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The Afterlife of Reception

About the project

Status: archive

Project team: Ed Finn;

End date: Sep 15, 2011

This project examined the 'social life' of books beyond the prestige of awards, by looking at book purchase and review data from thousands of readers, focusing on David Foster Wallace. It drew upon networks of recommendations based on consumer purchases at Amazon, Amazon book reviews, as well as a corpus of professional and consumer reviews from national newspapers and magazines. The project noted that Amazon's recommendations enable us to "observe the world's largest bookseller in its feedback loop with consumer desire and market influences". For its methodology, the project extracted paragraph-level co-occurrence of proper nouns, in order to visualize cultural conversation as a kind of network. In the context of this project, "prestige" is interpreted as nodes that are most central within these generated co-occurrence networks.

This project allowed us to trace the process of canonization for Wallace as he was integrated into a broader constellation of literary stars, offering some proof of his authorial success as well as a characterization of its nature. It also demonstrated that everyday readers do, in fact, contextualize Wallace differently from professional critics, and this revelation offers us another way to see the continued growth and evolution of Wallace the literary figure.