[Humanist] 22.395 more on solstitial celebrations

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Dec 23 11:26:30 CET 2008

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 395.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 21 Dec 2008 19:28:09 +0100 (CET)
        From: Jim Barrett <jim.barrett at humlab.umu.se>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 22.392 solstitial celebrations 2008
        In-Reply-To: <20081221094723.CD62F2A9E6 at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard,
I also remember our walk to the antiquarian book shop that fine day here
in Umeå (Latitude: 63° 50', North).
I am still here (PhD finished in the fall 2009) and this dark winter I am
still experiencing "vivid, hallucinogenic dreams"- I am not alone either
having had several locals say the same thing to me over the years. In
winter we dream a lot (with around three hours of twilight in the middle
of the day in December and January)
I seem to remember it was Mircea Eliade who drew a connection between
cultures where shamanism played a central role and regions that were
conjusive to sensory deprivation: tundra, desert, rainforest and the long
nights of winter in the arctic. While shamanic practices seem fairly
widespread historically, I like to think that the extreme climate here is
having an inspirational effect on me.

On that note. Best wishes for the New Year from the land of the midnight
sun (and the long winter night).

(an Australian in Umeå)

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 392.
>          Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>         Date: Sun, 21 Dec 2008 09:38:14 +0000
>         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>         >
> Dear colleagues,
> Those relatively new to Humanist may not know that each year at this
> time I indulge in a long, personal and somewhat whimsical meditation to
> mark the holidays. A celebratory, generous but still not, I hope,
> unreasoning mood dominates. On this particular Solstice I find in fact
> several very good reasons to celebrate. It is true that they are
> unlikely to impress the taxi driver who asks you what you do for a
> living, or the person who cuts your hair and wants to know what the
> social benefits of your research might be. And while these reasons to
> celebrate are less spiritually transformative than was meant by the Zen
> master when he said, "I drank a cup of tea and stopped the war", they do
> help to keep the emotional carborundum at bay, and so us in a better
> state to answer the hard questions of taxi drivers and cutters of hair
> -- and to attempt an understanding of how seriously that Zen master
> meant what he said.
> My first reason to celebrate is Humanist's new, shiny (but to you almost
> entirely invisible) vehicle. It replaces an editorial mechanism for
> processing messages originally designed and implemented by Michael
> Sperberg-McQueen, then after many years reworked by Malgosia Askanas.
> Her perl-scripts lasted for quite a while -- more than 8 years, I think
> it has been. But during this time changes in the complexity of e-mail
> communications and development of supporting systems made those scripts
> increasingly inadequate, my job more and more frustrating. Then, over
> the last many months, thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the
> Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO,
> www.digitalhumanities.org), Malgosia was paid to rethink, redesign and
> rebuild all of the mostly invisible infrastructure. Hallelujah!
> [All those unaffected by British popular culture should skip immediately
> to the next paragraph. For those who are affected, I intend no X Factor!
> Rather, as antidote, substitute Jeff Buckley's version, which is much,
> much better.]
> Now is the first occasion in some years, I think, that Hanukkah itself
> begins on the Solstice. I looked up the date because I wanted to send
> proper greetings to a Jewish friend of mine. This in turn prompted me
> with extra urgency to make sure the annual Humanist message was sent out
> on the Solstice. In addition my Muslim neighbours, whose children are
> deeply fascinated by our Christmas tree, reminded me that Muharram
> (Islamic New Year) begins on 29 December. Other festivals for very good
> reason cluster around this time and give varying light in the gloomy
> darkness. But here I must of course relativize my cozy picture of a
> gathering of candles in the darkness, connoting unity in the diversity
> of the world, since the world is in fact round and orbits the sun in a
> particular way. An Australian colleague, finally handing in a chapter of
> a book I am editing, commented that now he could go off to enjoy the
> lazy days of Summer. I still find the reality of a blazing, hot
> Christmas impossible to get my mind around, having been Downunder only
> once during the Summer, and then rather further south than the really
> hot weather reaches. (In mid Summer Tasmania can be quite chilly!) So I
> hope friends and colleagues in Australasia can forgive all the cozy
> darkness that has crept into my prose, and perhaps they can contribute
> some of their warmth.
> And that's not all. I must also acknowledge my quite inadequate
> experience of winter darkness in comparison to that of friends in the
> REAL north. An Australian ex-pat living in Umea, Sweden, once attempted
> to describe to me, on a very sunny late evening in mid Summer, a typical
> season of darkness there. He spoke of vivid, hallucinogenic dreams. But
> then he was Australian and had not lived there all that long.
> On the home-front geographically speaking there is, I think, good cause
