14.0678 function follows form, or not

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: Sun Feb 18 2001 - 03:02:29 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 678.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

       [1] From: erose@Princeton.EDU (9)
             Subject: Re: 14.0676 function follows form?

       [2] From: Patrick Durusau <pdurusau@emory.edu> (88)
             Subject: Re: 14.0676 function follows form?

       [3] From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance) (71)
             Subject: Re: 14.0676 function follows form?

             Date: Sun, 18 Feb 2001 07:54:45 +0000
             From: erose@Princeton.EDU
             Subject: Re: 14.0676 function follows form?

    I don't know know if it is the mediun. I too gave my undergraduate students a
    brief essay assignment and a number handed in straight narrative papers
    although I too had made the distinction between narrative and historical
    argument. [Two began "I did this..I found this.. I looked here.."] It may more
    to do with the expectations and practice of students than the medium [I'm not
    sure if those students attended the class on essay writing]. My course is very
    traditional (medieval Ireland and England) with traditional readings, although
    they did have the option of reviewing and comparing websites on various topics.

    [Do you have any recommendations where I can send my students on the web to
    learn more about argument per se?]

             Date: Sun, 18 Feb 2001 07:55:17 +0000
             From: Patrick Durusau <pdurusau@emory.edu>
             Subject: Re: 14.0676 function follows form?


    I don't see web pages (or more generally hypertext medium) as the source
    of the student's question.

    Willard McCarthy wrote:


    > About a week ago, in the run-up to submission of a major assignment in the
    > form of a Web page, I gave an hour's lecture to my first-year students on
    > essay writing. I concentrated on the difference between argument and
    > narrative and spent some time on elaborating the structure of the former. I
    > did this because in my experience first-year students have no idea of what
    > an argument is: ask them for one and they give you the story of what they
    > did, blow by blow. So I not only elaborated the point, I belaboured it. At
    > the end of the lecture, a student came up to me and, clearly puzzled, asked
    > if she really had to submit a "formal" essay, by which she meant a
    > structured argument. Since it was to be in the form of a Web page, she
    > asked, shouldn't the essay be just an account of what she did in
    > researching the topic?

    It is easy to find web pages that are narratives and not arguments but I
    suspect they reflect a general trend that privileges narrative and
    personal experience.

    > The question was asked by a bright, attentive student in a class of
    > intelligent people. So I think that she was listening but that what I said
    > appeared to her to be utterly at variance with (indeed, irrelevant to) the
    > nature of the medium in which she was being asked to work.

    I would say that it was at variance with her experience with the medium,
    not a characteristic of the medium itself.

    > Of course we all
    > know that one can put old-fashioned essays online, indeed can compose
    > prose arguments with HTML. I'd be inclined simply to think that her
    > question came from her somewhat limited experience of the Web -- were it
    > not for the fact that argumentation in a hypertextual medium is no simple
    > matter. (As some will know better than I do, a growing body of scholarship
    > has taken up the problem of how to conduct an argument in a medium in which
    > the reader ultimately determines the sequence of presentation. It's not at
    > all obvious that an effective argument is possible.) So I am left wondering
    > if my student has not told me something important to us all. Are we trying
    > to swim upstream?

    I am not sure how you reach the statements:

    "...argumentation in a hypertextual medium is no simple matter."


    "...a medium in which the reader ultimately determines the sequence of

    At this stage of hypertext development (which may change if XLinks are
    widely implemented) the author of an essay determines whether hyperlinks
    will appear and where they will appear in an essay. It is hardly the
    case that readers can arbitrarily change the sequence of presentation
    anymore than a reader who flips through the pages of an essay has
    altered the order of presentation in a printed version. (The browsing
    reader has changed the order of presentation in a sense but that simply
    illlustrates that bad reading practices cut across various modes of

    I am concerned with your claim that the hypertext medium is
    qualitatively different from traditional modes of presentation.
    Hypertext links are no more than modern implementations of the
    references that the glossators placed in margins of the Code of
    Justinian or the masora in the Hebrew Bible. Rather than relying mastery
    of a large body of textual material, the modern user can access the
    information pointed to by a hyperlink.

    Consider the case of an author who uses a classical allusion in the
    course of a structured argument. They can depend upon a readership that
    will recognize the allusion (which hopefully strengthens the argument)
    or they can incorporate a hyperlink that takes the reader to additional
    material. In either case, the reader has referenced material not
    directly represented in the formal argument. And in both cases it was
    the author who inserted (or did not insert) the hypertext link to alert
    the reader to additional material.

