This chapter is about words, not in the individual sense, but in the distributional sense (a larger set of patterns/behaviors, as a form of usage). Contra a single luminous word, distributional semantics shows relationships existing between words; meaning shaped through probabilistic distributions. Understanding texts as word distributions, a way of thinking about plot (the way actions/beliefs are encoded in narrative form), tracks the shift/drift of language in a text as it signals to readers a change in the text’s concerns. Using a trilingual collection (450 mostly canonical novels from the long nineteenth century), the chapter shows these novels as distinctive in their lexical contraction. Though for much of their history novels have been imagined as an abundant, often exceedingly long form, multiplying dramatically over time, vector space model techniques show these novels pushing against their perceived history of imagined excess. These novels are unique in how the linguistic “space” within them contracts as they explore social constraint experienced through language. Here the art of lack offers insights into what it means to contract inward and, in so doing, potentially saying more. The art of lack is the dream of insight where there is increasingly less and less to say.
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