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Humanist Archives: Oct. 22, 2019, 6:30 a.m. Humanist 33.336 - what we're not ready for

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 336.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
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        Date: 2019-10-21 10:24:03+00:00
        From: Bill Benzon 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 33.333: what we're not ready for

No, Jim, not everyone is required to do the same kind of work. That's not what
I'm asking for.

What I'm asking for is a sustained and serious attempt to conceive of literary
process, the unfolding of a text, word after word, as being (somehow)
computational in kind. That's what I don't see happening. If I'm missing a
substantial body of work, point it out to me, because I don't see it, and
I've been looking for a long time. Here and there we find something, Marie-
Laure Ryan's Possible Worlds, Artificial Intelligence, and Narrative Theory
(1999), there's some mention of story-grammar work in the cognitive
narratology literature (I'm thinking of David Herman's work),
and I've seen a paper or two here and there. But this kind of work hardly
registers in the digital humanities. In Literary Lab Pamphlet 6,
"Operationalizing": or, the Function of Measurement in Modern Literary
Theory (2013), Franco Moretti offered, "Computation has theoretical
consequences possibly, more than any other field of literary study. The time
has come, to make them explicit." Where's the work making those consequences
explicit? In his most recent paper (Hidden in Plain Sight: Data Visualization in
the Humanities, New Left Review 118, July August 2019, 86-119), co-authored with
Oleg Sobchuk, he laments the lack of theoretical development in the field (not
all of DH, just computational literary studies) :

> Tree-like, linear, reticulate . . . why should we even care about the shape of
cultural history? We should, because that shape is implicitly a hypothesis about
the forces that operate within history; the tentative, intuitive beginning of a
theoretical framework. "Theories are, even more than laboratory instruments,
the essential tools of the scientist's trade"'", wrote Thomas Kuhn over a half
century ago; too bad we didn't heed his advice. Although the crass anti-
intellectualism of Wired""correlation is enough', "the scientific method
is obsolete'"has fortunately remained an exception, what seems to have
happened is that, as the amount of quantitative evidence at our disposal was
increasing, our attempts at in-depth explanations were losing their strength.
Disclaimers, postponements, ad hoc reactions, false modesty, leaving inferences
"for another day' . . . such have been, far too often, our inconclusive

I hesitate to offer that passage because, as far as I can tell, Moretti's not
calling for the kind of theoretical inquiry I've been referring to, though
what he IS calling for interests me a great deal. I quote it, though, because it
does point up pretty much the same issue. To invoke a cliche, computation is
always the bridesmaid, never the bride.


> On Oct 21, 2019, at 1:47 AM, Humanist  wrote:
>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 333.
>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College LondonĂ¢\x{80}\x{99}
>                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
>                       www.dhhumanist.org
>                Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org
>        Date: 2019-10-19 07:43:20+00:00
>        From: Jim Rovira 
>        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 33.327: what we're not ready for
> Demonstrating your ignorance here, Bill. And not everyone is required to do
> same kind of work.
> Jim R
> Sent from my iPhone
>> one thing they have refused to
>> do, which is to think about literary processes as somehow, in some measure,
>> computational in kind. And by that I mean doing something more than reading
>> Dreyfus or Searle and wagging your finger. Actually learn a bit about how
>> computation works and see what it tells you about literature. Then they're be
>> something very interesting to computer. Alas, I don't see it happening.

Bill Benzon




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