[Humanist] 32.119 Fish'ing for fatal flaws

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Jul 2 07:52:00 CEST 2018


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 119.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    "William L. Benzon" <bbenzon at mindspring.com>              (64)
        Subject: Re:  32.118 Fish'ing for fatal flaws

  [2]   From:    Dino Buzzetti <dino.buzzetti at gmail.com>                   (31)
        Subject: Re:  32.118 Fish'ing for fatal flaws


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Sun, 1 Jul 2018 08:34:21 -0400
        From: "William L. Benzon" <bbenzon at mindspring.com>
        Subject: Re:  32.118 Fish'ing for fatal flaws
        In-Reply-To: <20180701065612.DFF6C2AE2 at s16382816.onlinehome-server.info>


Comments below, BB

> --[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        Date: Sat, 30 Jun 2018 08:16:14 -0500
>        From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
>        Subject: Re:  32.116 Fish'ing for fatal flaws
>        In-Reply-To: <20180630075159.5A2221443 at s16382816.onlinehome-server.info>
> 
> Cute, but anti-intellectual. We could easily substitute different words. I think I’m with you on “hidden meaning,” though. 
> 
> Jim R
> 
>> Fifth. I think we should place a ten-year ban on the use of certain spatial metaphors. Let there be no more talk of “close reading” or “distant reading”, or “surface reading”, “depth”, or even “hidden meaning”. 
>> 
>> BB
>> 
>> Bill Benzon
>> bbenzon at mindspring.com <mailto:bbenzon at mindspring.com>

Substituting different words is all I had in mind. In this process, you have to think just a bit about that different word and what it means.

In there other hand, there is the troublesome “text”. What’s that? In some cases it’s a physical object, perhaps a codex, a scroll, or even the symbolic marks on such things. Beyond that, the concept is rather vague. Consider this passage from the introduction* Rita Copeland and Frances Ferguson prepared for five essays from the 2012 English Institute devoted to the text:

Yet with the conceptual breadth that has come to characterize notions of text and textuality, literary criticism has found itself at a confluence of disciplines, including linguistics, anthropology, history, politics, and law. Thus, for example, notions of cultural text and social text have placed literary study in productive dialogue with fields in the social sciences. Moreover, text has come to stand for different and often contradictory things: linguistic data for philology; the unfolding “real time” of interaction for sociolinguistics; the problems of copy-text and markup in editorial theory; the objectified written work (“verbal icon”) for New Criticism; in some versions of poststructuralism the horizons of language that overcome the closure of the work; in theater studies the other of performance, ambiguously artifact and event. “Text” has been the subject of venerable traditions of scholarship centered on the establishment and critique of scriptural authority as well as the classical heritage. In the modern world it figures anew in the regulation of intellectual property. Has text become, or was it always, an ideal, immaterial object, a conceptual site for the investigation of knowledge, ownership and propriety, or authority? If so, what then is, or ever was, a “material” text? What institutions, linguistic procedures, commentary forms, and interpretive protocols stabilize text as an object of study? [p. 417]

“Linguistic data” and “copy-text”, they sound like the physical text itself, the rest of them, not so much.

At least in computational criticism it’s pretty clear what kind of thing the text is. It’s the symbols on the page as they have been digitized, and there’s extensive discussion about what’s entailed in that digitization. In a way, it’s a wonder that we can get anything at all by analyzing just those marks on the page using computational methods. Because that’s all they are, just dumb marks on the page. 

As Michael Gavin noted, in response to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that’s paywalled: “Outsiders do not get  how lexical patterns relate to things they know” (https://twitter.com/Michael_A_Gavin/status/920372827290783745). Unfortunately, bringing outsiders over that barrier is not easy. It’s not something readily accomplished in an article or two on corpus linguistics for the humanist.

*Rita Copeland and Frances Ferguson, “Introduction”, ELH, Volume 81, Number 2, Summer 2014, pp. 417-422.

