Daniel Wright responds to Tara K Menon
For those of us untrained in digital methods, we’ve reached a vexed moment. On the one hand, these methods and the conversations surrounding them are a part of our wider field, and so we are rightly expected to engage with the questions and the methods of the digital humanities where it seems appropriate. On the other hand, we may not want to do more than offer polite recognition and then go on our merry close-reading way. We may not have the expertise to do more than this, and to acquire it may be beyond the scope of a book project for which such data analysis is not understood as central to the argument. Menon helps us to see Farina caught in this bind, both acknowledging the usefulness of data and also not going as far as he might in the analysis of this data, leaving it raw where it could be given more meaningful shape. He must acknowledge that we can now do such a thing as keyword searching, and that such searching is useful to his work as a close reader; but he must also acknowledge that he hasn’t done much more than keyword searching and counting, not because he couldn’t or because it would be useless, but simply because he doesn’t want to. As he argues, an increased consideration of data might make its forms of knowledge appear to be preeminent or authorizing. The effect could be to obscure the aesthetic, to distract from his goal of “an aesthetic theory of modern English prose as a distinct medium of knowledge production”—aesthetic knowledge as distinct, that is, from the kind of knowledge produced by statistical analysis (xiv). In short, Menon is right that Farina points to the usefulness of data only to leave that usefulness less than fully exploited; indeed, he must point to the usefulness of data in our field as it is currently shaped in order to be responsible. But must he do more than point?