12.0523 advertising, purity & transgressions

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Sat, 27 Mar 1999 20:46:53 +0000 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 523.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca> (34)
Subject: tangent to advertising

[2] From: Jim Marchand <marchand@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu> (12)
Subject: Purity

[3] From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> (48)
Subject: blurring of lines

Date: Sat, 27 Mar 1999 20:45:56 +0000
From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca>
Subject: tangent to advertising


The recent selection from anti-advertising missives which you posted
made me want to be glib and SCREAM a one liner "Erasmus was a
Hustler". However, when I consider the epistolary genre in which much
of the business transactions and advertisments of Renaissance
Humanists were conducted I want to point out the rather intriguing
phenomenon of "reposting". As subscribers to Humanist know certain
letters are written with the knowledge and often the intent of
"reposting" either in the sense of the retransmission of copies or the
reading aloud to an assembled group. Such understanding of the
possibility of retransmission is evidenced in the perhaps now
ubiquitous polite formula of apologizing for the cross-posting of
notices. There is also the negative evidence of responding 'off-list'
which marks an appreciation of the mobility of missives.

There is one example I wish to draw to your attention because it
represents a very curteous and gentle sub-genre of the thank you
letter. A guest speaker wrote to the instructor not just with the
cordial niceties of the form letter but also with a minor
recapitulation of some of the interesting questions that students had
raised in the question and answer period. What a lovely way to
acknowledge the exchange of ideas.

I now wonder if in some golden age of the academia such letters did
not also exist. There is nothing inherent in the electronic medium
which precludes the existence of such correspondence in earlier times.
I am wondering how much the exchange of letters between groups of
scholars is analogous to the record of the proceedings of learned
societies. I have a hunch the audience is constructed quite
differently and hence the tolerance of advertisement shifts. It does
raise the question of the spaces of the academy and why certain
segments privilege the customs of the lecture hall over those of the
workshop and some suppose on of these to be more remote from the

Would you to buy into this line of inquiry?


--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Sat, 27 Mar 1999 20:46:13 +0000 From: Jim Marchand <marchand@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu> Subject: Purity

I, too, would thump for purity, l'art pour l'art (don't know how to say `humanities' in French) and all that. The problem is that it is difficult, and `laws' will not work. Often it is quite difficult to draw the line. For myself, I don't think that announcements which aid in promotion, etc. ought to be `permitted', though the line is even blurrier. We cannot leave it up to the list owner, for that would be an onerous and ornery task for sure. It is up to us, whoever we are. Jellinek once wrote: "Es ist die Pflicht eines jeden Mitglieds der gelehrten Gesellschaft, ueber ihre Gesetze zu wachen." Pretty words, but it won't work any more than `rules' against plagiarism. So all I can do is commiserate with Willard and us. A little healthy indignation at those who overstep the bounds is not amiss. Nemo sine crimine. Jim Marchand.

--[3]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Sat, 27 Mar 1999 20:47:44 +0000 From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> Subject: blurring of lines

The message I sent about commercial adverts in academic discussions, which was really about the blurring of lines between the academy and industry, leads me on to wonder about other lines we are concerned with and their blurring or redrawing. The problem I have with the drawing of lines isn't with the act as such -- it is fundamental to what and who we are. My problem, rather, is with the treatment of such lines as if they were somehow specified at the foundation of the world and not more or less arbitrary creations or (less grandly) fabrications for which we bear the responsibility and so have the privilege of redrawing or blotting out. Erasing a line that has served us well is, of course, not a trivial thing, and there is something deeply satisfying about a culture, like the one in which I now live, where some of the lines are quite old -- as long as one is on the right side of them.

As computing humanists we are deeply implicated in the redrawing of lines within and around the academy. The device we use and often champion is having a deeply subversive effect on old lines. Furthermore, some of us are still revolutionaries who are very, very glad to see certain lines weakening, such as the sheep-and-goats divide between the tenured and the non-tenurable, especially where this has been determined for individuals by their having been tainted with computing. Our effort to raise our field (i.e. humanities computing) out of the Slough of Desponding Help Desks brings us up against lines or walls that the privileged tell us have been there since the foundation of the world, though we know as good historians of the academy just how wet some of the mortar is, how propped up the stones are by make-shift arrangements and how arbitrary is the course followed by the Great Wall of True Disciplines.

(I call your attention to the OED, s.v. "red herring", 2b. "to draw a red herring across the track...: to attempt to divert attention from the real question; hence red herring, a subject intended to have this effect.)

In the end, of course -- or, I sincerely hope, much before the end -- what matters is that good work gets done. I am concerned that some of these pseudo-sacred lines, defining turf that is really not very sacred when you look closely at it, is making some of that good work very much harder to do than it should be. And, what may be worse, exclusion from its privileges (such as being paid to do research) forces some of our best talent to give up scholarly work altogether, or to find opportunities outside the academy, or to burn their candles at both ends and in the middle too.

It is amusing to contemplate statements, commoner I suppose in the last century and before, about what separates humans from non-humans, or the more recent statements about what makes natural and artificial intelligence different. We should know enough now to use a pencil, preferably with a soft lead, when drawing these lines.

Yours :-) WM - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5081 <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> <http://ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/> maui gratia

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