Andrew Goldstone

I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I study and teach twentieth-century literature in English. My research interests include modernism and non-modernism in English and French, the sociology of literature, literary theory, the history of genre fiction, South Asian literature in English, and the digital humanities, especially computational text analysis. I also have a long-standing interest in digital systems for document preparation and typesetting, especially LaTeX.

My book, Fictions of Autonomy: Modernism from Wilde to de Man (2013), is published by Oxford University Press. For information about the book and ordering links, see my webpage for the book.

Doing without Texts: Sapiro on Translation

If we want to do sociology of literature, let’s get away from texts for a bit.

One of the most promising things about the current interest in quantitative methods for literary study is that it offers us some alternatives to reading as a method. There are important questions about literature—above all, about literature as a social and historical system—that cannot be answered with the tools of the expert textual interpreter. Such questions are better answered, I believe, in closer collaboration with our disciplinary kindred in the social sciences.

Thanks to a new special issue of Cultural Sociology focused on literature, we have a chance to look at some concerete examples of what sociological approaches to literary problems currently look like. In this post I’ll discuss the excellent essay there by Gisèle Sapiro, Translation and Symbolic Capital in the Era of Globalization: French Literature in the United States. Sapiro, whose work I have been following for a while, works in the tradition of the sociology of fields, and has written on both twentieth-century literary history and contemporary world literature. This latest essay is particularly fun to think with, because I have my greedy paws on some of the same data Sapiro uses, so it will be possible to look in some detail at the sort of evidence and the sort of analysis her approach entails—and, perhaps, to think how to extend it.

Distant Reading: More Work to be Done

Here are some tentative notes on methodological problems in quantitative approaches to literary history that I’ve been worrying over. I’m moved to post these because of two great discussions of quantitative literary studies by sociologists, a review by Ben Merriman of recent work by Franco Moretti and Matt Jockers, and a blog post by Tressie McMillan Cottom on quantitative text analysis across the disciplines. Monomaniacal proselytizer for closer relations between sociology and literary study that I am, first I say: go read those! They’re really great! Also, I’m leaping onto this bandwagon. Mostly I want to indicate how this very useful pressure from sociologists might help literary scholarship to refine its methods and clarify its research program. I’m afraid this is all very drafty, in the form of broad assertions with basically no citations. Blogging!

Programmatic Lecture Slides Made Even More Difficult with R Markdown

In Easy Lecture Slides Made Difficult, I showed how to use markdown to make slides while still retaining some aesthetic flexibility. All that was required was a handful of TeX Macros, a little python script, a few Makefiles, and a maniacal commitment to automation. That was an enjoyable trip into the abyss, but what if your slides regularly include the results of calculations, data visualizations, or computational examples? Then it is time to, how do they say it these days, dive deeper. Thanks to R Markdown and knitr, it is possible to build on the pandoc/beamer system I described before to incorporate program code and its results. Call it, uh, Presentationally Literate Programming.

I am spurred to describe my approach by two things: first, I have had a whole semester of teaching Literary Data to work out the kinks; in that graduate course I regularly used R markdown-based slides to present new material. (Here are a couple examples: slides on network visualization, April 23, 2015; slides on topic modeling and PCA for literary texts, April 16, 2015.) Second, I was just at a conference where almost everyone’s presentation had slides with R output in them, but it seemed like people might…benefit…from an example showing how to make the aesthetics of the R output and the slides more consistent with one another. I’ll also show how the same R markdown can be the basis of slides, speaker notes, and a handout for audience members to take notes on. And I’ll show the settings for incorporating program code into the slides, which I used in my teaching. At the end of this post, I imagine you will question my sanity. The whole setup can be found in this repository subdirectory on github.

At Temple This Week

I’m giving a talk at the Center for the Humanities at Temple tomorrow, Wednesday, April 8, in their Digital Humanities in Practice Series.

Quiet Transformations of Literary Study, 1889–2013

The history of literary scholarship is usually presented as a succession of conflicting ideas. Yet gradual, distributed change is equally significant, and often less visible to practitioners, who remember recent dramas better than the unspoken norms of eighty years ago. Understanding such change requires new methodologies. I present an analysis using probabilistic topic modeling to reveal broad trends in more than 21,000 literary-studies journal articles. As literary and cultural studies confronts the interpretive challenges posed by topic modeling and other quantitative methods, we increasingly enter the methodological domain of the social sciences.

It’s at 4:00 p.m. in the CHAT Lounge (details on the CHAT website). I can promise at least 300 words on tokenization1 and the phrase “post-Marxist Mechanical Turk” used as sincere praise.

  1. Or 294, depending on how you count.

Terry Pratchett: “Not having battles, and doing without kings”

I don’t think any writer did more to form me than Terry Pratchett. That might be a bit of a dangerous thing for a professional literary scholar to say. It would be easier to recount how much Ulysses, say, meant to a budding adolescent highbrow. In fact, though, I suspect that as a teenager, and not only as a teenager, I had a Pratchettian reading of the novel: Joyce’s Dublin as Ankh-Morpork, puns and pastiche as the engine driving the narrative language forward, the library of culture as an interdimensional transit zone, and no icon left unsmashed. In any case, I’m certain I would be a very different person if my elementary-school librarian hadn’t read Truckers to us and started me on a Pratchett kick that never stopped.