This post was originally done for the 2013 Day of DH. I figured I should put it here, too.
This is not Big Data. This isn’t even medium-sized data. This is two versions of the same novel, one from 1994 and the other from 2012. The book is Chronique de la derive douce, by Dany Laferriere. I spent a month digitizing and cleaning up the text, and today, I was finally able to run it through both Juxta and Voyant.
I was most interested by Juxta because it would highlight exactly what’s changed and what hasn’t in the text. What shocked me however was just how much the new version changed; I knew it had doubled in size, thus there was a significant portion added, but Laferriere went in and tinkered with the original text, something he hadn’t done in his other “new” versions of his work.
What did I learn from Juxta? First off, the text wasn’t as clean as I thought. As I was working on the document on different platforms (the mac at home and a PC at work), some of the commas and quotation marks were off. Plus, in the original version of the book, certain parts had the words broken up at the end of the lines, divided by a dash, while the new version didn’t. I made the executive decision that formatting was less interesting to me than the actual words themselves. So I went back and cleaned up the text some more.
What I ended up with was a great side-by-side comparison of the text. But first, how much had the text changed? A lot.
While it was processing the text, it said it was processing over 10000 changes. Great. That’s what a close-reading, textual scholar wants to hear.
You can click on the picture to see a larger version, but this is just how much the first page changed. The epigraph changed. The first verse changed. And I have to say that I probably wouldn’t have noticed these changes in the first verse (clearly, I noticed the epigraph) unless I was able to visualize it like this. The content of the verses are still pretty much the same, but subtly changed. It’s not like a wholesale addition or subtraction. Just…different.
Now we come to the heat map to see where the changes in the text have taken place. Conclusion? EVERYWHERE.
The last line of the book didn’t change. There isn’t anywhere else in the book that hasn’t changed somehow. This is going to take a lot longer than I thought. But what does Voyant have to say about my piece? Quite a bit actually.
First off, the number of words? Almost literally doubled.
I was really interested in the peeks and some of the words that appeared more frequently in one version versus the other.
Relative to the text, the words, “filles” and “fille” and “femme” (girls, girl, woman) and “chambre” (room) decrease in terms of their density from the first to the second version, but the word “temps” (time) increases. Here it is put another way:
This is actually REALLY interesting and possibly significant. I’d have to look at when and where a little more closely in terms of how they map within the two texts, but this shows me that his relations (as well as his room) becomes less significant, while the concept of time becomes more important or significant. This is a suspicion that I had long had about the revision, and this just confirms it.
I’m pretty excited, and I am grateful for Stefan Sinclair for helping me with some of the pickier aspects of Voyant. I’m going to be doing more work in here to study the two texts, but certainly, this is a great place to start.
It’s finally here! My edited volume, Dany Laferrière: Essays on his Works, has been published by Guernica Editions.
I know it’s been a while since I’ve updated this space, but I’ve been busy working on this book, as well as my other book. Hopefully I’ll have more time this semester to use this space to talk about Dany Laferrière and my research.
Please, take a look at the book, order it for your library, or buy it today! Feel free to contact me if you would like a review copy.
I am a part of a roundtable at the 2013 MLA conference in Boston. Because I have less room in a roundtable presentation, I’m including some background information on Laferrière’s more performative aspects here.
I have long suspected that Haitian writer Dany Laferrière’s practice of rewriting, revising, and continually adapting his work stems from his childhood spent in rural Haiti, where storytelling informs his experiences as much as the novels he finds hidden in his grandmother’s house. For example, his experiences in the book Le charme des après-midi sans fin, when he is stuck in his grandmother’s house due to a government crack-down (couvre-feu); Vieux Os (his fictional alter-ego), hears the different versions of why the government has chosen this moment to isolate the people in their houses, who the government is after, and who, ultimately is arrested and why. But this is just one example.
Another clue was his use of Jazz in his first novel, Comment faire l’amour avec un Nègre sans se fatiguer. I’ve written about this before here on this blog, but I think it bears repeating how both the performative aspect, as well as the connection between the aspects of the Haitian culture his grew up with and aspects of African-American culture. Improvisation, collaborations (something that Laferrière himself has practiced in the adaptation of his work for the big and small screen, as well as the children’s books), and performance are are elements that his work has in common with Jazz.
This is what has informed my thinking about Laferrière’s work and my upcoming novel. In Boston, I will be talking about a way DH can bring orality and performance (two elements that are usually ignored in literary studies) back to the forefront and at the same time potentially stoke interest in a long-neglected Haitian tradition of the Lodyans, using tools initially developed to preserve and study oral histories. You can see the Storify I prepared for the presentation here.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. Thanks everyone for reading!
