Playful Visualizations at Work, Working Visualizations at Play

Posts tagged ‘Art’

The Social Network (of Daniel Deronda)

Since this project’s beginning, I had toyed with the idea of doing a social network graph that would look at the relationships between all the characters in the novel. I was aware that this would be a substantially larger undertaking than any of the other visualizations I had in mind, which perhaps explains why I left it for last. Despite forewarning myself, I grossly underestimated how difficult that would be and set off to code character interactions over the course of 70 chapters in an 800 page novel. As an experience that opened up the novel to me in all sorts of new ways, it was wonderful. As a mix between skimming and data entry, it was profoundly unpleasant.

But enough lamenting the plight of the digital scholar, that’s boring. Here are the results:

Now for the specs. In order to create this graph, I needed to set some rules for what qualified as interaction. A bidirectional interaction occurs when one named character speaks aloud (that is, with quotation marks) to another named character. A unidirectional interaction occurs when a named character speaks aloud about another named character. The chart does not differentiate between two people who gossip about one another and two people who actually speak to one another. Also, the chart only shows the presence or absence of interaction, it does not add weight to the edges based on how many times interactions took place. I am aware that this is less than ideal, but as this is just my first foray into social network graphing, I have not yet worked out the full range of the software’s ability. I have the data to create that graph, just not the knowhow. But I plan to work it out when I have the chance.

Anyway, this graph was generated by the graphing software yEd. I told it to place the characters in a single circle and to use color to convey a character’s centrality (darker colored nodes have more connections to the other nodes). Then I just played around with the background because I am a sucker for light on dark presentation.

Here’s where it gets fun. I told the software to redraw the graph based on the groups it thought that the characters should be divided into (well, not in so many words, but that was how I translated the instructions in my head). The resulting graph is below.

Cool, right? The weirdest part, for me, was that Mrs. Davilow (Gwendolen’s mother) is at the center of the giant social cluster rather than Gwendolen herself. I have a few ideas as to why she might be–she’s more important than I tend to give her credit for–but I’m leery of creating post-hoc explanations for something that could simply be a software quirk. Still, it’s provocative.

The other point I want to make is about families. Here is another version of this graph, this time with immediate family members all colored the same color.

Now, it’s much easier to see which family groups are more connected throughout the novel and which are not. I find it particularly intriguing that upper-middle class families are all spread out along one giant social circle while the lower class families tend to cluster closer together as family groups.

Finally, I did one more thing with this graph. In the spirit of Franco Moretti’s work with Hamlet, where he graphed the social network of the novel and then deleted the Danish Prince from the graph, I did the same with both Gwendolen and Deronda, then told yEd to rearrange the groups based on the new data.

Okay, take a look at the two graphs.

I’d be mean and ask for your thoughts, but as I’m not sure how many of my readers have read Daniel Deronda (not to mention how many readers we have),  it would be unfair to ask you for an interpretation. Instead, I will provide you with mine. So here’s the cool thing. The families that grouped together in the previous graph but not in this one were brought together by the actions of the main character–in this case, Deronda. So Mordecai rediscovered his long-lost sister Mirah through Deronda, for example. On the other hand, the families that now group together had their lives disrupted in the book by the actions of the main characters, either Deronda or Gwendolen, depending on the family in question. So if you look at Grandcourt, pictured here with his mistress, Mrs. Glasher and illegitimate heir, Henleigh, you’ll see that he’s nowhere near them in the graph with Gwendolen. In the text, Gwendolen marries Grandcourt despite knowing that he has a mistress and son who deserve to be legitimized. (Illegitimacy is a theme in this text.) I found it absolutely fascinating that removing the characters from the graph actually mimics what removing them from the book would have done.

So here’s my invitation to you: think about how else these graphs might be able to speak. I used them to construct a specific narrative of family ties throughout the novel based on how the connections behave. How else might you produce new elements of the novel’s narrative using these kinds of graphs? And, if you’ll think back to last week’s thoughts on dynamic social network graphs, how might those really help to structure questions about the novel?

