Posts Tagged ‘ criticism ’

New term, new posts

So it’s that time of year again. The start of the new term means new courses, new projects, and new posts on the blog.

A description of what to expect:

After wrapping up my study of social media use at the reference desk at Grant MacEwan University, I’ll be conducting a similar study with librarians at the University of Alberta. This project represents roughly a third of the work I’ll be completing over the next few months, as well as a significant chunk of the research I intend to use for my thesis. This study, ostensibly, is framed within an LIS course entitled “Advanced Research Methods”, where (mainly) thesis students in the program form a support group to get through the early phases of their thesis research. I’m actually pretty excited about this project, particularly since I’m going into it with findings from my summer study. I expect to post one or two updates over the course of the term, at the least.

I’ll also be taking a course on Reference Services. Not sure if that’ll actually make it on the blog in any form, but it’s worth mentioning insofar as it’s something I’ll be preoccupied with.

The course I’m most anticipating, and that will definitely be featured in most of this Fall’s blog posts, is a directed reading called “Video Game Criticism”. For this, in addition to a ton of self-assigned readings, I’ll be playing Dragon Age 2 and subsequently writing a critical analysis of the game. The basis for this course– unlike most video game courses, which tend to be focused on design and production– is summarized by Ian Bogost in his introduction to Unit Operations:

…similar principles underlie both contemporary literary analysis and computation. I will use this commonality to analyze a field of discursive production that has yet to bind an authoratative place in either world– videogames. […]A practical marriage of literary theory and computation would not only give each field proper respect and attention from its counterpart, but also create a useful framework for the interrogation of cultural artifacts that straddle these fields.

In other words, I’m interested in developing a model or framework for studying video games that is analogous to how we perform literary criticism. As both an English student and a video game enthusiast (not to mention a digital humanist), the most urgent question is why I haven’t thought of doing a directed reading like this before.

Chief component of the directed reading– like last Winter’s directed study in social media and Knowledge Management– is to maintain journal entries (read: blog posts) about my progress in and thoughts of the game, and my synthesis of related readings about game design and theory.

In addition to the more formal journal entries (or “response papers”), I would like to start using this as a personal blog once more. I plan on at least making the attempt; in the past I’ve never been able to consistently keep that sort of thing up.

On a final note, a former professor of mine emailed me a link to this blog post about defining the digital humanities. Imagine my surprise in discovering that my own definition of DH, supplied for 2011’s Day of Digital Humanities, was prominently cited. As a mere graduate student, I feel sheepish about “eschewing disciplinary rigor”, adroitly or not (who am I to fight convention, after all?), but proud all the same that I apparently managed to “capture the spirit” of the DH community.

I must tip my cap to Eric Forcier, whose reply adroitly eschews disciplinary rigor in favor of admirably capturing the spirit of the DH community—especially in painting DH as an ephemeral, seemingly idiosyncratic curiosity that either attracts or repels people, and often changes them fundamentally:

When I first applied to this grad program, my understanding of what DH was all about was crystalline in its purity. Not so today. My idea of DH is that it’s sort of like a highway oil slick on a sunny day. When you look at the slick, depending on the angle, you might get a psychedelic kaleidoscope of reflected colours; if you’re lucky you might spot your reflection in it; then again, all you might see is darkness. And if you feel compelled to step in it, don’t be surprised if you slip. Those stains will not come out. -Eric Forcier, University of Alberta, Canada

I’ll try not to let it go to my head.

Bloom’s Cult of the Bard

This is a response to a reading for HUCO617: Posthumanism– The introduction and first chapter of Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human.

We were asked to read this selection while paying careful attention to how Bloom sets up Shakespeare as the origin of what we today call “humanism”, and to wonder, “What if Shakespeare never existed?  What if Bloom made him up?”

