11.0437 light on dark ages

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Tue, 2 Dec 1997 21:12:29 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 437.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
<http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/>
<http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/>

Date: Tue, 2 Dec 1997 11:12:16 -0500 (EST)
From: Gary Shawver <gshawver@chass.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Re: 11.0432 dreaming of the light

>It is easy to get caught up in the bells & whistles of our new machines,
>but we have been printing since the fifteenth century.

I certainly haven't. I think the whole point of getting caught up in the
"bells & whistle" is that for perhaps the first time in human history
persons of moderate means can publish their own material and make it world
accessable (to other persons of moderate means). It's certainly more power
than the printing press or photocopier has afforded for some time.

>We have to look up
>and see the light of the day, step out of our medieval cells.

Is the implication here that contemplation is wrong and that the natural
place of the academic is out on the barricades?

> The
>Renaissance broke the back of the dark ages;

That sounds painful! As is the logical disjunction between this clause and
the one following.

>thus Saul's argument that
>universities are sinking into medieval scholasticism.

If Saul's understanding of the past is as simplistic as this (haven't read
the book so I'm relying on this redaction), I mistrust his ability to say
anything useful about the present. As a medievalist, I have found that
moderns use the Middle Ages as a convenient means of negative definition.
We are not what they were. It is the ultimate other. Unfortunately, we
often ascribe to that age the very qualities that define us simply because
they are unpleasant. The Renaissance did indeed "break the back of the dark
ages" (a disturbingly appropriate metaphor). It also ushered in the era of
witch-hunts, totalitarianism, and genocide on a global scale, which we call
the modern age.

There, I feel much better now.

Please forgive my medievalist rant, though it does point out that not all
we academics accept even the simple proposition that the so-called "dark
ages" were. It also points out that Saul may have unconscious assumptions
of his own that bear examination.

Surely the culture wars that have swept universities for the past few
decades with all the vehemence of the earlier wars of religion are at least
as big a reason for academia's impotence as any unconscious corporatism.
Could it be that the triumph of many divergent ideologies, and of the idea
of ideology itself, has lead to academia's self-marginalization? How can we
hope to affect change in a democracy if to the electorate we appear to be
speaking in tongues?

^─We have to grow up
>and learn by doing, not playing with toys.

It there a real distinction here? And haven't we become what we are
fighting if we reject the idea of play?

gary

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