Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lexomics: Gaining Acceptance

[UPDATE: and our Old English Newsletter item which gives explanations and links to the Lexomics website, where you can play with it or download all the tools, is now up on the we here at the Old English Newsletter]

Our huge methodological paper on lexomic analysis was accepted by JEGP a while back. Now, just before leaving for the Kalamazoo conference, I learned that our paper that uses lexomic methods to analyze Guthlac A was accepted by Modern Philology. So at some point in the future you'll be able to read:

Drout, Michael D. C., Michael J. Kahn and Mark D. LeBlanc. “Of Dendrogrammatology: Lexomic Methods for Analyzing the Relationships Among Old English Poems,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology.

Downey, Sarah, Michael D.C. Drout, Michael J. Kahn and Mark D. LeBlanc. “’Books Tell Us’: Lexomic and Traditional Evidence for the Sources of Guthlac A. Modern Philology.

I am in the very home stretches of the final proofing and indexing of the new edition of J.R.R. Tolkien's Beowulf and the Critics but I notice that the publisher has put 2011 as the copyright date, so I guess it will be out after Christmas. It will be printed primarily in paperback, but I'm trying to convince the publisher that there would be interest in a collector's edition if they can make it leather bound or otherwise really nice looking -- the last time I checked the out-of-print edition was selling for over $150.00 on Amazon (and what's really sad is that I have no extra copies to take advantage of this price).

Also, the new technical book is going well and, with a lot of luck will be done and off to a reviewer by the middle of June. Right now the title is: Tradition and Influence: Memetics, Literature and Tenth-Century Anglo-Saxon Culture. It includes chapters on the problems of genre, influence (and uses lexomics), aesthetics, authorship and the "anxiety of influence." Right now I'm struggling to draw "adaptive landscapes" and could really use a pointer to a cheap or free tool that can draw wire-frame terrain (by hand, not by inputting a bunch of data).

The Tolkien book, The Tower and the Ruin, is moving along in parallel, and I'll be switching to a primary focus on that one soon. As part of the process of writing it, I'm going to be recording a new Tolkien audio course, significantly different from my Rings, Swords and Monsters (also sold as Of Sorcerers and Men) that I did for recorded books. The new course will be called something like Tolkien and the West and I expect to do the recording in the beginning of July. Then I'll teach Tolkien this fall, testing out the chapters of the new book in class, so that that book will probably go out for review in December (though it could go earlier).

And Tolkien Studies volume 7 is mostly at the printer and needs only final proofing of some sections. We had some snags this year and are a little late, but hopefully we will still be out in July as we usually are.

Too much stuff! And I'm heading off to NY for the Audie awards next week (though I don't expect that I'll win, it's great to be a finalist in such a big group). But it's better to be busy than be bored.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The argument of the new book, Tradition and Influence

A meme is a replicated bit of human culture. Memes evolve through Darwinian processes of differential survival and replication mediated through the human perceptual and cognitive systems. Memes combine into meme-plexes, which are then subject to selection as groups. One meme-plex has influenced another when a significant portion of the second meme-plex contains sub-units that have come from the first. A tradition is a special case of influence in which some elements of the structure of the meme-plex have caused it to be preserved substantially in the same form across multiple generations (i.e., the subsequent meme-plex contains all or nearly all the sub-units of the antecedent meme-plex and no others). The structure of traditional meme-plexes includes three components, recognitio, actio and justificatio, with the justificatio component either in the process of becoming or having become the Universal Tradition Meme: ‘because we have always done so.’ Each of the three aspects of a tradition is subject to different selection pressures. The presence of the Universal Tradition Meme produces selection pressure for traditions to link up with each other. The stability caused by traditions enables certain cultural phenomena, including traditional referentiality and communicative economy. Text-based traditions operate somewhat differently from traditions that are not textual, but the underlying processes are the same. The details of these processes and their interaction with the ever-changing physical and cultural world is the subject of the rest of this book.

Good question by John Cowan below: How is this different from my How Tradition Works. What I've presented above is the core argument of the theory, and it has evolved somewhat substantially since How Tradition Works, since I have refined and extend it in a variety of areas and tweaked the argument throughout. The most significant changes are my recognition that I could not just keep waving my hands at the problems of the perceptual, congitive and mnemonic systems, that instead had to go and try to learn a bunch of material about cognitive psychology, and that the variation and mediation imposed by these systems is responsible for both change and stability in memetic population.
Also, the big thing about this book is that we can see influence in action, even though that action behind the scenes in a way. We've developed "lexomic" techniques to detect influence, and we can even explain, statistically and mathematically, how we can do this. So the ideas (somewhat changed) of the old How Tradition Works are in Tradition and Influence, but the new book is a much-more-developed approach.