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Humanist Archives: March 6, 2019, 6:45 a.m. Humanist 32.517 - cultural politics

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 517.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
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    [1]    From: philomousos@gmail.com
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.510: editions, markup, illusions and cultural politics (161)

    [2]    From: Willard McCarty 
           Subject: cultural politics (46)

        Date: 2019-03-05 15:48:28+00:00
        From: philomousos@gmail.com
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.510: editions, markup, illusions and cultural politics

Dear Domenico,

This is absolutely fair criticism, and something I think about a lot. I've
spent an inordinate amount of time recently attempting to make bilingual
Arabic/Greek texts look sensible in modern web browsers and am having to
resort to something like semi-automated typesetting to do so. HTML and CSS
seem out of their league here. But these texts exist, and I think deserve
representation in full, instead of pulled apart into Greek-only and (more
recently) Arabic-only versions in different databases (which is how they've
been dealt with online to this point). (Incidentally, any advice on this
score would be welcome.) I bring this up as an example where doing the
right thing is hard, but worth doing anyway. These texts are disruptive by
their very nature. They break our presentation views, they break our
editorial workflows, they violate our disciplinary divisions. (Oddly
enough, getting them to work in TEI was the easy part.)

I'm getting pretty old myself at this point, and I've grown increasingly
suspicious of tech-solutionism. I think we're better off investing in
people, with a clear understanding that this runs entirely counter to the
neoliberal commodification of the western academy. And I'd like to think
that's a sensible approach for people outside the Anglo-American sphere as
well. I fear though, that some degree of "specialized technical training"
may be precisely what's needed, rather than "here, have a tool I made that
will solve all of your problems."

To the extent that I can speak for the TEI, I'd say we are eager to learn
how to make what's been built so far better serve the needs of the global
community, but at the same time are reluctant to come riding in, saying we
have all the answers, because we don't. I think translation and better
support for multilingualism has an important role to play here. I really
want this, and have tried to say so in my previous postings, though
obviously not clearly enough. I guess the main question is whether the work
that's been done on things like TEI is adaptable outside a western context,
or whether it's better to forget it and do something else. I think the hard
thing is for our hegemonic technologies to have an open, humble dialogue
with those they have failed, so far, to represent, and to try to do better.
And I think we should do the hard thing.

You certainly haven't made an enemy of me. I think this is precisely what
we should be discussing.

All the best,

On Tue, Mar 5, 2019 at 1:25 AM Humanist  wrote:

