19.718 the arts of humanities computing, the criticism of software

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 19 Apr 2006 06:52:28 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 718.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Wed, 19 Apr 2006 06:37:32 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: the arts of humanities computing, criticism of software

Geoffrey Rockwell writes in Humanist 19.714 that,

>In my experience one of
>the challenges when humanists and artists collaborate is coordinating
>research practices and outcomes. Humanists value the dialogue that
>takes place in symposia, meetings, conferences and so on. For us talk
>is work while for many artists talk is time away from the studio
>where the work happens.

Traditionally the humanities function to bridge the inarticulate
reality of imaginative production to the social world of talk. Their
function is communicative. So it seems to me that just as criticism
is needed to fulfill the communicative function of literature or the
visual arts, so we need a criticism of software -- a writing not so
much *about* as "from" -- a kind of translation. This is a very
challenging situation that software developers, project designers and
the like need to address. But how to do it?

Need? Imagine a situation in which there were no art historians,
literary critics, philosophers of art and so on. Yes, we'd be rid of
much foolishness, but we'd also be rid of the good stuff as well.
Imagine a situation in which all we had was "I don't know anything
about art, but I know what I like". How far away from this situation
are we with software? Consider the intellectual energy currently
being invested in software. How well is that human effort being
served by existing discourse?

How to do it? Criticism means a critical language in which to
interpret, with which to communicate. Software is language-like, but
so is poetry, which (as Northrop Frye has pointed out) is as dumb as
statues, needs criticism as much as they do. We have critical
languages for poetry and statues; we know how to talk them into
meaning for us. But what is the critical language of software? Some
say it has to be a mathematical language, though we don't yet have
the mathematics. What do the makers say?



Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | 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 || willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/
Received on Wed Apr 19 2006 - 02:07:43 EDT

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