12.0193 where lies the meaning?

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Fri, 4 Sep 1998 15:52:08 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 193.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Fri, 4 Sep 1998 12:18:35 +0100 (BST)
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: where lies the meaning?

Last night I attended a performance of Shakespeare's Hamlet by the Ninagawa
Company in the Barbican (London). Those of you who know Yukio Ninagawa's
work (e.g. Macbeth, The Tempest, Midsummer Night's Dream) will not be
surprised to hear that his Hamlet was ravishing, powerful, magical. Those
who are not familiar with his Shakespeare productions, on hearing that they
are done in traditional Japanese costume, and entirely in Japanese, will
rush to the fundamental question of how, possibly, such a bold experiment
could work? This is precisely the question I wish to raise here in the
context of computing.

The Japanese community of London turned out in force, but I would guess that
like me at least 2/3 of the audience had little if any of the language. Yet
at the end of the performance the reaction of the whole audience (standing
ovation, raining of flowers on stage &c) made it quite clear that somehow it
had worked, brilliantly. I guess the closest I can come to an explanation is
that Ninagawa manages so to externalise meaning in gesture, dramatic
choreography and stage design that the words recede into the background.
Considering the importance of words in Shakespeare (!), this is quite some
achievement, and considering further the kind of play that Hamlet is, even
more so. That Midsummer Night's Dream should have worked as brilliantly
(here, at the Mermaid, two years ago) is perhaps slightly less of a
surprise, but still, but still....

This gets us to the question, once again, of what we are doing when we
compute texts, to some finer realisation of the limits within which we work.
At least I find it useful -- morally, to maintain some humility about the
enterprise; pragmatically, to keep the limits within sight -- always to have
in mind good examples of what doesn't compute.



Dr. Willard McCarty
Senior Lecturer, Centre for Computing in the Humanities
King's College London / Strand / London WC2R 2LS
+44 (0)171 873 2784 voice; 873 5081 fax
maui gratia

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