Reading Machines

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means for an algorithm to produce knowledge. I’m also thinking about how an algorithm and a lens (in the literary criticism sense) seem to coincide with one another and operate on similar levels. When I use a lens to understand a text I’m inherently using a theoretically informed algorithm that produces certain types of readings that are afforded by the lens or theory that I have decided to focus on. Which then makes me wonder whether or not it is possible to feed an algorithm the information it needs to conduct lets say, a Marxist reading of a text. And whether or not it is possible for a program of some sort to produce a reading that would inspire or wow some of it’s readers. But then I wonder whether or not an algorithm or a lens is all you need for interpretation… I guess what I’m getting at here is that technology is making me feel like we’re missing something about us that is non computational nor programmable. I just can’t put my finger on it.

I found this text to be really fascinating especially the chapter on “Potential Readings” the entropic poem does some really fascinating work in terms of producing a text that compiles word frequency and whatnot. It’s fascinating in the sense that it really made me think about my own understanding of reading. I looked at the words at first and was kind of like, yeah cool whatever. But then I started to think of the word frequency as data—data that wasn’t trying to make an argument. I became much less skeptical when I started to think of algorithms and technologically mediated and re-produced or deformed texts not as arguments but as new objects of study that provide us ways of producing new lenses, because in the end I think the thing I have been trying to get at here is that perspectives are non programmable. We can all look at the entropic poem and deduce something different and something about that feels good? Ramsay had one line that really sold me on this text and method “Our fear of breaking faith with the text may also need to give way to a renewed faith in the capacity of subjective engagement for liberating the potentialities of meaning” (57). I like this whole algorithm thing, so long as it continues to function as a lens to produce new readings.

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