[Humanist] 27.817 Busa and Cage: more work not less

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Feb 22 09:42:24 CET 2014

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 817.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sat, 22 Feb 2014 08:31:29 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: more work not less

I would guess that most of us here are familiar with Fr Busa's repeated 
insistence that computers should not be considered labour-saving 
devices, e.g. in "Why can a computer do so little?", ALLC Bulletin 4 
(1976): 3,

> Let me point out one consequence arising from the above. A t the
> starting point of a new era there may be the temptation to ask the
> new techniques to do things in the same way as before. See, for
> example, some recent literature expressing critical remarks on
> computer use. My statement is confirmed that using the computer to
> prepare concordances, for example, with the same format and the same
> features as before is a poor use of a computer. I feel sympathetic to
> anyone in scholarly research who still thinks of using a computer
> just to do things easier and faster. The processing of my Index
> Thomisticus took one million man-hours for much less than five
> thousand machine hours. In language processing the use of computers
> is not aimed towards less human effort , or for doing things faster
> and with less labour, but for more human work, more mental effort; we
> must strive to know, more systematically, deeper, and better, what is
> in our mouth at every moment, the mysterious world of our words.

I just stumbled across another such statement from a rather different 
source. In their introduction to yet another invaluable edited 
collection (take that, research excellence frameworkers!) Mainframe 
Experimentalism: Early Computing and the Foundations of the Digital Arts 
(2012), Hannah B Higgins and Douglas Kahn quote John Cage, "Diary: 
Audience 1966", in A Year from Monday (1967), p. 50:

> Are we an audience for computer art? The answer's not No; it's Yes.
> What we need is a computer that isn't labor-saving but which
> increases the work for us to do, that puns (this is [Marshall]
> McLuhan's idea) as well as Joyce revealing bridges (this is [Norman
> O.] Brown's idea) where we thought there weren't any, turns us (my
> idea) not "on" but into artists.

There is so much to learn from those technologically inclined artists of 
the 1950s-1970s, so much ammunition against the army of dull plodders.


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Research Group in Digital
Humanities, University of Western Sydney

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