One final note–I am really pleased to have finally produced something using statistical software that I think is pretty. It makes me feel that all is not yet lost.


l’art pour l’art

As I move toward the part of the experiment/project where I will try to create a visually appealing -something- I am thinking a lot about my manual art. In my spare time when I have enough money for supplies, I make big paintings that use printed text as borders or incorporate the text within the image itself. Unfortunately, I’ve been struggling to photograph the work in a way that makes the text visible or gives a good idea of what the art looks like or what my style is if I have one. These two images are from one 5′ by 7′ painting and they will have to do for now.


These pictures were taken of an unfinished painting that currently hangs in my living room. The text is the Julio Cortázar story  La autopista del sur (Spanish text here, English text isn’t readily available online but some very interesting reading notes are here ). The text winds itself around the cars/buildings/rectangles on the painting and is a visual analysis of the structure and thematic content of the story. I left the painting unfinished (to finish would mean finding another copy of the text, cutting it into lines, and buying some epoxy) but may return to it at some point. Other texts I’ve painted include some Baudelaire poems and Gide’s L’Immoraliste but these paintings are hard to photograph in a way that would show you anything about them.

Revisiting an idea I’ve already mentioned in other posts, I’m fascinated by Ramsay’s discussion of how DHers can blur the lines between art and critical analysis. I would argue, as of 5 PM today, that this painting does just that. However, for our current project, I will begin the critical and artistic process from my laptop. The reason I started thinking about these ideas/questions at 5 pm (about ninety minutes before that, in fact) is a meeting I had with Harry Reese, who shared many invaluable books, ideas, and information about his current projects with me. It was one of those meetings that left me giddy, and extremely grateful for the incredibly talented faculty within my reach at UCSB. We all need to get out and talk to people more! Among the many things we discussed, Harry showed me a very interesting project done by Ann Hamilton. The project is called Stylus, and within the project is a section called Concordances. Here is the introductory link, it’s a beautiful, tricky, labyrinthine site that is worth exploring. Hamilton used newspapers (current during the 2010-2011 run of the exhibit) and within them generated concordances between the text and a given group of words within the text. On the website, users can create their own concordances within her corpus, mine is below using the words ‘abstain,’ ‘journalist,’ and ‘many.’

The “spine” words within the text create an interesting visual that seems to relate to other aspects of her project (duh) in which she explores all kinds of things including sound.

Reese and I also spent a lot of time talking about publishing and the organization of text on the page, as he is a publisher who is working on some incredible projects (including one that uses Calvino’s Invisible Cities as a point of departure and really blew me away). We flipped through some beautiful books (including Edward Tufte’s Visual Explanations, wow this is an amazing book) and Avital Ronell’s Telephone Book. Our conversation helped me distill some of my questions that I want to address in the next phases of my project on DFW’s The Pale King.  Whatever I create will in some ways remain part of the narrative being constructed by this blog. That said, I want to create something that will also be able to stand alone, in the same way that the art on my walls does not explain itself, nor do I stand next to it and explain my process to everyone who walks by (let’s face it, we don’t entertain very often). Within this facet of my project, intentionality is becoming more persistent than it was within my Excel play. As I am more comfortable with a canvas than a spreadsheet, I have more purpose, and I have a solid process that I have evolved over a long period of time. While the initial experiments within the class, which are most likely what will be turned in for the project, are going to be created on the computer using Gimp and Pixelmator, these images will be starting points for large, messy, manual art projects. I will do my best to share them with you when I finish them this summer. For now, here is an image that was initially a Word document screenshot of a descriptive passage of The Pale King. It became something else within Pixelmator. I will only say that it is an image of the information that any informed DFW reader enters the text knowing, combined with the text, combined with important literal “background” information, superimposed critical opinions, and some color for good measure. While this type of process would involve lots of layers of epoxy in a real project, here the layers are simply different files piled on top of one another. It’s a start.