13.0027 what for?

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Fri, 21 May 1999 07:07:40 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 27.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Fri, 21 May 1999 07:09:49 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: what we do all this for

Recently I put a talk of mine online, at
<http://ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/essays/know/> -- yet another attempt to deal
with humanities computing and where it fits into our schemes of things.
Shortly thereafter I received an &quot;outburst&quot; from one of us,
vigorously objecting to my silence on important work along one of the lines
I follow there and to the obvious ignorance that resulted. I realised then
that the essay had been taken as intentionally definitive rather than as an
attempt to define and so to provoke commentary such as that very outburst.

There are several reasons, I suppose, why such misunderstandings happen.
The thing *looks* finished, for one -- I do try not to produce messy HTML,
but sometimes I would really like a rusticating function that would make it
visually obvious how tentative a document is. (Some people intentionally
make typos, then add corrections to the printed copy before circulating it;
alas, HTML does not allow for that sophistication.) For another thing, our
scholarship, I suppose, isn't conversational enough yet to allow for
deliberate provocation in quite that way. Then, too, there are always
cultural differences as well as differences of personal style.

I recall being in a face-to-face seminar once, on Milton, led by Northrop
Frye. At the first meeting it was clear to me that we students were all
frightened stiff by the presence of such a fellow and the prospect of
confronting him once a week for a whole year. I (as scared as anyone, I
suppose) remember sitting there and thinking, if I say anything at all, my
ignorance and foolishness will be immediately obvious, but if I say nothing
I won't learn much, so I'll talk anyway. So I asked him a question, can't
remember what. Then started a conversation that lasted the whole year, the
most powerful experience I've ever had in a classroom. I thought better,
faster, clearer than I had ever thought before; it was utterly exhilirating!

So, thanks to Reed College, where I first learned the value of mouthing off
among smart people, and to Northrop Frye, sine qua non, I make bold here to
tickle the tiger again and see if I cannot get a better or just different
roar than my own. To advance our field it seems to me that we need to fit
together all the wisdom we have, make something coherent out of the
aggregate. To do that, we need to have that wisdom to hand. My hope was AND
IS to coax it out into this open forum so that we can all take a look.



Humanist Discussion Group
Information at <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/>