[Humanist] 24.74 an oddity or something more?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Jun 1 07:33:51 CEST 2010

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 74.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 31 May 2010 18:38:08 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: odd chiasmus

I am wondering whether anyone here knows of a study of or 
commentary on a phenomenon of which I have 3 instances from the history 
of computing: at the very moment when a development has come to 
fruition those most closely concerned turn away. The instances are these:

1. Tools for word-study vs scholars' interests

In his British Library lecture, Anthony Kenny cites the classicist 
Robert Connor's observation that "Computer technology became available 
precisely at the wrong moment in the profession's development. The era 
of traditional lexical and textual studies had largely passed..." when 
the tools to pursue such studies better than ever before arrived on the 
scene. Kenny suggests that scholars might have reacted adversely to 
"quantification invading their own subject [offering] no escape from 
those wretched numbers" (pp. 9-10). Hence their rejection.

2. Tools for construction vs constructivism in art

Richard Wright, in "From System to Software: Computer Programming and 
the Death of Constructivist Art", in White Heat Cold Logic, asks about 
the artistic movement known as Constructivism, why it "should have 
declined precisely at the point at which the 'programmatic' seemed to 
reach its fullest potential for expression: the programming of the 
digital computer" (p. 120). He leaves the question open.

3. Disembodiment of information vs materiality of texts

Alan Galey, in "The Human Presence in Digital Artefacts", in Text and 
Genre in Reconstruction (forthcoming from Open Book Publishers), argues 
that "it should be disquieting to see a deepening separation of material 
form from idealized content in our tools at the very moment when 
literary critics have established the materiality of texts to be 
indispensable to interpretation" (p. 94).

What might we say about these co-incidences? Is there some inclusive 
principle at work here? Are there other examples in the history of the 
digital humanities we might consider?


Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

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