Sunday, June 1, 2014

Hyperobjects and "Distant Reading"

Two successive tweets from Alan Liu:
So, topic models. Is the model the hyperobject or is it simply a description of the hyperobject? Consider one of Morton's core examples, global warming. Surely global warming is the hyperobject while a given climate model simply provides a description of that hyperobject. It's global warming that is "massively distributed in time and space," not a given climate model. The climate model is just a bunch of code running on a computer, which is fairly compact in time and space.

And so it must be with a topic model and whatever cultural hyperobject it models. Thus, when Goldstone and Underwood developed topic models for over a century's worth of articles in literary studies (The Quiet Transformations of Literary Studies: What Thirteen Thousand Scholars Could Tell Us  [PDF preprint]) literary studies is the hyperobject and, as such, is distinct from their topic models (which you can explore interactively HERE, introduction HERE). 

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