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Snakes and Ladders

The gradual decay of a generation of landladies was an almost imperceptible process.

—Wyndham Lewis, “Unlucky for Pringle”[1]

One should not understand this compulsion to construct concepts, species, forms, purposes, laws (“a world of identical cases”) as if they enabled us to fix the real world; but as a compulsion to arrange a world for ourselves in which our existence is made possible:—we thereby create a world which is calculable, simplified, comprehensible, etc., for us.

—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will To Power[2]

First Rung

When I tried to write on the scale of the literary object, I found myself mired in complications. These were as much methodological as epistemological. The problems I encountered had to do with reading as a practice—the fact that reading inevitably encounters objects that stretch and contort, exceeding the horizon one brings to them, thus unbalancing the scales rather than making them fall from our eyes. Not only are scales of many kinds already “in” the literary object, but no two literary objects should be read according the same scale or with the same eyes. Rather than bring in external measurements to comprehend these strange artifacts, which we do anyway whether we like it or not, I suggest that reading should follow the idiosyncratic metrics of the text, allowing it to instruct us and, if we are lucky, to change the way we construct the “objectivity” of the object.

To begin with, then, let us take “scale” itself as a “literary object.” A single object, perhaps; one word, by the look of things. But then its unity and size are mysterious.

When dealing with scale, are we talking about scale or scale? The word is a homonymographophone. “Scale” is not identical to itself. There are, for instance, at least two different etymological lines for “scale,” two major meanings of the “same” everyday word. One derives from terms for husks, cups, bowls and weighing scales, and is cognate with shale and shell. This is the line that gives us the snake’s scales. Also, by metonymy, the entire device of a balance for representing equal weights is called a scale, derived from its shell-like cups. Allegorical code of the Justice that equalizes. The paleonomy of this sense of “scale” is itself possibly split from two near-homophones that meant cup/snaky scales and husk/shell.[3] The second major sense of “scale” is derived from the Latinate (Italian) scala, ladder, from the verb “to climb” (scandere). Hence vertically linear gradations that can be codified as standard measures of particular values, but also a term of war, combat, and domination: scaling the walls. Ladders give us a representation of differences of degree, hierarchy, proportion, and so forth, and also a literary term: scansion (the metrical division of verse). Everyone is scanning these days—and indeed the scanner is the very instrument that has enabled the literary discourse of scale to explode once more in our time. (No digital humanities without scanning thousands of years of analog literary production). If scandere plays with the Greek skandalon, then the pitfalls of scale become more and more dangerous: something you trip over, or the trigger of a trap. The errant lapse or leap into the unforeseen that opens onto an incalculable future. (Some of us might welcome this element of surprise).

The resultant senses of “scale” overlap in colloquial usage, and yet the internal difference, whether translatable or untranslatable, within the superficially unitary word “scale,” remains problematic and impossible to measure. In being the “same” word, “scale” is not equal to itself. It’s a monster, a scandal, both snake and ladder—snake as ladder.

Seventy-two square (Vaisnava) gyan chaupar board, Lucknow, c. 1780–1782. Image courtesy India Office Library, London. Discussion of this and related boards may be found in Andrew Topsfield, “The Indian Game of Snakes and Ladders,” Artibus Asiae 46
Fig. 1. Seventy-two square (Vaisnava) gyan chaupar board, Lucknow, c. 1780–1782. Image courtesy India Office Library, London. Discussion of this and related boards may be found in Andrew Topsfield, “The Indian Game of Snakes and Ladders,” Artibus Asiae 46, no. 3 (1985): 203–36.

