3.926 electronic communications (113)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Thu, 11 Jan 90 21:42:03 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 926. Thursday, 11 Jan 1990.

(1) Date: Thu, 11 Jan 90 01:43 CST (47 lines)
Subject: Books and Reproduction

(2) Date: Thu, 11 Jan 90 12:01:00 EST (17 lines)
Subject: 3.921 electronic communications

(3) Date: Thu 11 Jan 90 09:21:48 (27 lines)
From: dusknox@skipspc.idbsu.edu (Skip_Knox)

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Thu, 11 Jan 90 01:43 CST
Subject: Books and Reproduction

Chet Grycz's recent contribution suggests that print culture
after Gutenberg and before the electronic seminar provided us
with material "clues," no longer available, to help us discern
quality. In future, we will have to cast aside these crutches
since "defining a canon of markers similar to those of print is
apt to be difficult. There seems little chance that the
homogeneity and formality that characterizes print will be
readily transferred to the new medium."

I wonder, though, if this interesting argument doesn't elide a
distinction between two sets of textual markers, one
bibliographical and the other authorial. The academic book, as
aesthetic object, has already lost ground, and will probably
continue to in the future. (Look closely--but not too closely--
at the paper and "type" of some recent volumes under British
imprints.) But I'm not convinced the electronic medium will, by
itself, deliver the death blow to book culture in its current
form. Say what we will about liberating textuality or the death
of the author, the institutional and authorial markings that
accompany academic discourse condition our reading of it. Such
signs disclose far more meaning than paper quality or design.
One example: _PMLA_, despite recent changes, is aesthetically
unequal to other journals, but no less authoritative for all

The electronic medium can, and probably will, replicate a
network of institutional validations already in place. It is no
accident that Bitnet transmissions appear under a barrage of
names, institutions, and official encodings. By contrast,
undergraduates in the university where I teach often contribute
BBS messages pseudonymously or collaboratively, and thus
perpetuate, I suppose, a scribal tradition.

It seems to me that scholarly exchange is institutionalized and
self-regulated in ways that may unify our writing across the
electronic-paper boundary. I don't mean on the surface, where
the fissure remains visible, but at the level where difference
really counts.

Alvin Snider
Univ. of Iowa

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------28----
Date: Thu, 11 Jan 90 12:01:00 EST
Subject: 3.921 electronic communications

Among the "things" being created by electronic conferences like Humanist,
ENGLISH, Megabyte U, et al., it seems to me, is a body of material about the
nature of work (and the material conditions of work) in the humanities as it's
being conducted right now. As Chet Grycz and others have noted, there's a
range of "styles" (for want of a better word right now) from very casual to
quite formal, but a good deal of what's communicated has to do with the
writer's sense of the discipline s/he practices, and of his/her relation to
the humanities and the academy more generally. Such a meta-discussion is
potentially of great value, as scholarship redefines itself under the impact
of the new technology and the new media that emerge from it.
John Slatin
University of Texas at
Austin (eieb360@utxvm)
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------38----
Date: Thu 11 Jan 90 09:21:48
From: dusknox@skipspc.idbsu.edu (Skip_Knox)

Chet Grycz mentions "critical mass" as a factor in the success of a forum.
I have run a PC-based BBS at my university for three years now. Both on the
board itself, and in each of its conferences, I have watched the phenomenon
of critical mass at work. With too few members, a forum simply doesn't
generate enough dialogue to make the forum immediately interesting to the
new member. So the new members tend to visit infrequently and the number of
messages stay low. At some point, the forum reaches critical mass, and
suddenly seems to take on a life of its own.

Perhaps that helps account for the liveliness of this forum over ENGLISH. By
way of supporting this, I would point out that the HISTORY list is likewise
quiescent most of the time. Very simply, humanism is a broader topic than
history or english. It gathers in all of us, whereas the individual topics
gather only a subset, in part because talk about the profession _does_ form
a significant portion of the talk and such talk really is boring to outsiders.

Since people in the humanities are rather behind in their acquisition of both
computer technology and computer skills, it's not surprising that the
specialty lists have yet to reach critical mass. In short, I'm not convinced
that any great philosophical matter is at issue here.

-= Skip =-