18.297 skimming? expressive drift?

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 20 Oct 2004 07:54:58 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 297.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Caterina Caracciolo (19)
         Subject: skimming forwards vs skimming backward

   [2] From: lachance_at_origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois (70)
         Subject: Ingredients for computation : expressive drift

         Date: Wed, 20 Oct 2004 07:47:23 +0100
         From: Caterina Caracciolo <caterina_at_localhost.localdomain>
         Subject: skimming forwards vs skimming backward

Dear all,

I am looking for material concerning the process of skimming a text, either
when reading on-paper, or on-line.

It seems to me that a forward skimming is easier to perform and more
"reader-friendly" than a backward skimming, at least for those languages
that are written from left to right and from top to bottom.

If so, when assessing the readability of an excerpt from a text, documents
starting slightly too early (with respect to the relevant part) should be
preferred over documents starting slightly too late, since the latter imply
a backward skimming.

Obviously, not only the direction of the skimming, but also the "amount" of
text to skim, have an impact on the readability of the text.

Can anyone point me to studies on these issues, or let me know your opinion
on them?


Caterina Caracciolo

   Informatics Institute, Uni of Amsterdam | P: +31 20 525 5355
   Kruislaan 403, 1098 SJ Amsterdam (NL) | F: +31 20 525 7490

         Date: Wed, 20 Oct 2004 07:48:05 +0100
         From: lachance_at_origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
         Subject: Ingredients for computation : expressive drift


With the passing of Jacques Derrida, I felt compelled over the last week
to revisit Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's preface to _Of Gramatology_. A
phrase therein caught my attention. In an ennumeration appears "[...]
ingredients for the computation of the intertextuality [...]". It is the
expression "ingredients for computation" that intrigues me. Would
subscribers to Humanist care to comment. Is the expression traceable to a
sociolect? Even if unique does it not indicate in that in some sense the
prep work that assembles a collection, the ingredient selection, is always
already caught up in some experience of what computation might be?

I ask because I am struggling with the evolutionary schema outlined by
George Ifrah in _the Universal History of Numbers_. In the first chapter
under the subsection "Counting: A Human Faculty", Ifrah writes

The human mind, evidently, can only grasp intergers as abstractions if it
has fully available to it the notion of distinct units as well as the
ability to "synthesize" them. This intellectual faculty (which presupposes
avove all a complete mastery of the ability to analyse, to compare and to
abstract from individual differences) rests on an idea which, alongside
mapping and classification, consitutes the starting point of all
scientific advance. This creation of the human mind is called "hierarchy
relation" or "order relation": it is the principle by which things are
ordered according to their "degree of generality", from _individual_ to
_kind_, to _type_, to _species_ and so on."
<quote [trans. David Bellos and E. F. Harding]

The mapping examples in the story Ifrah tells involve parts of the body as
well as piles of pebbles or bundles of sticks. Quite understandably, the
parts of the body and the connections that attach word, gesture and number
are privileged in his account. However those piles of pebbles and the
bundle of sticks do call forth for me the expression "ingredients for
calculation" not in order to begin the making of a computing version of
stone soup of fabled lore but in order to try and understand how
sensitivity to media might elucidate an undertheorization in Ifrah's
account and an overreliance on an anthopological (Levy-Bruhl) account in
need of some re-examination (from at least the perspective of a gender

By force of repetition and habit, the list of the names of the body-parts
in their numerative order imperceptibly acquire abstract connotations,
especially the first five. They slowly loose their power to suggest the
actual parts of the body, becoming progressively more attached to the
corresponding number, and may now be applied to any set of objects. (L.

The imperceptible acquirement may pass through culinary technologies.
Could not the ability to engage in abstract calculation arise from mapping
and classification in joint practice with combination (and its companion
practices disarticulation, severing, separation, etc.).

I could trace out the model of "technology as prosthesis" that informs
Ifrah's source (Levy-Bruhl's _Les fonctions mentales dans les societes
inferieures_How Natives Think_). However its ideological moorings have
been exposed elsewhere. What interests me is the possible conjunction in
the early twentieth centry between the euro-anthropological discourse
about primitive mentalities and the mathematical questions about
computation that led to the work of Godel, Turing, and Church among
Any cross-cultural accounts or intellectual histories of the notions of
recursivity and the infinite to recommend? The question is not one of idle
curiosity. With the electronic computer, most users add and substract with
only a nominal notion of what it is they are counting with as if they were
counting by magic and lots of users are oblivious to the counting that is
at work in the processing. If they/we knew more about the ingredients or
the utensils would they be better cooks?

Off to seek out references to Derrida's lost book on the technologies of
numeration, writing systems, and the nature of recipes: _Le vin et le

   -- Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large

A calendar is like a map. And just as maps have insets, calendars in the
21st century might have 'moments' expressed in flat local time fanning out
into "great circles" expressed in earth revolution time.
Received on Wed Oct 20 2004 - 03:02:03 EDT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0 : Wed Oct 20 2004 - 03:02:05 EDT