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Humanist Archives: Dec. 7, 2019, 9 a.m. Humanist 33.467 - failure & simplification

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 467.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
                Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org

    [1]    From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 33.461: failure of another sort (79)

    [2]    From: C. M. Sperberg-McQueen 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 33.457: going wrong, getting it right (94)

        Date: 2019-12-06 13:28:06+00:00
        From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 33.461: failure of another sort

It is interesting to surmise that the poet is covering for the publisher
post facto. But the book appeared in 2016 -- after the period that Alec
McAllister describes -- when the software had improved to the point where
it is unlikely that the effect was due to mere accident.

Regardless of the origin of the challenge, a translator facing the
"un-translation" in Zaher's text and respecting what is presented could
provide a version all in capital letters, no spaces and displayed in
mirror fashion which would preserve the "making strange".

Given the number of deviations from "readable" presentation, I believe
that the deliberate choice came early in the composition/publication
process and was in part a function of the shadow cast by machine...

>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 461.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                    Hosted by King's Digital Lab
>                        www.dhhumanist.org
>                 Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org
>         Date: 2019-12-05 21:26:42+00:00
>         From: Dr. Herbert Wender 
>         Subject: Re: [Humanist] 33.458: failure of another sort
> -----Ursprüngliche Mitteilung-----
> Von: Humanist 
> An: publish-liv 
> Verschickt: Do, 5. Dez 2019 7:34
> Betreff: [Humanist] 33.458: failure of another sort
>   Date: 2019-12-05 00:33:49+00:00
>   From: Francois Lachance 
>   Subject: Re: [Humanist] 33.455: failure of another sort
> One further note on intentions. There is none expressed explicitly in the
> text. But the author is quite clear in an interview.
> A scan the WWW and one finds an interview. Note the characterization of
> the passage as an "un-translation":
> [quote]
> ...
> Maged Zaher:
> So much hinges on this un-translation and its typeset - so much
> I will leave it at that
> [/quote]
> https://entropymag.org/trying-to-bring-some-intensity-to-the-daily-a-
> conversation-with-maged-zaher/
> ...
> I'm happy to have asked for evidence "in the text or elsewhere", and now -
> thanks for the clarification! - I see that there is evidently no evidence
> for
> any of the hypotheses. But I take the author's silence about intentions as
> a
> speaking one.
> For everyone who knows the publishing business Alec McAllister's post with
> an
> explanation of erratic effects in typesetting arabic text - and with
> impressive
> examples - sounds very plausible. While the interview can be read as if
> Zefer
> made an effort to grab for effect through enigmatic typesetting, the
> suspicion
> of technical causes let me tend to assume that the poet's cryptic answer
> has to
> be taken as ex post facto obfuscation which allowed him not to blame his
> publisher.
> Kind regards, Herbert

        Date: 2019-12-06 06:47:36+00:00
        From: C. M. Sperberg-McQueen 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 33.457: going wrong, getting it right

> On 3,Dec2019, at 11:05 PM, Humanist  wrote:
> ...
>        Date: 2019-12-02 07:21:38+00:00
>        From: Willard McCarty 
>        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 33.433: going wrong? getting it right?
> ... ironically the problem is that I went wrong by
> oversimplifying: it all depends on what you're after. One way of putting
> the matter is this: if you're after the mathematics of something and can
> formulate it in a model, then the necessary simplification can get it
> right; if you're after the experiential truth of it down to the last
> detail, then the model falsifies by simplifying.
> Does that hold up?

I don’t know enough mathematics to know whether getting it right
always involves simplification; it’s not clear to me that having the
natural numbers, and the integers including the negative numbers,
and the rationals, and the irrationals, and the imaginary numbers, is
necessarily a simplification over the naive view that there are “numbers”.
But it does appear from outside that simplification CAN lead to truth
in mathematics (and abstraction often looks like simplification).  In
some cases.

As for experiential truth — maybe.  But I think your idea does not
always hold, unless by “experiential truth” you mean something so
hazily defined that no two people could be expected to agree on whether
the experiential truth of some matter has or has not been

Does it falsify our experience of English poetry to understand Yvor
Winters’s view that the spine of that history is (I oversimplify
somewhat and out of profound ignorance) the history of the plain style?
I have heard a number of scholars of English say that
grasping Winters’s account had made it possible for them to learn
and organize much more about English literature than had been
possible for them without that organizing principle, even though
they were not “Wintersians” and didn’t actually agree with much of
what Winters said.  I daresay similar claims may be and have been made
for the work of Northrop Frye.  And among medievalists I suspect some
people feel that way about the work of D.W. Robertson, or did a few
decades ago.  Certainly many people feel that way about
the work of Milman Parry and A. B. Lord, even if they don’t believe
that “oral” and “oral formulaic” are either intensionally or
extensionally equivalent.

Does it falsify the experiential reality of the Germanic languages
to have seen and understand the pattern by which the p, t, and k
of non-Germanic Indo-European languages routinely correspond
to f, th, and h in Germanic languages (pisces / fish, tres / three,
centum / hundred)?  Or the patterns that hold between German
and the other Germanic languages?  There are cases in which the
pattern does not hold; do we come closer to truth (or experiential
reality) if we see a pattern with some exceptions we do not understand
(unless we are Karl Verner and formulate Verner’s
Law to identify a pattern in the exceptions), or if we see a
patternless sea of sound?

Our experience of literature depends a lot on what we bring to
it as readers.  Our experience of language may vary somewhat
depending on whether the language in question is one we speak
or not.  In neither case is it clear to me that it makes sense to
speak in the singular of “the experiential reality” of the thing.

If I allow myself, reading Homer or a translation of a modern
Bosnian narrative poem, to be aware of the mechanisms of oral
formulaic composition, is the experiential reality of the work falsified
by the oral-formulaic theory, or constituted in part by it?
In high school my English teacher explained the formulas of
Homer with what I now realize was a reductive and inaccurate paraphrase
of Parry and Lord’s work.  It made a lasting impression
on me and colored my understanding of Homer.  I would say now
that it gave me a distinctly false understanding of the formulas
and their function, and also of the Odyssey.  But can it be said to
to have oversimplified and falsified the experiential reality of the
Odyssey?  I did not feel it as a simplification, merely as an
explanation (an alternative to the explanation “Homer is an
incompetent poet and not worth reading”, which was not
unpopular among my classmates), and its relation to my experience
of Homer was much too intimate and complex to be described
as either falsification or non-falsification.

What did you mean by “experiential reality”?

C. M. Sperberg-McQueen
Black Mesa Technologies LLC

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Editor: Willard McCarty (King's College London, U.K.; Western Sydney University, Australia)
Software designer: Malgosia Askanas (Mind-Crafts)

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