12.0575 feedback to the imagination

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Sat, 24 Apr 1999 20:14:49 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 575.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Sat, 24 Apr 1999 20:04:58 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: feedback to the imagination

In "Some guy just wrapped it", Witold Rybczynski, reviewing Francesco Dal
Co and Kurt W Foster's book, Frank O. Gehry: The complete works, comments that,

"The Disney Hall, for example, was one of the first large building designs
produced by the Gehry office using the three-dimensional capabilities of
the computer. CATIA is a program originally developed by Dessault Systemes
for the design of the Mirage fighter jets. The computer program allows
Gehry and his staff to digitize handmade models by tracing their shapes
with a laser stylus. From these digitized images come three-dimensional
views, and architectural as well as construction and fabrication drawings.
It is possible that, without the computer, buildings like the Disney Hall
and the Guggenheim Museum [the one in Bilbao, opened at the end of 1997]
would still be unimaginable; however, without CATIA, they would be

For the purposes of argument let's assume that such buildings could be
imagined by the likes of Gehry but would be unbuildable, and so not built.
None of us would ever see them, and so our ideas about space, our spatial
imaginations would remain unaffected. Because of CATIA and software like it
we are affected, our imaginations are dilated, we change. And it is
possible (isn't it?) that an otherwise unimaginable building is imagined
and built because of such software, or to take an intermediate case, that
software might act, as it were prosthetically for someone whose imagination
doesn't have the necessary ability.

Thus the question of feedback, leading to a change in how we imagine the
world, and so what sort of new worlds we construct for ourselves.
Architecture, being out there in the world of stones, glass and concrete,
is easier to think about in these terms, perhaps. I also like to use the
example of digitally altered photographs, for which see work by the Diesel
Clothing Company (e.g. the brilliantly altered Yalta Conference photograph,
at <http://ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/year1/yalta.jpg>). I would suppose, however,
that the same is as true for text-analytic literary critics, and
corpus-concording linguists, and hypertextually linking writers.



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