File /Humanist.vol22.txt, message 83


Date: Mon, 23 Jun 2008 07:27:27 +0100
From: "Humanist Discussion Group \(by way of Willard McCarty              <willard.mccarty-AT-mccarty.org.uk>\)" <willard-AT-LISTS.VILLAGE.VIRGINIA.EDU>
Subject: 22.081 strangers in a strange land
To: <humanist-AT-Princeton.EDU>


                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 81.
       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

   [1]   From:    Geoffrey Rockwell <georock-AT-mcmaster.ca>            (146)
         Subject: Re: 22.077 strangers in a strange land

   [2]   From:    Stephen Ramsay <sramsay-AT-unlserve.unl.edu>           (32)
         Subject: Re: 22.077 strangers in a strange land


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------
         Date: Mon, 23 Jun 2008 07:08:06 +0100
         From: Geoffrey Rockwell <georock-AT-mcmaster.ca>
         Subject: Re: 22.077 strangers in a strange land

Dear Willard,

I am stuck by your post and the things I have been thinking about as
I try to figure out what the Dictionary of Words in the Wild tells us
about textuality. Let me begin by commenting on Renear's position
that there are real abstract objects like works (let's say "The New
Science" by G. Vico) independent of any real physical object (like
the copy of the English translation with a coffee stain on the 2nd
page on my shelf.) This Platonic position is very useful and is, I
believe, how we model the documentary universe for the purposes of
organizing copies of books in libraries. I believe FRBR takes such a
Platonic view, though I am not the expert Renear is. By hypothesizing
that there is a "New Science" real abstract object one can then
organize editions, and then copies the way we expect libraries to.
Further, we often talk this way. When I ask someone if they have read
"The New Science" I am not asking if they have read my copy, but if
they have read the same work in the abstract, but still real sense. I
can test whether they have by asking about that work and there are
real consequences to their answers.

That said, I am now wondering if we don't also operate with a
indexical model of textuality in our everyday life. When I am in the
local pub and there is a text that reads, "Today's Special, Meatloaf
with Veggies", that text can only be understood at a particular time
("today", well actually yesterday) and in a particular place (the pub
on campus.) This model of what a text is could be extended to argue
that all that is real is the performance of reading - my reading it
yesterday and choosing not to order meatloaf. I want to call this the
approach to a text since in many cases it is not only the place and
time, but the movement that is important. A STOP sign means something
different depending on what direction you are driving. While this
model has received attention, I don't think the everyday texts we
interact with have been treated as interesting for this model. I want
to say that the variety and quantity of indexically meaningful texts
that we encounter everday is overlooked in theories of text,
precisely because they are so present and passing. We would have to
turn to the graphic designers who design store signs for an
appreciation of their semiotics and we would have to consider that
such texts are not alongside graphic elements, but one with their
design. The structured and hierarchical ways of organizing texts as
Platonic objects do not work for indexical texts where the approach
is part of the meaning. The Dictionary, for all its problems, at
least captures the approach or the perspective of the photographer
approaching.

Ultimately, as Wittgenstein pointed out about so many phenomena that
philosophers try to nail down, we seem to be able to function just
fine with multiple models and we even seem to know when to switch.
Further, we enjoy the slippery areas poorly explained by either and
inversions of treating books as performances and Today's Special as
something to be catalogued. So I would way that in trying to apply a
method rigourously, as we are forced by the computer, we run up
against the limits of the model it hides thereby rethinking the theory.

Yours,

Geoffrey Rockwell

On 20-Jun-08, at 5:09 AM, Humanist Discussion Group (by way of
Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty-AT-mccarty.org.uk>) wrote:

