[Humanist] 24.113 why all the old stuff

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Jun 15 07:39:13 CEST 2010


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 113.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Richard Lewis <richard.lewis at gold.ac.uk>                  (36)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.111 why all the old stuff?

  [2]   From:    Jascha Kessler <urim1 at verizon.net>                       (159)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.111 why all the old stuff?


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Mon, 14 Jun 2010 17:34:08 +0100
        From: Richard Lewis <richard.lewis at gold.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.111 why all the old stuff?
        In-Reply-To: <20100614060139.E8F2257B40 at woodward.joyent.us>

At Mon, 14 Jun 2010 06:01:39 +0000 (GMT),
Humanist Discussion Group wrote:
> 
>         Date: Mon, 14 Jun 2010 07:01:06 +0100
>         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>         Subject: why all this old stuff?
> 
> [...] that research in humanities computing has become
> industrialised (and cash-cow'd), and so is research no longer; two,
> that back when literary computing got started, it took a wrong turn
> that has led us to industrialisation. [...]

I'm beginning to get the impression that many in the digital
humanities actually see their role as being technicians and providers
of a service. It may stem from fear of being accused of attempting to
replace existing modes of scholarship; in order to avoid such
accusations, digital humanists work on tools which explicitly aim to
*support* existing scholarly practices. From my own point of view, I
see this quite often in technology for music research. Many of the
applications of such technologies are aimed at commercial clients. But
even when they're not, they're generally advocated to musicologists as
tools to support the kinds of things that musicologists will surely
find interesting anyway.
-- 
-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
Richard Lewis
ISMS, Computing
Goldsmiths, University of London
Tel: +44 (0)20 7078 5134
Skype: richardjlewis
JID: ironchicken at jabber.earth.li
http://www.richardlewis.me.uk/

--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Mon, 14 Jun 2010 11:28:15 -0700
        From: Jascha Kessler <urim1 at verizon.net>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.111 why all the old stuff?
        In-Reply-To: <20100614060139.E8F2257B40 at woodward.joyent.us>


Dear Willard, Listers, and Fellow Lurkers,

I would indeed like to comment on the quotation Willard proffers from Lloyd.
 It is important and clear;  nevertheless, my first reaction is to see it as
precisely upside-down.  While strategists in the great war rooms of the
world ought surely, given today's great costs of preparation for conflict,
inevitable and sure as is the sunrise on a whirling globe, and should one
hopes always keep the history of war foremost in mind, there is a tendency
today, often politically motivated, to insist that the last war(s) are not
relevant.  Assuredly they are and must be if only for the sake of negation
and elimination of automatic repetition ... which is or can be farcical.
1) Let me quote a letter I sent to the Los Angeles Times but 4 or 5 days
ago, on this head coincidentally enough.  It scouts those who politically
mock the planners.

"Letters to the Editor

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

Los Angeles

Dear Letters Editor:

What does it mean when the Times quotes some guy named Wheeler from some
undefined “watchdog group”? [June 10, “B-2 Makeover news] What qualifies
that group to disagree with the Pentagon, calling the B-2 Stealth Bomber the
“ultimate hangar queen” and declaring it “not useful” for the current Iraq
and Afghanistan warring against “low-tech enemies”?  Such criticism is both
myopically purblind and willfully pusillanimous.  It fails to “think the
unthinkable,” as the RAND strategist Herman Kahn put it decades ago.  As
long as we have nuclear bombs to deliver, the B-2 is our messenger of
choice.  And when push comes to shove, as seems ever more likely, America
will have to use them, since intercontinental missiles may not be our weapon
of choice, especially after an electronic cyber attack blindfolds us.

Sincerely,

..."

2) What came immediately to mind was Socrates, who when earnestly asked to
describe how his "Dæmon advised him as to what to do (in making a decision)"
he replied, "My Dæmon never tells me what I must do.  It always and only
tells me what NOT to do." [my emphasis].

In other words, as Lloyd suggests, the past is no guide to the future.  Its
template(s) cannot be superimposed on the present, which is fleeting, and
the future, which is unknown but yet determined by action in the present.
 Still, history is meant to, I think? to offer what was done, and
[Heraclitus here] can not be done again. As my letter to the LAT suggests,
to maintain the skin of a B-52 at 60 millions a pop, does mean it is a waste
of money and time, because the present war in Afghanistan is guerrilla-like
in action.  It is, the B-52, according to those critics with a certain
political bias, not a historical anachronism, but a present potential for a
history that may or may not be likely to come.  Socrates' Dæmon, I venture,
would not advise us to scrap the past/present of the B-52; but it would
advise us not to scrap it, because without history we would utterly lost to
recognize most of the currents, trends, facts, realities of the present,
which may or may not, but often enough actually DO repeat.

