21.113 the greatest threat?

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2007 22:42:33 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 113.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2007 08:15:25 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: the greatest threat?

With good and laudable motivations we habitually identify and make
much of the benefits that computing offers to the humanities. With
more than a little cultural provincialism and personal forgetfulness,
we treat change (a.k.a. innovation) as if it were in itself one of
these benefits, or perhaps even the meta-benefit brought by
computing. But, one would think, understanding of what's happening is
a greater, more inclusive good, and in the long haul more prudent. So
let me ask in this spirit what is the greatest threat posed by
computing? For purposes of sharpening the discussion, if any ensues,
let's begin with the world marked out by the research we do. What
about computing most threatens this world?

My own suggestion is to put near or at the very top of our list the
quasi-Blakean "expanding eyes" which the perspective of humanities
computing on the humanities demands of us. This demand is hardly new,
of course. It isn't computing's unique gift to the crowded,
landlocked bunch of self-obsessed intellectual principalities many
seem in practice to take the disciplines to be -- as if they were
abstractions derived from the academic departments of some powerful
university (pick your favourite example). Indeed, a better argument
is that contrariwise this demand is the humanities' gift to
computing, or more accurately, the creative genius that computing has
shared with the humanities from its beginning. Be that as it may,
humanities computing is nothing of real and lasting interest, it
seems to me, if practitioners do not reach out in every direction,
into every discipline, for the help required by its interdisciplinary
nature. Doing that *is* threatening, I suggest, to those who, like
Bruegel's stolid farmer, plough their small patches of ground with no
awareness of the great world beyond.

In Poetics of Relation (Michigan, 1997) the philosopher Edouard
Glissant uses the archipelago-like configuration of his native
Caribbean islands as the metaphorical basis for construing the world
differently from the dominant European model of landlocked
intellectual principalities -- and the equally fixed Tree of
Knowledge famously depicted by the 13C philosopher Ramon Llull (do a
Google image-search for "arbor scientiae"). Glissant begins with
Gilles Deleuze's and Felix Guattari's criticism of the idea of rooted
knowledge, "a stock taking all upon itself and killing all around
it", and their alternative, the metaphor of the rhizome, or enmeshed
root-system. Glissant draws out their congruent praise of
intellectual nomadism, which they contrast with the settled, rooted
way of life. Glissant pulls apart the idea of nomadism into different
kinds: the circular nomadism of those who move with the seasons, in
an eternal return to familiar pastures; the invading nomadism of
conquering hordes, restlessly arrow-like; and the nomadism of the
exile, whose wanderings were, he points out, praised in antiquity as
a necessary stage in one's intellectual development. (I like to think
autobiographically in terms of the ex-patriot mentality, my colleague
Simon Tanner in terms of being lapsed from one's original
faith.) But Glissant goes further by linking the various ways of
thinking precisely to where we are in the world as it now is being
re-constituted. And from this follows the argument for
re-constituting our academies, and so for re-configuring disciplinary
and esp interdisciplinary practices to accord with the world as it is
becoming. Humanities computing comes at a crucial moment.

But, again, the greatest threat, which I experience and imagine as a
matter of what papers get accepted to conferences and how they are
reviewed, and what books and articles get written and how they
are received. A matter of what we think we're about, but more
immediately, what disturbs, what pricks us on, what serves as our
Lenny Bruce.. My suggestion and question is to pay closest attention
to all those signs of annoyance, impatience and misunderstanding --
not so that we may soothe ruffled feathers and get on with things but
so that we can better detect where the real interest lies.



Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
Received on Thu Jun 21 2007 - 17:53:50 EDT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0 : Thu Jun 21 2007 - 17:53:50 EDT