Big data, as we all know, is what it’s all about. As the CEO of the AI company ImageNet has put it: “Data drives learning.”
Except it really, truly does not.
Consider a rock on the beach. It’s surrounded by data: from the local ecosystems, to the weather patterns on the horizon, to the stars that come out at night.
But that rock will never learn a thing.
Data doesn’t drive learning. Learning drives data. The capacity to learn—interpret, and understand—determines what even counts as data.
That’s where literature comes in. It’s just some marks on a page. But literature is what happens when some of the those marks, strangely, start to matter.
Since very ancient times, writers have been attracted to exactly this kind of moment: when we suddenly see where the data are headed. Even—the singular—a datum.
So, in this course, we will read and comment on some classic (and, mostly, very old) works of small data. Texts that do a lot with a little. Poems, lines, even single words that demand our attention. Plays and stories about the necessity of noticing, the challenge of interpreting, and the detail that changes everything.
Here is a partial, but entirely factual, listing of session and/or paper topics at the recent conference of the Modern Language Association (MLA), the major annual meeting for North American literary academics:
The idea of “West Asia”
Old Norse Folklore
The Armenian genocide
Israeli-South African relations
The Cold War
The First World War
Being black in Germany
The English Civil War
How to get a good government job
The Middle Class
Recent European geopolitics
Life in occupied Palestine
The libidinal economy of data [sic]
Cognitive science, re: memory
Doing business in Italy
The National Security Education Program (NSEP)
Being a Muslim woman
1714 in Catalonia
South Asians in Africa
The Sun, the moon, and the stars.