Second Rung

The complexity of its multiple genealogy undoubtedly determines some of the epistemological confusion around scale, the difficulty of making a coherent literary metadiscourse about it, and the problems that become visible when the “literary object” is defined as conforming to, or measurable by, some kind of scale that is the same scale as for others. The current discourses of scale in the literary humanities (digital or analog) are, and will necessarily remain, highly unsatisfactory. If the recently renewed opening of the question of scale in the field of literary criticism is due largely to the significant expansion of digital humanities in the university, the question of scale has nevertheless long been a staple of modern literary history. Making an analogy with the change of perspective in archeology wrought by aerial photography, Ernst Robert Curtius wrote in 1952, “If we attempt to embrace two or two and a half millenniums of Western literature in one view, we can make discoveries which are impossible from a church steeple.” “Yet,” he adds, “we can do so only when the parochialism of the specialists has provided careful detailed studies.”[4] The digital retooling of this methodological prescription in quantified computational distance-mapping of literature involves the development of standard measures, hierarchies, and equivalences for textual units: themes, combinations, metric patterns, topoi, single words, genres, and so on. These are isolated as standard forms by techniques and categories abstracted from an entire history of “analog” literary and linguistic analysis, and then collated using computer power.[5] “Scale” thus also carries a more colloquial sense of sheer size (micro or macro): the possible collation of bigger or more detailed fields of material, more than can be done by the outmoded sensorium of the lone professorial body. Machinic computation thereby offers outstanding labor-saving devices for kinds of research that remain in other respects utterly traditional. It is no accident that varieties of concordances and variorum collections remain at the heart of the digital humanities project.[6]

Adding computational power to the slippery scales of “scale” will not, however, allow any such research to cohere into a reliable empirical method that can make the literary humanities more like a quantitative social science. The winner is the loser in such a game of snakes and ladders. This is because even though scale’s two main lines may appear to converge in meaning, they in fact harbor an irreconcilable conflict that makes unfulfillable the desire for certitude about the literary “object” and therefore about the various permutations and correlations that would define its history and geography in a developmental or evolutionary sense. “Scale” is like Wittgenstein’s duck-rabbit, one of those uncanny object-images that cannot be positively captured or plotted because each sign contains the trace of another figure: as soon as it seems to be fixed in one mode it can shift to the other. The duck-rabbit, “seen-as” one thing but seeable-as the other, thus also exemplifies the way the trace-y “literariness” of the object is a function of an intentional relation to it rather than an intrinsic property.[7]

Thus, to scale is also to de-scale, in a similar movement to that in which, as Freud shows, the Heimliche turns out to be the Unheimliche.[8] If the homely is, at the same time, the unhomely, then perhaps scaling as de-scaling involves a practically unavoidable self-undoing that quantitative measure cannot master, a deconstitution of the self-sameness of the scaled units deployed for quantitative comparison, because each is also something other than itself (as, for instance, in the tissues of constructions that can be read as both/and either/or literal and figural).[9] “Scale” harbors an internal struggle between making-equal (or representing as equal) and marking difference. The function of a weighing scale is to represent equal weights. The function of a stepped or graded scale is to measure and represent differences of value. The trace of one sense haunts the other at every turn.

Third Rung

As I have stated, at a certain level reliance on a standard form or formula is compatible with much older analog reading practices. The oldest known oral formulas follow quantified patterns, and as Jonathan Hope and Michael Witmore imply with perfectly Hegelian logic, beyond a certain limit quantitative changes become qualitative shifts.[10] Quantification is, then, “not inherently alien to literary studies . . . Shakespeare’s writing, after all, is overwhelmingly in a quantified metrical form, where syllables are counted, and ordered according to strict numerical rules, and even the apparent exceptions can be predicted and explained mathematically” (Hope and Witmore, “Quantification,” 125). The exquisite discipline of poetic meter in the sonnet form, for example, shows that the law of counting is the paradoxical means of poetic freedom. (Just as every practitioner of the oral formulaic, in the few situations where it remains an active cultural medium, is not simply a repeater of empty forms, but a composer and weaver of memory, inside and outside the law of genre). Thus, while I might disagree with Hope and Witmore’s penultimate formula (“exceptions . . . predicted . . . mathematically”), it is clearly correct to say that the rhetorical force of many episodes in Shakespearian composition comes when an expected pattern of quantified metrical conformity is breached or in some way sabotaged (125, emphasis added). Here the quantitative scale—the scansion—is the very vehicle of access to its transgression, to the incalculable or unpredictable.

