11.0728 text-analysis and philatelic passions

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Tue, 5 May 1998 16:54:40 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 728.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
<http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/>
<http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/>

[1] From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> (41)
Subject: text-analysis

[2] From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca> (36)
Subject: philately

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Date: Sat, 02 May 1998 11:38:19 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: text-analysis

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I have been thinking recently about exemplary problems in text-analysis,
whether this is done algorithmically or metatextually, in markup. My context
is popularist, I hope in the best sense of the term, i.e. arising from the
need to reach undergraduates on the one hand and recalcitrant colleagues on
the other. Between those two, more in the line of what we call research, is
I think some genuine gold ore.

By exemplary I mean particularly rich, complex, difficult, taking these
qualities to exemplify the problem of interpretation most fully. What sort
of texts, what genres? I would think the kind that works mostly by
suggestion. A very simple example would be Victorian pornography, but that
was written to be transparent, usually involving (I'm guessing, of course
never having read any :-) nothing more difficult than substitution of one
term (e.g. "flower") for another ("%$^"). Possibly current text-analytic
techniques can handle that kind quite easily, and perhaps we'll see very
soon some articles on the subject in our learned journals. Cheap shots
aside, however, I'd think that texts that cannot say what they must say,
because the recipient's reaction is uncertain, as in preliminary verbal
flirting, because the message may be read but must not be understood by
others than the intended or because the author is writing in extremis,
perforce in a "language of the unsayable" about matters that lie outside the
orbit of language altogether.

Take, for example, attempted communication between lovers so estranged that
no communication is possible: words that tear one apart mean nothing to the
other. Does this not suggest that meaning cannot lie in words at all but is
evoked by them? Contrast this with a situation of intense intimacy, in which
any textual trace whatever is sufficient, any word suggestive of that
intimacy. Doesn't this indicate the same tangential relationship between
words and meaning? So what can be the business of text-analysis?

All this leads me to think that the textual analysis of love letters, or
more accurately letters between lovers, future, present and former, would
make a wonderful project, if only to indicate the enlightening futility of
the attempt.

What other kinds of texts would work well along such lines?

WM
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5801
e-mail: Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk
<http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/>

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Date: Mon, 4 May 1998 14:11:01 -0400 (EDT)
From: Francois Lachance <lachance@chass.utoronto.ca>
Subject: philately

Willard,

Postage stamps may only peripherally interest the readers of Humanist.
However, when these mark the anniversary of a copyright law and depict
cultural production, they may deserve some attention.

I borrow the following description of a recent Tawainese issue from
Robert Aaron writing in the Toronto Star of April 25.

Its innovative design features 10 symbols representing
categories of human creative or intellectual endeavour
protected under the law.

They are all superimposed across the silhouette of a
human head, symbolizing brainstorming.

Surrounding the head is a rainbow, symbolizing
wisdom, while two hands -- signifying
protection -- cup the head.

The symbols within the head represent
works of written or oral language,
music, drama and dance, fine arts,
photography, graphics, audiovisuals,
sound recording, architecture and
computer programming.

That is a lot of freight to make one stamp carry. I am curious as to
how it would be carried off. And curious about other matters as well.
Since Aaron disingenuously concludes his ekphraksis with a statement
of being unable to provide an illustration of
the design since it is itself the subject of copyright, one wonders if
he or his editor ever sought the right to reproduce an image of the
stamp. One could observe the incursion of the trope of
irreproducibility in other contemporary discourses. Then again one
could consider permission seeking and the different production scales
of newspaper publishing and academic presses. Or to return to
specifics, one could try to find out if the Tawain postal service has
a WWW site and meditate upon the ephemerality of pretexts and the
construction of archives. Of course that's a lot of questions for one
instance to generate.

As ever intrigued by the telling detail,

Francois

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