Blog Post

The Digital Student

Graphics by Michelle Jia : Image Flickr ( I, II ) 

Tired of reading endless novels, with so many characters and plotlines to keep track of? Stupefied by the relentless back-and-forth of theatrical dialogue? Weary from absorbing all fourteen lines of a sonnet? We at Digiprose™ know exactly how you feel. And we’re proud to tell you: your worries are over!

Finally you don’t need to read any of this stuff any more: computers will do it for you. Using simple keyword searches and length measurements, they are just as good at understanding The Tale of Genji or Song of Solomon as any human being could ever be.  Think you’ve detected irony in A Modest Proposal? A computer could do that!  (See small print for exclusions.) Figure the first line of The Trial may be in free indirect discourse, given everything else that happens in the novel? Keyword searches could easily have noticed that ambiguity. (Edit: please stop asking us to explain how.) Reckon there’s a chiasmus in Sonnet 35, coupled with a change in rhythm, bringing about a surprising sense of harmony that cuts against the semantic content? Check, check, and check.

Our patented technology also searches movies for facial expressions, since it’s well known that smiles are an indication of happy scenes

There is nothing of interest that Digiprose’s software cannot identify in a literary text: that symmetrical pattern of motifs in the first and last volumes of Proust, those moments of bathos in Flaubert, that switch from metonymy to metaphor in Baudelaire, those authorial ironies in Plato, that self-referentiality in Mallarmé, those perspective shifts in Woolf. (Edit: OK, it can’t.) Our patented software will even give you the value of a literary work, on a scale of 1 to 73. Don’t worry if you feel differently; that just means you’re wrong.

We know what you’re thinking: “all of this sounds amazing, but who has time to learn the software? First you have to figure out what your question is, then you have to pick a bunch of books, then you have to read a stack of manuals to get the program up and running… it’s a real palaver.” Well don’t you worry: we now have a solution for this too. Presenting Digital Student™, the machine that learns for you.

No more digital humanities classes! No more late-night cramming! No more “pedagogically valuable” assignments! Using simple keyword searches, our patented software watches the lectures, completes the reading, speaks up in class (guaranteed participation grade: B- or above), constructs an original hypothesis, drafts the code, runs the study, writes everything up, and gets your paper published. (Our computers have an excellent rapport with the servers at The New Left Review, with whom they play golf on a monthly basis.)

Who will read these publications, you ask? Don’t worry, there’s an app for that too. Pretty soon all essays on literature will be researched, written, and read by computers. And then the rest of us can finally return to watching cat videos.

cat cats iphone app

Joshua Landy's picture
Joshua Landy is the Andrew B. Hammond Professor of French and Professor of Comparative Literature at Stanford University, where he co-directs the Initiative in Philosophy and Literature. His books include Philosophy as Fiction: Self, Deception, and Knowledge in Proust (Oxford, 2004), How to Do Things With Fictions (Oxford, 2012), and (as coeditor) The Re-Enchantment of the World: Secular Magic in a Rational Age (Stanford, 2009).