The enigma of the “literary object” is therefore not that it appears entirely without recognizable scales. Such a singularity would be simply illegible. Rather, the “object” however defined (work, or part-work, or corpus) gathers and activates a determined combination of scaled norms. It participates in a “genre,” a “style,” a “thematic” (thus belonging to such and such a set) so as to inscribe its differences from them; its “exceptions,” to use Hope and Witmore’s term. Quantification is a means of coding. But it is the special peculiarity of literary practices to clamber and slither away from the instituted codes, the normal sign systems that make them possible, toward the trace. The trace does not guarantee the presence of a determinable semantic unit; that could always be “mere” noise, like the noise that forever interrupts any use of the term “scale.” Raymond Williams describes this trace-structure as the possible indication of “pre-emergence, active and pressing but not yet fully articulated,” in a complex, hypothetical, and indeterminate relation to the established, instituted, meaning-delivering sign-systems of dominant, residual and emergent; “at the very edge of semantic availability,” and thus not guaranteeing the systematic legibility of “structures of feeling.”[11]

Fourth Rung

An eminent English chemist, Dr. Charles Henry Maye, set out to establish in a precise manner what man is made of and what is its chemical value. This is the result of his learned researches:

“The bodily fat of a normally constituted man would suffice to manufacture seven cakes of toilet-soap. Enough iron is found in the organism to make a medium sized nail, and sugar to sweeten a cup of coffee. The phosphorus would provide 2,200 matches. The magnesium would furnish the light needed to take a photograph. In addition, a little potassium and sulphur, but in an unusable quantity. These different raw materials, costed at current prices, represent an approximate sum of 25 francs.”[12]

Georges Bataille’s anonymous entry, “Man,” in the 1929 Critical Dictionary, sketches an admirable (and humorous) antihumanism. It can also pose the question of what a fully quantified account of literature would resemble: a vast textual body scaled to numeric units and ultimately to a value that makes all items commensurable with each other. But what remains after everything has been analyzed into commensurable units? The value-form is abstract commensurability. It is an unimaginably powerful means, as Marx taught us. It is this principle of “contentless and simple” commensurability that makes exchange possible; sheer quantification in the abstract medium of the numeric; scale of purely quantitative difference.[13] Imagine the surface of a text submitted fully to the logic and operations of such a reading-machine, a machine programmed for the tabulation and classification of supposedly verifiable, supposedly separable, self-identical formal units commensurable and thus comparable, read as filled up by different kinds of contents. Imagine the reading-machine that tracks the supposed “circulation” of such units around the world across innumerable texts. Imagine the reading-machine that universalizes its own standard, so that all it can ever identify is self-replicating units as they diffuse from its center or trickle down from its peak.

Bataille invites us to imagine this machine, but at the same time he diverts us toward the trace. For what it is that he asks us to break down if not the grand and great sign “man” itself. Man: the controller and manipulator of signs, giver-of-measure to the world as object, scaler of mountains and castle walls. Referring to the society of productivity, efficiency, power and calculability that gave rise to a new concern for scale, Martin Heidegger once observed that the gigantic appears in the form of the ever-smaller:

The fundamental event of modernity is the conquest of the world as picture. From now on the word “picture” means: the collective image of representing production . . . Within this, man fights for the position in which he can be that being who gives to every being the measure and draws up the guidelines. . . . A sign of this event is the appearance everywhere, and in the most varied forms and disguises, of the gigantic. At the same time, the huge announces itself in the direction of the ever smaller. We have only to think of the numbers of atomic physics.[14]

Far from moving beyond apparently anthropocentric assumptions of “human”-scale activities, the huge/tiny gigantism of this modernity reflects a position that is actually the acme of the anthropocentric.[15] Increasingly vast or more minutely detailed fields, controlled by various technical prostheses, produce the (literary) world as object for a subject, the subject being a sovereign “man” ever more secure in his power to give measure even to all that is not on his own biophysical and sensory scale.

