Disentangling the Hairball: Observing International Style in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Novels in Network Visualisations

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Jasmin Bieber

    Universität Konstanz

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When Rebecca Walkowitz proclaims that “nothing [is] easier and nothing more contemporary than translation,” (Walkowitz, 2015: 1) she does not refer to computer-automated translation but to the recent phenomenon of numerous novels that are published in an international mindset. For this, she identifies three distinct types in which translation dictates literary production with one being ‘written as translations’, which Walkowitz describes as “pretending to take place in language other than the one in which they have, in fact, been composed.” (Ibid.) In other words, these books are ‘born translated.’

Multiple of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novels fit this definition, as they were written in one of two distinct cultural frameworks that reflect his personal national identification; British and Japanese. The acknowledged and self-announced “international writer” (Shaffer, 1998: 2) explains, for instance, that the characters in his novel
An Artist of the Floating World
(1986), “were not only Japanese but [that] they were meant to be speaking in Japanese even though it was written in English.” (Chang, 2015) Another one such example would be his
The Remains of the Day
(1989), which is contrary to his novels set in post-World War II Japan, narrated through the perspective of a British butler and “engage[s] with recognisable English literary traditions.” (Lewis, 2000: 11) Among current international authors, Ishiguro’s oeuvre poses two distinct questions: Firstly, if style is dictated by the culture as well as the nationality of the country that is a novel’s focal point; and secondly whether it is possible to determine if they were written, as Walkowitz argues, as ‘pre-translated.’

Digital stilometry offers the possibility to analyse his novels in a mode that goes beyond simply identifying culturally charged terms. Based on the assumption of
Burrow’s Delta
– while also considering variations of this formula by also applying for example
Eder’s Delta
Cosine Delta
– stylometric features generate a novel’s similarity in relation to a collection of texts of a corpus based on a variable amount of several hundred most frequent words. The difference between stylistic and stylometric features must also be stressed; where stylistics focus on “’what’ a text is saying among its ‘meaningful’ words,” stylometry “would be more associated with ‘how’ a text is written.” (Choiński and Rybicki, 2018: 148) The poster is aware of the polemic and generalised ascription of a novel’s style based on stylometric analysis, yet intends to explore the boundaries and possibilities of said approach to test the influence stylometric patterns have in differing cultural contexts.

Beyond this methodological basis, it will be a central concern of the poster to represent this analysis in reflective, reproducible and flexible illustrations. For these means, this poster utilises the network program
developed by Ulrik Brandes and Dorothea Wagner.
was designed to offer visual explorations of data through a seemingly simple interface that nonetheless allows for a variety of unique and advanced methods derived from social network analysis. Through means of disentangling, network visualisations can be obtained by filtering the original ‘hairball’ – based on an adjacency matrix containing the measurements of the Delta formula – and be made increasingly more complex by adding visual labels and scaling representing the metadata of the relevant texts. In the case of Ishiguro’s oeuvre, information surrounding the cultural context of each novel – for instance the cultural setting and overarching cultural-sensitive themes – will be collected into a metadata table. This will be applied to the networks based on the novels’ stylometric similarities in order to discover either the potential correlations between differing stylometric habits and national as well as cultural context or their arbitrary nature.

First results demonstrate a stable centrality of Ishiguro’s
When We Were Orphans
(2000), a detective story, which narrates the protagonist’s endeavours to retrace and reconnect with his family that lead him from Britain back to China. Additionally, and contrary to previous assumptions, the two novels, which present a distinct Japanese setting, do not share a strong stylometric relation. Instead, further network plots modelled on different bases – like manually devised stop word lists and by dividing the novels in direct and indirect speech as distinct texts within the corpus – hint at a correlation of overall thematic contexts like homelessness, ‘globalised’ identities and memory and the novels’ stylometric (dis)similarities. The poster intends to elaborate on these elements in order to disentangle the essential features of Ishiguro’s transnational oeuvre.


Chang, E. (2015). A Language that Conceals: An interview with Kazuo Ishiguro.
Electric Lit,
27: https://electricliterature.com/a-language-that-conceals-an-interview-with-kazuo-ishiguro-author-of-the-buried-giant-9673849885c7 (accessed 27 November 2018).

Choiński, M. and Rybicki, J. (2018). Jonathan Edwards and Thomas Foxcroft: Pursuing Stylometric Traces of the Editor.
Amerikastudien/American Studies,
63(2): 141-58.

Lewis, B. (2000).
Kazuo Ishiguro. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Shaffer, B. (1998).
Understanding Kazuo Ishiguro. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

Walkowitz, R. (2015).
Born Translated. The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature. New York: Columbia University Press.

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