Experimentation, exploration, error.

Queer Tools

Since the popularization of computational tools like text analysis, literary scholars have questioned what such tools can do for humanities research. Although Digital Humanities (DH) practitioners in this discipline have been careful to situate their methodologies within the context of humanistic study, there persists the idea that digital methods ought to verify, correct, or establish facts about literature and literary history, similarly to the quantitative social sciences. Within the broad field of DH, however, an emerging “Queer” DH is upending this assumption.

To further such efforts in "Queer DH", this dissertation project takes a critical look at digital tools to see how they work in unexpected ways to study life writing by queer authors. It critiques the role of digital methods in literary analysis by posing the limitations of quantification and computation against the instability of queer subjecthood. I argue that the reduction from text to data, in which complex elements of identity, gender, and sexuality are collapsed into computable form, opens up possibilities for interpreting queer literature. I examine manuscripts and fictional autobiography, and digital media from the "long 20th century," including works by Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, Gloria Anzaldua, Jordy Rosenberg, Carmen Maria Machado, among others. Each chapter of this dissertation takes up one digital tool for reading, editing, and archiving, and explores how the tool might be "queered" to study literary material.

This project employs an experimental format to serve as a teaching guide for non-experts in technology. Each chapter is supplemented with a small digital project that demonstrates how to use a particular digital tool, serving as examples for educators who want to incorporate these tools into their teaching. My goal with this experimental format is to make difficult concepts accessible for beginners, so both teachers and students might gain purchase over the technological contexts that increasingly determine meaning-making in the humanities. You can continue reading about this project in my dissertation journal.

Text Analysis

My first chapter explores how Queer Studies and quantitative text analysis might work together to analyze queer identity in modernist literature. Here, I apply Judith Butler’s concept of performativity to the textual analysis of gender in Woolf’s fictional biography, Orlando: A Biography. I use Woolf’s text, which features a transgender protagonist, to ground a critique then offer a solution for how text analysis purports to analyze gender.

First, I present a narrative of "reproducible criticism," from current practices of “distant reading," in which the results of the critical process often work to reproduce the critic’s assumptions. Then, I apply Butler’s concept of performativity to understand the ways that marginalized subjects might subvert this reproducible criticism through subversive iteration, what Butler calls “performative citation.” In bringing this notion of displacement through repetition back to text analysis, I illustrate how the iterative process of analyzing text can surface new textual structures that re-signify certain elements of the text. Just as Butler says we can “re-signify” the terms of gender identity by “cit[ing] the law to produce it differently... to reiterate and coopt its power,” so can we redeploy the reductions of text analysis toward speculative and experimental ends. The chapter ends with my reading of Woolf’s Orlando to demonstrate how the terms “woman” and “man” might be re-signified in a new formulation of gender that is multiply sexed. Read more about this project on the Text Analysis page,

TEI Encoding

My second chapter uses an electronic editing standard, the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), to collate the manuscript revisions on the first chapter of Oscar Wilde’s influential work, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1889-90).

My transcriptions focus on Wilde’s revisions of this chapter, which betray an apparent effort to reduce the suggestions of homoeroticism between the three main characters, Basil Hallward, Lord Henery Wotton, and Dorian Gray. In the dialogue between these characters, Wilde eliminates or neutralizes expressions of intimacy, passion, and eroticism, replacing them with congeniality and aesetheticism. To mark these subtle shifts in word choice, tone, and style, my editorial work runs up against the rigid format of the TEI, which requires strict categorization for each manuscript element. This chapter explores how the TEI, while enabling researchers to mark and describe certain textual elements, brings to the surface qualities of illegibility, tension, and incommensurability as constitutive of its homoeroticism. Read more about this project on the TEI Encoding page, and see her TEI Workshop materials for an example of using TEI to encode Wilde's manuscript.