> --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        Date: Sat, 30 Jun 2018 15:24:54 -0400
>        From: Patrick Durusau <patrick at durusau.net>
>        Subject: Re:  32.116 Fish'ing for fatal flaws
>        In-Reply-To: <20180630075159.5A2221443 at s16382816.onlinehome-server.info>
> 
> 
> Bill,

> My point was that if you accept that interpretative communities exist,
> then of necessity, Fish himself must be located in at least one such
> community. Not that the community belongs to him but that he is located
> in one (according to his account, multiple) interpretative communities.
> 
> I'm working from your report, the Chronicle has insulated itself from
> non-subscriber reading and/or comments.

Try it now. I couldn’t get in the first time I attempted, but now it seems freely available. Here’s the link I’ve been using: https://www.chronicle.com/article/Stop-Trying-to-Sell-the/243643?key=m1JvRRyygNd0EHj5AaFoO0ti00iCHCUA2K5ZxC8dMYxDxHtupVA2vVdwCkhaYR63dmtqcHlDbzFCVllkSGhIczZsMXBNMGRlUVpJWFdFUjRSR1cxNS01VnN2SQ

Here’s one of his paragraphs on computational criticism – which he seems to be taking as a metonymy for all of DH, which is nonsense, of course, but that’s how Fish works:

But there is an even deeper problem with the digital humanities: It is an anti-humanistic project, for the hope of the project is that a machine, unaided by anything but its immense computational powers, can decode texts produced by human beings. For it to work, the project requires a digital dictionary — a set of fixed correlations between formal patterns and the significances they regularly convey. There is no such dictionary, although if there were one the acts of readers and interpreter could be dispensed with and bypassed; one could just count things and go directly from the result to a statement of what Paradise Lost means. That is the holy grail of the digital-humanities project, at least with respect to interpretation: It wants to get rid of the inconvenience of partial, limited human beings by removing from the patterns they produce all traces of the human. It is an old game forever being renewed, but in whatever form it takes, it’s a sure loser.

That’s a straw man. As far as I’m aware, no current investigator claims to have such a beast, nor claims it as something they or the discipline is working toward. Fish is either badly misinformed and doesn’t know what he is talking about or he is (perhaps deliberately) misreading. Whatever the case, it isn’t a criticism that warrants much more than dismissal.

[snip]

> Fish is saying, at least in my reading, that you can proceed with
> whatever tools (digital humanities) you like, but be aware there are
> multiple unexamined layers (as seen by different interpretative
> communities) beneath those tools. (The same is true for non-digital
> tools as well.)
> 
> If anything, Fish's criticism calls for a deeper analysis and awareness
> about the limits and assumptions of digital humanities tooling.

Isn’t that kind of generic? Wouldn’t EVERYTHING merit "a deeper analysis and awareness about ... limits and assumptions”?

> Do you find that objectionable or Fish's pointing out that sort of
> questioning isn't common?

Not common? On the contrary, it’s all over the place. Sure, not in each and every article, but it’s there on Twitter, in blog posts, at conferences, and in formal publication.

Bill Benzon
bbenzon at mindspring.com

917-717-9841

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--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Sun, 1 Jul 2018 19:12:31 +0200
        From: Dino Buzzetti <dino.buzzetti at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re:  32.118 Fish'ing for fatal flaws
        In-Reply-To: <20180701065612.DFF6C2AE2 at s16382816.onlinehome-server.info>


On 1 July 2018 at 08:56, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>
>   [2]   From:    Patrick Durusau <patrick at durusau.net>
>  (73)
>         Subject: Re:  32.116 Fish'ing for fatal flaws

> Fish is saying, at least in my reading, that you can proceed with
> whatever tools (digital humanities) you like, but be aware there are
> multiple unexamined layers (as seen by different interpretative
> communities) beneath those tools. (The same is true for non-digital
> tools as well.)
>
> If anything, Fish's criticism calls for a deeper analysis and awareness
> about the limits and assumptions of digital humanities tooling.
>
>

​Thank you, Patrick !

Best,         -dino    ​

-- 
Dino Buzzetti                                          formerly
Department of Philosophy     University of Bologna
​                                ​
                             currently
Fondazione per le Scienze Religiose Giovanni XXIII
​
via san Vitale, 114                   I-40125 Bologna BO
e-mail:  dino.buzzetti (at) gmail.com
             buzzetti (at) fscire.it
web: http://web.dfc.unibo.it/buzzetti/
http://www.fscire.it/index.php/it/ricercatori/dino-buzzetti-2/
​ ​





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