A fragmentizing interface to a large corpus of digitized text: (Post)humanism and non-consumptive reading via features

Sayan Bhattacharyya, Peter Organisciak, J. Stephen Downie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While the idea of distant reading does not rule out the possibility of close reading of the individual components of the corpus of digitized text that is being distant-read, this ceases to be the case when parts of the corpus are, for reasons relating to intellectual property, not accessible for consumption through downloading followed by close reading. Copyright restrictions on material in collections of digitized text such as the HathiTrust Digital Library (HTDL) necessitate providing facilities for non-consumptive reading, one of the approaches to which consists of providing users with features from the text in the form of small fragments of text, instead of the text itself. We argue that, contrary to expectation, the fragmentary quality of the features generated by the reading interface does not necessarily imply that the mode of reading enabled and mediated by these features points in an anti-humanist direction. We pose the fragmentariness of the features as paradigmatic of the fragmentation with which digital techniques tend, more generally, to trouble the humanities. We then generalize our argument to put our work on feature-based non-consumptive reading in dialogue with contemporary debates that are currently taking place in philosophy and in cultural theory and criticism about posthumanism and agency. While the locus of agency in such a non-consumptive practice of reading does not coincide with the customary figure of the singular human subject as reader, it is possible to accommodate this fragmentizing practice within the terms of an ampler notion of agency imagined as dispersed across an entire technosocial ensemble. When grasped in this way, such a practice of reading may be considered posthumanist but not necessarily antihumanist.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-77
Number of pages17
JournalInterdisciplinary Science Reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2015


  • Digital humanities
  • Digital libraries
  • Posthumanism
  • Text analysis
  • Textuality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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