    > Please note the immediately previous metaphor. Our own conditioning is so
    > strong that even we are apt to see determinisms where they do not exist
    > outside our own heads. Of course one can swim upstream, but the subtle (or
    > not so subtle) force of the flowing water is against the swimmer. Is the
    > Web pushing us in another direction altogether? Is it a mistake to give
    > students such an assignment? Should I in the future give that lecture in
    > costume (and if so, what costume should I wear)?

    Has there ever been a time when the rigors of formal argumentation
    (formerly known as rhetoric) was not the subject of instruction? Now
    that personal narrative has a stage other than oral recitation or
    freshman essays, is that a reason to abandon such instruction? The
    amount of personal narrative has always been greater in bulk (and
    volume) than formal argumentation so the water has always been flowing
    against the latter.


    Patrick Durusau
    Director of Research and Development
    Society of Biblical Literature

    --[3]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Sun, 18 Feb 2001 07:55:36 +0000 From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance) Subject: Re: 14.0676 function follows form?


    It must be the coming of the vernal equinox in your hemisphere and the sun's progress through the water sign of Pisces that causes the streaming of metaphors of swimming in your discourse about function, form and following.

    Now that zodical allusion is a nugget of a potential tall tale. It is also in noce an argument since it proposes that a certain series of events has an effect on an other series of events.

    Narratology distinguishes narrative from narration (see Gerald Prince _A Dictionary of Narratology_ under the entry "plot"). Along with the Russion Formalist distinction between sjuzet (my apologies to the Slavicists among us for the lack of diacritical marks) and fabula, Prince provides a reference to E.M. Forster 1927 _Aspects of the Novel_ where a plot as a narrative of events with an emphasis on causality is opposed to a story which is a narrative of events with an emphasis on chronology.

    As you have witnessed, I take chronologies to imply arguments and have on occasion used to rhetorical effect the connections my interlocutors tend to create while scanning lists which I have generated (ask Wendell). Now I ask you, do you have students parse an argument, a chunk of narrative or a simple list? Do they understand that their reading activity threads a syntagm, produces a path?

    I have recently been sent back to read Heidegger. He opens "The Question Concerning Technology" thus:

    In what follows we shall be _questioning_ concerning technology. Questioning builds a way. We would be advised, therefore, above all to pay heed to the way, and not to fix our attention on isolated sentences and topics. The way is a way of thinking. All ways of thinking, more or less, perceptibly, lead through language in a manner that is extraordinary. [trans. William Lovitt]

    Heidegger ends the essay with a renewed opening, "For questioning is the piety of thought."

    Now I am not counselling a diet of such dense texts to help you and your students. I do find that the question of the question is remarkable in its ability to move our rhetorical trainees from through in around and back again to chronicle and history.

    Meanwhile back at the ranch. Simultaneity is what distinguishes the causal frame of history from the successive frame of chronicle. There are ways to use even the simple hypertextual linking mechanisms of HTML to produce multiple timeline effects.

    If a syllogism repesents nodes, for example,

    Every Computing Humanist is affected by zodical shift. W. is a Computing Humanist. W. is affect by zodiacal shift.

    then a hypertextual presentation of these nodes requires a digital prompt (note this is not a navigational prompt although it is a test for path being followed) which in turn requires if not place holders for negations of propositions or terms at least some acknowlegement of truth valuation.

    Argumentation in a hypertextual presentation requires interpellation:

    If you arrived at this node A from this other node B then this node A is true

    If you arrived at this node A from this other node Y then this node A is false

    If you access node Q from this node A regardless if you access this node A from this other node B or from this other node Y then Q will be true.

    The "you" is the reader. The "you" is also a user who in ages past and even today would write a response indicating agreement or disagreement with the truth valuation of premises and conclusions. The interpellation of "you" as writer is of course in a networked environment the invitation to comment, agree, disagree, qualify or otherwise respond and to do so before an audience.

    Both types of interpellation, the one to take note of an itinerary and the other to dialogue (or to echo), are implicit in nonhypertextual presentation of argumentation in given settings. They seem to need to be explicit in hypertextual presentations for some folks who find their students shy of contemplating the avenues of "if". The way to argumentation for such folks and their students may lie through retelling a beginning and transpo_sign_ing the sense of an ending. Many ways to get there from here or to get to meanwhile from back at the ranch.

    -- Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance Member of the Evelyn Letters Project http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~dchamber/evelyn/evtoc.htm

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