Casting Light on Invisible Cities: Computationally Engaging with Literary Criticism

Shufan Wang, Mohit Iyyer


Abstract
Literary critics often attempt to uncover meaning in a single work of literature through careful reading and analysis. Applying natural language processing methods to aid in such literary analyses remains a challenge in digital humanities. While most previous work focuses on “distant reading” by algorithmically discovering high-level patterns from large collections of literary works, here we sharpen the focus of our methods to a single literary theory about Italo Calvino’s postmodern novel Invisible Cities, which consists of 55 short descriptions of imaginary cities. Calvino has provided a classification of these cities into eleven thematic groups, but literary scholars disagree as to how trustworthy his categorization is. Due to the unique structure of this novel, we can computationally weigh in on this debate: we leverage pretrained contextualized representations to embed each city’s description and use unsupervised methods to cluster these embeddings. Additionally, we compare results of our computational approach to similarity judgments generated by human readers. Our work is a first step towards incorporating natural language processing into literary criticism.
Anthology ID:
N19-1130
Volume:
Proceedings of the 2019 Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics: Human Language Technologies, Volume 1 (Long and Short Papers)
Month:
June
Year:
2019
Address:
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Venue:
NAACL
SIG:
Publisher:
Association for Computational Linguistics
Note:
Pages:
1291–1297
Language:
URL:
https://www.aclweb.org/anthology/N19-1130
DOI:
10.18653/v1/N19-1130
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PDF:
http://aclanthology.lst.uni-saarland.de/N19-1130.pdf