14.0007 downstream from Panofsky

From: Humanist Discussion Group (willard@lists.village.virginia.edu)
Date: Tue May 09 2000 - 06:56:29 CUT

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                    Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 7.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Tue, 09 May 2000 07:45:27 +0100
             From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
             Subject: Downstream from Panofsky

    After contrasting the disciplines of archeology and art
    history, before contrasting art history with art theory,
    Erwin Panofsky in "The History of Art as a Humanistic
    Discipline" (1940) states:

    The objects of art history, then, can only be characterized
    in a terminology which is as re-constructive as the
    experience of the art historian is re-creative: it must
    describe the stylistic peculiarities, neither as measurable
    or otherwise determinable data, nor as stimuli of
    subjective reactions, but as that which bears witness to
    "intentions". Now "intentions" can only be formulated in
    terms of alternatives: a situation has to be supposed in
    which the maker of the work had more than one possibility
    of procedure, that is to say, in which he found himself
    confronted with a problem of choice between various modes
    of emphasis.

    I find striking in this passage the vocabulary of
    terminology, formulations, alternatives: a hint of a
    language game. I find it striking because the notion of
    alternatives for me hearkens to a practice of
    experimentation. Alternatives awaken the historical
    imagination to the it-could-have-been-otherwise. The
    scientific imagination dreams of a it-must-be-so. Panofsky
    earlier in his lecture does not contrast the scientific and
    the humanistic so much in terms of the different modalities
    they may adopt towards questions of chance and necessity.
    He does however supply a figure that captures certain
    attitudes towards both necessity and chance. He positions
    both humanist and scientist in relation to the "stream of
    time." He states:

    The scientist, too, deals with human records, namely with
    the works of his predecessors. But he deals with them not
    as something to be investigated, but as something which
    helps him to investigate. In other words, he is interested
    in records not as they emerge from the stream of time, but
    in so far as they are absorbed in it. [...] From the
    humanistic point of view, human records do not age.

    The claim to the existence of ageless human records looks
    odd without the context of the example provided by Panofsky
    of a scientist reading Newton or da Vinci as a humanist
    would, that is as a person who looks on such records as
    having "an autonomous meaning and a lasting value."

    In the spirit of alternatives, we ask: Can a humanist, who
    may not be an art historian, look upon documents as having
    other than "lasting value"? Can humanists trained in other
    disciplines look upon records as bearing other than
    "autonomous meaning"?

    Are the years of digital work with documents enabling humanists
    to play at the boundaries of two metaphors: document as container,
    document as pointer? Capsules that float in the stream of time and by
    their bobbing indicate the force of the current?

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