connectivity

Connectivity

Connectivity has become the dominant framework through which contemporary knowledge is increasingly understood. From networks to clouds to close reading to reconstructing historical social worlds, making connections is at the core of what we do. And yet the very ubiquity of the term has largely hidden it from critical view. This workshop is devoted to exploring the diversity of what it means to be connected. What constitutes a connection? How have different periods and different kinds of media constructed different understandings of connectedness in the past? How do different concepts of connectivity alter or inform the stories we tell about that past? And how do these understandings of historical connections inform our own connectedness to history? We are looking for contributions that explore some aspect of connectivity as it relates to historical media change and that can take a wide variety of possible avenues to what kinds of connections do print media make possible and how might those differ from their digital next of kin? how do notions of connectivity impact a changing sense of time and space; narrative form and the connections within texts; or the idea of scale itself? similarly, how do new notions of connectivity impact our own scholarly accounts of the past, changing the time-, space-, text-, and social-frames of analysis? In short, how does an understanding of connection, connectedness, and connectivity inform the work we do in the humanities, the questions we ask, and the way we go about answering them?

Abstracts:

Dr. Mark Algee-Hewitt, Stanford University
“The Principals of Meaning: Networks of Knowledge in Johnson’s Dictionary.”

Like the “Encylopédie” of Diderot and d’Alembert, Samuel Johnson’s 1755 “Dictionary of the English Language” has all the hallmarks of an Enlightenment era project of knowledge creation. At once descriptive and prescriptive, highly idiosyncratic in design and universal in application, it offers a unique textual site in which to examine not only how Johnson himself understood the role of language in society, but also how this relationship was shaped in Britain for the next two centuries. Johnson’s most important addition to the dictionary projects that came before is his inclusion of quotations, intended to illustrate words “in their different significations.” His project then links meaning to use through references to predominately British authors (often literary authors) at a crucial moment of literary history when the novel was just beginning to assume the dominant form it would take in the nineteenth-century. This project uses a quantitative semantic and network-based approach to understanding the implicit patterns in Johnson’s Dictionary, between definition and citation, between words and their uses, and between the different domains of knowledge that are signified by the authors Johnson chooses to represent in the dictionary.

Dr. Rebecca Braun, University of Lancaster
“Authorship as Collaboration Actor-Network Theory and Literature”

This talk asks what literary studies can learn from science & technology studies’ actor-network theory, and what STS can learn from literature in return. Exploring first how Goethe’s ideas on world literature emerged from a larger conceptual programme of relatedness between people, things, and ideas, I then move to a discussion of 21st-century literary networks and the different ways they are sustained through physical and virtual spaces. Running throughout my talk is a concern with how we define agency, who or what comes together around literature, (how) have these connections changed over time, and what might my conclusions tell us about the way we conceptualise the social significance of creative work?

Dr. Michael Gavin, University of South Carolina
“A Mathematical Theory of Authorial Intention”

My presentation will turn to Warren Weaver’s and Claude Shannon’s Mathematical Theory of Communication (1949) to offer a new theory of authorial intention. When Weaver defined communication as the process by which one mind affects another mind, he was not aware that “intention” was being hotly debated in literary theory. Some critics, like I. A. Richards, embraced Shannon’s and Weaver’s theory, but others distrusted explanations that posited a causal mind at work underneath the text: W. K. Wimsatt and M. C. Beardsley inveighed against the “intentional” and “affective” fallacies; G. E. M. Anscombe, in Intention (1957), de- naturalized all forms of explanation that rely on reference to mental states; and Jacques Derrida critiqued speech-act theory with a force that threw the entire “communication” concept into doubt. In each case, these critics argued that intentions can only be modeled through observable phenomena: actions and texts. The function of language is to create effects that readers interpret as an author’s intention.

If so — if language creates intention-effects — these effects should be measurable. Semantic models of large corpora like Early English Books Online approximate word meaning by measuring connections between words and representing them as a single, total system. Against this model of the language as a whole, individual statements are mathematically evaluated to see how their combinations of words deviate from statistical probability. Without ever engaging the question of “intention” as it’s debated in literary theory, computational linguists developed a robust theory of how human volition affects language. Based on their principles, I describe a method for keyword extraction that measures intention at the larger scales of the document, the author, and the historical period, to model how intentions push concepts in new directions.

