[Humanist] 22.537 cost and labour of doing good

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Feb 17 07:39:57 CET 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 537.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 16 Feb 2009 09:26:44 -0600
        From: Stephen Ramsay <sramsay at unlserve.unl.edu>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 22.534 cost and labour of doing good
        In-Reply-To: <20090216120623.B32DA2DAC2 at woodward.joyent.us>

On Feb 16, 2009, at 6:06 AM, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:

> In 1919 Cooper wrote that by compiling a concordance the
> lover of Wordsworth "could render a more vital service to English
> literature by the unambitious toil of indexing the works of that poet
> than by writing enthusiastic essays upon their merits. In reality, to
> form a concordance of Wordsworth is almost the same thing as making  
> the
> poet write literary essays about himself -- an object well worth
> the zeal of any scholar or learned organization" (pp. 5-6).

I'll admit that I find such statements generally mystifying (a  
testament to my own belated state as a theoritician of everything),  
but I suspect the key lies in the comparison: "making the poet write  
literary essays about himself."  It is the assumption of authorial  
intention as the normative principle of criticism, and the attendant  
belief that language is a kind of cipher for intentionality.  There's  
an echo of this sentiment in the writings of our own Founding Father,  
Roberta Busa:

"I realized first that a philological and lexicographical inquiry into  
the verbal system of an author has to precede and prepare for a  
doctrinal interpretation of his works.  Each writer expresses his  
conceptual system in and through his verbal system, with the  
consequence that the reader who masters this verbal system, using his  
own conceptual system, has to get an insight into the writer's  
conceptual system.  The reader should not simply attach to the words  
he reads the significance they have in his mind, but should try to  
find out what significance they had in the author's mind." ("The  
Annals of Humanities Computing: The *Index Thomisticus.*," CHUM 14  
(1980): 83)


Stephen Ramsay
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Center for Digital Research in the Humanities
University of Nebraska at Lincoln
PGP Public Key ID: 0xA38D7B11

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