19.509 literary scholarship

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2005 08:11:16 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 509.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2005 07:46:20 +0000
         From: "John Bonnett" <jbonnett_at_brocku.ca>
         Subject: the state of literary scholarship

In the current Chronicle of Higher Education Lindsay Waters presents
an interesting overview of literary scholarship in the U.S. See:


As he describes it, criticism is divided between those who favour a
poetic and aesthetic reading of texts -- where the emphasis is on
affect and emotion, how the work makes us feel -- and scholars who
favour a hermeneutic reading of literature, where the intent is to
unmask the idea, or more precisely the ideology and politics embedded
in the artifact. Two exemplars are highlighted, with Walter Benn
Michaels advocating a hermeneutic reading of texts, and Hans Ulrich
Gumbrecht favouring an aesthetic approach.

To my mind, there is an interesting parallel here with recent
discussions on the design of virtual environments. The aesthetic
approach as characterized by Waters emphasizes the constituents of
literature that support a sense of "presence" or "immersion" into the
artefact at hand. The aim is not dissimilar with what one finds in
HCI literature, where the stated aim is to create environments that
minimize the user's perception of mediation. "Presence" is a concept
that is known, understood, and promoted by HCI researchers.

By contrast, archaeologists and other researchers in the historical
sciences who use 3D environments tend to favour a hermeneutic
approach. They are often ambivalent about virtual environments
because visual representations often generate a sense of trust -- of
presence -- that is not warranted. Here, scholars want to generate a
sense of "Distance" from the representation at hand, to generate
representations that invite interaction and deconstruction of the
work at hand, not acceptance, and certainly not "presence".

The expressive challenge at hand is to generate forms of expression
designed to support either aspiration. Humanities scholars should
play a role in this process. Why leave all the fun to computer
scientists? The key question, of course, is how.


John Bonnett
Received on Thu Dec 15 2005 - 03:29:16 EST

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