James English, University of Pennsylvania
Martin Amis, The Information
David Kurnick, Rutgers University
Jane Austen, Persuasion
Yoon Sun Lee, Wellesley College
Walter Scott, Waverley
Gage McWeeny, Williams College
George Eliot, Middlemarch
Mingwei Song, Wellesley College
Cixin Liu, The Three Body Problem, trans. Ken Liu
Our speakers were given the following prompt:
Some of the standard twentieth-century accounts of the novel sometimes appear to assume that the form is incapable of counting further than one (the individualized protagonist viewed against the backdrop of the undifferentiated, un-enumerated crowd) or two (the romantic couple of the marriage plot)--but are other measures and metrics also part of the novel’s formal repertory and history? Did these standard accounts underestimate, for instance, the form’s involvement with modern sciences of the social and of the state (statistics) and these sciences’ defining concerns with groups and populations? How does the novel itself deploy quantification? How much data is in the novel? And what kind? How, for instance, has the novel interacted with the census and the other forms of big data that have evolved alongside it? What forms of personhood do novels that trade in numbers posit? How do numbers reframe concepts such as probability, chance, or calculation in the novel? How has an engagement with large numbers and data sets underpinned the form’s claims to be proffering objective representations? And finally . . . what is the appropriate scale of analysis that scholars should adopt to answer such questions? Are there ways, in fact, in which might we use the history and the form of the novel to challenge the disciplinary division that is often thought to separate those scholars who count (numerate students of STEM subjects, for example) from those who don’t (e.g. innumerate students of the humanities)?
Co-sponsored by the Victorian Literature and Culture seminar.