At first glance, “macroanalysis” as defined by Matthew L. Jockers would seem to be at direct odds with New Criticism. Macroanalysis focuses on the widest possible breadth of reading using computer technology to amass large amounts of data, while New Criticism focuses on the close reading of an individual text in an isolated vacuum where one is to ignore the outside presence of literary history/biography. However, where they intersect is in their search for “the facts.” In the case of macroanalysis, these facts can only be discovered through a thorough search and compilation of all available data; in the case of New Criticism, the facts are what is present on the page with no permissible deviation into speculation as to what the author “meant.” These are not such dissimilar approaches– what is dissimilar, perhaps, is “the tools that make them possible” (31). In other words, the New Critics hadn’t yet conceived of a technology that makes macroanalysis possible, and so it makes perfect sense that their focus was microanalysis. Faced with the problem of not ever really being able to answer the question, “What was the author trying to say?”, New Critics wisely decided that this question is irrelevant and unimportant. With the addition of the digital humanities into literary studies, we can now broaden our scope of understanding in ways that the New Critics couldn’t yet imagine. That said, we are still not trying to answer the “What did the author mean?” questions, but rather “How does this text fit into the larger social, historical, artistic framework?” This is definitely outside the New Critic wheelhouse, but, to me anyway, a truly important aspect of literary study.
Yes, computers can help us count up how many times Jane Austen used the word “the”, but why on earth would we want to do that? The series of bullet points on p. 28 highlight why such a trend has such groundbreaking possibilities. To be able to draw the lens back from the tiniest word in a 19th century English drawing room all the way to global implications like “whether literary trends correlate with historical events” and “whether factors such as gender, ethnicity, and nationality directly influence style and content in literature” is really exciting stuff. In my first blog post I wrote that I was back in school to brush up on the latest in literary studies– this essay has me very excited for the kinds of projects we will be looking at/participating in during this last unit.