12.0527 blurring of lines, academic purity &c.

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Wed, 31 Mar 1999 18:41:42 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 527.
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: Jim Marchand <marchand@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu> (22)
Subject: Scholarship engagee

[2] From: Jim Marchand <marchand@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu> (30)
Subject: blurring, etc.

[3] From: Jan Christoph Meister <jan-c-meister@rrz.uni- (79)
hamburg.de>
Subject: 12.0521 - Purity

[4] From: Patricia Galloway <galloway@mdah.state.ms.us> (16)
Subject: Re: 12.0521 purity of academia stained?

[5] From: Jim Marchand <marchand@UX1.CSO.UIUC.EDU> (18)
Subject: Humanities and Sciences

--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 31 Mar 1999 18:26:28 +0100
From: Jim Marchand <marchand@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: Scholarship engagee

You are right, Willard, that the borders have gotten blurred, or at least
more so, in recent years. We have had for a long time the spectre (I don't
mean `ghost'; it is still, horresco referens, among us) of _litterature
engagee_, where literature is perverted to political and social interests.
The same thing happens, of course, in scholarship, particularly in the
humanities, where _Erklaeren_, according to whatever (value)-system one
subscribes to is used to explain, e.g. a work of medieval literature,
replaces _Verstehen_, the attempt to understand the author and situate him
in his time or place. This leads, of course, to motive mongering and the
attribution to authors of otherwhere and otherwhen motives they certainly
never had, through a kind of chauvinism of the here and now. The alterity
of medieval man (there, I said it) is certainly there, but that does not
give us the right or even a reason to fail to try to understand him. Other
peoples, races, cultures, times, places may `think differently' than we do,
even chop up the world differently (Whorf). We should avoid pouring them
into our own procrustean mode of thought. But now I have lost the thread,
haven't I? Aegritudo senectutis garrulitas. It is too bad that things blur,
but if we allow other fields to impinge upon our own, what happens to our
own (Sartre, Staiger)? There is nothing wrong with using psychoanalysis in
literary criticism, for example; we just have to keep in mind that it is
literary criticism and not psychoanalysis. Freud on Dostoievsky, for
example, is not literary criticism.
Jim Marchand.

--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 31 Mar 1999 18:27:14 +0100
From: Jim Marchand <marchand@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: blurring, etc.

For most problems there is an obverse. In worrying about blurring and
intrusion of other disciplines into ours, we run the risk of fostering over-
compartmentalization and balkanization (how up-to-date that old term sounds
today!) of scholarship. It is good to hear of hyphenated fields and multi-
discipline approaches where appropriate. {Aside: This is der springende
Punkt, appropriate, and this is what distinguishes the humanities from the
sciences. We do not for the most part have algorithms, and we search for
epieikeia, to use Thomas' revival of an old Greek expression. The best the
sciences can do in this direction is `closeness of fit'}.

Anyway, I always thought that Emil Staiger expressed the problem of the
blurring of lines for the literary critic (indeed for the worker in any
field) quite well:

Emil Staiger, Die Zeit als Einbildungskraft des Dichters (Zurich, 1939), p.
15. Along the same lines, I. A. Richards in his Speculative Instruments
(London, 1955) 3-17.

Und so mag und soll der Literarhistoriker manches unternehmen, andern
Wissenschaften dienen und von andern zehren -- beides bringt dem Ganzen
Gewinn --; er mag Kulturgemaelde entwerfen oder Lebenegeschichten
erzaehlen: im eigenen Hause schaltet er und den Auftrag, der an ihn
besonders ergangen ist, fuehrt er aus, wenn er die, Sprache gewordenen,
Welten der Dichter wissenschaftlich beschreibt.

"And thus the literary historian can take up many things, serve other
disciplines and draw upon others -- both offer gains for the common
enterprise --; he can paint pictures of cultures or relate biographies; he is
master in his own house and he fulfills the task which is laid upon him in
particular when he describes in a scholarly fashion the worlds of the poet
which have been turned into language."

I apologize for the translation; traduttore traditore. Staiger was as much a
poet as a literary critic, and he blurred the distinction.

!
Jim Marchand.

--[3]------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 31 Mar 1999 18:32:39 +0100
From: Jan Christoph Meister <jan-c-meister@rrz.uni-hamburg.de>
Subject: 12.0521 - Purity

11:40
27.03.1999

Dear Willard,

I for one take great interest in HUMANIST postings informing on any
cross-fertilization between "pure" and industry-related research in
Humanities Computing. Obviously the product or service will have to have a
tangible cognitive or practical impact on the academic interest in
Humanities Computing in order to qualify for distribution of a respective
message. The majority of such notices that I have come across on HUMANIST
adhered to that criterion.

Given this restriction - what really could be wrong about advertising the
commercial angle of an academic project? Do they come in disguise? I have
found most industry-related postings to be very clear w.r.t. their
advertising function - and that for me is the second criterion for deciding
what conforms to ethical standards and what doesn't. We do have
advertisements in "Journal for Literary and Linguistic Computing" and I am
not aware of anyone taking exception to that - why? I guess because a) these
ads are generally accepted to be relevant to our scholarly work in some way
or other even where they relate to some highly specialized field of enquiry;
b) because their appelative function is obvious. In other words, these are
ads - and everyone realizes that at a glance. Sure, a posting on HUMANIST is
by comparison extraordinarily cheap to get, and a discussion list also has
the "feel" of a subject or theme related personal two-way communication, and
not that of a magazine or journal where anybody can buy ad space. In other
words, there is an aura of authoritativeness (?) and of accepting personal
responsibility (if not liability) for posted contents to the
contributions that make up HUMANIST's discourse. The conventions
governing academic discourse are markedly different to those which apply to
the meta-fiction of advertising. Or so we hope.

