Digital Criticism and the Search for Patterns

28 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2014

Date Written: July 23, 2014


Literary critics seek patterns, whether patterns in individual texts or patterns in large collections of texts. Valid patterns are taken as indices of causal mechanisms of one sort or another. Most abstractly, a pattern emerges or is enacted as some machine makes its way in an environment. An ecological niche is a pattern “traced” by an organism in its environment. Literary texts are themselves patterns traced by writers (and readers) through their life worlds. Patterns are frequently described through visualizations. The concept of pattern thus dissolves the apparent conflict between quantification and meaning, for quantification is but a means to describing a pattern. It is up to the critic to determine whether or not a pattern is meaningful by identifying the mechanism that produced the pattern. Examples from Shakespeare and Joseph Conrad.

Keywords: patterns, description, pattern recognition, computing, digital humanities, literary criticism, method, Moretti, Ramsay

Suggested Citation

Benzon, William L., Digital Criticism and the Search for Patterns (July 23, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

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