Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Ngram Viewer

Searching "lots of books," 1900-2000 

March 28, 2012 -- RBM will present "The Massacre in Magical Realism: Some Thoughts on Las Bananeras and the Ngram Viewer" at the 2012 Midwestern Conference on Literature, Language, and Media. The conference takes place March 30-31 at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. RBM's paper explores the historicity of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude with help from Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children and Google's Ngram Viewer, pictured above. An excerpt:
What’s seems worth noting, as this rumination's coda, is the near-absence of the events of December 1928 from this data set. Searching for "banana massacre" (and "Santa Marta massacre," as it's also known), produces a flat line up until the late 1960s, when One Hundred Years first reaches audiences, then minor bursts of consciousness, or so it would appear, as García Márquez wins the Nobel prize in 1982 and finally reaches a far-flung literati. Soaring above this line, ever since the 1920s—up and down and up again, sometimes more than a dozen data points higher (we imagine) into all of literature—we find the terms "Jallianwala Bagh massacre" (and  "Amritsar massacre," as it was first known). More bluntly, and as the closing chapters of One Hundred Years attest, it was the bananeras, not General Dyer's tangled villagers, who with the disappearance of a banana company disappeared from Western thought.
Moderating RBM's panel, which also includes criticism of newspaper op-eds and ethnic identity in poetry: Ibis Gómez-Vega, a novelist and professor of English at Northern Illinois. There's more information at

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