19.251 failure of interdisciplinarity

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sun, 4 Sep 2005 07:21:59 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 251.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Sun, 04 Sep 2005 06:55:59 +0100
         From: Wendell Piez <wapiez_at_mulberrytech.com>
         Subject: Re: 19.234 failure of interdisciplinarity

Dear Francois,

At 02:14 AM 8/30/2005, you wrote:
>Wendell's answer to Matt's call (19.141 the trouble with tribbles)
>suggested to me two mythemes that traverse many a narrative retold by many
>a computer in humanities. Wendell's rejoinder had two themes that one can
>find in many communications by computing humanists. The one theme, the
>importance of the quotidien, is of course easy to highlight in a
>discussion of blogs. However the value of the incremental and an
>appreciation for the small contribution that cummulate is, I believe,
>present in many a tale of computing in the humanities. The other theme is
>perhaps less <del>persuasive</del> pervasive. The peroration on the
>"coming to an end" of a particular hegmonic formation is provisional.
>Indeed, we are admonished: "you must continue doing what you are doing"
>that is encourating scholars to engage with communities. It is not the
>impulse to share and cultivate, nor the the value of ties to a readership,
>that struck me as a worth mytheme. It was the invocation of a withering
>away of the "old guard".

Caricatures can be very revealing, especially when they caricature
other caricatures by doing them one better. So, okay....

>I hope Wendell will forgive such a reductionist reading of an empassioned
>appeal but the imagery of decadence is too striking not to serve my
>purposes here. I too am tempted by the tone of indignation: "Theirs is a
>losing battle, and the condescension the attitude of heirs of an old
>family who, having squandered their inheritance, now watch the
>tradespeople cart the furniture, linens, silver and crystal away." Just
>desserts makes for a good story ending. But apart from the anonymous
>commentator in the Chronicle who are "they"?
>"They" are the luddite. The technophobe. Are they vanishing? Receding from
>the scene? Hardly.

Of course I forgive your using my words to start your own: I don't
mind conjuring up visions of decadence if that's what it takes. :->
But I can't help but try to rebalance the argument. (Which does, I
hope, nevertheless bear on the question of disciplinarity.)

See, I too am a Luddite and a technophobe. I fear technology and
lament the losses it brings and the disaster it sometimes threatens.
Unlike some Luddites and technophobes, however, I don't imagine that
all would be better if we could somehow go backwards. Earlier
generations had their high technologies too, and had to face the
troubles those brought along with the benefits. To me, it seems this
is a great part of what it is to be human, to have language, to know
ourselves, paradoxically, as both magnificently individuated
creatures of stunning depth and elaboration, and yet small parts of
something that goes beyond us. In the process of this realization,
our technologies (which, cyborg-fashion, are hardly to be
distinguished from ourselves) are both our greatest blessing, and our
curse. Whales and dolphins, elephants and parrots, squid and other
intelligent creatures appear to have quite a different range of
concerns: fitted better to their worlds, they are untroubled by
mirror-selves of their own creation.

That is, I hope my Luddism is an engaged perpective, not a
rejectionist one. Given this, and returning to the question at hand
when I wrote those lines -- certain woes of the present-day academy
-- what I think will come to an end is not an attitude, certainly not
a critical attitude, towards technology. Indeed, that is what we have
to foment, not reject. Nor do I even accept that the current hegemony
(using your term) is one of Luddism and technophobia. These people
(those who reject blogging out of hand as unworthy of a scholar's
effort --- let's remember who we are talking about) are typically
neither Luddites nor technophobes. They have not even gotten so far;
instead, they are people who have decided that safe in their world,
they have to protect it from outside encroachments, from change that
comes from the world beyond -- from thinking about and responding to,
in earnest, the questions posed by those changes, in whatever form
they appear. Were they to do so, one might hope they would become
Luddites. But they are people who have decided that *because it is on
a blog*, nothing Dr Kirschenbaum or anyone can say on a blog can have
relevance or be worthy of respect or citation (in a scholarly
article, on a CV). This is simply willful blindness, not Luddism.
Matt might happen to write a screed read on thousands of desktops,
real and virtual, across the world, and it is still nothing worthy of
account. It would not be nothing to a Luddite.

Yet for all this, notwithstanding the occasional flight of rhetoric,
I don't worry about this too much. This kind of recalcitrance won't
end because of some revolutionary upheaval, but only because it is so
unnecessary, and so useless. The only thing it protects is not worth
protecting. (I am not, mind you, suggesting that all kinds of
recalcitrance will end. Far from it: I expect academics will continue
to be recalcitrant -- I depend on it. It is just this particular kind
of resistance that will come to seem quaint.)

And what it presumes to protect (seriousness of purpose? standards of
quality? knowability, verifiability?) has already escaped out into
the wild -- where indeed, academics aren't the only ones looking for
it -- even accepting that it was ever really there, safe in the
academy to begin with. Yes, there has been true discipline, however
quietly its true adepts have gone their way. But there has also been
plenty of the false kind, maintaining premises of standards and
seriousness in place of the real thing. In the face of "the chance to
be surprised by machines" (as you put it), while in Francoisian
manner I ask you to substitute the word "discipline" for the word
"chance", false disciplines that reject it without knowing it can
only wither away.


Wendell Piez mailto:wapiez_at_mulberrytech.com
Mulberry Technologies, Inc. http://www.mulberrytech.com
17 West Jefferson Street Direct Phone: 301/315-9635
Suite 207 Phone: 301/315-9631
Rockville, MD 20850 Fax: 301/315-8285
    Mulberry Technologies: A Consultancy Specializing in SGML and XML
Received on Sun Sep 04 2005 - 02:34:17 EDT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0 : Sun Sep 04 2005 - 02:34:17 EDT