>         Date: 2019-03-04 11:00:21+00:00
>         From: Domenico Fiormonte 
>         Subject: RE: [Humanist] 32.496: editions, in print or in bytes
> I've been following this and the previous McGann et al thread and I
> feel like this was a gigantic *déjà vu*...
> People I've been knowing for a long time, and for whom I've the
> greatest respect and affection, were rehearsing the same ideas and
> arguments I've been listening to for... may be thirty years?
> But at this stage (over-fifty like myself) we should all try to be
> intellectually honest and admit that all scholarly discourses
> (including this debate), the tools, the methodologies, the models and
> the so-called 'standards' we're talking about belong to a relatively
> small circle of institutions and people, mostly Anglophone or located
> in the Northern hemisphere, that had the political, economical and
> cultural power to persuade the rest of us that both their ideas and
> instruments were the best "available" solutions for "representing" our
> textual heritage. And therefore they were necessary if we were to be
> considered "acceptable" and admitted to the club of Rigorous
> Scholarship.
> We know how scholarly evaluation (and publication, etc.)
> works: we (the Global North) set out the rules, you (the rest of the
> world) follow them [http://knowledgegap.org/] -- and pay for the
> service, of course. From a certain point on, this has been exactly the
> pattern followed by the most influential, rich and powerful DH
> projects. Just try to build a digital archive without using certain
> 'standards' (XML? TEI?) and you'll see if you'll get the money from
> the NEH or EU or some big Global North quango.
> Following my experience as XML encoder and DH undergraduate instructor
> (and I still teach XML and TEI... great didactic tool(s)!) I'm
> inclined to sympathize with Desmond's arguments. However I don't think
> the problem is using XML-TEI or any other digital representation
> language. The problem is not even *how* you want or need to represent
> something. The problem is rather *who* you are, and *from where* you
> are speaking (and also in what language you speak). What and where
> are, so to speak, the material conditions of your knowing?
> The Anglophone community is today still hegemonic and has the power to
> impose specific models (through its language and institutions, first
> of all) and so make it difficult, if not impossible, for others to do
> or propose something different. The funding sources today are framed
> within a certain epistemological discourse, while it should be exactly
> the other way round: a competition of ideas.
> I'm talking here about my personal experience. With other people in
> 1996 I've started Digital Variants, one of the first and less known
> project on literary textual variation. The original sin of course was
> that the majority of texts were in Italian.
> But at that time DH was a small world and there was still some space
> for diversity and pluralism. Later it became like any other academic
> field: a battle for the hegemony where the first victim is innovation,
> and the second is cultural and linguistic diversity.
> That's also why I've been always questioning the geographical
> expansion of ADHO (like I'm not making enough enemies with this
> post...): in the present conditions of inequality and epistemological
> subordination the foreseeable result will be another cultural
> colonization. Because when and where there is epistemic injustice,
> there's only one possibility, one culture, one vision of the world --
> one "digital representation" tool and/or methodology. Epistemic
> injustice is not something you work out by inviting subalterns to join
> the winner's party.
> The Anglophone and Northern European bias of this discussion has been
> so strong that so far nobody has mentioned the cultural and
> geopolitical bias of (any of those) tools. Is it in fact culturally
> neutral where a tool, a technological standard or a methodology is
> designed? Is there any lesson we've learned from the history of
> technology?
> What does ASCII mean?
> Who's on the board of UNICODE?
> Etc.
> So are you really telling us that TEI is free of geopolitical,
> cultural and linguistic bias? Any of these aspects is completely
> absent in your discourses. Your epistemology seems culturally blind.
> This is the bug in the system -- not overlapping hierarchies.
> Did we ever ask ourselves how many expensive digital editions were
> produced outside Northern Europe, USA, etc.? I'm in India right now --
> it's my sixth visit to this country -- and I can't think of anybody
> here (or in Africa, or in most of Latin America, but also in Southern
> Europe!) who can afford to spend a massive amount of time and money
> to build a scholarly digital edition (let alone to invest in
> "specialised technical training" for keeping it going!) based on some
> epistemologically questionable and economically infeasible model(s)
> designed by a group of mostly monolingual Anglosaxons who seem to
> think their solutions/models/standards are eternal and universally
> good for all.
> >>"We need better" [DS]
> Indeed.
> All the best / Saluti a tutt*
> Domenico
> ---
> Domenico Fiormonte
> Dipartimento di Scienze Politiche
> Università  Roma Tre
> http://www.digitalvariants.org
> http://infolet.it
> http://www.newhumanities.org

        Date: 2019-03-05 07:08:32+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty 
        Subject: cultural politics

This is in reference to Domenico Fiormonte's post of yesterday referring
to the problem many of us have, especially the Anglophones among us, of
seeing 'the world' as if one perspective on the world were the only one.
Monolingualism is certainly part of the problem but hardly the only
culprit. Recently, at a pan-European panel charged with evaluating grant
applications, it became clear to me in case after case that the
applicants were addressing important problems as if a 'Western'
Euro-American (and Australian) perspective were not a perspective but 
simply how things are. In some instances this meant that outside their
unconscious boundaries what they were saying was either not true or
damagingly partial.

The same goes for all manner of the differences that distinguish us. The
Tower of Babel is a well-known (I hope) story all about the problem.

The question to my mind is what to do about our myopia. My only, only
partially satisfactory response is to mingle as much as possible, in
multilingual, cross-cultural, anthropologically educated conferences.
Speakers (like me) need responses from audiences of the form, "Did you
know that in [country/culture/language/historical period X], your
phenomenon Y is conceived as Z?" And speakers (like me) need at least to
anticipate the problem by identifying where possible the limits of what
they take to be knowledge. In such conferences I always begin with an
apology -- alas, the best I can do.

But let's begin by realising the extent of the problem, the unsolvable
conundrum. See e.g. Umberto Eco, The Search for a Perfect Language
(1995) / Ricerca della lingua perfetta nella cultura europea (1993) --
which, please note, shows recognition of limits in its Italian title.
See also the extensive writings of G. E. R. Lloyd on the chimera of
cross-cultural universals.



Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/),
Professor emeritus, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London;
Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University; Editor, Interdisciplinary
Science Reviews (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20) and Humanist

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