[Humanist] 29.556 The innocent arrogance of objective fact
Humanist Discussion Group
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Dec 16 07:56:03 CET 2015
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 556.
Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
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Date: Wed, 16 Dec 2015 06:44:34 +0000
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
Subject: The innocent arrogance of objective fact
Undoubtedly others have thought about the subject I am about to raise
here. This is an open invitation for them to take it up. Again I quote
from Brian Winston's Claiming the Real: The Documentary Film Revisited
(1995), from the concluding chapter whose title is my subject-line:
> Unlike the challenge posed by postmodernism, the challenge of
> digitalisation cannot be resisted. Digitalisation destroys the
> photographic image as evidence of anything except the process of
> digitalisation. The physicality of the plastic material represented
> in any photographic image can no longer be guaranteed. For the
> documentary to survive the widespread diffusion of such technology
> depends on removing its claim to the real. There is no alternative. (p 259)
Of course one can quibble in the usual way, e.g. by pointing out that
chemical photography involved transforming processes, and that the
photographer could interfere in several ways (adjustment of the camera,
treatment of the projected image with the enlarger, time in the
developer etc.), but the scale of the difference made by the level and
artificial intelligence of the digital processes which now intervene,
including those directly manipulated by the photographer, is hugely
different. Scale, like size, matters very much indeed.
My question is how the above (let us now take it as given) translates
into the various scholarly applications of the technologies we use. One
where the intervention of digital processing is especially significant
is simulation (a.k.a. modelling turned loose). Because the result is
evidence of nothing except the process of digital simulation (true?
false?), are not claims on the real made by those who simulate at least
Where this leads, I think, is to the question of what our tools are for.
Surely not proving anything, ever.
Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Digital Humanities Research
Group, University of Western Sydney
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