To disperse “man” in the chemical constituents of its body dissolves “man” in the traces of many thingly “equivalents,” an open-ended series. There is not, initially, in Bataille’s encyclopedia entry, one single measure, but several: sugar, iron, fat, phosphorus. “Raw materials.” Part-equivalents. This ragged chain of equivalents is then finally recaptured in a general equivalent at the end of the sequence: “These different raw materials, costed at current prices, represent an approximate sum of 25 francs.” A single scale for them all. Bataille proceeds as if burlesquing Marx in the first volume of Capital, where the analytic sequence moves from the “Simple, Isolated, or Accidental Form of Value” (a hodge-podge patchwork of local, contingent equivalents, “defective” for capitalism because inefficient) to the general form and money, the general (or “universal”) equivalent.[16]

It is well known that Marx at the end came to question the Euroteleological structure of his own theory of capitalist development, the notion that Europe (indeed, England) was the sign and measure that showed the rest of the world the face of its own future. Marx revised his position to suggest that this earlier metric was not a standard scale after all; not a formal export that would merely be filled with local contents the world over; not the great originating sign, but perhaps a trace.[17] He even had a word to say about the humble earth-measuring stick of the Russian peasant—a scale from which super-advanced Western European socialists could learn something. It is thus disheartening to hear again and again in computationally-aided literary studies as much as in World Literature, in the name of a Marxian or at least oftentimes “materialist” position, the argument that literary “forms” diffuse on developmental or evolutionary lines from a European core to a periphery that derivatively fills them with a localized thematic content. This is a most reductive and questionable repetition of nineteenth- century colonialist epistemologies endowed with an updated aroma of scientific verifiability. It appears that the epistemological presuppositions of the program(mer) are giving rise to commensurate results. Unsurprising perhaps, given the history and logic of computational procedures themselves.[18] Franco Moretti lamented recently the “disjunction” between Marxist criticism and digital humanities, considering “the vast social horizon which digital archives could open to historical materialism, and the critical depth which the latter could inject into the ‘programming imagination.’”[19] He has also acknowledged the theoretical impoverishment of digital humanities.[20] This is a good point, and I hope it represents an opening for the preparation of imaginations that can work with digitized information. After all, the borderless “globality” of the digital can also sustain the ideal of a more justly borderless world (as well as the phantasmatic one of capital); a level playing field, moving away from the self-centering of every national-cultural formation and not just the bad old Euro-US ones. Marx’s own tentative decampment from derivative world systems led to a belated and ultimately sketchy recognition of differential and patchwork value-forms in which the possibility of common measure across borders is not given in advance, not unilaterally scaled according to “our” measure, not guaranteed; but awaiting the linkage of imaginations and imaginative new forms of practice. This may provide at least the outlines within which to begin such a discussion of all these new old problems.

Fifth Rung

Bataille again. I am held, suspended, in my chemical composition; it is not everything, but it is one of the gifts that makes possible the worldliness of a world for me, bigger than my knowing. Whatever I think I know, and indeed what I think, is suspended in chemical and other processes to which I have no conscious access; these are therefore an interruption of my knowing even as they are its biophysical condition. The 2,200 potential matches in my body are not immediately profitable to me as matches, but as phosphorus they do something that holds my consciousness. I cannot wash myself with the potential soap in my fatty deposits, nor sweeten my coffee with my body’s sugars. Chemical value of man—a value form that is of no direct use at all in the world of markets and meanings and yet makes them possible.

Sixth Rung

I began by suggesting that the literary object traced its own scales, without absolute dependence on the metrics offered by a third party. I showed that scale, when we are speaking of literature, is itself subject to a fissuring that folds it into this problem rather than being something that one “applies.” Whether the literary object is a single work (however we define that), a unit, a corpus, or a network, we can only standardize its rules of conduct according to an external body of norms by choosing to ignore these real problems. This chosen ignorance is of course productive of knowledge and protective of institutions, and is therefore in a way necessary. It cannot—and should not—be thrown out at will. My final rung attempts to show, in a limited instance, the reworking and deconstitution of scale(s) in a “literary object” that represents a “life.”

