11.0195 either/or

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Tue, 29 Jul 1997 21:31:45 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 195.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Marta Steele <Marta_Steele@Pupress.Princeton.Edu> (28)
Subject: either/or

[2] From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> (37)
Subject: usefulness of either/or

[3] From: A. David Wunsch <wunscha@woods.uml.edu>
Subject: ambiguity

Date: Mon, 28 Jul 1997 16:50:31 EST
From: Marta Steele <Marta_Steele@Pupress.Princeton.Edu>
Subject: either/or


To trace some origins of this opposition (not THE origins, I'm sure),
Kierkegaard titled what he considered to be the beginning of his
authorship as _Either/Or_. The first volume, the writings of a young
man, include _The Seducer's Diary_, which my employers (Princeton
University Press) are bringing out as a separate volume forwarded by
John Updike quite soon (n.b.: disappointingly, there is no actual
seduction involved; SK "dumped" his fiancee/ in a panic over his
intellectual future); in the second volume, Judge William writes the
older friend's "or": the first volume collects the esthetic view of
life, the second the ethical. I don't mean to sound too much like a
jacket flap (from which I am quoting and paraphrasing), but the point
is that SK leaves the resolution to his reader.

until part iii, which appears in _Stages on
Life's Way_: the third "existence-sphere" is the religious.

This just to provide some background. I will not speculate on the
nihilistic postscript he never did publish: _Neither/Nor_.

Marta Steele

PS: re my employers, the usual disclaimer: my opinions etc. bear no
reflection on any attitudes or policies of PUPress.

PPS: Volume 1 of _E/O_ actually gives some further background to the
expression: the Latin aut/aut was used by Frederik Christian Sibbern
in his review of Heiberg's _Perseus_ journal, in a discussion of the
principle of contradiction: Mynster also used the phrase in his
discussion of contradiction, in opposition to Hegel et al. (this,
from p. x of the intro. to vol. I of _E/O_).

So here are "official" contexts. One can joke that the Latin
coordinating conjunctions existed far earlier as nothing more than

Date: Tue, 29 Jul 1997 08:20:46 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: usefulness of either/or

Marchand, Falzer and Lavagnino in Humanist 11.192 give thoughtful response
to Bate's review of Empson's intellectual history and the question of the
ambiguous. Like John I'm suspicious of any argument that sets up the
humanities as reactive to core discoveries in the sciences. Could we call
this "intellectual penis-envy"? To put the matter another way, there seems a
prevalent sexism that sets the arts and humanities up as softly decorative,
even sexy, but in doing so dismisses them from the real work of the hard
sciences. Although it is possible that Empson was stimulated into thinking
the way he did from hanging about other bright people who happened to be
scientists, nevertheless it's difficult for me to accept that either/or
froze the minds of everyone before. A false parallel here between
intellectual development in the sciences and that in the humanities?

What really interested me about the TLS piece was the possibility that it
might provoke some thinking about the cultural change that directly concerns
us here, that is, the intellectual shift brought about -- or more accurately
represented -- by computing. Whether our mental ways can be programmed into
a VLSI chip aside, the computers we have are either/or machines. What does
it mean for either/or processing to become so culturally important at the
very time when so many certainties have dissolved away or are crumbling,
precisely when we are pushed more insistently than usual to realise
fundamental ambiguities? Possibly, as Elaine Showalter argues in her book on
hysteria, this has something to do with our millenarian circumstances. In
any case, it's where we are. What opportunities does the moment present to us?

I don't think our purposes need to be nefarious for us to take as a working
assumption that either/or processing is at least useful. We know
it's a seriously flawed model, but as we've shown over the last 50 years we
can do some useful work with it, we can even get to some realisations about
our materials that time and mortality made unreachable before. But we're
terribly thick if we stop there. What about the failure of either/or? Is it
our dirty secret or (as I keep arguing) one of the most powerful
intellectual tools we have? And if the latter, then what?



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5801
e-mail: Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk

Date: Tue, 29 Jul 1997 15:23:58 +0100 (BST)
From: A. David Wunsch wunscha @woods.uml.edu
Subject: ambiguity

A friend sent me your piece on ambiguity that appeared in the Humanist
Discussion Group Forum. It seems to me that there is much more ambiguity
coming out of the special theory of relativity than there is in the quantum
model of the atom. Is there any evidence that Empson was influenced by
Einstein's work ?


A. David Wunsch
Dept of Electrical Engineering
U Mass Lowell

Lowell MA 01854
wunscha @woods.uml.edu

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