4.0078 Stucture of Humanist (263)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Sat, 19 May 90 19:45:33 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0078. Saturday, 19 May 1990.

(1) Date: Friday, 18 May 1990 03:34:17 EDT (7 lines)
From: "Patrick W. Conner" <U47C2@WVNVM>
Subject: 4.0069 Humanist Structure

(2) Date: Thursday, 17 May 1990 2048-EST (30 lines)
Subject: Dilemmas for HUMANISTs

(3) Date: Thu, 17 May 90 20:50:07 EDT (63 lines)
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: old man of the bitstream

(4) Date: Thu, 17 May 90 23:04:11 CST (24 lines)
From: Natalie Maynor <MAYNOR@MSSTATE.BITNET>
Subject: Re: 4.0069 Humanist Structure

(5) Date: Fri, 18 May 90 07:45:51 EDT (19 lines)
From: Douglas Greenberg <SDGLS@CUNYVM>
Subject: Re: 4.0069 Humanist Structure

(6) Date: Fri, 18 May 90 13:12:31 BST (47 lines)
From: ZLSIISA@cms.manchester-computing-centre.ac.uk
Subject: re. the Topics discussed on Humanist

(7) Date: Fri, 18 May 90 11:31:35 EDT (25 lines)
From: DUSKNOX@IDBSU (Skip Knox)
Subject: 4.0069

(8) Date: 18 May 90 18:28:14 EDT (Fri) (15 lines)
From: Gunhild Viden <viden@hum.gu.se>
Subject: re. 4.0069, Douglas Greenberg's comments

(9) Date: Fri, 18 May 90 11:34:14 PDT (23 lines)
From: cbf@faulhaber.Berkeley.EDU (Charles Faulhaber)
Subject: Re: 4.0069 Humanist Structure

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Friday, 18 May 1990 03:34:17 EDT
From: "Patrick W. Conner" <U47C2@WVNVM>
Subject: 4.0069 Humanist Structure (210)

A text is a system of signifiers. Now back to NERD!

--Pat Conner
(It's a joke, Mr. Douglas; really, a joke!)
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------45----
Date: Thursday, 17 May 1990 2048-EST
Subject: Dilemmas for HUMANISTs

I found Douglas Greenberg's comments about the topics discussed and not
discussed on HUMANIST to be very interesting, and to pose a typical
dilemma met at various levels in life. I recall past discussions of
many of the things he mentions (and I'm happy to have them past!), and
persons interested in such matters could, if they took the time and
energy, check through the HUMANIST FileServer for pertinent archived
materials. Of course, it is unrealistic to expect every new member of
HUMANIST to check the past discussions, and in any event, they have a
different flavor as (dead) archived artifacts. Still, it is also
somewhat unrealistic (and artificial) to expect those who have already
debated such issues to encourage or even initiate them every few months!
Many of the issues will reemerge in one form or another. Those who feel
they have something to say will do so. The newer members, such as
Douglas Greenberg himself, will finally feel comfortable enough or
frustrated enough to speak up, thus reinitiating aspects of the cycle.
This is healthy, I think, but I hope the newcomers will not think us
"older hands" to be uninterested or tongue-tied if we don't participate
enthusiastically. In another year, with another round of newcomers, and
a new cycle of the "old" topics, you will probably understand better
what I am saying! Meanwhile, as you rightly tweak at Sperberg-McQueen
(and through his footnote, Burnard) about threats of abandoning the
HUMANIST boat if it is severed, realize that the tone of your note was
not that different! Be patient, and contribute, and it will all come
around again!!

Bob Kraft
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------73----
Date: Thu, 17 May 90 20:50:07 EDT
From: Willard McCarty <MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: old man of the bitstream

I'm not old yet, except to my children, but perhaps I may sound like one
for a moment by looking back and reflecting. We have had this discussion
about the irrelevance of what appears on Humanist, or its lack of
intellectual quality, many times. In the early days, as some of you
senior citizens will also remember, we were buffeted by the opposite
complaint, namely that Humanist was far too controlled and should be
allowed complete license. As the man in the middle, I put the two sorts
of complaints together and asked how it could be that such opposite
conclusions could be drawn from the identical phenomena. My own
conclusion was that both groups of extremists were seeing some piece of
the whole as accorded with their predispositions.

