#Modernist #Writers experiment, #readers maintain the form

2012/05/01 § 1 Comment

Abstract from Quantitative patterns of stylistic influence in the evolution of literature

Literature is a form of expression whose temporal structure, both in content and style, provides a historical record of the evolution of culture. In this work we take on a quantitative analysis of literary style and conduct the first large-scale temporal stylometric study of literature by using the vast holdings in the Project Gutenberg Digital Library corpus. We find temporal stylistic localization among authors through the analysis of the similarity structure in feature vectors derived from content-free word usage, nonhomogeneous decay rates of stylistic influence, and an accelerating rate of decay of influence among modern authors. Within a given time period we also find evidence for stylistic coherence with a given literary topic, such that writers in different fields adopt different literary styles. This study gives quantitative support to the notion of a literary “style of a time” with a strong trend toward increasingly contemporaneous stylistic influence.

I can’t read the PDF of the article so I’ll rely on the following from Literature Runs From Its Past

“Make it new!” declared Ezra Pound (shown), demanding that writers shrug off the literary influence of the past. Indeed, an analysis published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that Pound and his Modernist peers obeyed the dictum to a degree never before seen in English literature. Scientists examined the statistical patterns of words in 7733 English-language works in the Project Gutenberg database, starting in 1550 and spanning 4 centuries. This analysis differed from previous works in its large scale and its focus on how authors used 307 “content-free words” such as prepositions, articles, forms of “to be,” and pronouns. Researchers discovered that most authors wrote in a similar style to those immediately preceding them, and that this influence diminished steadily over time—which is not surprising, but it bolsters the largely subjective idea of a distinct style for each era. The scientists also found that not all eras treated the past equally. Overall, writers showed the most stylistic similarity to those who preceded them by about a quarter century, but authors between 1907 and 1952—which included the heyday of Modernism—showed the most stylistic differences to their immediate predecessors. Researchers attribute this early 20th century “revulsion” partly to the make-it-new ethos, and partly to the increasing number of books published in modern times, which left writers less time to ruminate on scribes who came before.

One comment here is that writers may create new styles when they break with tradition, but it is readers who maintain the formats writers are allowed to use. True experimentation occurs when readers notice and try something new.

“Look at me! Look at me! Look at me! Look at me! Look at me! Look at me! Look at me! Look at me! Look at me! Look at me! Look at me! Look at me! ”

Another comment is that most readers have put the best of the modernist writers in a boxed set, and put them on the shelf, to be safely ignored, even if admired when they add to footage of total books to the library.

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