Supposedly, the first “autobiography” in Bengali was written by Rassundari Dasi or Debi and was published in 1868.[21] The title of the work is Aamaar Jiban (My Life). Thus it has an affinity with a kind of life writing that was, as a named genre at least, quite recent. This work in fact poses interesting questions for classification. Rassundari was from a rather orthodox, upper-class Hindu, rural formation. As an adult, and without access to formal education, living in the house of her in-laws, she taught herself to read and write in secret in the interstices of the working day. This was the only way she could do it as a woman primarily charged with running a large and complicated household—the standard scale of a readable female “life” among the rural gentry of mid-nineteenth century Bengal. Rassundari is herself a difficult figure to classify: the paradoxical example of the subalternized elite. That is, a part of the rural elite differentiated from its theoretical elite-ness in important ways, cut off from the lines of social mobility; the figure of a woman who was not supposed to enter writing “because [she was] not written in the socius as such.”[22] Or rather, the being-written was only as guardian of a predictable cultural script on a well-established scale: managing the familial household.

I can emphasize here only two aspects of the work’s rhetorical structure. First, it is orchestrated through a religious idiom, being somewhat based on the very sixteenth- and seventeenth-century saints’ lives that Rassundari had desired so much to read. Second, it performs a rhetorical gesture of substitution with a sacred refrain. Initially, it is the-name-of-God-as-refrain that is handed to the young and timorous Rassundari by her mother. This is then substituted by a different refain that appears in the text. The learned refrain containing God’s name does not even appear in the work as such, though the God is named. But the rhetorical site of the refrain of his name is occupied by another, substitute refrain, a variant of which occurs every few pages: “tokhon meyechele lekhapora sikhito na”; “women didn’t learn to read and write back then” (Rassundari, Aamaar Jiban, 31/161). By this formal device, the investment of the proper name of God in the correct mode of address to him is displaced onto the (statement of past denial of) a practice now acquired.

The device of the refrain collapses the incalculable address to God into the incalculable effects of “learning reading and writing”—the very skills that have enabled the production of Aamaar Jiban. As the writing unfolds, the new scale to which it draws God’s ineffability discloses a homegrown practice of “secularization” unrecognizable from within the prevailing metrics of modernity.[23]

The narrative structures the agential movement of learning to read as the providential outcome of Rassundari’s piety. Agency is here located in the alterity of God. The innocent desire to read the life of a beloved saint is articulated in the form of a double bind, a movement caught between two mutually conflicting laws. Learning to read is a kind of social transgression, violating the norms of Rassundari’s situation; yet the ethics of this violation call forth the erasure of the subject moving towards the desired agency of writing. First “it seemed I was reading the open manuscript of the Chaitanya Bhagabat” in a dream; then she prays to God to bring her the book she had read; then “Ah, how amazing! . . . He heard my wish and fulfilled it” (Rassundari, Aamaar Jiban, 41/169, 42/169). A single purloined page of the book remains her hidden teacher. The restraining ethical force is thus powerful enough that obtaining the book cannot be represented as an act of Rassundari’s will; the desiring force finds expression only through the destructive power of a generalized kalijug—the “bad days” or “dark times,” the last and infernal epoch of the Hindu cosmological cycle when the world is turned upside down: “in those days women did not learn to read. People said, Well you can tell the bad days [the kalikal] are here. Now I suppose women will do men’s work . . . This is the time of a woman king” (here the phrase “woman king” [meye raja] expresses the terrifying moral inversion of the age). “I suppose all those bitches will get together and learn how to read,” the speaker continues (31/161).

