[Humanist] 23.74 world-making and markup

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Jun 15 05:29:59 CEST 2009

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 74.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 9 Jun 2009 10:22:47 -0400 (EDT)
        From: lachance at chass.utoronto.ca
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.59 world-making and markup


There is in the book <title>On the Origin of Objects</title> by Brian
Cantwell Smith a passage that has fascinated me and which relates to the
thread on markup and world-making.  It is a description that deserves to
be read slowly.

World-directedness takes many forms. [...] subjects (their experiences,
representations, documents, intentions, thoughts, etc.) point or are
directed towards the transcendent-but-immanent world that surrounds them.
A symmetrically realist account per se supplies two of the requisite
ingredients in this pointing: (i) the fact that subjects are <i>in</i> an
enveloping world, which gives them a place to point <i>from</i>; and (ii)
the fact that they are <i>made</i> of that same enveloping world, which
gives them the wherewithal to point <i>with</i>. What a theory of
intentionality needs to add is the far-from-obvious third ingredient:
(iii) a way for subjects to orient <i>towards</i> that enveloping world,
the world of which they are constituted and in which they live.

What fascinates me is the way in which "from" is paired with "in" and
"with" is paired with "made" and that "towards" remains unpaired.

The trio of prepositions reminds me of the experience of modeling content
or a way of writing in/with structured forms such as those offered by the
Text Encoding Initiative Guidelines. Marking from.... marking with...
marking towards. In a very fundamental fashion, writing is about how to
segment and how to align. Pick a point. From that point there stem a
before and an after. Pick another point and observe that part of one
point's after is part of another point's before and observe a between that
emerges with its own before and its own after.

Place a mark in a given space and with the given mark, place another mark
[erasing is a type of marking] or stop.

Now I see "towards" in Smith's phrase "orient towards" could be read sous
rature. Peeking out of those italics is the phrase "a way for subjects to
orient [...] that enveloping world" which gives a hint of agency to acts
of world-directed intentionality. This where I want to graft story telling
as a way of orienting a world. A way of connecting the actual to the

Smith does not extensively treat the ontological status of the
hypothetical, the counterfactual, the fictional. Yet the trio of
ingredients in the theory of intentionality he sketches can offer a
topological insight into the relations between the actual and possible
worlds. And allows us to nuance his assertion that “You can hardly cook
for dinner something that is fictional [...] “ with the indication that
with every cook hovers a hallucinatory body.

You cannot eat a story but a story can within limits alleviate the pangs
of hunger. You cannot drink a sonorous sequence but within limits a
sonorous sequence can quench thirst. You cannot but imagine and that is
different from and not the same as the list of things you can do with
fictional things that is offered by Smith: "refer to it, wonder about it,
or entertain it in a hypothetical". To be fair, one can hardly imagine
without reference, wonder or entertainment.

In, with, towards the virtual...
In, with, towards the textual...
In, with, towards the interactive...

A story can eat you. [Mark-up is but a little bite.]

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