[Humanist] 32.124 Fish'ing for fatal flaws

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Jul 5 08:50:40 CEST 2018

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 124.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    lachance at chass.utoronto.ca                                (50)
        Subject: Forensics or taxidermies (Re:  32.120 Fish'ing for fatal

  [2]   From:    Patrick Durusau <patrick at durusau.net>                     (91)
        Subject: Re:  32.119 Fish'ing for fatal flaws

        Date: Wed, 4 Jul 2018 08:53:48 -0400 (EDT)
        From: lachance at chass.utoronto.ca
        Subject: Forensics or taxidermies (Re:  32.120 Fish'ing for fatal flaws)
        In-Reply-To: <20180704051938.C0A552B7A at s16382816.onlinehome-server.info>


I wonder if the "send a message" view can be massaged by a less
dichotomous means than an appeal to unconscious and conscious writing
subjects? I think that we can actually pluralize the subject positions
whether of producer or consumer. I am thinking of the work of Roman
Jakobson and the model of the six aspects of communication.

1) context
2) addresser (sender)
3) addressee (receiver)
4) contact
5) code
6) message

Giving us (1) referential, (2) emotive, (3) conative, (4) phatic, (5)
metalingual, and (6) poetic functions.

> The Digital Humanities provide indisputable evidence
> that the unconscious mind does produce objective patterns
> in the writing that are unavailable to the conscious
> mind and that, for that reason, cannot be explained
> as someone's attempt to "send a message", as the
> Intentionalists would have it. When one early modern
> dramatist imitates another he is able to alter the
> frequency with which he uses lexical words to match
> the style of the other writer, but is not able to
> do the same with the frequency of his function-word use.
> That is why imitation does not grievously undermine
> our best authorship attribution tests. It is not
> plausible that one writer uses, say, 'and' and 'the'
> at a markedly greater or lesser rate than another by
> conscious intention, not least because writers fail
> to modulate these rates when performing imitations.

The evidence may actually point to multiple subjectivities at work in the
bodies in interaction. Even if we acknowledge that will and performance do
not coincide, we have a temporal question: writer at T1 and writer at T2
and the thorny question of interpretation: are we dealing with the same
writer at two different times or two different states of the
writer(function)? Please forgive the abstractness. I am concerned with the
somewhat unconscious narrative at play in some author attribution studies
and ask just why would DH take up the sleuthing model (evidence points to
guilt) as its default mode? The evidence points to a difference. One can
with say with greater assurance that an author is different from other
others. Can one say with the same assurance that a given textual instance
is proved to be the work of an author(s)? I guess what I am harkening
towards here is the difference between the forensic and the taxidermical.
And betraying a previously unconscious preference. Which I have kindly
discovered thanks to your signalling that there is more to sending a
message than "sending a message".

Francois Lachance

        Date: Wed, 4 Jul 2018 14:09:03 -0400
        From: Patrick Durusau <patrick at durusau.net>
        Subject: Re:  32.119 Fish'ing for fatal flaws
        In-Reply-To: <20180702055201.5CCBE2AEE at s16382816.onlinehome-server.info>


On 07/02/2018 01:52 AM, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:

[on Fish...]

> 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.
Not so much a straw man as Fish has confused the Semantic Web project
and its progeny with digital humanities. The flatness of interpretation
posed by such projects is not exaggerated by Fish. They have failed, do
fail and will (in my opinion) continue to fail, but as you say, Fish has
confused such projects with Digital Humanities in general.

Fish doesn't merit all the blame for that confusion, as Scientific
American, a publication that should know better, has published puff
pieces on Tim Berners-Lee's pursuit of what Fish describes for more than
a decade. Despite its initial and continued failure. Why it merits such
fanfare (even in government procurement circles), I cannot say.

> [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”?

I was speaking of Fish without reference to this particular polemic but
know that even as we speak, ontologists are attempting to build the Ur
ontology which would enable interchangeable reasoning about the "real
world." One of those efforts has spanned a decade and annually they
decide there is no common agreement on the most fundamental of items.

As is true for ontologies in general, once agreement is reached, there
is not looking behind, beyond or under any of the terms it defines.
There no place to look. At least not within the ontology.


Looking at the essay itself, would you agree that Fish abandons his
classic position that the "meaning" a reader sees in a text has no
relationship to the intent, present or absence, of an author?

I'm thinking of his essay on how to recognize a poem when you see one
and his class that mis-took a reading assignment list for a poem and
then proceeded to interpret it as a poem.

Rather than chewing on Fish's ankles about a straw man, it's it more
relevant that Fish is contradicting his long established arguments about
textual interpretation? If I format a text by its clause boundaries,
sentence ends, or some other means of layout, I will "see" patterns. On
what basis should I distinguish those patterns from a page of text I
find on the street? One assumes some mechanism created the arrangement
of text that I observe. More than a method of production, I don't see
what else precedes interpretation. You?

Apologies for my arrogance but I think the path to restoring the
"humanities to the prominence they once enjoyed" isn't obscure at all.

The humanities, perhaps lead by biblical studies, retreated from the
public sphere in the early 19th century. Lessons in Hebrew and Greek by
mail attracted thousands of subscribers, acquisition of the Freer
manuscripts (a New Testament codex) was front page news (American takes
its place in biblical studies), public figures could and did comment on
humanities issues of the day.

I know of one organization that avoids meeting in countries with large
evangelical populations for fear of too many "believers" attending a
meeting on what is the organization's object of study.

I understand the need for terminology that acts like a barrier to the
general public, but if the humanities expect public support, shouldn't
it be engaging in the public sphere? Not to dictate (Fish's example) but
to inform, educate, motivate the general public to care about the fruits
of the humanities. For its own sake.

Take biblical studies for example. The Hebrew Bible has been long
accused of supporting patriarchy. But is that really so? The first
mention of a man by name, Adam, is shown lying to the Deity (the woman
you gave me beguiled me) and throwing his wife under the bus. Sounds
like a lesson to women that 1) men are liars, and 2) men will throw you
under the bus. Is that supporting patriarchy or have we become so
conditioned to hear patriarchy that's how we read the story of Adam and
Eve? (In a gesture of species fairness, the snake is the only one who
tells the truth in the story. Go check it out.)

The humanities, including digital humanities, needs no justification
other than itself, but we need to spread knowledge of the humanities in
order for the general public to reach that conclusion as well.

Hope everyone is having a great week!


Patrick Durusau
patrick at durusau.net
Technical Advisory Board, OASIS (TAB)
Editor, OpenDocument Format TC (OASIS), Project Editor ISO/IEC 26300
Co-Editor, ISO/IEC 13250-1, 13250-5 (Topic Maps)

Another Word For It (blog): http://tm.durusau.net
Homepage: http://www.durusau.net
Twitter: patrickDurusau 

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