[Humanist] 26.41 disciplinary paranoia; the taxonomy

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu May 24 22:38:56 CEST 2012

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 41.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Wendell Piez <wapiez at mulberrytech.com>                    (63)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.17 the taxonomy; preservation

  [2]   From:    Jascha Kessler <urim1 at verizon.net>                        (70)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.40 disciplinary paranoia?

        Date: Wed, 23 May 2012 18:22:14 -0400
        From: Wendell Piez <wapiez at mulberrytech.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.17 the taxonomy; preservation
        In-Reply-To: <20120513203048.F108D281F5B at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard,

I cannot answer your question whether we have taken the next step. I 
dare say the answer could go either way: there are too many unanswered 
questions implicit in it.

However, I think it is worth noting a certain bias, if not in the 
question as stated, then at least in the way it is likely to be taken. 
By "computing", do we mean only what happens in and by the computer as 
such? Operations effected by means of algorithms applied to digital 
data? If so, I am afraid that nothing the computer does will be 
transformative, since it is by definition only more of the same. 
Organization, specification, automation, system: this is only industrial 
civilization, which we thought was going to be our servant -- back when 
the industrialist's fondest hope was that his child should become a 
Professor of Literature, and not the other way around -- but which 
becomes, increasingly, our governor as well as our dependent. I don't 
need to tell you about this.

But if "computing" includes not only the things we have these machines 
do on our behalf, but those we do with them, then yes, I think the 
corner has been turned. Recently on this list we saw Joshua Day's iPad 
app "Attikos" recommended. It promises to give the poor reader of 
Ancient Greek access to the grammar books and dictionaries with the 
touch of a finger. Now, I don't know whether I will be able to improve 
my Greek significantly with its help: it doesn't give me any Sitzfleisch 
I don't already have. (It will probably be the weekend before I can try 
it: I am far too busy to do anything really important.) Yet maybe all 
that wearying turning of pages, and the resistance it inevitably brings, 
will be mitigated; the flicker of curiosity that brings me to Homer or 
Plato may have more of a chance to catch something. And even a modest 
incremental improvement in the chances that a young scholar can make 
headway through a reading of the Apology of Socrates may have 
repercussions we cannot calculate.

Which leads me to the next thing: networking. One of the reasons things 
today, as you recently remarked, are going so incredibly far beyond what 
we could have imagined or hoped for ten years ago is that we are 
profiting from synergies. (I don't know why you had any doubts about 
this, while you have been so diligently fostering them: I certainly 
haven't!) So easily we think our efforts are isolated, but they have not 
been. Little bands of the like-minded: researchers, developers, 
creators, users -- pioneers and visionaries, any one of whom may have 
been disappointed (we see so far beyond what we can reach) and yet all 
of whom have figured out bits of this and that, made connections, or 
done only the most crucial thing: added an impulse, a motive. The 
network -- this medium -- has been the arena in which we have played. Is 
this "computing"?

So I want and expect to see the next version of Attikos -- or someone 
else will do it -- expose its data format and document its semantics and 
APIs, so that digital humanists can load it with texts prepared for use 
by ourselves and for each other. But I don't have to worry about this 
either, or the similar resources (aimed at all levels) for the learning 
of Sanskrit or Classical Chinese poetry or musical composition, which we 
will be seeing in all kinds of media, electronic and otherwise. It is 
all inevitable.

Best regards,

Wendell Piez                            mailto:wapiez at mulberrytech.com
Mulberry Technologies, Inc.                http://www.mulberrytech.com
17 West Jefferson Street                    Direct Phone: 301/315-9635
Suite 207                                          Phone: 301/315-9631
Rockville, MD  20850                                 Fax: 301/315-8285
   Mulberry Technologies: A Consultancy Specializing in SGML and XML

        Date: Wed, 23 May 2012 19:09:34 -0700
        From: Jascha Kessler <urim1 at verizon.net>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.40 disciplinary paranoia?
        In-Reply-To: <20120523214914.0EE29282173 at woodward.joyent.us>

A good question, Willard, though answer[s] there may be none, since who can
tell what lurks in others?  Even in ourselves.  However, at an awards
luncheon at UCLA yesterday, for the FIAT LUX Freshman seminars given
 freely with all topics open to the campus professoriat, even the
Chancellor, I found myself seated between a geneticist, old friend, and a
molecular biologist. Neither young or fearful men, but in 60s and 70.  The
molecular man, after coffee, remarked to me out of the blue: You know, the
human immune system is 100% mysterious and unknown to us; we simply cannot
say what goes on in each individual, though we know it is 100% sensitive to
the tiniest entrance of a foreign molecule, protein, or whatever.
How is that for a metaphor for the inherent paranoia by which living
matter, things, and higher constructions like mammals defend themselves?
 Is it any surprise, a little digitization is threatening?

Jascha Kessler

On Wed, May 23, 2012 at 2:49 PM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 40.
>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>        Date: Thu, 24 May 2012 07:48:00 +1000
>        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>        Subject: disciplinary paranoia
> Taking a cue from Richard Hofstadter's article "The Paranoid Style in
> American Politics", Harper’s Magazine, November 1964, then thinking
> about the fearful desire to live in a totally explained world where
> everything conspires to make sense, I am wondering about the reactions
> we encounter as digital humanists when approaching other disciplines for
> more than merely a momentary, delimited fling. When, to continue with
> the sexual metaphor, what we're after is not simply an affair but
> marriage. What I want to ask is this: how common is it for
> representatives of the other discipline to gather into themselves, to
> react in a way that suggests an anxiety about the coherence of their own
> field and how the digital humanities might threaten that putative
> coherence? Some disciplines are more confident than others, but I
> suspect that none is so sure of itself that it cannot be provoked into
> such anxiety by something which promises to change everything, as for
> the humanities the digital humanities does.
> Any sense in this? Comments?
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> Willard McCarty, FRAI / Professor of Humanities Computing & Director of
> the Doctoral Programme, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
> London; Professor, School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics,
> University of Western Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
> (www.isr-journal.org); Editor, Humanist
> (www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/); www.mccarty.org.uk/

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

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