Here’s an excerpt:
The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,200 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.
Some preliminary thoughts about my upcoming MLA presentation on Laferriere. These idea about orality and performance have been turning around in my head for some time now and will probably inform much of the theoretical underpinning of my book. I’ve been doing some ebook reading (which, by the way, ebsco ebooks are the WORST) and I think I’ve finally managed to gain some shape or form to my ideas around how DH can be used to reclaim certain forms of orality and performance found in postcolonial writers such as Laferriere. It also helps me to explain why Laferriere writes, rewrites, adapts, and transmediates so much of his work.
The first book I browsed was The Power of the Written Tradition by Jack Goody, a respected anthropologist who has spent his career studying oral cultures. While he posits that that literate cultures are superior to oral cultures, he nonetheless, through his writing show how performance is an important element of the oral, as well as how religious practices that weren’t written down were more malleable, evolving according to the requirements of the particular culture and circumstances. Certainly, I can see how this relates to Laferriere insofar as his adaptations seem to be reactions to changes in time and audience. Instead of stable meaning, we are constantly shifting our view and understanding of his work. I’m excited by this find, even if it is an ebook. He also authored Myth, Ritual, and the Oral, which I have ordered through ILL.
The next is Orality: The Power of the Spoken Word by Graham Furniss which takes the exact opposite view of Goody in regards to the importance and (ahem) power of the spoken word/oral tradition. I’ve ordered the book through ILL, but I can tell that this book will further my understanding of the nature and features of orality, features that I hope I can find/match in Laferriere’s own work. According to one review, Furniss deals with the “magic of the moment” and this idea of performance. I also discovered theorist Walter J Ong (a student of Marshall McLuhan), and shockingly our library has some of his work. I’ll be off to check that out this afternoon.
Finally, I came across Kimberly Blaeser’s book George Vizenor: Writing in the Oral Tradition. Vizenor is a Native-American writer who is shockingly similar to Laferriere, down to the use of Haiku and other elements of Japanese arts and culture in his writing. Vizenor manages to recreate some of the performative elements of oral traditions in his writing, using (among other things) the trickster figure. I have argued in other papers (albeit briefly) that Laferriere sets out to use/recreate the trickster of Voodoo spirituality, Papa Legba (going so far as to name one of his characters Legba, but also referring to him in some of his books). I’m hoping that some of her critical insight can help inform my interpretations of Laferriere’s work.
But, in the spirit of Digital Writing Month, I also wonder if some of what I will be reading about orality and performance isn’t also useful in understanding digital writing. Recently, when discussing #TvsZ, Jade of Jadedid suggested The Sage Handbook of Performance Studies so we can all brush up on our performance studies theory and understanding the performative nature of online writing. I think that some features of orality have come back through digital writing (impermanence, malleability, contextual nature, performance) that weren’t possible with printed, static text. This is why even though Laferriere eschews digital writing, I’m reading so much theory on it to inform my understanding of his work.
Blending the old with the new. That’s why I love this project so much.
Dany Laferriere just recently revised and republished his book Chronique de la Derive Douce, first published in 1994. The English translation (still only of the first version) was published in 1997 as A Drifting Year. The story is 366 short verses about the first year Laferriere lived in Montreal (1976, after all, was a leap year). I haven’t had a chance to read the expanded version (it has almost doubled in length. Laferriere himself, in an interview promoting the book, talks about how he decided to rewrite the book, with the hindsight of 35 years of living in Montreal and North America.
What’s interesting, too, is how the book is framed as “L’enigme d’arrive” to capitalize on the popularity of L’Enigme de Retour.” Laferriere is nothing if not smart about how to market himself and his books.
But even more interesting to me (as I am interested in how Laferriere rewrites, revises, and adapts his works is this TV special from 1988. It aired on TQS, the television station he worked at as a weatherman. It is an hour-long special called, “Etes-vous raciste?” (Are You Racist?). It is, as the host describes, a retelling of Laferriere’s arrival to Montreal and subsequently the racism he faced. It is certainly anachronistic (what are those puppets?), but it is an interesting re-telling of his first year in Montreal, as retold (and retold) in Chronique.
I found it serendipitously while looking at another Laferriere video on YouTube (there are, if you search his name, 244 results). Again, one hears echoes not only of Chronique, but also Les annees 80s dans ma vielle Ford.
I have my work cut out for me if I even want to get this book written.