21.431 Diane Middlebrook (1941-2007)

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 20 Dec 2007 09:38:20 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 431.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Thu, 20 Dec 2007 09:31:22 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: Diane Middlebrook (1941-2007)

Dear colleagues,

Diane Middlebrook, literary biographer and former professor of
English at Stanford, died a few days ago, on 15 December, at age 68.
A report about her life from the Stanford News Service may be found

What you will not find reported possibly anywhere other than here is
her interest in humanities computing. Diane and I met because of a
shared devotion to Ovid. I do not recall whether at the time she was
already interested in computing, but if not she became so soon after
we met. Her indefagitable curiousity could not have let computing
alone -- and didn't. She began some efforts to interest her
colleagues in English at Stanford, which included a departmental
roundtable discussion she got me to lead in 1998 and a lively
discussion with a group of her students. Sometime later she resigned
her position at Stanford to pay full attention to writing. Perhaps
had she remained in her post at Stanford a while longer humanities
computing would have taken hold earlier and in a stronger form than
it has. Who could have resisted her? In any case, she is one of my
primary examples of the kind of scholar we need more of -- someone
whose mind is both powerful and open, and therefore, as Peter
Matthiessen said, "at play in the fields of the Lord".

Of those two qualities, of power and openness, the latter seems to me
to be much the rarer among our kind. Many of you will know Isaiah
Berlin's essay, "The Hedgehog and the Fox", whose categorical
distinction is based on Archilochus' fragmentary statement, "The fox
knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." Others here
may know Diane's former colleague Richard Rorty's Gadamerian sermon,
"Being that can be understood is language" (London Review of Books,
16 March 2000: 23-5). In that sermon (his word), reprinted in
Gadamer's Repurcussions: Reconsidering Philosophical Hermeneutics,
University of California Press, 2004, Rorty envisions a philosophical
utopia in which philosophers "have at last abandoned the scientistic,
problem-solving, model of philosophical activity with which Kant
burdened our discipline. They will have substituted a conversational
model, one in which philosophical success is measured by horizons
fused rather than problems solved, or even by problems dissolved. In
this philosophical utopia, the historian of philosophy will not
choose her descriptive vocabulary with an eye to distinguishing the
real and permanent problems of philosophy from the transient
pseudo-problems. Rather, she will choose the vocabulary that enables
her to describe as many past figures as possible as taking part in a
single, coherent conversation" (25). She, and we all, will be
fox-hedgehogs, who know many big things that sum to one very big
thing. That, at least, seems to me the kind we are and need to
become. Diane was one of those who led the way.


Willard McCarty | Professor of Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
http://staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/. Et sic in infinitum (Fludd 1617, p. 26).
Received on Thu Dec 20 2007 - 04:56:05 EST

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