A piety that goes off the scale, exceeding the restrictions of programmed gendering, puts Rassundari out of joint with her environment and brings her to crisis within it. The name of that crisis is “reading”—which then ramifies into “writing.” This ramification is an excess that overflows the bounds of the conformist, “traditional” environment from within, with no established “right” to do so, but a responsibility to God and a role scripted for the writer in the world turned upside down of the bad days. An excess that, as Judith Butler has said of Antigone, “enters the social form of its aberrant, unprecedented future” with an errant trajectory.[24]

In an otherwise illuminating reading, Partha Chatterjee is too reductive, too romantic, when he casts this autobiography as the authentic voice of a pre-Enlightenment mindset. It is true, as he says, that “the intervention of nationalist reformers was not required to set Rassundari’s consciousness into motion”; she was subsequently made into an alibi for nationalism, and thus violently inserted into the deeply politicized cultural-political system of a more recognizable “modernity.”[25] But the book itself stages the double bind of this subalternity: its second half represents the paradox of having acquired the ability to read and write without the institutional support of a context into which that reading and writing can develop. Rassundari falls back on reworking the material of the first half, thickening it with visions and eulogies, drawing closer to the very saints’ lives and religious narratives—from a prior period of “revival”—that had been the impetus for her to become literate in the first place. Hence the refrain, the call for an institution (not necessarily that of the nationalists’ modernity), which would support her reading and writing. Rassundari’s modernity now appears in the appeal for a prosthesis, a social support structure. She celebrates the fact that younger generations of women have access to formal education. She also pronounces the auspiciousness of the infernal epoch: “dhanya dhanya kalijug dhanye” [roughly: blessed blessed age of chaos, blessed]: the kali-ness of the age is its chance for renewal and change.

Rassundari’s writing reflects an attempt to reach out of a confined space of history, geography, “peripherality,” gendered conformity; it thus embodies its own kind of excessive gesture as it constructs its modernity by seeking the support structures of a prosthetic, institutionally concretized system using the tools of a mindset not primarily conditioned by or reactive to that of the metropolis. The thinking of kalijug—the bad days, end times, the age of chaos—is out of joint with prevailing institutions of modernity and their literary systems, yet Rassundari’s text tries to invent related ones. We cannot know what such a modernity might have named itself, but Amaar Jiban invites the reader to imagine a modernity—and even a modernism—that is not scaled to the diffusionary evolution of standardized literary forms.


[1] Wyndham Lewis, “Unlucky for Pringle,” in Wyndham Lewis, Unlucky for Pringle: Unpublished and Other Stories, ed. Cyril James Fox and Robert T. Chapman (London: Vision, 1973), 23–38, 24 .

[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage, 1968), 521.

[3] See OED Online, July 2018, s.v., “scale, n.”

[4] Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), ix. Mark Algee-Hewitt, Ryan Heuser, and Franco Moretti quote Leo Spitzer to similar effect in “On Paragraphs: Scale, Themes, and Narrative Form,” Stanford Literary Lab Pamphlet 10 (2015), 4. For a recent overview of how the digitized variant plays out today in literary studies, see “Scale and Value: New and Digital Approaches to Literary History,” ed. James English and Ted Underwood, MLQ 77, no. 3 (2016). That special issue contains an essay on the micro/macro shuttling of Erich Auerbach (Sharon Marcus, “Eric Auerbach’s Mimesis and the Value of Scale,” 297–319).

[5] There is often an overselling of computational quantification in messianic terms and including hyperbolic claims that are just not true: “today, we can replicate in a few minutes investigations that took a giant like Leo Spitzer months and years of work” (Franco Moretti, “Network Theory: Plot Analysis,” Stanford Literary Lab Pamphlet 2 [May, 2011], 1). Is there as yet any evidence for even the most banal pattern recognition of topoi across complex literary writings in seven or eight modern and classical languages without using translations, done “in a few minutes”? And is anything lost in the apparent gains of speed and efficiency?

[6] See Daniel Allington, Sarah Brouillette, David Golumbia, “Neoliberal Tools (and Archives): Political History of Digital Humanities,” Los Angeles Review of Books, May 1, 2016.

[7]See Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe, P. M. S. Hacker, and Joachim Shulte (Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 203–06. Derrida expands on the notion that “[t]he literary character of the text is inscribed on the side of the intentional object” (“This Strange Institution Called Literature: An Interview with Jacques Derrida” in Acts of Literature, ed. Derek Attridge [New York: Routledge, 1992], 33–75, 44).

