File /Humanist.vol22.txt, message 105

Date: Sat, 05 Jul 2008 07:44:11 +0100
From: "Humanist Discussion Group \(by way of Willard McCarty              <>\)" <willard-AT-LISTS.VILLAGE.VIRGINIA.EDU>
Subject: 22.103 horizontal hope
To: <humanist-AT-Princeton.EDU>

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 103.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to:

         Date: Sat, 05 Jul 2008 07:38:02 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <>
         Subject: horizontal hope

Quite by accident I have discovered unexpected richness in a word,
specifically the word "horizontal", which, to my delight and for
immediate use, is defined by the OED thus:

1. Of or belonging to the horizon; situated on or occurring at the horizon.....
2. a. Parallel to the plane of the horizon; at right angles to the
vertical line; level; flat....
3. a. Uniform; producing or based on uniformity..... [hence]
c. Denoting a relationship, movement, etc., between a social group of
a particular status, class, age-group, etc., and another of similar
specifications, as opp. a 'vertical' relationship with a higher (or
lower) authority, class, age-group, etc.

And so I can say, in the subject line, much more than expected. Allow
me, then, to speak of a hope for our little field that is (i) for us
at least belonging to the horizon we can clearly see but not reach;
that is (ii) available to all across the disciplines according to
that hope, but is (iii) not one we can passively await, on our backs,
as it were, horizontally, but in active charge.

My text is from G.E.R. Lloyd's magnificent book, Demystifying
Mentalities (Cambridge 1990), which begins with Lucien Levy-Bruhl's
widely diffused notion attributing "mentalities" to humankind,
specifically a prelogical mentality to so-called primitive people.
The brilliance of his argument is in its minute, careful examination
of this notion of a mentally, philosophically by considering chiefly
the genesis of Greek science. Apart from (which I cannot part from
but here give a specific example of) the mental training which
reading this book amounts to, it delivers among many other things a
superb example of a change brought about by those who could not
possibly justify with results what they were doing. I suppose it's
obvious I am thinking of what we are doing, about which we occasionally
get so nervous and/or curious that we stop to worry the case
for it, with "evidence of value" -- the title, in fact, of a very
fine panel session at the Oulu Digital Humanities conference at the
end of last month. Since I've been among the curious worriers for
more than 20 years, I find Lloyd's example particularly compelling.
Here is the text. (Note the *s, which denote italics in the original.)

 >When science is rejected nowadays in the name of something
 >different... that is in part a reaction to some of the continued
 >aggressions committed in the name of rationality. These include, for
 >instance, the demand for accountability, for verification (or
 >falsifiability), for transparency, for pragmatic results, in
 >contexts where they are *not* appropriate -- as if *we* can get by
 >*entirely* without myth, without symbolism, without metaphor, and
 >some of these at the heart of science itself. Certainly we have
 >found... that some extraordinary aggression was displayed in the
 >name of *logos* in the early days of Greek science and that those
 >who championed *logos* were often very bad at practicising what they
 >preached. Yet what they preached was not just more *muthos*, or
 >*magia* in a different guise. In the field of natural science *some*
 >of the confidence that was expressed -- that the problems were
 >soluable and on their way to being solved -- had *some* basis, in
 >the application of certain methods, whether of argument or of
 >research. Eventually much of what the Greeks just *imagined* science
 >could deliver, in terms of understanding and control, was indeed
 >delivered, though usually not in ancient science. The surprise is
 >that the Greeks developed much of their discourse of the methods
 >before these methods had *in practice demonstrated* anything like
 >their full potential. But if that is a surprise, one line of
 >argument would be that reference to the social, legal and political
 >background helps to explain *some* of the attractions that that
 >discourse had for the ancient Greeks even before that science itself
 >had chalked up any very considerable list of indisputable 
successes. (pp. 69f)

I read most of this yesterday to a "master class" at the Summer
School of the newly created Digital Humanities Observatory, at the
Royal Academy of Ireland, Dublin ( It
was prefix to a critical look at the disappointing history of
literary computing from 1949 to the present day, with the curious
nervousness I just mentioned. It was to inflect the judgment handed
down to us by the jury whose members include Roberto Busa ("Why a
computer can do so little", ALLC Bulletin, 1976) and Anthony Kenny
("Computers and the humanities", British Library Research Lecture,
1992), that literary computing has not delivered on the promise. This
is still true. It was to supply an example from which might be
inferred a hopeful take on our horizon, to stir us to arise from that
horizontal position of the passive end-user and continue to make
efforts at becoming end-makers of what, somehow, we know to be possible.



Willard McCarty | Professor of Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | Et sic in infinitum (Fludd 1617, p. 26). 


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