13.0285 perfectability of texts (2 messages)

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Sat, 20 Nov 1999 08:18:29 +0000

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 285.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

From: Jean-Claude Guédon <guedon@LITTCO.UMontreal.CA>
Subject: Re: 13.0281 perfectability of texts
Date: Thu, 18 Nov 1999 13:35:23 -0500

Thanks for the questions, Willard. They help focus.

Let me suggest ways to go:

1. I do not knowmuch about CVS in distributed programming but I know
that it lies at the heart of the Linux success story. Looking at it
closely and tranposing it for texts would be a good way to start. It
does require some kind of coordinating group that validates some of the
changes, but the process is very open, very much in discussion and can
even be reversed if further discussion shows the coordinating group has
not made the best choice.

2. I assume, p(m)aternity and thematic interest will plsy important
roles. In effect, uninteresting or temporarily unrecognized texts will
just lie dormant while others will move forward fast by drawing a lot
of interest. The point is that the document is no longer a kind of
frozen excretion issued by various members of various specialties in
order to make the specialty evolve (advance?) and lying as fixed,
external reference for further activities; it becomes an integral and
living part of the group's discussion.

Of course, this transforms the authorship model entirely and that is
perhaps a good reason to begin with just e-publishing texts in this
way, as a way to test the waters; once we have sufficient experience
with that, going into full creation of new texts and documents can
begin. There again, an intermediate step could be to try and do
teaching materials as the creativity here lies more with the strategies
used to expound on this or that, rahter than on the thematic material
itself. Biographies would also lend themselves well to this approach.
Etc. etc.

3. ooops, I jumped the gun in par two, above. Indeed, Willard, this is
an important question. Perhaps new kinds of pecking order will emerge,
where each person gains visibility and prestige in terms of the
efforts expended for the distributed effort and as recognized by the
members of the distributed community, and not as the author/owner of
such and such frozen texts. Again, the ways in which new kinds of
"authors" seem to emerge in the open source code movement may provide
for interesting models. Yet, and very frankly, I do not have clear
ideas here as this pushes us radically out of the world that modernity
so painstakingly crafted in the last two or three centuries, with the
advent of print. But that is what distributed thinking and intelligence
is all about. When one of us is short on ideas, ten more can come up
and suggest new things. I suspect the fast evolutionary pace that
ensues is so exhilarating that many of us will find ways to recoup
visibility and prestige otherwise. It may be that such an environment
will be so stimulating as to allow most of us both to contribute to the
distributed project and do the necessary stuff to nourish the
proprietary strategies as well. But, very frankly, I can only speculate
and dream here.

4. This question appears simpler to answer to me, as we already live
this way, except at a slower pace, and in more halting fashion. I am
too much of a cognitive constructivist to be terribly worried about the
imperfection of historically determined knowledge. Every period of
history does its best and we are no different. We lean on past work
that has been validated in ways that it appears in print. later, this
same piece of work may be destroyed by some other piece of work that,
for reason X, does not appear in the core journals, and, as a result,
it is left standing although no longer receivable. And than it takes
eons before the situation is cleaned up. Alternatively, the good stuff
publishe din the wrong palce remains unknown for a long time, thereby
slowing down the evolutionary pace (not that I did not use the word
progress...) of a given specialty. Mendel's work, for example, lost in
some obscure Slovak publication... With such a system, actually, the
possibilities to integrate faster and correct faster appear very real.

5. Funny thing you should mention this, Willard. I have sometimes tried
to amuse various audiences by telling them that we were perhaps
entering a kind of turbo-Middle Ages... :-)

Maybe we should try and organize a special forum on this theme with a
view to building an important conference.


-------------------------------- >
> Date: Thu, 18 Nov 1999 18:20:29 +0000
> To: Humanist Discussion Group <Humanist@kcl.ac.uk>
> From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
> Subject: perfectability of texts
> Like Jean-Claude I am fascinated by the idea of the perfectability of texts
> through early publication, even (in the case of those we write) their
> communal evolution. The former is illustrated by the Suda On Line project
> <http://www.stoa.org/sol/>, the latter by my own practice of publishing
> essays and then changing them as people react to the contents.
> Let me ask some questions about the "open source" approach, if that is the
> right term.
> (1) What are the technical problems to be faced? There's version-control,
> which is to say a tinker-proof mechanism for identifying the version by
> number and/or date. But this must be subsumed, I'd think, by an identity
> mechanism that would allow you to tell you had an out-of-date version, yes?
> Any ideas here?
> (2) What are the implications of maintenance? If issuing texts in immature
> states becomes a regular feature of academic publishing, then who takes on
> the responsibility for their perfection? Who becomes the reliable parent of
> the child? Do we have orphans and foster homes? Problems of abuse?
> (3) What are the professional implications? How do we tell what sort of
> recognition to give someone for publishing an immature work? When do we
> give whatever kind of recognition? If multiple hands are involved, some of
> them only slightly, to whom to we give how much credit?
> (4) What are the intellectual implications for a world in which radically
> imperfected work is based on radically imperfected work?
> (5) Does what we know of medieval scholarship give us any insights into
> such a fluid world?
> Yes, fascinating!
> Yours,
> WM
Jean-Claude Guédon Département de littérature comparée
Université de Montréal CP 6128, Succursale « Centre-ville »
Montréal, Qc H3C 3J7 Canada
Tél. 1-514-343-6208
Fax 1.514-343-2211

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From: "Francois Crompton-Roberts" <F.Crompton-Roberts@qmw.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 19 Nov 1999 13:53:35 +0000
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Subject: Re: 13.0281 perfectibility of texts

It may be that the notion of the unique, perfect, immutable text,
variants from which were considered always to be defects was an
aberration imposed upon us by the printing press. I remember a paper
given many years ago at the University of London's Seminar in
Humanities Computing by someone who had edited Petrarch's sonnets (I
forget his name). He said (I quote from distant memory) that these
sonnets exist in numerous contemporary versions, sometimes dozens and
many indeed is Petrarch's own hand, and that the editor's task was
more like arriving at a decision as to which of the variants Petrarch
used most, or latest, or when he was deemed at the height of his
powers, or simply most to the editor's taste, or...

All this disappeared when the text in every copy of a printed book
was identical to that in the other books in the print run--is it for
Darwin's 'Origin of Species' that the only way to distinguish the
first edition from the second is that there is a word with 3 "p"s
instead of two on page 17? That third "p" boosts the value of the
book by orders of magnitude.!

The "fuzziness" of a text written on a computer seems to be very much
like that of one of Petrach's sonnets. It may be a good thing if a
dump of a pc's temporary files makes us understand how the author
arrived at the formulation of what he says rather than just read how
he says it.

All this may make the job of the editor of the future far more
difficult, but it will be infinitely more interesting too. Wouldn't
you prefer to classify the readings of the manuscripts of a sonnet to
counting the typos in a printed book?

Francois C-R