[Humanist] 27.818 Busa and Cage

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Feb 23 09:09:43 CET 2014

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 818.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sat, 22 Feb 2014 19:54:50 +1000
        From: Desmond Schmidt <desmond.allan.schmidt at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re:  27.817 Busa and Cage: more work not less
        In-Reply-To: <20140222084224.6F99462E9 at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard,

This same point that Busa makes was posed as a question to a number of
leading Italian academics already in 1962 in an article in Almanacco
Letterario Bompiani, pp.143-144, 313-318. They were asked if the
computer had changed the nature of their work "as some claim", or
whether it merely made things easier. They all replied to the effect that
nothing really had changed, except for Gianfranco Contini, who agreed,
but added: "precisely because it will allow quantitative research that
so far has been impossible, its heuristic significance will be
revealing". My guess is that Marshall McLuhan is behind the change in
attitude that Busa refers to, and is the chief of the "some who claim",
since The Gutenberg Galaxy was published in that year.

Desmond Schmidt
Research Scientist
Queensland University of Technology

On Sat, Feb 22, 2014 at 6:42 PM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 817.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 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.
> Yours,
> WM
> --
> 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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