[Humanist] 28.850 precise terminology?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Mar 25 11:51:58 CET 2015

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 28, No. 850.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 25 Mar 2015 09:24:10 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: precise terminology

In his "Epilegomena to Mimesis", added as an appendix six years after 
the book was first published, Erich Auerbach considered the problem of 
inexact terminology in comparative literary studies. What he wrote 
applies convincingly, I think, to the discourse of digital humanities 
from the perspective of that Janus face of ours which looks into the 
humanities and speaks to those disciplines:

> It is in the nature of our subject that our general concepts are
> poorly differentiable and are undefinable. Their worth... consists in
> that they elicit in readers or hearers a series of ideas that
> facilitate for them an understanding of what is meant in the
> particular context. They are not exact. The attempts to define them,
> or even only to collect completely and without contradiction those
> characteristics that compose them, can never lead to the desired
> result - even though they are often interesting, for the reason that
> someone produces in the discussion a new point of view and thereby
> assists in the enrichment of our ideas. One must beware, it seems to
> me, of regarding the exact sciences as our model; our precision
> relates to the particularÂ…. A person with a classificatory taxonomy
> that works with exact and set conceptions of order cannot succeed in
> drawing together the aspects that intersect multiply into a synthesis
> that does justice to the subjects. (Mimesis, 50th Anniversary edn,
 > pp. 572-3)

Much has happened in and to the sciences since Auerbach wrote. It seems 
to me there are strong reasons for regarding them as far closer to our 
concerns now than seemed in 1952.

Many here, I hope, will be interested in Jerome McGann's essay, "Truth 
and Method. Humanities Scholarship as a Science of Exceptions", 
forthcoming in Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 40.2 (June 2015), in 
which he discusses the precision of the particular.

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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