Dr. Helge Jordheim, Oslo University
“Connecting and Disconnecting Times in Print: In and Out of Sync”

In this talk I will deal with a particular format or genre of print, the so-called «synchronistic table», which was used in 17th- and 18th-historiography to connect – and in a certain sense to disconnect – the multiple times of global space. In the brief historical moment after Christian chronology had all but collapsed, but before the profane teleology of progress had taken hold, inventive authors and printers found ways of representing a plurality of times across different forms of global space, both geo- and typographical, in order to think about their connectivity, in terms of «synchronisms» or Zeitzusammenhänge, «time connections». The tables were published in separate books, so that the students could bring them along to their history lectures, and use them to get a broader and more global view of universal history than the narratives of their professors could offer them – a view in which times and histories – were multiple.

Dr. Caroline Levine, Cornell University
“The Order of Networks”

Networks have often been seen as non-hierarchical and emancipatory, and connectivity implies the potential for ever new linkages and collectives. But as physicists and sociologists have shown, networks follow rules, and they organize bodies, texts, and ideas according to surprisingly orderly principles. This paper will investigate networks’ power to impose order, and will ask what kinds of political implications follow.

Dr. Dahlia Porter, School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow
“Disjunctive Conjunctions”

In this paper, I want to illuminate the relationship between two forms of connectivity in the period from 1750-1850 and the way objects are connected in spatial organization of the museum and its textual counterpart the catalogue, and the affective connections between people and the natural world posited in Romantic poetry. The former has been examined in museum studies, art history, and anthropology as part of the large scale organization of knowledge that led to the consolidation of modern disciplines. The later has been central to eco-critical approaches to Romanticism, which have honed in on the desire for an integrated perception of, as Coleridge put it, “something great — something one & indivisible”—that “something far more deeply interfused” that Wordsworth’s older, wiser self discovers in “Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey.”

As I’ll argue here, both of these forms of connectivity rely on disjunctive conjunction. The museum and its catalogue are organized spatially: in the absence of narrative, things come into relation by proximity or contiguity—by being next to one another in space. The genre of the catalogue thus functions as a “conceptual propinquity engine” (Delbourgo and Müller-Wille) in which connections are forged imaginatively in the gaps (blank wall or blank paper) between items or entries. This process underwrites the conceptual work performed by the museum and catalogue for emergent disciplines like comparative anatomy: John Hunter’s unifying concept of life is subtended by his museum’s organization of detached organs into functional systems that transcend the physical structure of any individual organism. Affective connection to the world in Romantic poetry works on a similar principle: to perceive oneness, the lyric speaker or poetic subject fractures into multiple, temporally-distinct subjectivities that are subsequently spatialized in relation to other objects, sunny leaf and walnut tree and humble bee. Enumerated objects joined and parsed by conjunctions [“and…and”] create a world in miniature (as Charles Wilson Peale claimed of his Philadelphia museum) in which a “heap of little things” can express the unity of—and with—something great and indivisible. Such formulations in poetry, I suggest, are both trading on and extending the work of the anatomical museum. In conclusion, I’ll consider the implications of my argument for “green Romanticism” and for the role of poetry in the consolidation of scientific disciplines in the first half of the nineteenth century.

IwP Connectivity Workshop Schedule:

Thursday, 23 March 2017

12h30- 13h30: LUNCH

13h30-13h45: Dr. Jonathan Sachs (Concordia University), Welcome

13h45-14h45: Dr. Caroline Levine (Cornell University), “The Order of Networks”

15h00-16h00: Dr. Mark Algee-Hewitt, Stanford University, “The Principals of Meaning: Networks of Knowledge in Johnson’s Dictionary.”

Friday, 24 March 2017

9h30-10h30: Dr. Helge Jordheim (Oslo University), “Connecting and Disconnecting Times in Print: In and Out of Sync.”

10h30-11h00: Coffee

11h00-12h00: Dr. Dahlia Porter (University of Glasgow), “Disjunctive Conjunctions”

12h00-13h30: LUNCH

13h30-14h30: Dr. Michael Gavin (University of South Carolina), “A Mathematical Theory of Authorial Intention”

14h45-15h45: Dr. Rebecca Braun (University of Lancaster) “Authorship as Collaboration: Actor-Network Theory and Literature”

15h45-16h45: CLOSING DISCUSSION, led by Dr. Chad Wellmon (University of Virginia)

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