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Humanist Archives: Jan. 8, 2019, 8:45 a.m. Humanist 32.307 - toward a theory of the corpus

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 307.
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    [1]    From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca
           Subject: More metaphors inspired by the reception of " toward a theory of the corpus" (84)

    [2]    From: Bill Benzon 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.306: toward a theory of the corpus (90)

    [3]    From: Jim Rovira 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.306: toward a theory of the corpus (78)

        Date: 2019-01-08 00:45:01+00:00
        From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca
        Subject: More metaphors inspired by the reception of " toward a theory of the corpus"


Following my initial response to Bill Benzon's posting, I was contacted
off-list with a bit of tangent on hidden meanings. I have permission to
bring elements of that to the list.

Israel Cohen had produced a reading of a short poem by William Carlos
Williams which is intriguing as a translation exercise.

*Hidden Meanings*
I think *The Red Wheelbarrow *by William Carlos Williams is a good example
of an intentionally hidden meaning.

Regardless of one's commitment to the metaphysical underpinnings of this
type of numerological-like translation, I suggest that the orientation
towards text implied in the exercise deserves a bit of attention. I think
that Cohen's translation places the person running the decryption in the
position of a receiver. The text is coming towards the reader. This
observation was very much influenced by Cohen sending this to me after
Bill Benzon had reported on how Michael Gavin uses vector semantics to
examine a passage from _Paradise Lost_ where the primary mode is to go
out, traverse and gather: the person is primarily in an active mode of

This characterization is no doubt a simplification built on a mere
impression welded to a recollection of the poetics of the Berekely
Renaissance and Jack Spicer's notion of dictation:

The notion of poetry-by-dictation was nothing new (Yeats, Rilke, Blake and
others had been there before, and even Kerouac, who insisted that On the
Road was dictated to him by 'The Holy Ghost'), but the 20th century
metaphorical nomenclature that Spicer chose to describe his particular
poetics was altogether new; insisting that he received his poems from the
'Outside,' transmitted by 'Martians' or 'ghosts' and comparing the poet to
a radio, simultaneously functioning as a receiver and transmitter. The
poet's language, vocabulary, knowledge and personal imagery were what
Spicer referred to as the poet's 'furniture,' which was then arranged
accordingly by the 'Martians' or 'spooks'; the more languages and
knowledge available to the poet the more furniture there was at the
disposal of the voices from 'outside.'


Israel Cohen's exercise also reminded me of a poetic research project of
bpNichol _Translating Translating Apollinaire_ where transformations of
form trump content. See


What do these esoteric modes of reading or translating have to do with
humanities computing? They begin to offer a glimpse of labels for a set of
attitudes towards the act of processing text. The tools of humanities
computing are for hunting and gathering: the going out. They are also for
fishing: waiting to see what shows up. In a sense the tools of humanities
computing can be set like traps or weirs.

The distinction between hunting and fishing breaks down when you consider
the use of duck blinds. The distinction between gathering and fishing
becomes moot when you consider harvesting a salmon run. Still there is
some merit, I believe, in pondering whether one's orientation is towards
aiming for a target, assembling a resource, or waiting to see what the
network might bring.

I do like the idea of casting a net... gutting the fish not so much --
though those guts do make good fertilizer for the garden.

Francois Lachance

        Date: 2019-01-07 15:09:52+00:00
        From: Bill Benzon 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.306: toward a theory of the corpus

Comments below.

> --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        Date: 2019-01-06 12:31:30+00:00
>        From: Francois Lachance 
>        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.302: toward a theory of the corpus
> Bill
> I detect a hint of admonishment and an invitation to read more in detail
> and spend some time getting acquainted with the working paper:
> [quote]
> Well, Francois, in the working paper those contrasts come after a dozen or so
> pages of explanation and examples. Without that they're pretty empty and
> there's really not much I can do in a short email reply.
> [/quote]
> I have invested some time and found a handsome return. I have now read the
> working paper. It is technically inaccurate to claim that the listing of
> contrasts comes after "a dozen or so pages of explanation and examples".
> They first appear in the introductory material (page 3). The explanation
> follows. But that is just one reading. A reading that distinguishes time
> of composition from time of exposition.
> I think time is of the essence. I turn to the proposed description of the
> pairs as compass points on a map.
> [quote]
> Think of them as compass points on a complex map. The relations between
> the pairs are of various kinds.
> [/quote]
> When walking through a city or through the bush, one's cognitive map
> employs a compass and a chronometer. The cognitive map allows one to
> predict that at a given spot and time there is a possibility of
> encountering a set of given entities, persons or activities. Of course
> with any traversal of bush or city, the map gets updated. The map is
> always only provisional.
> I propose a leap: the traversal is the map.

