12.0301 walls & growth

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Wed, 18 Nov 1998 10:09:37 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 301.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca> (47)
Subject: Blinkers, Binoculars & Walls

[2] From: pjmoran <pjmoran@tsufl.edu> (79)
Subject: Re: 12.0299 old walls, new growth

Date: Mon, 9 Nov 1998 23:09:08 -0500 (EST)
From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Blinkers, Binoculars & Walls


Sometimes I do believe your nifty deletion trick is an wonderful
opportunity for re-threading postings. Case in point: I was quoting a
piece from Gregory Bateson's _Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity_ in
the aftermath of the binocular bit sent by Patricia Galloway when your
wall image was erected upon the screen and thought with dismay you
were about to bump into the artefact/process dichotomy and then
thought but the bumping itself is a reified event and I do like the
sermo humilitas tone of the bump in its story telling setting ["crash"
just wouldn't do. "Bump" has a child-like learning feel.]

Allow me to jump over the wall of my digression and quote a framing
epigraph from Andrew Hodges's biography of Turing:

Alan Turing himself did not stick to his original abstract term
"configuration", but later described machines quite freely in
terms of "states" and "instructions", according to the interpretation
he had in mind.

Now that that artefact/process dichotomy is properly framed in a
computing history anecdote rather than in a passage from Marx on
Hegel, I turn to Bateson, master of the cybernetic model applied to
the cultural:

[...] problem was solved by the use of an instrument which astronomers
call a _blinker_. Photographs of the appropriate region of the sky
were taken at longish intervals. These photographs were then studied
in pairs in the blinker. This instrument is the converse of a
binocular microscope; instead of two eyepieces and one stage, it has
one eyepiece and two stages and is so arranged that by the flick of a
lever, what is seen at one moment on one stage can be replaced by a
view of the other stage. Two photographs are placed in exact register
on the two stages so that all the ordinary fixed stars precisely
coincide. Then, when the lever is flicked over, the fixed stars will
not appear to move, but a planet will appear to jump from one position
to another. There were, however, many jumping objects (asteroids) in
the field of the photographs, and Tombaugh [discover of the planet
Pluto] had to find one that jumped _less_ than the others. After
hundreds of such comparisons, Tombaugh saw Pluto jump.

The analogy with humanities computing is I believe particulary apt
especially in the way the discursive universes intersect or the fashion
in which the literal and metaphoric representations weave their magic
so very much like those wonderful collisions diagrammed by Arthur
Koestler in _The Act of Creation_. Anyone sensitive to the changing
numbers of eyepieces and alert to the theatrics of stage permutations
cannot but help but understand that the jump of comparison is
suspended over the dialectic of artefact and event showering us with
so much delightful noise ******


--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Tue, 10 Nov 1998 09:03:29 -0600 From: pjmoran <pjmoran@tsufl.edu> Subject: Re: 12.0299 old walls, new growth

.. . . though much is taken, much abides. .. .the next wall is always ignorance. . ..an arch where-through gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades. . ..we, sitting well in order, just need to look for chinks in that wall, so we can slip through. . ..strong in will. . . not to yield. . .

Humanist Discussion Group wrote: > > Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 299. > Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London > <http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/> > <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/> > > Date: Mon, 9 Nov 1998 22:10:20 +0000 (GMT) > From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> > > > Humanist has been coming out somewhat fitfully of late because I have been > in Georgetown, Washington DC, five time-zones and too much competing > Internet activity away from home. For which all apologies -- for the > sporadic issues, not for the beautifully autumnal Georgetown. The turning > of the leaves, a striking sight to a resident of London, led me early this > morning to reflect on the cycle I've observed in my own thinking, by which > ideas first spring into the mind, grow with great vigour, then turn, fall > and rot. Or, to put the matter another way, intellectual claustrophobia > seems to set in almost as soon as the walls of a new intellectual > structure have been put into place. > > The unwelcome, uncomfortable time is surely a sign of mental health, but I > find it most difficult to admit that the new structure has walls, and > that I am bumping into them. Take, for example, our own field, how > we conceptualise what we're doing. At first I was charmed by the thought > that rendering a complex text into something the computer can process > (marking it up) was like translation, with the inevitable loss, and that > the really interesting thing about it was this loss, what slipped through > the net of computation. Then I ran into Peter Galison's great study of > instrumentation, Image and Logic: the Material Culture of Microphysics, > which showed me that the translation model is only part of > the story: from the perspective of the instrument, our computer, the > activity is more like the creation of a pidgin or interlanguage between > two cultures, in an interdisciplinary "trading zone". Galison's borrowing > of the anthropological notion has the virtue of recognising the integrity > of our field, for the study of loss really belongs to the discipline > from the perspective of which there has been such a loss. We do > the interlanguage, or more broadly, deal in all the pidgins that arise > from the intersections of the humanities with computing. > > Charming as Galison's model is -- and I am still in the phase of an > intellectual adoration -- experience is whispering in my ear that I should > be holding my arms out to feel for the wall I am about to bump into. > Unlike adoration of other kinds, this sort seems always to serve when one > realises that it points beyond itself to a more inclusive kind. What > might a better model be? > > I have difficulty with the idea that, as one especially intelligent > colleague has argued, the computational representation of a text, for > example, is simply another representation, not necessarily a lesser one. I > can see that what we study is (to quote the title of Antonioni's last > great film, completed by Wenders) "beyond the clouds", i.e. that all forms > of what we study are representations triangulating on the unsayable. > I wonder if the next step is to turn our attention to what happens > when we read, i.e. to the process rather than to the artefact. > > Reflections (in a mirror, in an enigma) would be most welcome. While > you're eating the chutney you've made from the tomatoes that never ripened > in the garden that erupted beyond all expectation, taking joy in the taste > of what has resulted from a most vigorous season of growth, please give > some thought to this problem I'm having, let me know where the next wall > might be, and what a more generous structure might be like. And save some > of that chutney for the solsticial celebrations. > > Yours, > WM >

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