Moacir P. de Sá Pereira

Academics ( CV pdf )

My scholarly interests lie at the intersection of aesthetic production—specifically the 20th and 21st century American novel—political agency, geography, community, (geospatial) digital humanities, geocrticism, and realism.

Current work →

I am currently at work on a project tentatively called Making Maps: Mixed Methods and Everyday Criticism.

This project reintroduces the geospatial components of my scholarly interests in the world-making quality of the novel that I left out of my dissertation. There are two aims to this project. The first is to build a mixed methods approach to literary criticism that justifies the use of Geographic Information Systems/Science in analyzing the content of aesthetic objects. The second aim is to inhabit this productive means of analysis by modeling the methodology in iteratively reading and analyzing geographically rich American realist novels of the 20th and 21st centuries.

By building, or, better, creatively making tools to help analyze novels, I engage in a process of production as well as discovery. This way I can demonstrate how a small question is posed and answered, which then yields new questions. The GIS is tasked with new challenges, and the text enjoys tighter relationships with the reader.

Making maps, then, serves as an example of what I call “everyday criticism,” which is a bottom-up approach to an aesthetic object that works with what's at hand that writes a reading from below, by making use of, in J. K. Gibson-Graham's words, the “creativity to generate actual possibilities where none formerly existed.”

Digital Humanities →

The mixed methodology and iterative form of reading I call “everyday criticism” lends itself very well to mixing digital tools in a scholar’s literary analysis. Everyday criticism is, in fact, the result of trying to solve how to use methodologies traditionally denounced as quantitative and/or positivist in literary study. As a result, my work is both receptive to and representative of the digital humanities—specifically the geospatial digital humanities.

Projects

I developed the web application, NYWalker, to create an interface for quickly and easily geocoding literary objects. It has been used in the classroom, in my own research, and is now even being used by other researchers, such as Manan Ahmed’s team in their “Mapping Mughal India 1500–1600 CE” project at Columbia University.

NYWalker also provides the foundational dataset for my data visualization of the tenth episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses, “Fabula and Sjužet in ‘Wandering Rocks.’” This visualization shows the interpretive and analytical limitations of simply building a dataset, another issue that Map Making addresses.

I am also using NYWalker in building datasets that will end up driving analysis in Map Making itself, including a map of geographical means in Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin.

Collaboration

In addition to advising on “Mapping Mughal India 1500–1600 CE,” I am also the DH advisor for “Mapping Expatriate Paris: The Shakespeare and Company Lending Library Project,” a project directed by Joshua Kotin at Princeton University.

Furthermore, I am active in two research collectives in New York, NewYorkScapes at NYU and Columbia’s Group for Experimental Methods in the Humanities. These have given me opportunities to assist graduate students at both universities as well as learn from them.

Presentations and History

I was the first graduate student in the humanities at Chicago to enroll in the year-long course on geographical information systems/science (GIS), and I have tried to use that training where possible in my literary analysis. This experience also led to invitations to two events funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities, the Institute for Enabling Geospatial Scholarship at the University of Virginia and the workshop “Visualizing Flow and Movement in the Humanities” at the University of Redlands. At both events, I worked with scholars in both digital humanities and GIS to imagine specific applications of GIS to humanistic work.

In April 2014, I presented some of my own work in GIS at the “Telling Stories with Maps” seminar at the University of Birmingham’s Digital Humanities Hub (video). Similarly, I presided over a special session I developed, “Geocritical Explorations inside the Text,” for the 130th Annual MLA Convention in Vancouver (more info).

Since coming to NYU, I have repeatedly presented on my geospatial digital work, such as at NYU’s Center for Humanities. I also offered to lead a workshop, “Digital Mapping for JavaScript Novices,” at the NYCDH Week 2017, but a freak blizzard led to the workshop’s cancellation.

Teaching DH

For 2016, I designed the course “The Map of the City That Is This Novel,” a course that introduces geospatial digital humanities to undergraduates by, first, contextualizing work on the city in general, and then by letting students build geodatabases of novels that aim to invigorate the city (or neighborhood) as an entity on its own terms. Students used NYWalker in this class, as well as in the “Writing New York” class I co-taught with Thomas Augst.

