In 2003, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak published Death of a Discipline, an exhortation to create “an inclusive comparative literature,” one that “takes the languages of the Southern Hemisphere as active cultural media rather than as objects of cultural study.” To many literary scholars such a development seemed welcome and even likely. Instead, ten years later, an entirely different transformation has taken place via the development of the digital humanities (DH), in which the close study of literature and the languages in which it is embedded have themselves been demoted in favor of “distant reading” and other forms of quantitative and large-scale analyses and whose language politics have regressed rather than progressed from the state Spivak described. DH advertises itself as an unexceptionable application of computational techniques to literary scholarship, yet its advent has accompanied an almost complete reorientation of literary studies as a field—a virtual death of the vision described by Spivak. The advent of DH is quite unlike the ones accompanying the introduction of computers into other disciplines, whose basic precepts have remained largely intact in the face of digitization. DH’s paradoxical use of the adjective “digital” to describe only a fraction of research methods that engage with digital technology creates a tension that must be resolved—either by the DH label being reabsorbed into literary studies or by literary research itself being fundamentally altered, a goal that DH has already in part achieved.
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David Golumbia; Death of a Discipline. differences 1 May 2014; 25 (1): 156–176. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-2420033
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