Reading Machines

I was fascinated by Reading Machines. I’d already submitted my essay draft when I read it, but I think it’s going to be super useful as I think about my final project. Here’s a passage that stood out to me:

[A]lgorithmic criticism might well eschew the question of success and instead ask how much more gloriously and fruitfully it might fail. The goal, after all, is not to arrive at the truth, as science strives to do. In literary criticism, as in the humanities more generally, the goal has always been to arrive at the question. (68)

This was especially interesting to and complicated for me because I’ve never heard it put that way before–that literary criticism is attempting “to arrive at the question.” In fact, I’ve always been told that you can’t end up with a good analysis unless you start with good questions. That’s the sense I get from reading academic articles, too: you start with your burning question and then try to answer it, to fill a hole in scholarship, to address the question that everyone else is supposedly overlooking, and, by implication, get answers. How does our approach to scholarship change if we start try to arrive at questions rather than answer them? Is this perhaps what some of the texts (especially the fiction ones) we’ve read this semester are doing? What are some ways algorithmic criticism can help us here, especially those of us who aren’t used to thinking this way?


I’m still wrestling with “What is Code” and 17776, honestly. I’m not sure what to do with them. Even though “What is Code” was ostensibly written for someone who knows little or nothing about coding, I struggled to “process” all that information: the story peppered throughout kept me anchored, to an extent, in the whelming sea of terms and ideas and figures I didn’t know; I kept going to find out what happened. But, I just felt confused and overwhelmed by the more technical aspects. I felt similarly adrift in 17776. It was cool and kind of interesting, but I haven’t yet decided what to do with it… so I’m looking forward to hearing others’ experiences.

One thought on “Reading Machines

  1. I really like your insights into how Reading Machines changes scholarships and questions, but I similarly agree with your thoughts on 17776. I was so intrigued by it, yet I really didn’t know what was happening or what to do with it. I could see a connect to algorithmic criticism through the ways of that the computers, the spacecraft were analyzing and attempting make sense/meaning out of human activities. They talked about human behavior, boredom, existentialism, capitalism, all of our classic scholarly critiques, but they were machines, reading humans. But, I’m not sure what to do with that.

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