  >                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 77.
  >       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: Fri, 20 Jun 2008 10:04:34 +0100
  >         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty-AT-mccarty.org.uk>
  >          >
  > Given the approaching Digital Humanities conference in Oulu next
  > week, the following seems particularly relevant. I'd appreciate your
  > thoughts on it.
  >
  > From time to time in discussions amongst ourselves arguments take
  > place about what is important and what is not. (If this didn't happen
  > we'd be in real trouble, no?) Paradigmatic is a particular incident
  > at the ACH/ALLC in Charlottesville VA some years back, a staged but
  > quite genuine dispute between a "text is an ordered hierarchy of
  > content objects" contingent on one side and a "text is an
  > n-dimensional autopoietic field" contingent on the other. Now I
  > happen to be firmly on the latter side of the house, but abstracting
  > myself from myself I note that the former has its origins in the
  > thinking of an analytical philosopher and a theologically minded
  > chap, with strong backing from a philologist and behind them all a
  > fellow whose life-long passion was the processing of highly
  > structured documents, indeed documents written to conform to
  > pre-existing templates. I also note that the latter has its origins
  > in literary studies of a particularly adventurous sort. You would
  > expect such an opposition to lead to a fight, would you not?  On
  > other occasions I have been party to arguments between historians on
  > the one side and, yes again, literary types on the other, the subject
  > of the argument being the degree to which interpretation compromises
  > the digital objects we build. Again, no great surprise, but the
  > difference between the opposed parties is not so great as in the
  > former example.
  >
  > The by now obvious observation is this: that how we see what we do in
  > humanities computing appears very differently depending on how we've
  > been trained -- a training that tends to be tacit and thus a hidden
  > impediment to deeper discussion. For example, that which rigid
  > computational structures cannot accommodate is totally unimportant if
  > you are accommodating documents written to have none. If you're
  > accommodating highly factual data,  then the residue is not utterly
  > insignificant, but it is not impossible to come to a good decision
  > about how you capture what's most likely to be significant to the
  > most number of people. If you're trying to match such structures to a
  > literary text, considered as a work of imaginative language, then the
  > residue is, as McGann says, "the hem of a quantum garment", and
  > thoughts about how to use computing, it would seem to me, really do
  > have to go in another direction. So you're likely to have a very,
  > very different opinion on how things should go than even the historian
  > does.
  >
  > Where this is leading is a destination I think quite important for us
  > to contemplate: if humanities computing is only about method, then
  > there is nothing to say which is not said in the words of one's
  > discipline of origin (though perhaps with somewhat of a strange
  > accent), and what the future holds is more of the present:
  > disciplinary expatriots tending a common ground, not the beginnings
  > of a new nation; or, if you will, a permanently multicultural
  > society, never a core group of natives. And what we've got to get
  > better at is realizing where our differences are coming from. Hence
  > anthropology takes on a metadisciplinary role for us, I would think.
  > "The relativist bent...anthropology so often induces in those who
  > have much traffic with its materials, is thus in some sense implicit
  > in the field as such.... One cannot read too long about Nayar
  > matriliny, Aztec sacrifice, the Hopi verb, or the convolutions of the
  > hominid transition and not begin at least to consider the possibility
  > that, to quote Montaigne... 'each man calls barbarism whatever is not
  > his own practice... for we have no other criterion of reason than the
  > example and idea of the opinions and customs of the country we live
  > in.'" (Clifford Geertz, "Anti Anti-Relativism", Available Light:
  > Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics, Princeton,
  > 2000, p. 45).
  >
  > Comments?
  >
  > 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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--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------
         Date: Mon, 23 Jun 2008 07:09:33 +0100
         From: Stephen Ramsay <sramsay-AT-unlserve.unl.edu>
         Subject: Re: 22.077 strangers in a strange land


  > The by now obvious observation is this: that how we see what we do in
  > humanities computing appears very differently depending on how we've
  > been trained -- a training that tends to be tacit and thus a hidden
  > impediment to deeper discussion.

There's no doubt that one's originary discipline has a profound effect
on the way one views just about everything.  And I think it runs even
deeper than your examples suggest.  It's not just that the historian,
the logician, and the literary critic view things differently.  I'm
always struck, when talking with historians (for example), by the fact
that we differ in *what* we think is interesting (about a given text
or cultural phenomenon).  I don't know that it's an impediment --
except that very often we can, at our extreme peril, start talking
past one another.

But I would like to know where "digital humanists" fit into this?  You
suggest that we do digital humanities differently depending on how we
were trained, but do we do our "core discipline" differently for
having been "trained" in digital humanities?  Do we bring a
particular, identifiable intellectual framework to the table in
discussion with others outside our field?

Steve

--
Stephen Ramsay
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Center for Digital Research in the Humanities
University of Nebraska at Lincoln
PGP Public Key ID: 0xA38D7B11
http://lenz.unl.edu/



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