Though reading Sarah Ahmed’s ‘living a feminist life’ (2017) taught us the direction of feminist empiricism and importance of the embodiment of feminist sense in reading the text the conventional feminist text analysis that we discussed in the class doesn’t seem to clearly manifest the sensorial dimensions of feminist’s experience — especially in relation to the sensoriality of trauma in women’s bodies and writing. For this missing investigation my presentation in the panel would like to discuss the significance of graphic analysis in Johanna Drucker’s scholarship and artistic projects (that deal with women’s artists’ books and their graphic presentation of subjectivity) first. And this will be supported by my recent reading of Nathalie M. Huston’s suggestion of graphic analysis through the computational program that I argue that can be applied toward the feminist analysis of women’s contemporary experimental poetry that incorporates the typographical and otherwise visual elements of writing poetry in referring to their experience of gendered trauma. My panel presentation will argue that feminist text analysis will need to consider this element for their range of endeavor and push forward the benefit of computational text analysis in pursuing that approach. As a case study I’d like to propose a computational text analysis of gendered trauma in Susan Howe’s poetry.
There already is feminist text analysis so far as we acknowledge it as an open space for practices and interpretations that necessarily adapt and transform. We will face the same difficulty imagining a singular or static feminist text analysis as we would applying those characteristics to feminist theory itself.
The question of whether there can or cannot be feminist text analysis may be flawed. Its problem, as I see it, is attention toward an elusive end. What if finality is incompatible with the process? Should that really come as a surprise? Feminist text analysis, like feminism, is not a static program but a process.
Perhaps the question should be, ‘how can your text analysis be feminist?’ If so, the answer will have something to do with a heterogeneity of techniques being circumstantially constructed. Some of these will serve to preserve practical gains and others will work to create theoretical tensions, because feminist theory is a fluid and situational thing.
I wish to warn the panel that the workings of dominant social institutions too often become analogies used to measure and disregard activities that stem from fundamentally different politics. If we accept the restriction of having to name some definitive feminist text analysis that can or cannot be, we are in danger of mistakenly allowing the epistemological models of the state and the patriarchy into an analysis of alternative tactics.
Can there be such a thing as “feminist text analysis”?
What is the theoretical purview of feminist text analysis? I find it hard to put frames around a field of humanistic inquiry which by virtue of its disobedient nature is unframeable. Feminist text analysis, much like feminism is a transient and iterative materialization of feminist thought through which the humanities critically investigates the hegemonic standpoints of knowledge in contrast to non-hegemonic standpoints. Although we cannot articulate a specific definition of feminist text analysis, we can identify certain dependable theoretical spaces that it occupies in humanities discourse. Feminist text analysis is an ‘interpretively open’ space. it is a space to critically engage narrow frameworks of ‘white male universality’ as the standard of human experience. It is a space that recognizes processes of knowledge creation equally as processes of knowledge curation in which data is not objective but situationally bound to hegemonic narratives – in which behind all macro-digital infrastructures are algorithmic black boxes which hold the views and biases of the people who built them. Feminist text analysis is also a space of positive representational revisionism. it is a space that engages with the tangents of human intersections and the plurality of human experiences as one humanity. It investigates the blind spots of traditional frameworks in which the representation of women, people of color, and outlier data is often eclipsed by the desire for narrative continuity and empirical analysis. feminist text analysis does not shave or flatten data to fit into boxes of conformity but looks at data fully in the round. It does not simply reduce it to alpha-numeric and graphical primitives but visceralizes .
However, I don’t know if there can be feminist text analysis outside of the theoretical realm.
The question is if we can’t escape our own biases as humanists and we can’t pry open those algorithmic black boxes unless we build our own analytic systems from scratch, how can we truly achieve feminist text analysis? we can theorize ad nauseum but how will we operationalize our feminist text analysis when we cannot control for our unknowns?
The words that computers so quickly and easily count, but balk at disambiguating, take on, for feminist theorists, multiple values and flavors of implication in open-ended arenas of power dynamics and shifting identities, where imbalances and injustices are reinforced in subtle, sometimes devious, but often unconscious ways. Although computer systems easily handle multitudes of relationships and categories, they struggle to adapt to the terminological and categorical fluidity and multidimensionality that feminist investigation highlights.
That said, in practice, there is reason to be sanguine about the potential of feminist text analysis. One key function of feminist criticism is to “out” biases embedded in textual output, the presence and absence of crucial perspectives, and to bring into question the power dynamics surrounding social and material conditions of said output. Text analysis has demonstrated its ability to quickly deconstruct and reorder text in service of intentional inquiry, which allows for analysis of large groups of text and gives feminist investigators more tools for “unsettling deep-seated ideologies” (Rhody, 2016).
By focusing on exploration, investigation, and a critical orientation towards methods, data and conclusions, I argue that not only is feminist text analysis valuable but that, considering the black box nature, and clear bias, of ubiquitous textual systems like Google Search (see Noble), the cost of not engaging in feminist text analysis might prove too high.
One of the advantages of bringing a feminist perspective to computational text analysis is that it forces text analysis to expand its scope. A feminist perspective does not merely bring into the field a different approach, among the many that exist, but it transforms the foundations of computational text analysis. In this sense, if you do computational text analysis from a feminist perspective your approach will encompass an ontological, epistemological, methodological, and empirical standpoint. What are the questions that feminism will ask using text analysis? Issues of power, inequality, intersectionality, marginalized groups, oppression, or discrimination. The questions and the topics are not neutral or objective or universal as more mainstream computational text analysis will imply but are all questions that are asked from a particular standpoint.
A key component of my feminism is negotiation of universals and particulars, from multiple stances. I see the stances as reducible to two categories: experiencer and observer of/interactor with others. To the extent that computational text analysis opens up new ways of seeing oneself and others, I see it as potentially feminism-compatible.
We’ve learned that computational analysis is not neutral–in all phases, from the formulation of research questions, through data selection and preparation, conceptualization, operationalization, and analysis, human researchers bring preconceptions into the process. A feminist text analysis involves self-awareness, transparency, and responsibility for recognizing, naming, and if possible, correcting for, biases.
As such, I think it’s not only possible but imperative. In our algorithmic digital world, when computational analysis is used so pervasively in ways that re-inscribe and reinforce harmful stereotypes, it’s crucial to understand the emergent methods and to incorporate egalitarian concerns and values into research that uses these methods, and into critical responses.
I wonder also if (feminist) text analysis could be a stimulus to alternative viewing, a kaleidoscope-like supplement to close reading, rather than a telescope. DuBois’s chapter openings in The Souls of Black Folk are one of my favorite examples of showing differently:
The moment you define the parameters for a feminist text analysis, they will be outdated. Feminist changes. Text changes. And analysis changes. Identities are not stable; rather they are constantly being iterated and changed by the factors around and outside them. An analysis that seeks to make sense of patterns will capture truth in one snapshot and falsity in another.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying.
I have been thinking through Ralph Ellison’s line: “it was either to live with music or die with noise.” Text analysis aims to pull music from noise; feminist text analysis realizes that whether or not one “finds music” depends on the voice of the musician and the ears of the listener. And that a definition of music will never bring as much fodder for mind and spirit as will an experience of music.
There need not be a definitive arrival point to signify Feminist Text Analysis. In fact, such a point would bely the iterative nature of feminism, text, and analysis. But projects that acknowledge and thoughtfully codify instability, multiplicity, and other feminist ideals bring us closer to feminist text analysis.