Voyeur Tools/Timeline vs. Network Theory

When working with Voyeur Tools, the object being put under a microscope for analysis is word usage. Tracking word usage is an excellent tool for examining the content of a document: the kinds of things being discussed in a work and its common themes. Combined with the timeline, we see how these things change over time in a periodical or text.

Network theory is another quantitative way to analyze text, but I believe the key difference is that network theory is for plot and characters, while Voyeur Tools is for theme and ideas. Moretti writes, “But if you work on novels or plays, style is only part of the picture. What about plot – how can that be quantified?” It’s a short quote, but it tells us exactly what he plans to emphasize with network theory: plot. It’s an extremely effective tool in determining how characters relate to each other, and which characters are at the center of the action. Just by looking at one of the networks, the examiner immediately gets an idea of which characters are minor or major. But, the network tells us nothing of what the story is about. Hopefully, that’s what Voyeur Tools can provide with its timeline and word tracking. Together, the network and Voyeur Tools can hopefully show a somewhat clear picture of what a story is about, and help guide argumentation and analysis.

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6 thoughts on “Voyeur Tools/Timeline vs. Network Theory

  1. Braden,

    I agree that there is a pretty sizable difference between “Mapping” and Voyant Tools. I believe “Mapping” is something that can be particularly helpful before even opening a novel in order to see the main connections. However, you make a good point when you bring up how “mapping” isn’t at all helpful in revealing the story’s ideas or plot. I think it is meant to be this way, and, to be fair, Voyant Tools isn’t either. It is more of a tool that you can use to test out an idea or hypothesis after preforming a close read of the text. I do disagree with your point about Voyant providing a timeline. The only way it does this is through individual, or sets of words and even then it only has the ability to show you when the usage of the word(s) peaked or crashed. While it seems that each tool provides valuable and specific insights into the text in order to provide context and guidance, close reading is still the most important tool for delving deep into a text.

  2. Great Analysis Braden, I agree with you. Voyeur Tools seems to be a great way to track word usage, and as an effect learn more about the main theme of the writing piece. The word timelines reflect the usage of the words through the years, and while working in the project I learned that certain word usage become prominent through tough times like WWI, where ideas are in the need to leak into people’s minds. Network Theory seems to work together with Voyeur Tools, both supplementing each other for a final more complete understanding of a story. All of these tools are one click away, why not use them for a little extra analysis and comprehension right?

  3. In response to winstonsmithrm101,

    I had most of the same thoughts as you when reading Braden’s post. Several good points were made about the uses of Network theory and Voyeur Tools. I agree that the Voyeur Tool is for creating themes and ideas. However, I think it is important to remember that when Moretti says, “But if you work on novels or plays, style is only part of the picture. What about plot – how can that be quantified?”, the key word is “quantified”. He does not claim that the plot can be fully unraveled through network theory, but rather that we can measure quantity through it.
    You can’t expect to get a complete summary or plot from Network theory or Voyeur Tools simply because that is not what they’re created for.

    While Voyant does not provide an exact timeline, I understand where Braden is coming from. By seeing when certain words peaked or crashed, we are given a rough timeline-like sequence. We can see when different words’ peaks correlate in time.

    All in all, I obviously agree that close reading is the ideal tool for fully understanding a text. Even so, other tools such as network theory and Voyant are valuable because they allow insight into areas that could not be seen clearly in other ways.

  4. You’re spot on with characterizing network tools as a plot driven analysis. With voyeur tools, distant reading is an incomplete reading of themes. We are only able to view a work as closely as we can pinpoint certain thematic words and see their shift/frequency. Network tools (as both a stand alone tool and a compliment) paints a different picture. In tandem with voyeur tools, we are then able to see the plot/characters various interrelations with respect to thematic progression in a given work.

    As a guide for close reading, this may allow us to be more precise in both where and what we are looking for. For example, without the inclusion of network tools, there was little insight on what content was most pertinent, save for an approximate place fixed to the crude thematic understanding of a word. With network tools, important content is more visible and easier to locate.

    Note: Sorry for the 4th reply to this. At the time I checked the blog, there were only two initial responses, each with 3 replies.

  5. I very much agree with everything that has been said in this post, so many great thoughts. In my person opinion, the Voyant tools were easy visuals and set my group up in our project to find and explore different words. No, there is not a timeline to go along with the word but with every other visual the Voyant tool provides good and useful information. However, through the searching and using the Voyant tools during our project we were almost able to make our own timeline in regards to the usage of our keywords. To further agree with kjk770, I definitely agree that the two tools together help to complete the whole picture of the word visuals.

  6. I’m of the same mind as Stacy, while close reading is the best way to truly understand any work both voyant and network theory are excellent tools to supplement the close reading. From reading Franco Moretti’s pamphlet though, it seems like any information acquired from network theory should be taken with a grain of salt. Moretti himself points out that his theory has a large flaw in it. So far his networks do not put “weight” on more meaningful interaction. He points out that the interactions between two characters who have spoken eight words to each other are put on par with characters who have spoken eight thousand words to each other. This could skew information and make it seem like minor characters have a much larger part than they actually do.
    Never the less, network theory seems like it would be a valuable tool to help support or form a theory on a work as long as it was supported by close reading of the text itself.

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