[Humanist] 24.629 on digital reading

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Jan 3 08:36:04 CET 2011

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 629.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>                      (50)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.627 on digital reading

  [2]   From:    Jascha Kessler <urim1 at verizon.net>                       (234)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.627 on digital reading

        Date: Sun, 2 Jan 2011 11:04:57 -0500
        From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.627 on digital reading
        In-Reply-To: <20110102093717.D42AECA3CF at woodward.joyent.us>

The existence of Tristram Shandy suggests that computational models for
novel analysis based on 18thC novels would probably still work well for
Joyce's Ulysses.

But, more importantly, just what exactly is supposed to be new about this
kind of analysis?  Textual scholars have been counting word frequency in
texts for quite some time, long before the advent of computers, starting
with the analysis of Biblical texts.  Biblical scholarship, in fact, tends
to be well ahead of literary scholarship in the use of quantitative
analysis.  You might want to check out the tclist on yahoogroups for
discussions of computer models/algorithms in textual analysis.  Some of it
is quite fascinating.

Anyway, I would ask you to briefly and clearly describe what new kind of
knowledge is possible here.  What I think that we can do is process the same
kind of information more quickly, but not generate new kinds of information,
unless we develop new informational models independently of computer

Don't misunderstand me, though -- I'm all for processing this information
more quickly.  That by itself is a significant advancement that can allow us
to more quickly move forward in our development of concepts.

The real questions, I think, revolve around the validity and interpretation
of the data.  Quantitative analysis of Biblical texts -- especially the OT
-- are handling languages with smaller vocabularies, a smaller corpus, and
shorter active histories as living languages.  Many words in English can
have a history of active use in print over 1000 years old across hundreds of
thousands of texts, if not millions if you count personal correspondence and
the internet.  How does a word count take into account these varying
contexts and their resultant nuances of meaning, and sometimes completely
differing meanings?  We'd need to use markup to associate individual
instances of a word with different nuances of meaning, but then the data has
already been pre-interpreted in a sense.  What happens if a different reader
sees different nuances of meaning in the same text?  We could associate
short word clusters with different connotations of a word, but we still
would not be able to take into account the context of the entire written
work, much less relevant literary and historical contexts.

A computer that could do that would be... the human brain.  We're not there

Jim R

The greatest temptation of all, however, is I think to attempt to shut
> down our human desire to learn and know by denouncing a powerful means
> of doing both as being the Devil's work. The Devil is clever enough to
> denounce him- (or, to be fair, her-) self. Its close companion is,
> again, the substitution of one way of knowing for another, as if there
> were only one. How difficult it is to take in that which is new!
> Comments?
> Yours,
> WM

        Date: Sun, 2 Jan 2011 11:46:29 -0800
        From: Jascha Kessler <urim1 at verizon.net>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.627 on digital reading
        In-Reply-To: <20110102093717.D42AECA3CF at woodward.joyent.us>

If the list wont mind this observation, my eye was caught by "citation
fetishism."  One bizarre, but also most useful function is to be found in
the use of citations counts to award merit and aggregate value — essential
to the advancement of career and promotion and thereby prizes and bonuses
and higher pay levels [ for which many individuals and their families are
most grateful].  In Science and Medicine and egregiously in Social Science
and Political Science offices, the top researchers and perhaps lowly
first-rung scholars, simply have the secretary, now greatly, fabulously!
assisted by the computer, paste into their articles all the OTHER articles
mentioning or citing the author(s).  The list, unread, to be sure, but
counted up, to be certain! grow ever longer.  And the top 10 or 100 such
researchers in any field, are given prizes and awards and posts and offices
...although those committees in charge surely seldom if ever have the least
command over the other articles in the Notes, if they bother to READ those
folks.  Not that some of the most famous with the most published papers,
each of which may have up to  a hundred and more citations listing their
names elsewhere as having been consulted for information, knowledge,
whatever whathaveyou, may not be topflight scholars and researchers.  It is
not devilkins thrashing about in that vast welter of citations — it is
Lucifer Himself, seated at the very bottom of the pit of the many-ringed
"malbolges," of the INFERNO, where beneath his anus is Zero ° where matter
ceases to move, and comfortably puffing away at the vast balloon of
citations, inflating a bubble that is just a bit smaller than the sphere,
expanding before it, which we term THE UNIVERSE....
Jascha Kessler

Jascha Kessler
Professor of English & Modern Literature, UCLA
Telephone/Facsimile: 310.393.4648

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