3.879 last things (138)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Fri, 22 Dec 89 19:10:31 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 879. Friday, 22 Dec 1989.

Date: 22 December 1989
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Last Things

Dear Colleagues:

Humanist was not distributed last night because I fell into a
pan-religious celebration of the solstice. It was a strangely
joyous and zany parade, mostly in costume, through one of the
older districts of Toronto (Kensington Market). Before friends
and I gave up the parade because of severe cold, we had dancingly
witnessed a pagan ritual of the victory of good over evil --
complete with a fire-breather, witches, a snow-queen, and
children bearing roses; a Christian scene, which I could not see
because of the crowds; and a telling and singing of the Hanukkah
story, with flaming torches. A Sufi celebration was to follow,
but although soaring spirits were willing, we fleshly preferred
hot food in a local Vietnamese establishment. The parade
surprised and delighted most of the residents through whose
ethnic streets we wound our shouting way, and puzzled the rest.
For me this unlooked for event served the vital purpose of
punctuating the season: an end to one world, the beginning of
something new, yet untried.

Humanist itself has reached such a point of transition. It is my
melancholy duty to inform you that circumstances compel me to
resign as editor of this seminar. I will of course remain a
Humanist, but the job of mothering it along must now pass to
someone else. Let no one think that I am tired of the work, or
bored with the company, or vexed by complaints. Quite the
contrary! In brief, my time is badly needed elsewhere, and I must

Being editor of Humanist has been a great privilege, has taught
me much, and has allowed me to make many friends in near and
distant places. More importantly, it has given me the opportunity
to contribute somewhat to the field of humanities computing, if
it is a field.... I have enjoyed more than I can say helping to
recreate what I once found most congenial as an undergraduate:
total equality within the seminar, irrespective of social
distinctions outside it. I am still young enough to believe that
the most important obligation of a university is to allow for the
life of the imagination to be lived, against all the devilish
odds it faces from all quarters. Humanist has, I think, fulfilled
that obligation more often than not.

To all of you I therefore express my enormous gratitude.

Arrangements are now in progress for a new editor to take over,
so do not vex your holidays with worries. I will continue as
editor until these arrangements are complete. Although I would
never wish for the circumstance that brings me to say this, it
may be better that I pass the privilege on to someone else.
Variety is life-spicy, and interesting, and it is quite possible
that my successor will improve Humanist!

Humanist has been run free of charge, and free of any granting
programme or agency. It has been the gift of the University of
Toronto, if you will, to the international community Humanist has
helped to discover. Such gifts are seldom given, since
institutions tend to look to themselves, especially when money is
not plentiful. Conferences help enormously to keep the
international community alive, but unfortunately only a few can
attend them, fewer as sources of money dry up. Humanist has
shown, I think, something of what the new medium can do, at
extremely low cost, to further both computing in the humanities
and the renaissance of humanism in an age that so badly needs it.

Our immediate subject has been computing, to which we have more
or less kept. Because, as Roy Flannigan said some time ago, we
have been operating "on the edge of knowledge", the style of
Humanist has frequently provoked complaint born of
misunderstanding and so pointed the way to what is new. On the
one hand, we have heard that Humanist is sloppy, publishing
things better left unsaid; on the other hand that it is far too
regulated, even sometimes censored, contrary to the liberating
potential of the electronic medium. My own conclusion from living
with Humanist for about 2 1/2 years is that both species of
complaint, although they have some truth to them, miss the point.
One misapplies the standards of juried print, the other the
liberties of casual speech, whereas the new medium has
characteristics of both. In brief, the new medium is new, and so
requires a new "model" for understanding. Humanist has, I think,
roughly delineated that new model, or at least one version of it.

Here is not the place to spell out in detail what I think the
characteristics of that model are; in any case my thoughts are
inchoate. A discussion on the subject would, however, be very
fruitful! My purpose here is to glance back on what Humanist has
done and to exhort you, if I may so presume, both to `kiss the
joy as it flies' and to do everything you can to keep it in the
air. My best experiences in teaching have caused me to marvel
that despite all the gibbering nonsense of ordinary life, genuine
learning can occur. I hope you are persuaded that Humanist has
also, from time to time, provided the opportunity for such

Many have helped me with the work. Support has come, first of
all, from my own Centre for Computing in the Humanities and its
Director, Ian Lancashire; from the University of Toronto
Computing Services, which has supplied disk storage, machine
time, and the help of Steve Younker, ListServ expert; from
Michael Sperberg-McQueen, who wrote editing software that has
helped every day for the last 2 years; Steve DeRose, who took
over the management of the biographies and devised a fine
HyperCard stack to display them; David Sitman, skilled in
ListServ and network strategies beyond the ordinary; Jim Coombs,
who contributed software for searching the biographies online and
for reformatting messages; Abigail Young, for taking over twice
in my absence; Lou Burnard, for writing summaries of what has
happened. Many others have given good advice and needed
encouragement. To all, mille grazie!

Analogies are useful, especially when you're sailing into
uncharted waters. So, consider: not like Theseus abandoning
Ariadne (except in those versions in which Dionysus comes by
shortly after); and not like an Anglo-Saxon funeral, at which the
body, heaped with treasures, is placed in a boat and pushed off
to sea; rather like a wedding, when the parents give up their
child to an uncertain but very promising and, we hope, thrilling

Merry Christmas, joyous Hanukkah, and a happy New Year!

Yours, Willard McCarty