I propose another leap. Let's think of a dog's tail as a kind of limb. It
thus follows that dogs have five limbs. Pretty cool, no?

> This may be a tad too metaphorical for the author of Toward a Theory of
> the Corpus


> I return. My question was not just about the relation between the sets of
> pairs but also about the very fungibility of the elements that are paired:
> [quote]
>> My question: how are these pairs linked? Are they a simple listing without
>> any relays between the elements of one pair and the elements of another?
>> Or are there relationships e.g. close reading plugged into corpus as
>> object? In short do these sets of contrasts represent a stabile
>> representation or are they modelling a mobile set of relations?
> [/quote]

The elements being paired, in these cases, are conceptual fields, modes of
thinking, ways of constructing discourses.

> I am very much plugging 'close reading' into 'corpus as tool'.  I am
> thinking in terms of the algebra of matrices. What is list of pairs can be
> read as a table of elements.  In reading are there not a number of
> traversals that each gain a certain valence from a time series?

So, what, concretely, happens when we 'plug' the procedure of close reading
into in an investigation where a corpus has been used to construct a tool which
is then put to some use (such as Google's translation engine)? Give me
examples where this has been done.

Bill Benzon





        Date: 2019-01-07 14:10:01+00:00
        From: Jim Rovira 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.306: toward a theory of the corpus

Thanks for responding, Bill. I would say that my response about brain vs.
mind was an expectation following your claim about your own work -- this
seems to be an expectation embedded within it. We're either discussing some
kind of disembodied, possibly fictional "mind" or we're mapping something
measurable in the brain. I appreciate that you chased that rabbit down the
hole some ways, and that you see the depth of the hole, but it's not my job
to fill he gaps in your work. I'm not interested. I'm just observing one.
In my opinion, this is really only a matter of how you phrase your claims.
Here it is:

"Recent corpus techniques ask literary analysts to bracket the
interpretation of meaning so that we may trace the motions of mind."

What are the "motions of mind"? Does that phrase actually mean anything? Is
that what we're really describing? I don't think you're mapping the mind,
but if you want to make that claim, you'll have to do more work.

Now whenever someone talks this way,

"Mapping the pathways of the mind -- Michael Gavin uses vector semantics to
examine a passage from Paradise Lost. After arguing that a word-space model
is, after all, a model of the mind, I suggest that vector semantics could
be used to map paths through the mind."

Sounds like we need to be doing work in conjunction with neuroscience to
make these claims: "A model of the mind" and "map paths through the mind."
Now you do define mind here:

"Assuming that we can think of the mind as, in some aspect, a high-
dimensional network of verbal meanings,"

But I'm wondering why we should accept that assumption? I'm willing to
consider it, but it seems too important to just be dropped there and left.
This is philosophy of mind. Or is it Chomsky? I don't know. I think a
rationale for accepting this definition is in order. The issue isn't the
validity of the work you're doing, which I think is important, but what we
really learn from it. I'm not buying that it produces a mental map, and you
haven't given me any reason to. Might it be better to say that you're
providing descriptions of patterns of how the brain processes language?

I also appreciate your background, and I think it's great that you were at
Johns Hopkins in 1966. But, Structuralism continues to be taught in almost
every literary theory class. Yes, I would agree that it continues
piecemeal, but I don't think it's reduced to binary oppositions. But that's
all off my main point, which is still that claims like these are painfully
reductive descriptions of literary criticism:

"Computational critics have an opportunity to map the human mind that is
qualitatively different from what interpretive critics accomplish *by
uncovering meanings 'hidden' in literary texts."*

"Conventional literary criticism talks a lot about the text, but has no
coherent conception of it. That is because it is focused on meaning and
meaning doesn't exist in the marks on pages, the physical text."

". . . standard literary criticism oriented around the close reading of
meanings hidden in texts." Yes, Structuralism's rejection of the idea of
meaning "hidden in texts" does indeed continue to the present in a lot of
literary criticism.

"The intellectual world of literary study need not revolve around meaning.
There are other ways to think about language and mind."

There's no question that you define the field of literary criticism as a
search for hidden meanings in texts, and I think given your background you
should know better. But I also think your last point is the key. I would
hope most literary critics would agree, but I'm sure some would disagree.
But, either way, I completely agree: there are other ways to think about
language and mind. Other people should carry out that work, some literary
critics will pick it up, but that doesn't detract from the work of literary

Jim R

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