11.0302 impermanence & mortal touch

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Fri, 26 Sep 1997 20:58:46 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 302.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Francois Crompton-Roberts <F.Crompton- (22)
Subject: Re: 11.0297 impermanence (sub specie aeternitatis)

[2] From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca> (55)
Subject: Faces to fasces

Date: Fri, 26 Sep 1997 15:40:20 GMT0BST
From: Francois Crompton-Roberts <F.Crompton-Roberts@qmw.ac.uk>
Subject: Re: 11.0297 impermanence (sub specie aeternitatis)

> When I entered the profession in the mid-50s, we held scholarly
> ideals like those of Pat's monks and indeed Pat herself, who
> seeks to write "sub specie aeternitas" and feels she has fallen
> short if she doesn't. Back in the '50s, we thought we were
> making permanent "contributions to knowledge," as our
> dissertation instructions asked us to do. Increasingly, I think
> we are no longer concerned with the long term but with the now,
> the new, the immediate, recognizing that what we do will be here
> today and gone tomorrow and feeling no discomfort about that.

For me, this thread evokes Paul Valery's "Nous autres civilisations,
nous savons maintenant que nous sommes mortelles". (We civilisations
now know that we too are mortal). It seems as if it took a generation
of more for the consequences of this relisation to filter through to
the consciousness of academics...

Francois C-R

PS Thanks to Steve Walton <SWALTON@nh1.nh.pdx.edu>, Valentine
Drevet-Benatti <vdb@montesquieu.u-bordeaux.fr> and Jean-Pierre Piriou
<jppiriou@arches.uga.edu> for confirming the exact quotation:

>From "La Crise de l'esprit", in _Variete_ (1919, Pleiade, Oeuvres
completes t 1, p. 988).

Date: Fri, 26 Sep 1997 10:49:40 -0400 (EDT)
From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Faces to fasces


How ironic that the faceless remain nameless (which is not the same as
the face of anonymity). I suspect you protect the flamable from

> soaking it in treacle. Humanities computing is now carried out by
> individuals at their individual work-stations, mostly at home,

or by poor graduate students working in groups in labs
or by faculty working out of offices and libraries
or by technical staff coding software
or by networked individuals working asynchronously

> who communicate with each other by e-mail. The answer to the desire to have
> physical contact is not to focus on computing but on [beer]. The mention of
> Oxford choristers [in your message] makes me think that Inspector Morse has
> the right idea: go to the pub and have a pint.... The distance equivalent to
> a pint is not expensive travel and physical publication, but e-mail
and the WWW.

Communication by e-mail is indeed effective and efficient. I do
believe that shared pints or cups of tea or mugs of coffee do
contribute to the effectiveness. If I had not been at conference A or
workshop Y where scholars, librarians, technical experts and the
throng of curious gathered, I would not have met person X or Y with
whom I conducted a correspondance and without this exchange born out
of the fortunate encounters aforementioned I would not have been
encouraged by person X or Y to contact world expert Z (indeed would
not have known that world expert Z held the particular arcane
knowledge to get me through a particular thorny problem).
Knowledge is not all. The network of colleagues also gives one the
sense of legitimation necessary to pose any question at all. This is
not to say that courage or chutzpah are found in the wash of a pint of
ale or the swirl of sweet sweet wine.

Scholarship requires passion.
Passions are nurtured singlely and fed collectively.

And we must not forget the wonderful fishbowl effect of gatherings. In
a culture of the question, how a question is asked is as much under
scrutiny as to how it is answered.

The distance equivalent to a pint may be a nice meandering that
includes studies of the chemistry of brewing, the microeconomics of pubs, and
comparative taxation and the discources pertaining to such topics -- a
pint being a volume, a very spacious volume.

It was at one of those wondering in vivo exchanges that I learnt that
if I can cup my hand then my glass is never forever empty. The cupped
hand may raise, from the stream, water to the mouth. The cupped hand
can also remember heartfelt handshakes and not fear extending itself
in the gesture of need. [of course, the preconditions here are clean,
unpolluted waterways and an integrated social sense that does not
kowtow to excessive individualism and, for example, assume every user
owns a machine or works from home].

Hands demonstrate much: the agile fingering on the keyboard, the clasp
of greeting and the wave good-bye. And if I should be handless, I
trust my friends working in adaptive technology who understand that
all our mediated interactions are built upon many a face-to-face
encounter (and tortuous committee meeting) and who understand that the
measure of technological effectiveness and efficiency is actually a
political index.

>From the backwaters and pining for a pint,


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