[Humanist] 24.538 trading off

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Dec 3 10:51:45 CET 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 538.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 2 Dec 2010 11:45:03 -0500
        From: Alan Galey <galey.lists at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.534 trading off?
        In-Reply-To: <20101202084827.E30F7B62B9 at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard and all,

The literature on forgetting is pretty huge (from what I remember of
it...), and early modernists in particular have been intently focused
on this topic in recent years. One of my favorite statements on the
value of forgetting -- and of a specifically material kind of
forgetting -- comes from Vives, writing around 1531:

“if everything written by those old philosophers, historians, orators,
poets, physicians, theologians, had reached this age, then we could
put nothing but books in our houses; we should have to sit on books;
we should have to walk on the top of books; our eyes would have to
glance over nothing but books”

Juan Luis Vives, On Education, trans. Foster Watson (Totowa, NJ:
Rowman and Littlefield, 1971), p. 45.

Some other sources worth reading include:

Eco, Umberto. “An Ars Oblivionalis? Forget It!” PMLA 103.3 (1988): 254-61.

Sullivan, Garrett A., Jr. Memory and Forgetting in English Renaissance
Drama: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Webster. (Cambridge, 2005). [esp. his
chapter "Embodying Oblivion"]

Forgetting in Early Modern Literature and Culture: Lethe’s Legacies.
Ed. Christopher Ivic and Grant Williams. London: Routledge, 2004.

These are just the tip of a pretty big iceberg. Also, I don't think
I'd be out on a limb in saying that anything written on premodern
memory and forgetting owes a huge debt to Mary Carruthers.

This afternoon I'm lecturing partly on Bush's Memex, so that's much on
the brain, too. To respond to your question with another, Willard, I
wonder if Bush's status as a "digital cultural hero," as you put it,
is enabled by the tendency (not universal, but widespread) to forget
the rest of his career, and to invoke him exclusively as the inventor
of the Memex. Even on that point alone, some might point to the
tendency to forget that the Memex was an idea Bush refined and
popularized, rather than originated. To be clear, I'm not attributing
this tendency to your comments, Willard -- you know this history
better than most of us -- but rather to the present trend in digital
humanities to tell "heroes' histories" which depend upon strategic
forgetting as part of their memorializing. Maybe that's how all origin
myths have to work, but I'm still not comfortable with the word "hero"
(unless it's Stephen Colbert saying it).

One last book suggestion: on the Memex and its contexts, I recommend
Terry Harpold's wonderful book Ex-Foliations: Reading Machines and the
Upgrade Path (Minnesota, 2009).

All best,

Alan Galey
Assistant Professor
University of Toronto

On Thu, Dec 2, 2010 at 3:48 AM, Humanist Discussion Group
<willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:
>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 534.
>         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>        Date: Thu, 02 Dec 2010 07:02:31 +0000
>        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>        Subject: trading off
> In our embracements of the new & digital ways of doing things do we ever
> systematically consider the tradeoffs we are making? Has anyone written
> well on the subject?
> Consider, for example, P. R. Wilkinson's Thesaurus of Traditional
> English Metaphors (London: Routledge, 1993; 2nd edn. 2002). Here's the
> Table of Contents:
>> B TAILOR 26
>> D SAILOR 130
>> E RICHMAN 180
>> F POORMAN 324
>> H THIEF 505
>> I AT HOME 534
>> J AT SCHOOL 786
>> K AT PLAY 887
>> Bibliography 990
>> Index of themes 995
>> Index of keywords 1033
> Here, under A Tinker, A.1a Wood, is a typical entry:
>> brown as mahogany black as ebony seasoned [1643] Well-tried,
>> experienced—soldier etc. (from the seasoning of timber that makes it
>> fit for service).
>  > sap (v) [1755] Drain or gradually dry out vital
>> element—as ‘sapped his energies’ etc.
>  > dry straight Turn out all right
>> in the end; survive a testing time.
>  > hazled [dried out—midEng EAn]
>> Crabby, surly, sour. warp [1700] Corrupt, cause to grow twisted,
>> perverted, of someone’s mind etc. (from the bending of badly seasoned
>> timber).
>  > warped up like a plancheon [=planch= plank, floorboard—Suf
>> Som Dor Gmg Dev Cor]
>  > splinter group A minority that secedes from the
>> main body because of disagreements or a shift in policy (as a wooden
>> splinter splits away from the main timber). splinter (v) Form such a
>> group.
>  > spelk (n) [splinter, such as runs under the skin; spill for
>> lighting fires or candles—Ayr Nhb eDur] Meagre, frail man; slip of a
>> girl or boy.
> The index looks like this:
>> A
>> accordions K.8c
>> accounts E.2c
>> aches and pains I.35a
>> across country G.10a
>> adders G.44b
>> adrift (ships) D.17b
>> aground (ships) D.17c
>> ailments I.35c
>> air G.14a
>> travel E.5d
>> warfare C.10h
> and the index of keywords:
>> A
>> A from a…, not know/tell J.20c
>> Aaron’s serpent J.34c
>> aback
>> o’ behind E.17b
>> o’ behint F.10g
>> take a. D.3c
>> abb or warp B.2d
>> abbey to a grange J.54
>> abbot, swear like J.48
>> ABC, plain as J.20c
>> abed, may lie I.79i
>> a-begging, go G.1
>> a-benting, pigeon go K.52
> As can be verified from the keyword entry for "stupid", in comparison
> with a character-string search of a digital version of this book,
>> stupid
>>   as a coot G.50b
>>   cuddy E.23d
>>   owls G.48
>>   pot mule K.15c
>>   wax widow K.65
>>   he can’t chew gum and… I.31e
> the index misses *many* occurrences of "stupid" in the book, such as the
> very first entry,
>> wooden Expressionless, dull, stupid.
> So what's the tradeoff in going digital? One still has the indices.
> I once knew a scholar of classical Chinese at Toronto (Wayne Schlepp,
> himself not Chinese), who for years had been using a very well known
> Chinese encyclopedia, which had never had an index in all the centuries
> of its existence, he told me. One day, he said, he saw an advert for an
> index that someone had cleverly devised -- quite a difficult task given
> the way Chinese works as a written language. He was about to order it
> when he stopped, arrested by the realisation that in all the years he
> had used this encyclopedia he had typically found far more interesting
> items in his long search for whatever he began looking for than the
> originating subject itself.
> One could generalise by saying that what we're trading off is an
> altogether different mode of thinking. My old friend Schlepp, one of the
> earliest to take an interest in computing at Toronto, wouldn't on this
> occasion make that tradeoff. How often are we less attentive to what's
> rapidly moving out of reach?
> Our digital cultural hero Vannevar Bush, in that much celebrated
> Atlantic Monthly article, wrote about the augmentation of associative
> thinking that his Memex would help bring about. The Memex
> was a recording device, hence "MEMory EXtension", perhaps. It
> did not interfere with the wandering path of natural reading, as I
> recall, but it did mess with our forgetting. Has anyone examined the
> usefulness of forgetting? Do we know what forgetting does for us?
> There's Borges' "Funes the Memorious" to suggest the problem we'd
> have without the ability to forget.
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
> King's College London, staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/;
> Professor, Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney,
> www.uws.edu.au/centre_for_cultural_research/ccr/people/researchers;
> Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
> Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

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