Consider the problem: how do we understand what is new except by
relating it to something we already know? What then happens if we are
not very watchful and remind ourselves of what we are doing? Is it not
reasonable to suppose that we'd begin to think that the new thing was
actually somehow a deviant (perhaps also promising) form of the old

It seems to me that we are now struggling to understand the nature of
e-mail in much the same way, for example, as those who tried to grasp
the place Alexander Graham Bell's new gadget would play in daily life.
Obviously, some people thought, it was a nifty replacement for the
speaking tube or system of bells by which one summoned one's servants.
(What they didn't see at first was that it would allow the servant to
summon the master, or for total strangers -- imagine the impertinence --
to ring the master without even a by your leave.) To others it seemed
just as obviously something meant for the factory owner, so that he
could give orders from his home. The story of the telephone is much more
complex than that, just as I suspect the story of e-mail will show
itself to be someday. But the fascinating part for this discussion is
how difficult it was for people to understand what Bell had done, and
what it was good for.

A related point to be made is that although we can spot several
determinisms at work in the development of a new technology, there seems
to be considerable room for individual human desire to push that
development one way or the other. The value of this kind of discussion,
at least to me, is that it forces people to think, and if we are
fortunate say, what it is that they want Humanist to be. Humanist and
its kind continue to represent in my mind a very great opportunity to
realize the dream of humanism. Yes, I know, big dream, but why not?
What other choices do we have?

Occasionally we perhaps need to be told, "Shape up, shut up, stop being
so silly !" -- ideally by ourselves, but if we won't, then by our
colleagues. But let's also think very carefully about the nature of
irrelevance in the context of the medium we are using, and not in the
context of a peer-reviewed journal. Walter Ong's statement, to the
effect that the medium of communication restructures the consciousness
of the person using it, is somewhat one-sided, but there's much truth in
it. Enough at least for me to feel like advocating that some of us
should have our consciousness restructured.

Humanist continues to be a fascinating experiment. The Confucius who had
written on his bathtub "Renew it daily!" would be delighted.

Willard McCarty
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------30----
Date: Thu, 17 May 90 23:04:11 CST
From: Natalie Maynor <MAYNOR@MSSTATE.BITNET>
Subject: Re: 4.0069 Humanist Structure (210)

To each his/her own. Jim Cahalan withdrew from MBU-L because it was
unmoderated. I joined MBU-L, after becoming fed up with the digest of
it (C&C), because I kept deleting the digests half read and thought that
it would be easier to delete individual postings. It has been easier.
Now I follow the parts of the discussion I want to follow. Re people
who "threaten to leave the room if they don't get their way": I'm
flattered if that was aimed at me! I didn't consider my mention of
dropping HUMANIST a threat. I'm sure that HUMANIST will flounder
horribly if I leave the room. :-) Seriously, I know from personal
correspondence that some people subscribe to only one or two lists. In
those cases, it probably doesn't matter whether they're moderated or
unmoderated -- except that turn-around time is slower. But if you get
150-200 pieces of e-mail a day, you tend to save the "chunks" (i.e,
digests like HUMANIST) until the end -- and then run out of time and
delete most of the digests unread. If this were not an interim period
(no classes tomorrow), I would almost certainly have deleted the posting
I'm replying to right now unread. A colleague said to me today, "Remind
me to tell the Computing Center to get me off of HUMANIST. [Our new
system makes us group recipients rather than individual recipients.] The
postings are too long to wade through." Ah, another "threat"! :-)
(5) --------------------------------------------------------------25----
Date: Fri, 18 May 90 07:45:51 EDT
From: Douglas Greenberg <SDGLS@CUNYVM>
Subject: Re: 4.0069 Humanist Structure (210)

Just a datum that may be of some interest: I have received numerous
messages outside of HUMANIST from subscribers who agreed with my plea
for more intellectual substance. Most also said that they despaired of
such a thing happening and that HUMANIST was dominated by a central
group that has tended to dismiss postings outside their interest as
unimportant. So much for the implicitly democratic potential of
electronic communication! Why don't they feel it is worth their time to
send intellectually substantial material to HUMANIST? By the way, the
potential political consequences of electronic communication and
information storage are extremely complex and of real interest in
several disciplines. Just another scholarly issue that might merit some

Douglas Greenberg
(6) --------------------------------------------------------------59----
Date: Fri, 18 May 90 13:12:31 BST
From: ZLSIISA%cms.manchester-computing-centre.ac.uk@NSFnet-Relay.AC.UK
Subject: re. the Topics discussed on Humanist

The American Council of Learned Societies sounds a very solemn body.
Perhaps that is why Douglas Greenberg's note seemed rather humourless.
Let me reassure him that although some of the specific Etext questions
which he has raised may not have been discussed recently, other aspects
of the subject have certainly been aired, enough in the past six months
or so to have given me a file containing 0.5Mbyte of text. No doubt
responses to his comments are already winging their way to the Editors.

