19.165 beyond disciplines

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 22 Jul 2005 07:19:52 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 165.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Fri, 22 Jul 2005 07:16:17 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: beyond disciplines

Patrick Durusau, in Humanist 19.162, in reply to an earlier message,
responds to my phrase "extra-disciplinary stance" by asking,

>Is it "extra-disciplinary" with regard to
>traditional humanities disciplines? Does
>"extra-disciplinary" include humanities
>computing? It seems to me to be a devilishly hard
>place to reach if the requirement is to have no discipline at all.
>While I readily agree that the wholesale
>imposition of a discipline, literary studies
>being a favorite example, onto other disciplines
>is simply wrong, it is also that case that a view
>of any discipline is going to be from a point of
>view. And that point of view, literary studies or
>not, is going to carry baggage that may or may
>not be recognized from within the discipline under view.

So much depends on the metaphors one thinks with. Looking at
something from a "point of view" is a good place to start, so let's
run with it. What are we looking at? If it's a tree of knowledge,
then I have a problem with the fact that the branches are already
grown and with the implication that a human construct, the
disciplines as we currently know them, has been naturalized. If we
think in what's essentially European geopolitical terms, of "turf" or
of "domains" of knowledge, then without warfare there's no life other
than the gypsy -- as that life is prejudicially viewed by the
long-term permanent residents.

My point was that the experience of doing humanities computing
full-time, as one's main thing, simply does not fit disciplinarity as
ordinarily constructed. If one thinks in disciplinary terms, as
above, then what I and many others do is essentially invisible. In a
world where disciplines are all that exists, humanities computing has
to sneak in through a back door, say into an English department, and
so, depending on the situation, has to configure itself in terms that
its host-discipline allows. Nor would it do, really, for us, if we
could, to create a new "discipline", since as disciplinarity is
constructed, this would force a limiting ethnocentricity on us as
lords of a ring-fenced dominion. Then we'd be the pot calling the
kettle black -- as well as in a fatally weak position. We'd find
ourselves excluding most of those who at present are colleagues,
friends and relations.

As for the baggage, for the limitations of being centred somewhere, I
think of the ancient formula, "centrum ubique, circumferentia
nusquam", "centre everywhere, circumference nowhere", or as Northrop
Frye said in On Education, "It takes a good deal of maturity to see
that every field of knowledge is the centre of all knowledge, and
that it doesn't matter so much what you learn when you learn it in a
structure that can expand into other structures" (1988: 10).

Note especially the word "expand". Ask, how does humanities computing
expand into the disciplines it encounters?



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Received on Fri Jul 22 2005 - 02:35:15 EDT

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