Distant Listening or Playing Visualisations Pleasantly with the Eyes and Ears

Tanya Clement


From Virgil Thomson’s 1934 musical score for Gertrude Stein’s opera Four Saints in Three Acts, to readings of The Making of Americans (1925) using digital tools, artists and scholars have used musical composition and computational tools to help express something otherwise obscured in traditional readings of Stein’s texts. At first glance, it seems there is little in common between these efforts: readers argue that setting a Steinian text to music is a welcome abstraction that brings the text to new heights of expression, while computing them seems to concretise their subtleties and diminish their expressive possibilities. I argue that it is the situated hermeneutical framework in which visualisations, like musical scores, invite us to “play,” that guides our scholarly, interpretive performances with Stein’s texts. In particular, the visualisations I introduce here help us reconsider the significance of oral traditions in Stein’s self-proclaimed magnum opus, The Making of Americans.

De la partition de Virgil Thomson en 1934 pour l’opéra Four Saints in Three Acts de Gertrude Stein aux lectures de The Making of Americans (1925) utilisant des outils numériques, artistes et chercheurs ont utilisé la composition musicale et les outils informatiques pour contribuer à exprimer ce qui reste obscur dans les lectures traditionnelles des écrits de Stein. De prime abord, ces deux approches semblent n’avoir que peu de choses en commun : les lecteurs rapportent que la mise en musique des textes de Stein en musique est une abstraction louable qui porte les textes vers de nouveaux sommets d’expression, alors que leur appliquer des outils informatique semble rendre plus concrètes leurs subtilités et diminuer leur potentiel d’expression. Je soutiens que c’est le cadre herméneutique situé dans lequel les visualisations comme les partitions nous invitent à « jouer », qui guide nos approches académiques et interprétatives des textes de Stein. En particulier, les visualisations que je présente ici nous aident à reconsidérer l’importance de la tradition orale dans ce qu’elle décrit comme son œuvre majeure, The Making of Americans.


predictive modeling; text analysis; visualizations; interface design; textual scholarship


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