I have some sympathy with the recent complainants about the content of
Humanist, but I suspect that they are seeing a transient not a permanent
problem. Remember that Humanist has only recently changed site and
Editor. Since the change, there has been, it seems to me, more
duplication of information - the Golems discussion particularly - and
this may be what makes the less serious/academic/technical (choose your
own word) discussions appear more prominent than they are. This is
surely a matter of editorial skill, and, presumably, as our new Editors
become more practised and more confident, the balance will be, and be
seen to be, restored.

But to shift the less s/a/t elsewhere, as suggested - oh no! Where then
would be the stimulus to imagination, the opening of new horizons as we
take on board ideas which would never in a thousand years have crossed
our minds otherwise? "Scarcer than hen's teeth" says Jim O'Donnell: I,
a townie, would never have thought about such a thing otherwise, but
don't chickens have teeth? Do any birds? And then there's Roy
Flannagan's query (serious no doubt, though perhaps mischievous in its
timing, given the recent comments) about early semitic warfare - I do
look forward to the responses to that.

I also think Douglas Greenberg misunderstood McQueen and Burnard. As I
understood it, they were threatening to leave Humanist not if they read
things they didn't like but if they didn't.

Finally, was Kessler's anger about mocking students (about 2 weeks ago)
directed towards those of us who enjoy student essay howlers? Only the
mean and twisted among us would like them on the grounds that they
somehow denigrate (if a thing can denigrate - possibly not) the
perpetrator. The rest of us surely just rejoice in the linguistic
incongruity, especially in those juxtopositions (like Drake and his
clipper) so felicitous that they (as was once said of the great William
McGonnagall) "back inadvertently into genious".

Sarah Davnall (Davnall@Manchester.ac.uk)
(7) --------------------------------------------------------------43----
Date: Fri, 18 May 90 11:31:35 EDT
From: DUSKNOX@IDBSU (Skip Knox)
Subject: 4.0069

Douglas Greenberg has mentioned the debate about the definition of text.
I've seen this dialogue elsewhere and confess to being utterly baffled.
Perhaps Greenberg or others could explain what all the fuss is about. I
know what a document is. I know what text is. Am I being simple-minded

This seems a bit like trying to define what a car is. Everyone knows a
car when they see one. Try to define one and you get into murky areas
(four wheels and a motor but doesn't fly and is big enough for at least
one adult). But you see it doesn't really matter if we can define a car
precisely because there's no benefit to be had from such false clarity.

One request to anyone kind enough to explain this debate: please explain
in such a way that does not send me scrambling for my dictionary or
require the reading of a book in order to acquaint myself with the
vocabulary. I know what the word "representation" means, but I dimly
suspect the literary critics have absconded with the poor dear and made
it into something else. I'm sure "catachresis" is in a dictionary
(though my spelling checker couldn't find it) and I shall go look it up.
"Intertextuality" defeats me utterly. If I can explain computers in
English, surely the literary folks can emerge from their webs long
enough to speak in the common tongue.

Skip Knox
Microcomputer Coordinator (cum) Medieval Historian
Boise State University
Boise, Idaho

(8) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 18 May 90 18:28:14 EDT (Fri)
From: Gunhild Viden <viden@hum.gu.se>
Subject: re. 4.0069, Douglas Greenberg's comments

HUMANIST is what we make it. So far, it has been a charming,
interesting mixture of great and small, tech and non-tech. Raise a
serious topic and you will be certain to find serious answers. But
don't make the mistake of believing that serious scholars deal only with
serious matters, or vice versa.

The very vividness of HUMANIST ought to be an indication that it works
very well in its present state. By all means keep it that way!

Gunhild Viden, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

(9) --------------------------------------------------------------37----
Date: Fri, 18 May 90 11:34:14 PDT
From: cbf%faulhaber.Berkeley.EDU@jade.berkeley.edu (Charles Faulhaber)
Subject: Re: 4.0069 Humanist Structure (210)

>From Doug Greenberg:

"By the way, I find it offensive to see people threaten to leave the room
if they don't get their way or because they don't want to discuss a
question in which others are interested. No one is that important. Not
even Sperberg- McQueen and Burnard!"

But isn't that precisely what you state you will do in your note?

As to the anti-intellectuality of the forum: I think you've misjudged
its purpose. It is the electronic equivalent of the faculty coffee shop.
I defy you to find the kind of discussion you would like to hear in that
forum. I participate to pick up useful information and to keep in touch
with what is going on. I do not use HUMANIST as a forum for my
scholarly research, except insofar as it touches upon questions dealing
with humanities computing.

Charles Faulhaber
UC Berkeley