For the Voyant exercise that we looked at, I chose Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay A Modest Proposal. Voyant shows readers patterns in the text related to the use of language. Voyant shows us how often a word occurs, connections between words, digital graphs and word clouds that reveal the author’s main points of focus by highlighting the words that are used most frequently. In Swift’s case, the most frequently used words were children, kingdom, thousand, country, and number. Having read the text before, I can understand how these words are the most important, considering the essay is about a narrator suggesting his plan to save Ireland from it’s crushing famine and poverty by having the poor sell their children to the rich for sustenance. Voyant can be really helpful in pinpointing specific features of an author’s diction. Obviously, the word that occurs most frequently in a given text would be of significance to the reader. I think the thing reader’s should be wary about when using Voyant is that it doesn’t do a good job of helping the reader understand the meaning/purpose of a text. Transforming a text into visual and digital representations can help us measure certain elements of a text, but there is still a burden upon the reader to take that data and apply some sort of meaning to the text as a whole. Voyant gave me a different way of looking at Swift’s Proposal, but there are countless things that Voyant is incapable of revealing to the reader. For example, Voyant gives no indication that the text is a satire, and If I had never read Swift’s Proposal I might have assumed that the text was simply a historical essay about Ireland.
In all the years that I’ve been using wikipedia, sucking from its plethora of endless knowledge like a leech, this is the first time I’ve ever been made to contribute to wikipedia’s vast pool. The article that I’ve chosen to enhance/improve is called Afrocubanismo. According to the wiki page, it is a movement that involved black Cubans in the 1920s… and that’s it. The article doesn’t go into any detail about who they key figures of the movement were, it provides no insight or background information about the movement, it doesn’t even mention what kind of movement it was or it’s purpose. There are some major content gaps that I need to address in order to beef up this page and make myself an expert of one area of Cuban anthropological history! The main issue that I’m going to have to tackle is adding more information, but I also need to think about the structure of the page, which will inform the kind of information that I need to include. Luckily, Prof. Larry (hope that name is okay) suggested using the Afrofuturism wikipedia page as a sort of template-guide to help me format my wiki page. That page is a LOT more informative, and includes things like: 1) a detailed definition of Afrofuturism, 2) lists of Afrofuturists, 3) the history and development of Afrofuturism, 4) examples of Afrofuturistic art, and 5) common themes related to Afrofuturism. I think If I follow this general layout, I could create a pretty nifty page. I hope that Black Cubans, Latinos, and minorities might appreciate the work that I do to this page, because my aim is to do the Afro-Cuban people justice.
Over the course of this assignment, I’ve changed my mind three times regarding the text that I wanted to focus on for the super-rich annotations. Originally, I wanted to annotate Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal. I changed my mind after considering how extensively Swift’s Proposal has been analyzed and critiqued by countless academics and literary critics throughout the 20th century. I figured that there couldn’t be anything that I could add to help readers better understand the text that hadn’t already been thought of. Also, Swift’s text is quite dense, and I wanted to narrow my focus a bit.
At this point I had decided upon poetry, specifically Langston Hughes’ piece, “Fine as Wine.” I read Hughes in high school when learning about the Harlem Renaissance (“A Dream Deferred” is one of my favorite poems). I felt poetry to be a better route for me than a short story or other type of text, because I think that the multiple-interpretations of poetry lends itself to a wider array of annotations and ways of understanding literature.
“Fine is Wine” turned out to be much too brief. It is an incredible poem about the intrinsic beauty of being, but it just too short to be able to meet the 8 annotation requirement. I also felt that the poem was a bit too on the nose and easy to understand. Part of the fun of poetry for me is trying to figure out the sense and meaning of the poem. This is how I landed on Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem, Borderbus. I’ve heard of Herrera’s name from professors, but I’ve never read any of his work or looked into his life much at all. I think the best way to head into this assignment is with as little background information and bias as possible. I’m hoping that by going into the piece blind, I will be able to focus on the poem and my own reaction and interpretations of it, and hopefully that leads me into some very thoughtful and stimulating annotations!
Annotations can be a lifesaving resource. They can reveal details about a text/author that would have otherwise gone unnoticed, and they can provide the reader with a more informed perspective to tackle a text. Conversely, annotations can also distract and move away from the purpose/meaning of a text. I found the annotations for “Bartleby, the Scrivener” to be a double-edged sword.
I first read the version of the short story without annotations. This was the best way to read it, simply because it is just me and the text. There are no annotations, external sources, or outside influences to manipulate my understanding or opinion of the story (which I found incredibly boring and frustrating for the record). After my first read through, I glanced at the Slate-annotated version of the story. This version had well-written and informative annotations, and I liked how they were organized into categories like history, economics, philosophy, commentary etc. Andrew Kahn (the annotator) did a good job of giving new contexts for understanding the story. For example, one annotation explains Melville’s reference of John Jacob Astor, a business man during Melville’s time. When I read it on my own, the name meant nothing to me and I didn’t really think much of it. The annotation explains how the use of Astor’s name adds a layer of protest to the story because as Kahn explains, Astor was well known for being a staunch capitalist and for monopolizing New York real estate. This information gives me clues as to what the point of the short story is, which I found unclear when I read the version without annotations.
I thought that the annotations in the Genius version of the short story were too distracting to focus on. Almost every line during the introduction is annotated, and stopping to read each annotation felt very stilted and took away from the flow of the narrative. The annotations were also a bit too informative. Some annotations were extremely dense and simply mentioned the significance of a single word.
After this exercise, I’ve learned some tips for improving my own annotations. First, I’m going to use the category system that the Slate.com version used. Thinking about a category for an annotation before you actually write it will help determine the purpose of the annotation, which is something that I need to work on. I used to think of annotations as being just stream-of-conciousness, but it is critical for both my understanding of a text that I write annotations with a specific reason in mind (i.e. “What does this do/how does this complicate my understanding of the text?)