To start with, Bloom’s Shakespeare makes me think of the reverence and divine elevation of the title character in A Canticle for Leibowitz.  In the first part of Walter Miller Jr.’s novel, a novice monk uncovers some cryptic documents apparently written by the founder of his order, Leibowitz.   Over the centuries Leibowitz, a long-dead engineer, becomes a symbol for the preservation of knowledge.  Shakespeare and his works are also a symbol: for Bloom, he is a symbol of what it means to be human, and Bloom proselytizes about how significant his existence was in the promotion of that ideal.

If Shakespeare never existed, Bloom implies, our understanding of who we are as human beings– humanism, more generally– would be completely different, unfathomable.  I suggest that Shakespeare makes a convenient symbol for Bloom, just as Leibowitz was convenient for the Albertian Order in Miller’s novel… but if he had never existed there would have been someone else to take his place.

Bloom’s mistake is to present Shakespeare as existing in a virtual vacuum; he talks about influences on Shakespeare’s writing only in the context of how Shakespeare imitated existing forms, such as Ovid, to showcase his originality.  Bloom grudgingly admits Chaucer affected Shakespeare’s work (“He took hints from Chaucer…”), but Chaucer– who preceded Shakespeare by two centuries– began exploring the human condition in his Canterbury Tales in such a sophisticated way that it is still critically read for that reason today.  Shakespeare may crystallize several centuries of literary tradition and Renaissance thought in his plays, acting as a lodestone for generations of literary criticism, but he is hardly responsible for inventing humanism as a founding principle of western philosophy.  I’d contend the fact that Shakespeare so effectively summarized the prevailing philosophical bent of the European Renaissance has made it too easy for centuries of critics like Bloom to invoke his work as the culmination of western literary tradition.  Arguably, this position has stunted the growth of literary criticism, paying poor tribute to the many good creative works that have been written since, and we are only now beginning to grasp other approaches to criticism.

Another thought (and I have to say, I had many I’m leaving unmentioned in reading Bloom’s text): Bloom quotes T.S. Eliot in saying, “…all we can hope for is to be wrong about Shakespeare in a new way.  I propose only that we cease to be wrong about him by stopping trying to be right.”  This is a truism that should apply to all sufficiently sophisticated creative works, “literature”, not just Shakespeare.  The more closely you examine an object, and the more eyes you have examining it, the more it reveals.  We have had four hundred years to examine Shakespeare’s corpus– imagine what we could get out of four hundred years of interpretations of Joyce’s Ulysses?

Art is Art and Science is Science, “and never the twain shall meet”?

HuCo 500 – Weekly questions


The notion of hypothesis testing and empirical validation comes out of the language of experimental science– a rhetorical tradition that evolved to lend some structure to the exploration of the natural world by providing a method for separating the unversally agreed-upon (‘the facts’) from the focus of current disagreement and debate.  It is not difficult to imagine why such language would seem foreign…in a field so focused…on encouraging the critical discourse to continue. (Ramsey, 2003)

Is the language and methodology of “experimental science” completely incompatible with that found in literary criticism?  Does it/could it have a place in defining, even enriching the critical discourse?

Related: What role should computational methods play in the act of interpretation?


This does not imply that the software should be neutral, as many tools and web sites in digital humanities try to be.  It cannot be neutral in this regard, since there is no level at which assumption disappears.  It must, rather, assert its utter lack of neutrality with candor, so that the demonstrably non-neutral act of interpretation can occur. (Ramsay, 2005)

Can software be neutral, or is it invariably biased by the various levels of mediation it is subject to (human agencies that participated in developing, programming, rendering the software)?  Are the tools we use ever neutral?


Bonus question:

[Are we not] inflicting an inappropriate humanism upon the cherished positivism of scientific enquiry? (Ramsay, 2005)

Is humanism ever inappropriate?



Ramsay, Stephen. (2005). “In Praise of Pattern.” TEXT Technology. 14(2).

Ramsay, Stephen. (2003). “Toward an Algorithmic Criticism.” Literary and Linguistic Computing. 18(2).