Publication Date

2017-05-23

Availability

Embargoed

Embargo Period

2019-05-23

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)

Department

English (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense

2017-04-06

First Committee Member

John Paul Russo

Second Committee Member

Tim Watson

Third Committee Member

Joseph Alkana

Fourth Committee Member

Lindsay Thomas

Fifth Committee Member

Eric Hayot

Abstract

This dissertation posits that much of the aesthetic innovation associated with the American Renaissance stemmed from a wide range of sociocultural and technological that transformed nineteenth-century America into an urban, consumerist society grappling with an ocean of print, products, and people. Reacting to these new modern landscapes, New York writers like Herman Melville and Walt Whitman produced highly anomalous texts that prioritized the aggregation, aestheticization, and transmission of unprecedented volumes of cultural data. Borrowing from and building upon the contemporary information management strategies of rationalist fields like descriptive biology, accounting, and library science, these writers in particular developed a “data-driven” writing style that took its shape not from traditional literary concerns like narrative and affect, but rather a preoccupation with the efficient and parseable rendering of literary information. Ultimately, argues that Melville and Whitman illustrate a shift in data-driven literary aesthetics in that the former often limited the success of his artistic vision by working primarily through already existing information management techniques, whereas the latter was able to portray his world more successfully by imagining structures and strategies that anticipate digital logics of data manipulation. The dissertation also devotes considerable attention to alternative imaginings of data-driven writings, both by Melville and Whitman’s contemporaries and their literary successors. Recognizing that the aesthetics of these two writers grew out of a relatively privileged position of information overload, much of the project is devoted to exploring the question of what data-driven writing looks like for women and minority writers who were often forcibly isolated from informational infrastructures like the education system and the free press.

Keywords

American Literature; Information Studies; Digital Humanities

Available for download on Thursday, May 23, 2019

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