3.1299 Research Computing; Why E-Texts?; Postmodernism (151)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 18 Apr 90 17:10:10 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 1299. Wednesday, 18 Apr 1990.

(1) Date: Tuesday, 10 April 1990 2353-EST (40 lines)
Subject: Social Sciences Statistical Computing

(2) Date: Wed, 18 Apr 90 09:38 PST (77 lines)
Subject: Hey! What good are electronic texts, anyway?

(3) Date: Wed, 18 Apr 90 07:51 CDT (34 lines)
Subject: Postmodern approaches to beginnings

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tuesday, 10 April 1990 2353-EST
Subject: Social Sciences Statistical Computing

[The following message was sent by my colleague in History
to our Arts and Sciences computing committee, in the context
of a discussion of mainframe needs. I would appreciate any
reactions from HUMANIST members -- sent to KRAFT@PENNDRLS.bitnet]

Date: April 6, 1990
Subject: Thoughts on Research Computing

I have a question for the group which emerges admittedly from my narrow
vantage point. The history profession is now in a period of
epistemological crisis. To put the matter simply, there is a revolt
against "positivism." Quantification has definitely peaked. For
example, consider a conversation overhead at a department meeting
between two former social science-types: "I will never conduct another
quantitative project." Same with me." Is this an isolated phenomenon?
If so, it might affect future resarch usuage of computers (negatively).
Among our current crop of students, I do not see quantitative projects
emerging. They will still be forced to learn stats and computers (most
will do this with me). Anyway, I am curious whether this is faced by
others. I believe that I am now the only faculty member in History, Am
Civ and HSS who is still doing quantitative data analysis (on the main

Second, apropos computer research at the University. The 3400 computer
facility is a vast improvement. The whole place is a much more pleasant
enviroment and I even see it in the cheerier reception of the consulting
staff. Still, I have a big complaint and it has to do with "soft"issues
and not hardware. To open up an account at Penn is to get going on a
system that remains unwelcoming. I have no idea why a good ten-page,
well designed guide/ brochure not been developed. The current
materials/video-tutorials are entirely inadequate and a turn-off to the
unconfident. I would put more money here. Get professional writing
help. In general, we do not supply good guides to new users of our
computer facilities.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------83----
Date: Wed, 18 Apr 90 09:38 PST
Subject: Hey! What good are electronic texts, anyway?


The American Philosophical Association has a Committee on
Computer Use in Philosophy, which in turn has a Subcommittee on
Electronic Texts. As a member of that subcommittee, I am trying
to come to some understanding of the various kinds of questions
humanists are putting to electronic texts and the kinds of things
that they hope to learn from them. I would be grateful if
HUMANISTs would be willing to describe what they have done with
electronic texts; I will try to turn the responses into a kind of
Beginner's Guide to the Use of Electronic Texts.

Most of the uses to which I myself have been able to put my
IBYCUS system are a bit embarrassing in their lack of
imagination. They seem to fall into three main kinds:

1. Verifying points of translation. I believe, for instance,
that the virtue Aristotle calls eleutheriotetos is closer to what
we would call liberality than to what we would call generosity.
It is useful to be able partially to confirm this by looking at
uses of the term and its cognates outside of Aristotle.

2. Discovering relevant texts. A colleague and I are working on
a project on Aristotle on change and contrariety. One problem
that comes up is that Aristotle claims (a) change involves
contraries, (b) change can take place with respect to quantity,
and (c) quantity does not admit of contrariety. Here one can
find passages where he might speak to this problem by collecting
locations where the roots for the words for quantity and contrary
occur together.

3. Completeness in scholarship. I believe that, even though
Aristotle appeals to the idea of a mean state in pretty much a
uniform way in a variety of contexts outside his ethical
writings, the idea in the ethics that virtues of character are
mean states is not to be understood in terms of the idea as he
uses it elsewhere. One likes of course to have surveyed all the
occurrences of the word for mean state before one makes a claim
like this.

In this instance, the machine yielded an unexpected bonus.
After checking for the term in Aristotle, where it occurs some
140 times, it occurred to me to check for it in Plato. It turns
out that it appears only five times in Plato, four of them in the
Timaeus in the argument for the existence of air and water as
mean states between fire and earth, and one questionable and
uninteresting time in the Laws. This came as a mild surprise to
me; it will come as a larger surprise to a scholar who has an 85-
page chapter of a book that deals with mean states in Plato, and
a bigger surprise still to a reviewer of that book who takes its
author to task for failing fully to explore the extent to which
Plato appeals to the idea of a mean state in his writings.

I confess, too, to occasional frivolity. Did you know, for
instance, that "kai" (= "and") occurs with pretty much the same
frequency in Plato and in Aristotle?

I look forward to learning what other HUMANISTs have been able to
learn, especially those who have interrogated texts other than
the TLG.

Thanks and best wishes,

Charles Young

Department of Philosophy
Claremont Graduate School
Claremont, CA 91711


(3) --------------------------------------------------------------42----
Date: Wed, 18 Apr 90 07:51 CDT
Subject: Postmodern approaches to beginnings

I am working on an article (due very soon now!) on literary theory and
beginnings. I have finished sections on formalist and reader-response
approaches to narrative beginnings--I've looked at Uspensky, Sternberg,
and Rimmon-Kenan, for example--and am now ready to write about postmodern
approaches to beginnings. (I realize that some would consider
reader-response theories to be "postmodern," but I have dealt with it
separately for reasons I won't go into now.) I am finding that
narrative beginnings have not received the same attention that narrative
endings have enjoyed (particularly since Kermode's _The Sense of an
Ending_). This is especially true, it seems, among deconstructionist
types. I have found nothing, for example, to compare with D. A.
Miller's The Problematic of Closure. I assume that deconstructionists
(whom I assume are representative of at least one type of postmodernity)
have the same suspicions about beginnings that they do about
endings--both smack of Western metaphysics and institutionalized

But does anyone know of any sustained treatment of beginnings from a
postmodern perspective by say, Derrida, de Man, J. Hillis Miller, or
others. Are there any feminist treatments of beginnings?

My task is complicated by the fact that I am a biblical specialist by
training and I find literary theory useful in exploring the aesthetic
(and political) dimensions of the biblical narratives. Though I have
conducted several (what I think were) exhaustive searches of the
literature, I may have missed some important works. Any help here would
be appreciated.

I would also find useful any thoughts Humanists out there may have about
beginnings, particularly of a literary kind, but certainly not limited
to that. Thanks in advance for your help.
Mikeal Parsons
Baylor University