05 August 2012

Searching for Sylvia Plath's Words in Digital Format

What are we supposed to believe? We rely on technology: some more than others. We use it for its convenience and generally for its swiftness. No longer does one really have to remember on their own where we read something because we can keyword search, highlight, makes notes, and bookmark passages that we read.

Saturday night, while working on one of my papers for the Sylvia Plath 2012 Symposium, I tweeted that Sylvia Plath mentioned The New Yorker 58 times in her journals. I got this number by searching my Kindle for PC app on my computer. There were 61 results, but three of them were in the front matter (list of illustrations), notes, and the actual caption for the illustration. (Maybe I should add that I searched for the term in quotation marks; repeating the search just now without quotation marks I got 62.)

To my consternation, I woke up this morning to see that someone else found 63 results. Of course we all want to be right! I thought: How could this be? So, I searched my Kindle for PC app again. Still got the same number. In the age of computers and technology, redundancy is expected. So, I went to my Kindle app on my phone. This found 66. I did the math: 66-3=63. Happy? No, not happy. For although the number matches the the results of the other person who did the same search, I was still at a loss for how my Kindle for PC could have been so off: so wrong.

Some enterprising sneak put all the Journals on Twitter a while back (it wasn't me, I'm not that savvy). I went to this source next and got: 65 results. To make matters worse, there were only two non-Plath mentions to the New Yorker in this source, the list of illustrations for some reason not being included in that resource. Which is great, as that number then is still 63. I usually appreciate being corrected, but hate having to be corrected.

So, I decided to compare the Amazon Kindle app against the version the Twitter sneak put online. One of the differences is an instance where "New Yorker's" (with an 's following) was found in the Twitter one, but not the Kindle (but it was found on my phone!!). Another is where Plath writes "New Yorkerish" (again, found on my phone!). There were two where "New Yorker:" (with a colon following) weren't caught in the Kindle version (found on my phone...). And an instances where "New Yorker-" (with a dash/hyphen following) wasn't picked up (but it was on my phone). A lot of these instances were on the same page as other New Yorker mentions, could that have something to do with it?

If you just count the instances in the index to the print edition, you get 55. To make matters worse: Google Books yields (or yielded to me) 38 results, which included the instance in the index where the name appears; and using Amazon's "Search Inside" feature, I got 45 result. It is all over the map!

The moral of this beleaguered story-post is that is that Amazon Kindle version for PC, which I did really like before now, fails.


Peter K Steinberg said...


Of course your counting carefully is appreciated, though for the record the journalistic references would not have been a part of my paper. The consternation wasn't directed at you for correcting the error, but with the various technology for yielding incorrect and inconsistent results.

With kind regards

Anonymous said...

i actually wonder (myself) what kind of person julio is that he had to go on and check your work, peter (and what point does it serve to re-hash all those tweets: seems to me like you were having fun and he's taken it a bit more seriously than you intended). it seems to me in this comment (and others by him) that it is in fact he that is failing to fully appreciate the work that you have done, are doing, and presumably will do (if his kind doesn't make you stop doing this altogether).

what i found really interesting is that there are all these discrepancies between sources of the same text. (if anything) it shows that there needs to be better harmony in these digital resources.

d'arcy (long time lurker, first time commenter!)

Anonymous said...

This is actually a fascinating post - seems to me Peter it continues the painstaking work you did on the different versions of The Bell Jar. The textual variations in any of Plath's texts are both frustrating & yet at the same time fascinating. Perhaps Julio in his frustration, overlooked the focus and message of this post. I would also like to say over the years as I have followed this blog,Peter, that I find you always incredibly appreciative of other people's work, ideas and contributions. After all, that is what this blog is for, no?

Poppy Girl

The Plath Diaries said...

Perhaps you misunderstood, Julio? What Peter highlights in this post is that discrepancies can arise when we place our trust solely in digital technology. Nothing beats reading the real thing! :)

As you are a long-time visitor and contributor to Sylvia Plath Info, Julio, I'm sure you are aware of Peter's commitment to Plath studies: his attention to detail, the many papers/introductions/forwards/interviews, etc he has given on an international level - and let's not forget about his book!!, so I really think asking him to "appreciate" your marginal input and lack of understanding of this post - and subsequent tweeting of this - is bad form..

We're all working for the greater good here - more Plath awareness and understanding - so let's stop the one-up-man-ship and support each other! :)

The Plath Diaries said...

*forewords! Excuse the spelling error! :)

Anonymous said...

Poppy Girl & The Plath Diaries I think hit the nail on the head here because I think Peter has always maintained an open atmosphere on this blog and I think Julio's comment is arrogant and rude. & self-congratulating. It seems like you want credit for something Julio that you did not even originate? And I trust that Peter does, as he said in his comment, appreciate the the fact that you found 63, but I think that that isn't even the point of his post. Digital resources I think can make finding text easier but I think the point is that depending on the medium the results can vary. Anyway, Julio, I think the point is don't be such a jerk.


Anonymous said...

I was just about to jump to Peter's defence too, but happily see I am not alone. Just wanted to add that I generally find the Plath community to be a very pleasant place to be and I hope it remains so. Peter’s blogspot and his unstinting generosity in sharing Plath news and ideas about her life & work are central to fostering a Plath community that is rich, open and respectful - let's keep it that way!


Peter K Steinberg said...

~VC, thanks! (Thanks too to all of you!) I agree the Plath community is generally very pleasant - and I certainly hope this blog is a place where everyone can post their relevant ideas on Sylvia Plath and the topics that appear here (by me or a Guest Post). I'm certainly a bit embarrassed by some of the comments in support of this blog, but they are most humbly received. I look forward to the next post, and the next one, the next one after that, etc.


Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Hi Friends,

I think it's worth mentioning that English is not Julio's first language, so I do not believe that the snarky attitude some of you are reading into his post is exactly what he meant to say...

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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, 1940-1956. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.