[Humanist] 26.684 forensics

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Jan 16 07:23:45 CET 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 684.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 15 Jan 2013 09:03:07 -0500
        From: Matthew Kirschenbaum <mkirschenbaum at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re:  26.679 "forensics" a magic word?
        In-Reply-To: <20130115073536.03C9FE34 at digitalhumanities.org>


I subtitled my book "the forensic imagination" and offered a coda with
the same name wherein I lay out a set of aesthetic and epistemological
valences for the term. I'd prefer not to try the patience of the list
by recapitulating the material here. Matt

On Tue, Jan 15, 2013 at 2:35 AM, Humanist Discussion Group
<willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:
>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 679.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                               www.dhhumanist.org/
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>         Date: Mon, 14 Jan 2013 16:08:32 +0000
>         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>         Subject: forensics
> I like to notice words and probe what they're doing, especially what
> they're doing that tends to pass unnoticed. A word may give us a big
> push in some direction or other without our knowing we've been pushed.
> In the linguist J. R. Firth's day, he thought, one of those was "plan".
> In "The Technique of Semantics" (Transactions of the Philological
> Society 1935: p. 69), he notes that,
>> One  of  the  magic words  of  the  age is plan. The mere use of this
>> word and its derivatives releases certain forces of opinion and
>> experience and gives the word weight. Its association with certain
>> influential contexts gives it a power over us in this age of
>> uncertainty.
> This, I suspect, is an observation which always works for one or a few
> words at any given time. And what age is not an age of uncertainty?
> (See Anthony Giddens' discussion of risk in Modernity and Self-Identity.)
> On occasion such a "magic word" betrays what an author has in mind
> but does not want to say, does not realise he or she is saying. It is a
> tool we can use to get further than we would by just following a person's
> argument. Ian Hacking uses this tool with great subtlety to powerful
> effect in his analysis of psychological language in Rewriting the Soul:
> Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory, for example.
> I wonder if for us one such word is the term of law and legal
> investigation, "forensic", in the OED's only full definition,
> "Pertaining to, connected with, or used in courts of law; suitable or
> analogous to pleadings in court." I wonder further if when used in an
> argument having nothing to do with courts of law and their proceedings
> "forensic" (in a culture saturated by CSI and its kind) this word does
> not push us toward easier acceptance of an argument as law-like,
> scientific, safely dangerous, culturally sexy?
> Court-room metaphors are ancient and powerful -- at least from the time
> of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. ("I know that my redeemer
> liveth" sounds in my mind, with Handel's music, of course.) I am not
> saying I think they're illegitimate, only asking if we want to own to
> all the work they do in the 21st Century discourse of the digital
> humanities? But in any case we can derive much enjoyment from spotting
> those "magic words", as Firth called them.
> 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 Humanities and Communication Arts,
> University of Western Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
> (www.isr-journal.org); Editor, Humanist (dhhumanist.org);
> www.mccarty.org.uk/
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Matthew Kirschenbaum
Associate Professor of English
Associate Director, Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH)
University of Maryland
301-405-8505 or 301-314-7111 (fax)
http://mkirschenbaum.net and @mkirschenbaum on Twitter

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