The anomaly here is what I have written about in several published essays
for several decades, but cannot seem to get across to Letters editors of any
papers.  Viz., we are illuded because of the global mediazation [sic] of
information and knowledge, which is always per se and present globally. {Not
to mention our delusions stemming from the neologism "globalization,"
dealing with currency flows and technology of production, etc.}  What we
fail to recognize is history itself as it is present in cultures and
societies and nations large and small who exist in the West's past, and
potently, as with Islam and the Saudis.  Our 14th century of the past is
also present and dangerously so.  Iran and Egypt used to be our 17-th and
perhaps 19th centuries, but have regressed to the times when the Koran was
being written down, which was long after the Prophet and his wars were quite
past.  If what we see is the armies of the first Caliph at war in Iraq
today, Shia and Sunni, we are seeing the past, and its entire template.

As for Willard's questioning, the Humanities I think are past records in
libraries.  Digital powers representing or replicating or making them
present before us as we sit at our screens and think and wonder do not
necessarily make their past representation, verbally or pictorially or
monumentally, ACTUALLY accessible.  Example, that strangely accurate
dramatic rendition of such a madness, or illuded behavior, as played out in
the film, Wicker Man.  If that was its title?  I saw it on TV last year.
 That strange anachronism or attempting to relive the past, itself a lost
ritual society as understood from records of Druidism, is an example of what
I am getting it.  Mummery is not the past.  Ditto for present warfare, as
Lloyd writes.  But...if as in Wahhabism, the past templates are present,
well, Houston, we have a problem [i.e., up here in orbital abstraction, so
to speak].

If I am getting at something of concern for this list...?

Jascha Kessler

On Sun, Jun 13, 2010 at 11:01 PM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 111.
>         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>
>
>
>        Date: Mon, 14 Jun 2010 07:01:06 +0100
>        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>        Subject: why all this old stuff?
>
> I suspect a certain degree of puzzlement over all the old stuff I've
> been dishing up in messages over the last several months. Or perhaps
> not. Perhaps a sense of irrelevance is closer to the mark. In any case
> while being fascinated at such dazzling imaginative activity in the
> early years of computing, I also remain puzzled. I have a conceptual
> file into which I put all the historiographical points made, from
> wherever they come, and one day soon, like a crow, will dig up all the
> shiny things I've nicked, spread them all out and at least admire them.
>
> The basic notion is historia magistra vitae, history (as) teacher of
> life, to the living -- conditions are not absolutely perfect, so we look
> to the past for lessons, advice, exemplars. I take to heart Geoffrey
> Lloyd's examination of the discipline of history in Disciplines in the
> Making (Oxford, 2009): 58-75. The interests the historian brings to the
> past -- in my case a very recent past, within living memory and so
> subject to its distortions -- make the reader more suspicious the more
> they are manifest. But having no such interests means no history at all,
> just data that could be historical. More serious yet is the question of
> what one hopes to gain, really. There is, Lloyd says, "an obvious risk
> of making the general's mistake if entering the next war brilliantly
> equipped for the last one, but quite at a loss in the face of the new
> enemy. You learn from the past about the past: and that is not
> necessarily a good guide to the future, however fascinating it may be to
> ponder the reasons why the past turned out the way it did. To be sure,
> history provides a rich, almost inexhaustible source of examples,
> precedents, and potential analogies. But that does not get round the
> problem of determining which are the ones that are relevant to the case
> in hand.... Selection is inevitable and there is no algorithm for
> success" (63).
>
> In other words, he concludes, we cannot escape using our own judgement
> -- and so examining our own motivations. Mine (I think) come from (but
> are not entirely determined by) two senses: one, that research in
> humanities computing has become industrialised (and cash-cow'd), and so
> is research no longer; two, that back when literary computing got
> started, it took a wrong turn that has led us to industrialisation. If,
> I am thinking, historia is magistra vitae for us, it will help us by
> showing us other possibilities. Why, I wonder, no doubt selectively,
> were things so exciting then, especially in the arts, and so dull now?
> Or is the beam in the eye of this beholder?
>
> There -- cards on the table, inviting other readings of them, other moves.
>
> Comments?
>
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> 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.

-- 
Jascha Kessler
Professor of English & Modern Literature, UCLA
Telephone/Facsimile: 310.393.4648
www.jfkessler.com
www.xlibris.com





More information about the Humanist mailing list