por josebakm

It was only after two semesters of graduate school when I started to develop a personal approach to writing my papers, my imprint became very clear after only four research papers were produced. It was also then, when the hurly burly started and I encountered one of those people with an individual office and a salary four times mine. Apparently, my approach was boring and old-fashioned, not original. It really sounds stupid and pretty silly, but I even had to deal with some sarcasm and mockery when I was told “go ahead, and good luck trying to present a paper on the intricacies  of the narrative instance.” I do not really want to give too many details on the topic of the paper, but I can tell you it was a highly formalist approach.

When I took my first literary theory class around 11 years ago, I remember being stunned by the ideas of the Russian Formalists, I was so innocent that I even had to be told what form was. Jakobson, Skhlovsky, Warren and Wellek, they were my inspiration for a long time. However, I soon realized their deficiencies, which did not keep me from  loving them.

When I came to graduate school, I started to discover deconstruction, gender theory, structuralism, and my universe broadened way too much. I was not able to understand how there could be such a contradiction between followers of different approaches if, after all, each of them is flawed, skewed and opportunistic —in the sense that we all distort images and manipulate concepts in order to make them fit better within our ideas. Nevertheless, I started to become familiar with more quantitative approaches to literature and to other humanistic disciplines. I had my doubts about such a “cold” method, but I understood that we actually needed to cool down a little bit, so that being impersonal was ok; and finally I started to look at this approach as I  look at gender studies and deconstruction: it was a genre.

That’s why I found Moretti’s Graphs, Maps and Trees interesting. In the graphs section, Franco Moretti studies the evolution of genres in history, their birth and their decay, and he provides some indicators to identify these movements that seem to be cyclical: they are the middle distance, placed in between the ‘event’ (the individual case) and the ‘longue durée’ (the historic long span form the annals school). Therefore, these cycles “constitute temporary structures within the historical flow¨ (14).

If we apply the definition to our own case, it is not difficult to parallel literary genres with literary criticism genres. And even more, if we believe in these historical cycles, we can easily claim that the Formalists are trendy again, simply because their ideas fit better in the newer realm of DH and quantitative studies. Moretti points to Skhlovsky and his theory of the rising new genres, based on the obsolete”artistic usefulness” of previous genres: “because as long as a hegemonic form has not lost its ‘artistic usefulness’ there is not much that a rival form can do: there can always be an exceptional text, yes, but the exception will not change the system”(17).

Although Moretti states that this is not enough of a reason to explain the whole process, I would like to explain what came to my mind concerning gender studies, theory and digital humanities. In the first place, critical theory, as a genre of the literary studies always seem to lack a down to earth approach, what they do is   fancy and they sound even fancier; I actually do like them, they practice a sort of spiritualism that really fits literature and its characteristics. However, they were proved more of an obscure discourse and a scholarly trend after Alan Sokal’s quasi artistic contribution to Social Text Journal, in which he pretty much denied the existence of a singular real world outside the individuals. That is totally a “monstrosity,” as Moretti calls these productions of older genres (17).

The case of gender studies is also similar. Although the need to explore literature and art in the way women or queer studies did, they have a very finite source of inspiration, which is the human body. For this purpose we can look back to the  80’s and 90’s and see how the artists had a strong focus on sex, and the social roots of genders. This is all true and relevant, useful for younger generations, but it may seem a little accessory to emphasize these views too much, given the actual social panorama of material scarcity.

As of today, the world is involved in a serious material crisis, in which we are seeing social wealth being threatened by the unmeasurable desire for maximizing profits and speeding up production processes that a small privileged social sector is imposing. This is the reason why, in my opinion, the measurements, quantities and maps pose one of the most appealing contribution to the academic scene. The general public and also the specific audiences are demanding a more concrete down to earth discourse, and we cannot ignore or disregard the disconnection that  exists between humanists and humans. And that was  just a personal opinion, but  the universities are hiring professors who can offer courses on digital competency and who have ongoing  material projects; and that is not me, it is the numbers talking.