Wolfgang Iser Lecture
Micromégas: the very small, the very large, and the space of digital humanities
A process whereby many very small units add up to a single very large system has become typical of the digital humanities – the signature, almost, of their approach to literature. It has also dramatically brought to light the role of scale in literary study: dramatically, in the sense that DH seem irresistibly drawn towards the extremes of the scale, whereas literary study has traditionally focused on the middle of the scale. The middle as “the text”, usually; or as a scene, an excerpt, a series of verses to be memorized, quotations, allusions... Many choices, but all linked to this scale in the middle; probably, because it agrees so well with our capacity to understand, remember, and judge. This scale where readers are truly “the measure of things” seems so “natural” that it’s never even perceived as a scale: it seems to go without saying. DH has shattered this long-standing convention. So, what does it mean, studying literature through these new coordinates – what does “literature” itself become, among charts and diagrams? This is the question I will try to address.