The Mechanic Reader. Digital Methods for Literary Criticism

The Mechanic Reader. Digital Methods for Literary Criticism

Siena, Certosa di Pontignano, 12-13 June 2015

Centro Studi comparati  “I Deug-Su” (Università di Siena Dip. Filologia e critica delle letterature antiche e moderne)
Associazione per l’Informatica Umanistica e la Cultura Digitale

in collaboration with

The Coordinating Committee for the Comparative History

of Literatures in European Languages


The Mechanic Reader:
Digital Methods of Literary Criticism

Siena, Certosa di Pontignano, 12-13 June 2015

“the unprecedented empirical power of digital tools and archives offers a unique chance to rethink the categories of literary study” (F. Moretti, Operationalizing, dec. 2013)

One of the recent evolutions of literary criticism concerns the application of computing approaches to the analysis of texts, which helps foreground features usually invisibles to traditional reading. This approach is also able to process massive quantities of text that are not manageable by way of a traditional human reading. Following this direction, Franco Moretti, Matt Jokers and the Stanford Literary Lab have developed a provocative concept of “distant” access to texts, which sets aside the expectation of direct knowledge and close reading, emphasizing instead  a globalizing view of world literature. Such an approach on one side raised a lively debate, and on another side has been popularized even outside the professional scholarship, as testified by the permanent column which the New York Times has dedicated to it in its literary supplement. (further mirrored in the virtual maps published every Sunday in Italy by the Corriere della Sera). Other scholars, even in fields different from literary history and the study of textuality, be they focused on Latin or English, Chinese or Italian literature, adopt similar methods to attempt a microscopic reading of the literary work, by analyzing its linguistic layers and stylistic phenomena usually invisible to a conventional philological or stylistic reading.

These newer analytic techniques, as well as the methodological changes that digital tools have brought about in the literary production and criticism, will be the focus of the seminar entitled “The Mechanic Muse,” to be held in Siena between June 12 and 13, 2015. The seminar, the first organized in Italy on this topic, will include papers on classic, medieval and modern literatures, a round table on F. Moretti’s 2013 Distant Reading, as well asa presentation of the John Benjamins CHLEL series volume New Literary Hybrids in the Age of Multimedia Expression: Crossing Borders, Crossing genres, ed. by Marcel Cornis-Pope (2014), and of the 2014 issue of the journal Between on Tecnologia, Immaginazione e forme del narrare, ed. by Lucia Esposito, Emanuela Piga, Alessandra Ruggiero. The proceedings of the conference will be published in the issue LIII  (2015/2) of Semicerchio. Rivista di poesia comparata.

Topics: Reading automata, Digital reading network, Computational Models of Narrative, Computer-based analysis of literary texts, Quantitative Literary History, Distant Reading , Authorship detection and literary criticism, Transmedia criticism.

Board: Marcel Cornis-Pope (Virginia Commonwealth Univ., Head of CHLEL), Fabio Ciotti (Univ. “Sapienza” Roma, President of AIUCD and  member of TEI boards),  Emanuela Piga (Univ. di Sassari, ed. of Between), Francesco Stella (Univ. Siena, AIUCD and CHLEL member, editor of Semicerchio)


June 12, Friday, Certosa di Pontignano, Sala Palio 9.30 Institutional Welcome FRANCESCO STELLA (Siena)
9.45 Methods (Chair: Fabio Ciotti) 

SIMON ROWBERRY (Stirling) Reading automata Abstract doc  –  pdf

ANTONIO LIETO (Torino) Steps Towards Cognitive Narrative Machines

SIMONE CELANI (Roma )Dai Sistemi Artificiali Adattivi alla critica letteraria: un caso di studio abstract .doc – pdf

10.50 Coffee Break
11.10 Classics. Chair: Luca Graverini (Siena)

THIBAULT CLÉRICE (Leipzig – by Skype connection), Learning about word senses in Latin using distant reading, abstract doc –  pdf

PAOLO MASTANDREA (Venezia) Poesia latina arcaica e repubblicana in testi altomedievali
12.00 Round table. Chair: Riccardo Castellana. New Literary Hybrids in the Age of Multimedia Expression

MARCEL CORNIS-POPE (Richmond, Virginia, Abstract and Table of Contents 2015 doc – pdf), MARGARET HIGONNET (Storrs, Connecticut), MARK SANDBERG (Berkeley, CA)
13.00 Lunch_______________________________________________________________________________
15.00 Middle Ages (Chair: Francesco Stella)
CLAUDIA BOSCOLO (London)Computer-based analysis of the Entrée d’Espagne through FIOLA (Franco-Italian Online Archive Abstract doc  – pdf

DOMINIQUE LAPIERRE (Rouen)Digital methods of literary criticism: an example of use in Marco Polo’s travels abstract


16.00 Round table. About Franco Moretti’s “Distant reading”

Chair: Guido Mazzoni (Siena) GIORGIO GUZZETTA (Cork abstract doc – pdf) – FABIO CIOTTI (Roma)

17.20 Break

17.40-18.30 Semantics & Rhetorics (Chair: tbd)

SILVIA STOYANOVA (Trier) A digital research platform for the semantic reconstruction  of Giacomo Leopardi’s “Zibaldone” pdf – slides


TIZIANA MANCINELLI (Reading) An ontology for digital rhetoric analysis. A case study: Attilio Bertolucci’s La camera da letto Abstract pdf – .doc


Saturday 13, Certosa di Pontignano, Sala Palio
9.30 Methods (Chair: Cesare Zanca, Siena) 
BRONWEN THOMAS (Bournemouth) Digital reading abstract doc – pdf
RICCARDO CASTELLANA (Siena) Biofiction, Documentality and the Internet: Metamorphoses of a Literary Genre
EMANUELA PATTI (London Narrative Experimentalism in the Digital Age  abstract doc – pdf
10.40 Coffee break
11.00 Moderns (Chair: Marcel Cornis-Pope)
PAOLA ITALIA (Roma) Manzoni’s electronic interpretations  abstract .doc – pdf
12.00 Round Table. «Between»’s 2014 issue on Tecnologia, Immaginazione e forme del narrare.
Chair Niccolò Scaffai (Lausanne)

Closing address


Certosa: 05771521104; Dipartimento: 0577234838
Org.: Elisabetta Bartoli

Comitato scientifico:
Fabio Ciotti, Marcel Cornis-Pope,
Emanuela Piga, Francesco Stella

Work materials:

1) Between 2015 issue “Tecnologia, Immaginazione, Forme del narrare”

2) Computer-based analysis of drama and its uses for literary criticism  and historiography”, 12-13/03 2015proceedings http://comedy.hypotheses.or/

3)  Marilyn Deegan – Kathryn Sutherland, Transferred Illusions: Digital Technology and the Forms of Print

4) Simone Celani, Archeosema

5) LitLat Stanford