Literature Is Not Data: Against Digital Humanities

Mean technology. Mean, mean technology.

The legal case brought by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers against Google was a revelation, as important, if not as celebrated, as the obscenity trial of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. In the face of the openness and honest labor of engineers, the priestly class closed ranks. Instead of accepting the gift of digitization, the possibility of bringing the wealth of the tradition to the widest possible public for free, literary people immediately set about doing what they do best: vapid, internecine squabbling. The librarians stepped in. Authors wanted to be heard. The situation soon became untenable.

Google’s mistake was listening to all this chatter, respecting it, and actually trying to broker a settlement, which was naturally impossible, like trying to negotiate with a flock of sparrows. In hindsight, perhaps, Google should have followed the law for “fair use” of copyright, come to agreements with the world’s major libraries to provide the Book Search to public institutions in perpetuity, and stepped aside. Then again, they did nothing wrong.

The problem lay at the feet of literary institutions and their inherent fearfulness. — Los Angeles Review of Books