Carolyn Burke argues that Mina Loy arranged the order of the poems within Lunar Baedecker herself. Though individual poems in Lunar Baedecker have been well-studied, little attention has been paid to the collection as a whole, nor is there significant scholarship regarding how the poems interact with one another. We aim to explore how these poems may be connected, beginning with a study of Loy’s vocabulary. What can the poet’s choice of words tell us about the anthology’s overarching themes, images, and stylistic choices? Why did Loy select these specific poems, and what factors may have helped her determine their order within the collection? How might textual analysis and digital platforms allow us to study this collection in a new light?
Where do we start?
We base our methodology on Hoyt Long and Richard Jean So’s “Literary Pattern Recognition: Modernism between Close Reading and Machine Learning.” Long and So state that “Literary pattern recognition. . . brings together close reading, cultural history, and machine learning so that they supplement one another” (Long and So 267). We agree with the claim that digital humanities should involve the interaction of socio-historically contextualized close readings and computerized textual analysis, with “each providing feedback to the other in the critic’s effort to extract meaning from texts” (267).
Here, we adopt Long and So’s three-leveled analytical approach to demonstrate how focusing on Loy’s vocabulary can provide insights into her poetry. More specifically, computerized textual analysis forms the basis for an analysis of Loy’s words relating to astronomy, which we then explore through cultural context and close readings. Navigate your way through the interconnected parts of our analysis below.
We begin by using Voyant, “a web-based text reading and analysis environment,” to identify patterns within Loy’s lexicon (Sinclair and Rockwell). Voyant allows users to upload a plain text file and receive data about its component vocabulary (such as how many times each word appears and which words commonly appear together). This tool allows us to identify the types of words that Loy uses and recognize themes or new ways to connect her words.
After reading Lunar Baedecker, our team developed a particular interest in Loy’s use of words relating to astronomy, and we hypothesized that Loy intentionally uses astronomical images throughout the collection. Testing this hypothesis through Voyant, we find that Lunar Baedecker overflows with celestial vocabulary. With astronomy on our minds, we reread the collection and began to recognize other common words that related to our astronomical themes (i.e. circular images like eyes and roses as well as terms like light and dark). These images may have been lost if we relied solely on traditional closer reading. This discovery and Loy’s astronomical and celestial fascinations provide the basis for parts 2 and 3.
Having used digital tools to acknowledge the prevalence of celestial words within the anthology, we ask why Loy may have been so interested in the cosmos. What changes were happening in the field of astronomy, and how did the public—and, specifically, modernists—view such innovations?
Once we understand the state of astronomy in the early 20th century as well as Loy’s personal fascination, we can begin to look at how celestial words appear within the collection as a whole. This section makes suggestions for how we can begin the process of close reading Loy’s astronomy-related words and suggests resources for further research.