Date: Sat, 05 Jul 2008 07:44:11 +0100 From: "Humanist Discussion Group \(by way of Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty-AT-mccarty.org.uk>\)" <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 www.kcl.ac.uk/schools/humanities/cch/research/publications/humanist.html www.princeton.edu/humanist/ Submit to: humanist-AT-princeton.edu Date: Sat, 05 Jul 2008 07:38:02 +0100 From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty-AT-mccarty.org.uk> 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 (http://www.dho.ie/events.html). 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. Foolish? Yours, WM Willard McCarty | Professor of Humanities Computing | Centre for Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | http://staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/. Et sic in infinitum (Fludd 1617, p. 26).
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