19.157 in their own image?

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 19 Jul 2005 07:28:51 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 157.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Tue, 19 Jul 2005 07:20:10 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: in their own image?

Lubomír Dolezel (Slavic, Toronto) begins his article, "Possible
Worlds of Fiction and History", NLH 29.4 (1998): 785-809, with the
following observation on interdisciplinarity:

>The contemporary researcher is engaged in a losing struggle with the
>information explosion. The struggle is especially desper-ate in
>interdisciplinary research, where no one can master all the
>published literature in all the special fields. As interdisciplinary
>investigations become more and more necessary, they become more and
>more difficult. An easy way out of this difficulty is to interpret
>the problems of other disciplines in terms of one's own. This
>practice is typical of quite a few humanists and theorists of
>literature. While claiming to cultivate interdisciplinarity, they
>give philosophy, history, and even natural sciences a "literary"
>treatment; their complex and diverse problems are reduced to
>concepts current in contemporary literary writing, such as subject,
>discourse, narrative, metaphor, semantic indeterminacy, and
>ambiguity. The universal "literariness" of knowledge acquisition and
>representation is then hailed as an interdisciplinary confirmation
>of epistemological relativism and indeterminism, to which
>contemporary literati subscribe.

Let us put aside the question of an "information explosion" to focus
on Dolezel's sharp observation about how disciplines typically
respond to matters outside their ken that for some reason are deemed
necessary or desirable to recognize. He cites literary studies, but
any discipline or group of them would do. The point is that
disciplines construe the world in a particular way, and that this
becomes a problem when ambition drives them beyond their limits --
when, as Greg Dening says, they become cosmological. Dolezel notes
that a disciplinary scholar behaving in this way is not being
interdisciplinary, he or she is poaching. Interdisciplinarity is
really something else.

Consider the case in which an academic job is advertised by an
English department for someone in the areas of digital media and
literature, virtual cultural production and media history and theory.
Given the very wide scope that English has taken for itself, should
we say that this a job in humanities computing, or is it a job that
reflects how humanities computing is typically construed by that
discipline? Among the aspects of the field omitted in the advertised
list is the extra-disciplinary stance and so ability to relate, for
example, to French, history, music. In light of Matt Kirschenbaum's
quotation from Ivan Tribble (Humanist 19.139), what happens if the
occupant of the advertised position decides to build tools?

It may seem churlish to question any job even close to humanities
computing. But at the same time, I think, we should watch out for
developments that close down possibilities better left open. How much
do we value the extra-disciplinary stance?



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Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7 Arundel Street |
London WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax: -2980 ||
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Received on Tue Jul 19 2005 - 02:45:10 EDT

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