Two points of principle might warrant discussion, though.

1. It is high time scholars of the humanities woke up to the fact that we,
too, need to look for potential stake holders and partners in our academic
endeavors who are based in that "other", market-driven reality where
advertising/marketing is deemed to be as important as actual product
development. This is partially for pragmatic and material reasons (such as,
entering partnerships, securing project-bound research funding etc.), and
partially for the purpose of contextualizing our practice in society.
Bringing an industry related issue, product or service to our attention via
HUMANIST is not necessarily a bad thing - provided we can agree on formal
and qualitative criteria to be met. Also, there is a fair amount of
colleagues with a keen interest in Humanities Computing, but without a
secure (or even tenured) position at a university. Some of these people do
pioneering work precisely because they don't have that type of security.
Humanities Computing can only benefit from staying in touch with them and
learning about their activities.

2. Academic "purity" of discourse is anyhow in the process of being eroded
on our list: If anything has been putting me off in HUMANIST postings over
the past year or so it is an increase in unsolicited self-advertising not by
"semi-commercial", but by "pure" academic contributors. A focused response
to a query of the type "I am looking for publications on X - can someone
help?" is perfectly legitimate in listing publications (own and foreign).
The same goes for a contribution toward a discussion. This is information ad
rem, it furthers the debate. What I have observed off lately, however, are
cases of "casual" placings of (auto)bibliographical references,
self-portrayals and -reviews in subordinate clauses that have preciously
little to do with the subject matter at hand. These often come with the
added ornatus of absurdly verbose signatures, motti and a stack of URLs.
Legitimate self-promotion? I find this annoying - but then my complaint
might well point to a culture specific idiosyncrasy. Pressure on academics
to engage in covert self-advertising obviously differs according to
geographical location, individual position and status. Nevertheless, I am
still waiting to run into the selection committee that has taken the trouble
to check on anybody's discussion list postings. The effort of self
promotion in this medium therefore strikes me as wasted.

In the end, it will be the moderator's prerogative to assess (and "prune")
submissions prior to publication - but each and every contributor could
clearly make this an easier and more enjoyable task if we simply asked
ourselves one crucial question before posting a message: Cui bono? If the
answer to this is any other than "Humanities Computing" then it doesn't
belong on HUMANIST. Bearing in mind, of course, that this is a concept
each and everyone is at liberty to interpret somewhat differently - which is
exactly why we bother to engage in a discussion in
the first place.

Chris

**************************

Dr. Jan Christoph Meister
Arbeitsstelle zur Sozialgeschichte der Literatur
Literaturwissenschaftliches Seminar
Universitšt Hamburg
E-Mail: jan-c-meister@rrz.uni-hamburg.de

--[4]------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 31 Mar 1999 18:32:57 +0100
From: Patricia Galloway <galloway@mdah.state.ms.us>
Subject: Re: 12.0521 purity of academia stained?

Remember the military-industrial complex? That included academia in
spades, with the jackpot going to physics and chemistry, and it created
computer science. Poor humanists were left out of that round, and now
the sociobiologists and neo-Darwinians are trying to allege that the
Human Genome Project (the Manhattan Project of the 90s; this time the
goldmine is in the lap of molecular biology) will lead to knowledge that
will make the humanities obsolete. So somebody's going to complain that
an occasional humanities scholar writes a popular history book or a
useful bit of software? Please pardon me if I'm not much bothered. Since
when has academia ever been pure? Didn't masters in the first
universities have to attract students to get paid? And just how did they
do that?

-- 
Patricia Galloway
Mississippi Department of Archives and History
P.O. Box 571, Jackson, MS 39205-0571
voice 601-359-6863

--[5]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Wed, 31 Mar 1999 18:41:57 +0100 From: Jim Marchand <marchand@UX1.CSO.UIUC.EDU> Subject: Humanities and Sciences

Speaking of the differences between the Sciences and the Humanities, one of the most important is that between (to try a Crocean twist) the cognitive and the symbolic. `Cognitive' is an adjective much used nowadays, so it has (Zipf's Law) accrued lots of meanings, but it seems to me that the sciences lean towards the cognitive (Aristotelian, yes/no) and we lean towards the affective (non-Aristotelian). This is seen quite well in the computer, as the term is used mostly nowadays (i.e. the digital computer), where the logic is mostly bi-valued. I know that there is the possibility of a poly-valued approach in computers, but I am speaking of `mostly' here. {An example of poly-valued: Jon T. Butler, ed. _Multiple-Valued Logic in VLSI_. IEEE Computer Society Press, 1991}. The humanities tend towards poly-valued ideas and concepts, full of stippled spectra, more so-less so, ideal type, etc. We are in danger of being swamped by the cognitive approach, and such things as `fuzzy logic, fuzzy set theory' do not help much.

Using the mode of definition I have been using here, one might `define' poetry as dealing with that which cannot be said. Wittgenstein said: Was man nicht sagen kann, darueber muss man schweigen, or words to that effect; a poet might answer: Was man nicht sagen kann, darueber muss man dichten. Jim Marchand.

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