[8] Sigmund Freud, “The ‘Uncanny,’” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume 17, trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1955), 217–56; see especially 220–26.

[9] See Paul de Man, Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982).

[10] See Jonathan Hope and Michael Witmore, “Quantification and the Language of Later Shakespeare,” Actes Des Congrès de La Société Française Shakespeare 31 (2014): 123–49, 125–25.

[11] Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 126, 134. Emphasis in original.

[12] Georges Bataille et. al., Encyclopedia Acephalica: Comprising the Critical Dictionary and Related Texts (London: Atlas Press, 1995), 56–57.

[13] “Contentless and simple” translates the German of Marx’s “inhaltslos und einfach,” which is how he describes the value-form in the foreword to the first edition of Capital, Vol. 1 (Karl Marx, Das Kapital: Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, erster Band in Marx Engels Werke, vol. 23 [Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1962], 12).

[14] Martin Heidegger, “The Age of the World Picture,” in Off the Beaten Track, ed. and trans. Julian Young and Kenneth Haynes (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 57–73, 71.

[15] Heidegger thus contests the notion that apparently inhuman scales are no longer anthropocentric, leading us to question the digital humanities’ alternative to “criticism [that] has traditionally worked with the middle of the scale: a text, a scene, a stanza, an episode, an excerpt . . . An anthropocentric scale, where readers are truly ‘the measure of things’” (Algee-Hewitt et. al., “On Paragraphs,” 4, emphasis in original). This questioning of the reader as measure is salutary, however. I am very much in sympathy with a critical approach that would rather put a question mark on the reader-as-measure, moving to changing the reader’s sense of scale as s/he follows an other(’s) text. This is work on the reader’s imagination rather than just on their quantifying ability.

[16] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin, 1990), 139–63.

[17] See Karl Marx, “Letter to Vera Zasulich,” in Marx/Engels Collected Works, Vol. 24 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1989), 370–71. Marx there refers to the revised French edition of Capital, where he edges away from Europe as measure.

[18] See David Golumbia, The Cultural Logic of Computation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002). Relatedly, Hubert Dreyfus, What Computers Still Can’t Do (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992); Joseph Weizenbaum, Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation (San Francisco, CA: W. H. Freeman, 1976); and Bernard Stiegler’s oeuvre, especially the Technics and Time sequence.

[19] Franco Moretti, “Literature, Measured,” Stanford Literary Lab Pamphlet 12 (April 2016), 7.

[20] See “Franco Moretti: A Response,” PMLA 132, no. 3 (2017): 686–89, 687.

[21] Rassundari Dasi, Aamaar Jiban (Kolkata: De Book Store, 1987). Where necessary, I have altered the translation by Tanika Sarkar in Words to Win: The Making of Amar Jiban, a Modern Autobiography (New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1999). I give page references to the Bengali De edition first, then English page references to Sarkar’s translation separated by a slash.

[22] Gayatri Spivak, An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012), 202. Spivak is not specifically referring to Rassundari here, but rather to Virginia Woolf imagining Shakespeare’s sister as metonym for other women: a parallel, for us, from within what is recognizable as high modernism. Early in the Subaltern Studies project, Ranajit Guha introduced a productive ambiguity into definition of subalternity by arguing that groups theoretically or “ideally” defined as “elite” could be subalternized, and vice versa. This can be taken as a question of relative measures (“the demographic difference between the total Indian population and all those whom we have described as the ‘elite’”), but also signals the difficulty of generalizing the “subaltern” (Ranajit Guha, “On Some Aspects of the Historiography of Colonial India” in Selected Subaltern Studies, ed. Ranajit Guha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak [New York: Oxford University Press, 1988], 37–44, 44, emphasis in original).

[23] Assuming for the time being that the dominant broadest definition of modernity is a social and cultural process of anthropocentric secularization.

[24] Judith Butler, Antigone’s Claim: Kinship between Life and Death (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 82

[25] Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), 144.