[Humanist] 27.599 a poetics of and for computing?
Humanist Discussion Group
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Dec 7 09:59:23 CET 2013
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 599.
Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
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Date: Fri, 06 Dec 2013 11:21:13 +0000
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
Subject: poet and technician
Norman Cousins, in an often quoted article in the magazine Forum (UCLA,
Spring 1989), zeroes in on "The essential problem of man in a
computerized age", namely the temptation to imitate the machine, lose
his and her humanity, to confuse facts spilling in abundance from the
machine with wisdom so hard and painful to obtain. Until the very end
this brief article reads like many other jeremiads of the time. But then he
> Without taking anything away from the technicians, it might be
> fruitful to effect some sort of junction between the computer
> technologist and the poet. A genuine purpose may be served by
> turning loose the wonders of the creative imagination on the kinds of
> problems being put to electronic tubes and transistors. The company
> of poets may enable the men who tend the machines to see a larger
> panorama of possibilities than technology alone may inspire.
This reads to me like a call for digital humanities to do much, much more
than it had been doing, indeed as it is now doing. Such calls are few across
its history. As far as I know (and would love to be corrected) they began in
writing with Cambridge linguist and philosopher Margaret Masterman in 1962
and on the other side of the Pond with Louis Milic in 1966. I don't know of
any others remotely equal to his until this hint of such thoughts in 1989.
Mostly (as I keep saying) we get the kind of negative assessments Rosanne
Potter catalogued in 1991, with finger-pointings at a variety of bogey-men,
such as French critical theory. And then the Web hit, and we forgot the
question. About a decade later the literary-critical establishment noticed
what Mark Olsen had seen, that you could do interesting things on a large
scale. And about a decade after that Alan Liu helpfully started making much
of the theoretical poverty Potter had shown to be the problem in 1991.
Someone (of a more melancholic disposition that I will own to) might say, no
wonder we want to call what we were doing before the Web a different and
inferior practice so that no one bothers to rescue it from the effects of
professional amnesia. But your mileage may differ, as the hackers used to
say. What landscape do you see?
Norman Cousins' article is at
Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Research Group in Digital
Humanities, University of Western Sydney
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