21.123 the greatest threat

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sat, 23 Jun 2007 08:27:09 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 123.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Sat, 23 Jun 2007 08:16:45 +0100
         From: Dr Tatjana Chorney <Tatjana.Chorney_at_SMU.CA>
         Subject: Re: 21.113 the greatest threat?

>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?

Could it also be that aspects of the so called "democratizing power of
the digital media" threaten vestiges of the ivory tower mentality
embodied-- sometimes-- in the idea of the peer-review system? It seems
to me that in many ways, traditonally, the concept is built on the
assumption of specialized disciplinary knowledge understood by many in
terms of landlocked principalities--the quality assurance seems to rest
on 'plowing small patches of (disciplinary) ground' for a reputable
amount of time which bestows on the venture an air of deep truth,
objectivity, solid disciplinary knowledge...I am not being facetios,
nor skeptical, since there is a lot to be said about
the need for a system related to quality control, but the kind of
radical interdisciplinarity the digital medium often encourages does
threaten the system thus conceived--it is asking it to be more flexible
and expansive than it is, and this may be interpreted as a threat to
quality assurance.

Many before me have observed that any change concerning relatively
stable realities in general will be experienced as threatening....
something to do with survival instincts that have nothing to do with


>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 Sat Jun 23 2007 - 03:40:09 EDT

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