[Humanist] 24.209 textual intimacies?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Jul 21 20:48:34 CEST 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 209.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 21 Jul 2010 11:51:26 +1000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: intimacy with the text

The U.S. National Humanities Center held a conference on 19-20 March 
2010 on "The State and Stakes of Literary Study", a summary of which may 
be found in the NHC Newsletter, 
Apart from the interest this event may have for literary scholars 
outside our community, the emphasis given by numerous attendees to "a 
more intimate way of approaching literature, as it were, from the inside 
rather than the outside", as Jeff Dolven (Princeton) said, is worth our 
attention.  This disciplinary desire for intimacy seems to me far more 
important to us than the question of whether universities of the future 
will be digital (a prediction from the President of Duke, who was also 
there) and all the other such dreams that have been distracting us from 
well before computing began. Intimacy with literature via computing has 
been professed for at least the last decade by Jerome McGann and was 
primitively instantiated in the Ivanhoe Game. Indeed, the game with 
students that Dolven described sounds very Ivanhoe-like.

If the NHC conference is indicative, then it seems that the 
rank-and-file are in agreement. What sort of response might we have?

Historically literary scholarship turned away from positivistic late New 
Criticism into Theory just at the time when computing came on the scene. 
I think it is fair to say that the things we knew how to do with 
computing then and for some time afterwards were simply of no interest 
to the vast majority of literary scholars. Even the idea that one might 
model a theory of literature to test its strength and reach seemed to 
have no appeal at all. At that time one didn't put theories of this sort 
to the test; the point was to theorize. But if now "text" becomes what 
it is through intimacy with the reader -- far more than reader-response 
to text-stimulus -- what role can computing play?

Does one encode the beloved? Perhaps as a cure for lovesickness a la 
Burton. But not a healthy lover's response. What *is* a healthy lover's
response to a beloved text?

How can textual intimacy be achieved with the help of the machine? 
When is this a good idea, when not?

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,
Editor, Humanist, www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, www.isr-journal.org.

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