky, “Art as Technique,” 16. []