Date: Wed, 09 Dec 1998 18:08:01 +0000
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: the solsticial holidays
THIS YEAR, for good and joyous reasons, your editor's preparations for
Christmas begin earlier than usual and involve a sojourn to foreign parts --
if an ex-pat's return to his native land can be framed in those terms. The
denizens over there are civilised and technologically quite advanced :-) ,
but the distance between where I will be and the machine where postings to
Humanist come is great, and I am likely to be quite taken up with activities
appropriate to the occasion, and so not always able to get to a computer
when Internet traffic is most favourable. For that reason I am exercising my
privilege of sending out a universal holiday greeting, otherwise reserved
for the solstice, rather earlier than usual.
The solstice and Humanist are closely bound up together in my mind because
of the occasion when I left the editor's chair, and I took the occasion
immediately after a solsticial party in Kensington Market (Toronto) to
announce the sad event. Sad for me at least. Many years have passed since
then, we all and the world have changed in many ways, some of them
unimaginable until they happened, but Humanist continues -- and, thank God,
so do I. On two yearly occasions (the birthday of Humanist, 7 May, and the
solstitial holidays) I take the opportunity of their return to reflect on
all manner of things related to our seminar.
Since coming to King's London, where mirabile dictu I am paid to teach and
do research in humanities computing, I have been thinking hard about the
nature of the field and working on a kind of manifesto. At the core of my
effort has been an attempt to construct a cogent model for how computing
interacts with the humanities. Models are powerful precisely because they
limit thought and shape it, but they are also meant to be played with. They
are devices we use to reach what otherwise we cannot, not true but useful. I
have mentioned before Peter Galison's wonderful study, Image and logic: A
material culture of microphysics, which I have found invaluable for the
model he adopts: the "trading zone" between disparate cultures, where
pidgins are created to facilitate exchange of goods. Our field is like that,
I think: an open commons where methods are traded, where techniques of
research in one field are carried over to others. Perhaps more of this
happens on Humanist than I think -- as in teaching, it's hard to know who
benefits, who remembers, who is changed.
Men and women of experience will know that it's miraculous that any
intellectual exchange ever happens -- more radically, that any real
communication ever happens. I have certainly felt that when it did it
justified all the nonsense involved in the daily life of our institutions
and ourselves. There are such moments. In my experience they have involved
taking great risks -- leaping off a cliff in order to learn how to fly.
Deciding to chance being thought a fool, or worse, of the ridicule that
comes so easily. Years ago I remember a conversation with a now prominent
member of our field, who expressed to me the great trepidation about saying
anything on Humanist -- all those people would read what he typed! My
undergraduate training (at Reed College) got me started with the
intellectual rough-and-tumble, and I've never looked back. How can you learn
anything if you only speak when you know you're right? It seems to be the
same with love as well -- terrifying risks, but what rewards!
So, your exhortation for the day: write to Humanist, and fall in love. The
latter is, of course, your concern entirely, but as it (or some
approximation) is far commoner than writing to Humanist, I make the parallel
for the benefit of our seminar. I think also, however, of a Hebrew proverb:
"Do what you do only out of love."
And this is why doing Humanist is no burden but an honour and a privilege.
Allow me, then, from my position of honour and privilege :-) to offer you
my very best wishes for the holidays -- Chanukah in 5 days, the solstice 7
days later, Christmas 4 days after that and several other celebrations I
simply don't know about but am unwittingly enriched by.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5801
Humanist Discussion Group
Information at <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/>