Envisioning the Digital Humanities in Richard Powers’ Fiction

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  • Title: Envisioning the Digital Humanities in Richard Powers’ Fiction: Technology, the Self, and the Encyclopedic Impulse
  • Author(s): Richard Dragan
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: New Directions in the Humanities
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review
  • Keywords: Theme: Literary Humanities, Richard Powers, Digital Humanities, Self, Encyclopedia, Encyclopedic Impulse, Galatea 2.2, Plowing the Dark, Enquire Within upon Everything, Social Networking, Digital Self, Model Building, Visualizations
  • Volume: 10
  • Issue: 1
  • Year: 2013
  • ISSN: 1447-9508 (Print)
  • ISSN: 1447-9559 (Online)
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.18848/1447-9508/CGP/v10/43973
  • Citation: Dragan, Richard. 2013. "Envisioning the Digital Humanities in Richard Powers’ Fiction: Technology, the Self, and the Encyclopedic Impulse." The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review 10 (1): 35-46. doi:10.18848/1447-9508/CGP/v10/43973.
  • Extent: 12 pages

Abstract

This paper will examine the presentation of digital humanities (DH) in the fiction of Richard Powers, who has consistently explored the intersection of technology and the humanities in his fiction. I will engage several theoretical questions in the current debates around DH. Specifically, several of Powers’ novels have envisioned actual implementations of digital humanities projects whether in creating an artificially intelligent algorithmic ‘reading machine’ in Galatea 2.2, who is trained to read fiction and pass a comprehensive exam for a Master’s Program in English; models of canonical art works (such as Matisse’s paintings) and interactive architectural models in Plowing the Dark (specifically a model of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul); and even accurate portrayals of social networking—in sections of Generosity and in a short story “Enquire Within upon Everything,” a short piece that anchors a recent collection of DH essays in Switching Codes (2011). In many of Powers’ works, the author juxtaposes individuals who are caught in their own inner subjective worlds juxtaposed against an ‘unlimited’ database, what I will call the ‘encyclopedic impulse.’ Powers’ celebration of the ‘encyclopedic impulse’ in his fiction marks his work as an important touchstone for conceptualizing certain ideas and current debates within digital humanities. Besides an argumentative essay, this essay includes several visualizations and word frequency charts analyzing encyclopedic novels.