I continued teaching the “Digital Literary Studies” sequence later in 2016 by teaching “Does It Work?,” a course designed to introduce both the history of literary criticism and the possibilities of digital literary study to undergraduates.

Both courses realize my underlying position, discussed in Making Maps as well, that the digital humanities is not a radical break from half a century of the practice of literary criticism, but, rather, is just another set of methods that gives readers tactical flexibility when analyzing literature.

But it also foregrounds the processes of production, collaboration, and public presentation that I believe are pedagogical imperatives that the digital humanities help generate.

Dissertation →

“The Site of the Novel: Objects in American Realism, 1930–1940” (abstract pdf) is the name of the dissertation I wrote and defended in January 2014 under the direction of Lauren Berlant and Kenneth W. Warren. The dissertation sits at the intersection of my interests in:

  • Early 20th century American realist novels. I am writing about James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan trilogy, John Dos Passos’s U.S.A., Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here. Each work engages with radical and communist politics of the early 20th century.

  • (Human) geography and quantitative literary criticism. All these works are very closely attached to the real world, and I have been able to collect data about the geographies constructed in the worlds of the novels. Using techniques from GIS and approaching the works geographically / spatially drew out questions about more fundamental ways in which the novel works.

  • Belonging and community. The works I investigate feature human characters that often blend into their surroundings, either becoming part of a larger human community or hanging together as part of a larger site of human and nonhuman objects.

  • Realism as a literary genre and realism as a philosophical ontology. As the notions of individual (or character) and community (of objects) become more and more inter-related while still independent, it becomes impossible to maintain a human-centric, correlationist account of the worlds within literature.

  • Non-scalar and affective accounts of relations. Entities like communities, characters and their surroundings become considerable as proper “sites,” with their own internal relationships that can be occasionally rhythmically stratifying and occasionally unpredictably deterritorializing, reforming the object of the site. As the component objects keep agitating each other they imply from another direction the necessity of a non-human, site-based literary criticism.

  • Metonymy and chronotopes. A non-human, site-based literary criticism forces humans, characters, texts, worlds in texts, and the like into a heteroglottic cacophony of objects—all real, all metonymically (as opposed to metaphorically) connected. Furthermore, the worlds in novels are chronotopically connected to the worlds in which the novels are written, as the author and reader are both influenced by the specific chronotopes of their own sites.

  • Counterfactual worlds and alternatives to neoliberalism. The specific chronotopes of the novels influence the worlds in which they exist as well, meaning every realist novel permits, in J. K. Gibson-Graham’s words, the “creativity to generate actual possibilities where none formerly existed.” Every novel, hence, is a box of revolutionary building blocks.

Other interests →

Beyond what gets sufficient coverage in my dissertation, there are a wider set of interests that circulate around those key themes. I keep tabs on work done on early 20th century African-American and American communist literature, and I was lucky enough to assist in a course on latin@ literature and intellectual thought. Regarding the novel as a generic object of study, I’m interested in theories of the novel, histories of the novel, and contemporary attempts to use “distant reading” techniques to help better conceptualize this giant object called “the novel.”

More specifically, the way in which geography is plotted in the novel remains a top interest of mine. On the one hand, I seek to use techniques from human geography in my research, to try and reclaim a voice for space alongside history in the novel. On the other hand, I am also interested in how quantitative approaches to geography, namely through GIS, can also suggest new avenues of literary criticism. Though GIS plays a very modest role in my dissertation, each chapter’s genesis came from specifically geographical questions about how the actions in the novel are spatially distributed.

Additionally, my interest in community and belonging extends other forms of identity expression within groups, such as nationalism. This is best expressed in the course I designed and taught in 2008, “Male Fantasy Sports” (syllabus), where the students and I read theoretical texts on masculinity, sexuality, and nationalism before moving to three literary objects about baseball and three about football (soccer) in England.

The literature surrounding English football hooligans, including fictional objects about them, fictional objects by them, as well as ethnographies and memoirs, continues to appeal to me as a crucible in which bubble concerns about the state, empire, individuality, and the power and appeal of the collective. Some of these ideas I collected into a 2012 article for The Classical, called “Paris is Earning,” about neoliberalism and Parisian football hooligans. While not a work of literary criticism, the article shows a possible future line of inquiry for me.

Publications, etc. →

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