11.0517 idols & human judgment

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Thu, 15 Jan 1998 22:01:22 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 517.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Jascha Kessler <jkessler@ucla.edu> (31)
Subject: Re: 11.0509 computers, idols, cogent approaches

[2] From: Chris Floyd <cfloyd@carmen.murdoch.edu.au> (41)
Subject: Re: 11.0507 sacred computer

Date: Wed, 14 Jan 1998 12:55:07 -0800
From: Jascha Kessler <jkessler@ucla.edu>
Subject: Re: 11.0509 computers, idols, cogent approaches

Charles Ess says one thing that should help to clarify the situation for
Humanists at least. Humanities were the last to get anything at all 5
years ago and more, say 8 at UCLA, which is ambitious. The money went to
the Social Sciences first, and my pals in Poli Sci used to laugh at us, and
even the few with dinky set ups. They were too behind, and even today, no
lab will not have it own servers and ISDN lines and all that, not to speak
of medschool etc. Priorities are not given to Humanities and Arts,
etc.Still not, because the machines online are the oldest and least, and
even I was finally given a Mac Quadra rebuilt with a screen too small to
bear. Answer, I have my money invested at home, and stay away. As for
those Ess says are recalcitrant, and yet prominent, consider: if they were
given the equipment with all the gigabytes and screens and programs, it
would mean they have to where the equipment is, and anyone who thinks and
is not required to attend a laboratory will not wish to be where all the
others are milling about, including students, and so forth, and in offices
that are usually jerrybuilt and noisy and the last, least and worst, as at
UCLA. Budget annually of over a billion, but where does it go? Let us not
get started on all that. But poor relations act accordingly, and their
reaction when it comes to the computer is sour grapes...they dont get to
join the feasters, and that brings up to, What use is it to the bottom line
to give those folks screens to work, what, after all, are they "producing"?
IN the case of the last 25 years, the answer is, a lot of bad writing and
thinking, and pseudo-social science homilies with big words reifying very
little reality.
Jascha Kessler

Jascha Kessler
Professor of English & Modern Literature
Department of English
Box 951530
Los Angeles, California 90095-1530
Telephone/Facsimile: (310) 393-4648

Date: Thu, 15 Jan 1998 20:37:46 +0800
From: Chris Floyd <cfloyd@carmen.murdoch.edu.au>
Subject: Re: 11.0507 sacred computer

>Here may be a much broader discussion of a topic that has surfaced on
>Humanist from time to time as we have struggled with a certain kind of
>enthusiast among our ranks. I'm thinking of various people I have known who
>have embraced the computing of the humanities with fervour because, it
>seems, the machine represents a long-awaited means of proving acts of the
>imagination, finally of doing away with interpretation and its leap of faith
>so that we may build our scholarly work on a solid foundation. But whether
>or not the apotheosis of computation is analogous to this sacralization of
>the secular, I have a question for you, or rather a request for reflection:
>what happens to the interpretative act when computing is involved in
>research? Is it the same, or different? If different, how? By being forced
>to resolve matters that before we could let pass, are we gaining, or losing,
>or both?

This is a worry Willard. I would need first to understand exactly what you
mean by interpretive work vis a vis your research. Humanities scholarship
has been on a solid foundation for over two thousand years. It worked well
enough to facilitate the logic and design of computers.

I have no problems with computer assisted text analysis. However, as a
literary critic, I see no place for computer interpretation. The same goes
for computer text generation. The existential position of humans is totally
different to computers. We die alone. Computer memory can be backed up, and
placed on another machine.

I criticise texts from a particular perspective, at that moment in my life.
Literature is an expression of mortals. I can appreciate the dada factor of
automatic writing, poems randomly pulled out of a hat, something computers
can easily replicate. But the human reading of that is still human.

Being an atheist, I am not so disposed to cling to a religious notion of
the sacred, but I know that I am looking for ideas embedded in human
experience more than absolute interpretation. Language contains ambiguity
that cannot be accurately translated by an immutable system. The meaning of
words is not a constant. Heaven forbid it should be. The vitality and play
of language is the stuff of human society, not machines.

Finally, it boils down to what are you suggesting by the "interpretive
act". I believe that translation is an art that involves human choice not
clinical exactitude.


Dr Chris Floyd
Phone: +61 8 9339 0490

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