> to celebrate our growing and developing PhD in Digital Humanities at
> King's. Its principal constraint is funding, not interest in it from
> potential students, which is strong, nor the willingness of colleagues
> in other departments to collaborate. It will surprise no one that the
> degree is primarily collaborative: a majority of our students with other
> departments, e.g. Portuguese, History, Byzantine and Modern Greek and
> the social sciences. But a majority of these have come to the degree
> because of the "digital humanities" label, and so we have had the
> pleasure of inviting other departments to participate. There are a few
> potential applicants in the wings developing their ideas, potentially
> with English, Computer Science, Philosophy and perhaps Geography. We
> could easily have 3 or 4 times the number currently enrolled if the
> funding were in place. We're working on that and on ideas, such as the
> "semi-distance PhD" I've mentioned before.
> There now can be no doubt that our subject is capable of vigorously
> healthy research at the most advanced degree level. Put that under your
> tree!
> And there is no end to the intellectual ferment the combination of
> computing and the humanities brings to the older disciplines, as our
> colleagues in other departments will attest. Two of the areas that
> particularly concern me are the development of an historical sense in
> the field, with the light that throws on the affected disciplines, and
> the particular way we do interdisciplinarity. I'm astonished at how much
> raw historical material there is. Even a rather shallow sampling turns
> up many if not most of the intellectual concerns on our plate today and
> exhibits great intelligence and imagination. Such has been our
> progress-driven habit of mind that we've often lost sight of such
> valuable work. It's not so much that we end up "reinventing the wheel"
> (an example of a misleading metaphor, as if ideas, and ideas in
> software, were stable objects like wheels) but that we get caught up in
> an endless cycle of forgetting. As a result we have great difficulty
> developing a disciplinary sense of ourselves and so a helpful sense of
> our disciplinary relations. Every once in a while someone notices that
> we've not had an IMPACT on a particular field of research.  (Feel the
> billiard balls collide, o wooden heads!) Such complainers seem oblivious
> to the long history of complaint, dating back to the early 1960s, and so
> miss the highly intelligent responses to these litanies of failure, the
> very useful misunderstandings they illuminate and the parallel phenomena
> in the wider culture. It's a curious shtick but, as I say, helpful as a
> clue.
> I digress away from celebration and so beg your forgiveness. Allow me to
> return via a problem I find particularly fascinating at the moment: the
> relation of progress (characteristic of technology) to questioning
> (characteristic of the humanities). The fact that the former cannot be
> denied seems new in the humanities, at least since codex technology
> became part of the furniture. Recently a classicist friend of mine
> wanted to know why it was that I keep going on about changing things.
> Did I have imperial ambitions? he asked. This got me to thinking about
> the origins and effects of my progress-affected field, and especially
> about the fact that new tools actually can augment the intelligence with
> which we begin and so enable us to think in new ways. So I began to
> wonder about what the leaven of progress is doing to the bread we bake.
> In sum the imaginative richness of our own brief past is surely a fine
> Christmas present to be unwrapped -- again and again. Is there room under
> the tree?
> And finally in my catalogue is a great cause to celebrate, directly for
> us in the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King's College
> London, indirectly for the digital humanities as a whole: the result of
> the U.K. 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, to which we were submitted
> as an academic department for the first time in this round. The details
> are complex, but suffice it to say that as these things are measured our
> field now has robust standing among the disciplines in the U.K. de jure
> as well as de facto. Whatever one may say about such processes --
> indeed, there is much to say both positive and negative -- gaining
> recognition of this kind allows many good things to happen that would
> otherwise have little chance nowadays. (Thank you Harold!)
> Again, being a northern hemispherean, what strikes me is the playing off
> of our cozy warmth and good cheer against the chill and, and on this
> day, darkest time of the year. Yes, we are all, as John Donne said,
> riding westward. But what a ride! Perhaps life would be better at this
> moment on a beach somewhere in the sun. I certainly hope it is good for
> computing humanists enjoying such circumstances (with a fast wireless
> connection, of course).
> Anyhow, for the twenty-second time I wish you all a happy, merry
> Christmas, a joyous Hanukkah, a hopeful Muharram and as many sweet
> etceteras as there are at hand to be enjoyed.
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
> King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
> Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
> Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.
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PhD Candidate,
Department of Language Studies.
Umeå University
+46 (0)90 786 6584
Umeå University.SE-901 87.Umeå.Sweden
Blog: http://www.soulsphincter.blogspot.com
HUMlab: http://www.humlab.umu.se/

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