[Humanist] 27.254 branding and a critical digital humanities

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Jul 31 22:14:03 CEST 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 254.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 01 Aug 2013 05:57:51 +1000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: (self)-enslavement: a critical digital humanities?

In the Times Higher for 18 July, Fred Inglis asks the rhetorical question, 
"What if marketing-speak is not glib nonsense, but a poison at the heart 
of the university?" He answers in a long article,"Branded to Death" 
beginning as follows:

> The most abominable monster now threatening the intellectual health
> and the integrity of pure enquiry as well as conscientious teaching
> is the language of advertising, or better, the machinery of
> propaganda. Any number of critics from within university walls have
> warned the people at large and academics in particular of the way the
> helots of advertising and the state police of propaganda bloat and
> distort the language of thoughtful description, peddle with a
> confident air generalisations without substance, and serenely
> circulate orotund lies while ignoring their juniorsÂ’ rebuttals and
> abuse. It is indicative that the only street job our hapless prime
> minister ever had was as a public relations officer to a now-defunct
> television company.

Before we get too far into the thickets of trendy socio-cultural 
questions easy to pursue because they require no technical knowledge or 
the making of anything, and safe because we can do nothing about them 
(except to leave the academy altogether and join the picket-lines), 
perhaps we could consider what might be done to give some real meaning 
to the word "critical" in "critical digital humanities". Inglis 
identifies an evil in academic life. Is it so? If it is, as the evidence 
all around us suggests to me it is, then where does it cross our path, 
and what can we *as digital humanists* do about it? Where in our daily 
practice is the compromise with the devil negotiated? If, as seems to 
me, "critical" can actually have some meaning (as it did as a noun in 
"literary criticism"), then we are directed to what we actually do that 
makes us simultaneously of the humanities and distinct from the other 
disciplines. It directs us to practice -- not hacking as opposed to yacking
but both together directed to a common end.

A tricky business (as that last word betrays). Years ago a friend of 
mine in High Administration at Toronto explained to me that getting 
things done was all a matter of packaging. A gentler metaphor than 
"branding", with its smell of burning flesh and implications of slavery. 
But both are temptations away from critical practices, from reading, 
understanding, making. I suggest asking, what is the minimum we need to 
do what we want to do? What in the past has made the most difference? 
Isn't it being "critical" in the sense of "thoughtful" equipped with a sharp 
analytical edge?


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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