3.901 the silence of English (96)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Thu, 4 Jan 90 19:52:06 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 901. Thursday, 4 Jan 1990.

(1) Date: Wed, 03 Jan 90 21:34:38 CST (24 lines)
From: "Kevin L. Cope " <ENCOPE@LSUVM>
Subject: Decline of ENGLISH and Academic Prejudices

(2) Date: Thu, 04 Jan 90 11:50:28 PST (53 lines)
Subject: Kennedy's note on "silence"

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 03 Jan 90 21:34:38 CST
From: "Kevin L. Cope " <ENCOPE@LSUVM>
Subject: Decline of ENGLISH and Academic Prejudices

In a recent grammo to HUMANIST, Mr. Alan Kennedy laments the decline of
our colleague list, ENGLISH. Although most of what he says merits
praise, the coda to the contribution demands blame. Mr. Kennedy
declares that what we ought to do is show that we don't buy into the
"Bloom/Hirsch" attitude toward humanities education. The first part of
his essay seems to call for a discussion of ideas, but his conclusion
seems to close it off, suggesting that certain views are to be excluded
from discussion, that electronic lists are little more than new vehicles
for the leftward-leaning politicos of the academy. There are many
scholars in the academy who think that the current wave of canon
destruction is self-serving nonsese; an essay broadcast today on
National Public Radio (in the United States) criticizes the
power-brokering, priestcraft, and elitism of the self-styled
de-marginalizers. Yet Mr. Kennedy assumes that everyone in the academic
world is stuck in the 1960s, still rebelling against authority and
attacking the establishment. Why don't people contribute to lists like
ENGLISH? Probably because they sense that these lists aren't for
discussion, but for the preservation of the ideological status-quo. Mr.
Kennedy should learn to respect marginalized writers, like Bloom and
Hirsch, if he wants to affirm the value of a liberal education.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------67----
Date: Thu, 04 Jan 90 11:50:28 PST
Subject: Kennedy's note on "silence"

I would like to comment briefly on Alan Kennedy's January 3rd remarks on
"silence vs utility," posted originally on the ENGLISH electronic
seminar. Kennedy raises some probing questions for academic humanists.

Doesn't the silence of an electronic bulletin board differ fundamentally
from the silence of other media? Electronics is built for the flow of
information, for the continuous bleep of messages. When the boards are
silent, should we conclude that thinking is not happening, that
communication is cut off by vanity or possessiveness? Some media
contain silence within them, like calligraphy or sumi painting.
Electronic silence is immediately noticable "dead time."

Electronic communication does not contain silence within it, as do
books. Books contain long pauses in their gestation, production, and in
the process of their assimilation. The overall tempo of books is one of
quiet musing, best done in private. The tempo of books is not the
instant exchange of information through devices processing in
nanoseconds. Books are essentially tools for contemplation. A book may
take a year or two to reach its public.

People raised on books, bookpeople, have not yet assimilated the
computer. Harnessing computers for word processing is like treating the
automobile as a "horseless carriage." Underneath lies a revolutionary
way of treating texts, an electronic equivalent of the shift from oral
to written language. We should not be surprised then if humanists have
not yet absorbed the new symbolic element.

The utility Kennedy seeks in electronic humanism is surely more than a
tool for sharing advice about which hardware or software to use. The
community he wants to address is a descendant of the great tradition of
liberal learning. For centuries, the gathering center of that tradition
has been the hand-written or printed book.

For a millennium now, humanistic thinking has taken place primarily
through books. The book has served as an object of worship, of
analysis, and as a guide for oral discourse. Might not the silence of
electronics comes from the received nature of humanistic thinking? We
have not yet found ways of bringing humanistic thinking--with its
thoughtful silences--into the electronic element. Silence may come from
vanity or from possessiveness. But it may also come from a pause before
the gap of a revolution in history, an awareness that we stand in a
period of transition.

Humanistic thought will need patient experiments if it is to survive in
this new element. Success can only come over the long haul.

Mike Heim