Our experience of literature is usually temporal: we read from one side of the page to the other, from top to bottom, from beginning to end. We experience literature — especially narrative literature — as a kind of journey, "plodding" through long stories, "racing" to the end of exciting ones, "following" a plot that makes sense, getting "lost" in one that's confusing.
What if we could consume the whole thing in one all-encompassing gaze? What if, instead of moving through a literary work, we could stand apart from it and view it whole?
What if, like Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Carol, we could "live in the Past, the Present, and the Future" of a work — particularly a narrative work — grasping the beginning together with the middle and the end?
This is actually something that critics dream of doing, and that one seems almost able to do after having read a work many times, so that eventually one reads all the earlier words in the text with an awareness of all the words that follow it, right through to the last words, and with a sense that the meaning of the whole now pervades one's experience of each moment within it.
It's also possible to experience a fleeting and imperfect sensation of taking in the whole text at once by asking a computer to count the words in the text and construct a visual representation of their frequency. This is a thinner experience of wholeness than the one that comes from multiple re-readings, but it has the potential to re-orient one's reading by more radically disrupting the text's temporality.
If you plug the gutenberg.org version of A Christmas Carol into TagCrowd, for example, asking TagCrowd to count the top 100 words by frequency (omitting common words such as "and" and "the"), this is what you get:
Click thumbnail to see larger image.
You get prettier results (but no numbers) if you plug the text into Wordle. Actually, I don't think this difference is just aesthetic: The Wordle of A Christmas Carol conveys a sense of how Scrooge dominates this story more dramatically than the TagCrowd cloud does:
Click thumbnail to see larger image.
What else do these visual representations show you about Dickens' story? If you have any thoughts, click the header to this blogpost, then "Add Comment" to write something.
Update: (11/16) Actually, I made a few different Wordles from A Christmas Carol. Click on any thumbnail below to start a slideshow of them.
English is a substantial major that offers interested students the opportunity to get chunks of science, anthropology, and other majors in addition to the essentials to become a well informed writer and reader. One reason why I declared English as my major is because writing is crucial in any career path and understanding what you read is also very important. Having these tools mastered as an undergraduate student is an advantage when pursuing any career. Learning about the Literature that shaped our culture is worth learning. Through texts, poems, and media that address aspects of culture in different eras, an English major can get a chunk of anthropology while still performing and mastering the techniques of reading and understanding, writing, and analyzing. An English major, in the end of their undergraduate education will be well rounded and well trained to pursue a career in many different fields. Their range of reference is broad due to their list of books read and exposure to media also their class interactions and discussions based on pieces from the past and the present. Biology majors can only rely on their scientific knowledge when selling themselves to an employer while an English major will whip out their quick thinking techniques along with their great analyzing skills; not to mention their knowledge about culture and their great communication skills that will woo the employer.
Via Gabrielle, Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" in ASL...
In response to the Lamron article, “The Faceoff: Legitimacy of the English major questioned” I agree with some of the points made but also believe that English is a legitimate major. In the video attached from Grant MacEwan College, viable reasons to support English are outlined. Passions for ones major is essential for ones success. A biology major may chose to purse this field for the love of science and medicine, someone who has a love for teaching chooses an Education major, and a student who encompasses excitement for literature, communications, writing and history chooses English. We must become educated on what we have a passion for, not something that we know will make us immediately employable, but in something that will we find enjoyable. Most students will purse a graduate program, English will prepare you for any field of study through critical thinking skills, writing, and communication. English is a well rounded subject. With this degree you are not confined to one career path but, English students will be able to branch off into law, business, communications, executive positions, and any writing based occupation. Being an English major does not mean you are undecided, it means you are aware that this field will prepare you with the skills for job you wish to obtain.