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We present findings from an experiment on reader responses to the first paragraph of Kafka’s novel Das Schloß (in English translation). Specifically, we tested the effect of Kafka’s own manuscript edits by comparing responses to the published version of the text relative to an earlier draft. Our methods were designed to balance the need for structured data and unbiased analysis with freedom of reader response, and involved:

  • analysing participants’ pencil drawings of their imaginative experience for presence/absence of specific features and for global entropy values;
  • using word embeddings to perform cluster analysis of participants’ free-response testimony on the differences between their drawing and their imaginative experience, in order to generate thematic clusters free of experimenter bias.

We offer our conclusions on the effects of Kafka's textual strategies, and make suggestions for how experimental literary studies might overcome some longstanding difficulties.

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Emily Troscianko is a Research Associate at The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) with research interests spanning the cognitive and health humanities and a monograph, Kafka’s Cognitive Realism (2014), that makes the case for scientifically informed approaches to response phenomena like “the Kafkaesque”. She is also a coach and writer, and runs an academic writing programme for the humanities at Oxford.

James Carney is Associate Professor at the London Interdisciplinary School. His research sits at the intersection of interpretive, experimental, and computational methods, and he has published widely across the humanities and quantitative social sciences. At present, he is interested in the application of methods from deep learning to the wider cultural record, but with the input of cognitive science. He is also founding director of Texture AI, an NLP-focused data science company.

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