From “Scary” to Valuable: Macroanalysis

I confess that when I read Part 1 of Macroanalysis, I was a little thrown by the idea of distant reading/macroanalysis versus close reading/microanalysis for literature. I haven’t taken a literature class since my undergraduate days, and it seems like everything was about close reading back then.

As I continued to read, I began to feel a strange sense of…relief? The point isn’t to substitute macroanalysis for microanalysis; rather they are meant to be used together. Instead of being kind of afraid of the idea, I was intrigued – particularly by the way the ideas were presented in Chapter 4 with the Irish American authors. After Jockers explained the ways close reading can mislead us about trends and what causes them, I began to see the value of understanding the “big picture” in order to avoid drawing the wrong conclusions because the sample doesn’t accurately represent the whole. I’m not really a “charts and graphs” person, so I never thought about studying literature in such a macro way, but after seeing the data broken down in terms of Eastern authors versus Western authors, male versus female, etc., I saw how this kind of data can inform my reading.

One thing I kept thinking about as I read the book was Jockers’s use of the language of economics (“macro,” “micro,” and “analysis”) versus the language of literature (“distant,” “close,” and “reading”). These days, STEM disciplines are favored and the humanities are constantly being threatened, both at the K-12 and college levels. If this shift in language were more universally adopted, I’m wondering how much perceived value it would add to the humanities in the eyes of those who are more STEM-oriented. I’m very curious about what this would look like over time.

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