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Keyword: ‘Oedipus’

Detective Fiction, Angela Lansbury, and Oedipus

May 27th, 2009 No comments

I just watched the 5/16 episode of Theater Talk with Angela Lansbury. During the interview she was asked about her role as the mother, Queen of Diamonds, in the 1962 classic version of The Manchurian Candidate; in a follow up question she was asked if she had seen the remake and her opinion–she replied “yes” and “no.” Lansbury said the acting, etc., was great, but how can you have any interest when you already know what the “secret is?”theatertalk

I had to laugh to myself because, being as ‘stuck’ as I am with Oedipus on the brain right now, that is sort of the crux of Oedipus: that everyone knows what the secret is (except the characters in the play) and the dramatic irony makes it all the more powerful.

In an article I just finished reading by John Belton, he remarks that the attitude, if you want to call it that, expressed by Ms. Lansbury, is precisely the modern problem, here Belton quotes Frederic Jameson, (“Reification” 132):

“Thus the detective novel, unlike Greek tragedy, is ‘read for the ending’–the bulk of the pages becoming sheer devalued means to an end–in this case, the solution–which is itself utterly insignificant.” In other words, withing the contemporary culture of mass consumption, narrative undergoes a process of materialization and reification which abstracts it from the Real, gives it an “unnaturality” (Jameson, “Reification” 132), and reduces it to the status of an instrument, rendering it dramatically different from earlier forms of popular culture, such as Greek tragedy, which were “organic expressions…of distinct social communities” (Jameson, “Reification” 134).


This made me think of cigarettes, which some cigarette companies characterized as nicotine delivery systems.

Thus, Belton writes:

Detective fiction…emerges as a much more mechanistic restructuring of the reading process whereby phenomena are reorganized into formulaic categories which reduce the complexity of experience to a series of delays, snares, equivocations, partial answers, suspended answers, and jamming actions.


Oedipus, by contrast, was meant to be “read” for its irony, for the “interplay of various levels of knowledge (that of the audience, that of Oedipus)” 934 etc. Not for the end in-and-of-itself.

There is much more that Belton has to say about the differences of epistemology between Sophocles’ way of knowing and the modern detective writer’s way of knowing. But delving into this would go to far astray (which I may have done already) from the main point that struck me as I watched Theater Talk this morning.


John Belton. Language, Oedipus, and Chinatown, MLN, 106(5), Comparative Literature (Dec, 1991), pp933-950

Oedipus HyperPo’ed

May 23rd, 2009 No comments

I wear the hat of Head of Digital Library Programs at Case Western Reserve University. As well, I’m the Managing Librarian for the Samuel B. and Marian K. Freedman Digital Library, Language Learning, and Multimedia Service center. Recently, the Freedman Center hosted the annual Freedman Fellows Program, which is a venue for getting faculty to not only use multimedia tools, but to think about how they can enhance their curriculum as well as the experiences of students; additionally, with a new gift from the Freedman Family, the Freedman Fellows Program is encouraging the use of digital tools for research. Good examples of this include the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University; Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH); and SIMILE at MIT.

Text Overview

Text Overview

Many of the offerings located at these schools allow researchers to visualize data in new and unique ways. There are many forms of data that lend themselves to visualization—obvious examples include GIS data or GPS data; any form of numeric or date data, really; but less obvious collections can be visualized, too. Examples of these include texts—entire texts. Using optical character recognition (OCR) documents now can be marked up quickly using Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) processes. TEI uses a form of XML to mark-up documents. As a subset of SGML, it is very like HTML, but infinitely more flexible and descriptive. As a general markup, at TEI level two or three, you can just add paragraph tags, tables of contents, indexes, etc; but there is a level five which allows for very descriptive markup, including tears in manuscripts, margin notes, gps coordinates for place locations, and more. One thing that can also be done, is each word in a text can be marked and then tools at SEASR (pron. Caesar) can run text analytics (tokenize) and record not only the instances of words in a text, but the exact place of the words in the text. This allows for very comprehensive and complex relationships to come to the surface that may not have been ‘visible’ before.

Our ‘keynote’ speaker for the Freedman Fellows Program was Tanya Clement, from the University of Maryland, and she talked about various tools for text mining and text analytics that she used in her work on Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans with the MONK Project. Part of what she discovered is highly complex patterns of repetition that were largely dismissed by critics as non-sense or attempts at intentional confusion, examples from modernists abound, including Ulysses by Joyce or Finnegan’s Wake, where language itself is not only stretched to the limits of its ability to express meaning, but new words and concepts and meanings are created.

Word Frequencies

Word Frequencies

One tool that is freely available is HyperPo. HyperPo lets you analyze a text quickly to see word frequencies, word occurrences within sentences, you can remove “stop words” (and, the, or, it), and you can even visualize the frequencies. MONK Workbench lets you run various analytic routines on texts as well (I’m not a statistician, so I can’t speak to them all).

contextThe overall point, is the tools that many universities and projects are making available allow for “reading” texts in new ways that can reveal more details about them. I, for instance, am looking at various images in Oedipus. Not only can I find the frequencies at which these images occur, I can also see the context in which they occur, what other words they appear near, and so on. I hope to report on what I find over the next several weeks.

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