16.010 cultural divisions

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty (w.mccarty@btinternet.com)
Date: Wed May 08 2002 - 02:07:33 EDT

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                    Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 10.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

       [1] From: "Nancy Weitz" <nancy.weitz@computing- (77)
             Subject: Re: 15.638 cultural divisions

       [2] From: Willard McCarty <w.mccarty@btinternet.com> (33)
             Subject: cultural differences

             Date: Wed, 08 May 2002 06:31:39 +0100
             From: "Nancy Weitz" <nancy.weitz@computing-services.oxford.ac.uk>
             Subject: Re: 15.638 cultural divisions

    I've experienced this disjunction in very mild form while collaborating with a
    French colleague, but I've long suspected that my impression was misleading
    as the book is in English and targeted at an Anglo academic audience, she was
    actually absorbing the lion's share of any differences.

    Her response:

    "I agree totally: I have often felt that what seemed really interesting and
    relevant to me (us in France) had no bearing with what people in Britain and
    in America were doing. And vice versa. But there are common territories,
    thank God. I think it is due to very different academic traditions. For one
    thing, French people (in literary studies) have elevated 'close
    study/reading' to the status of an art form, which ties in with our very
    formalist approaches in teaching AND research. A result, partly, of
    structuralism (although it must correspond to a deep engrained cultural
    trait, and structuralism itself might have been a manifestation of that).
    This might explain why historical studies are not so hot in this country.
    Foucault is supposed to have said something quite funny about this: 'In
    France we don't have any good libraries, there we have ideas'. "
    (L. Cottegnies, University of Paris 8)

             Date: Wed, 08 May 2002 06:57:26 +0100
             From: Willard McCarty <w.mccarty@btinternet.com>
             Subject: cultural differences

    It seems to me that the issue of cultural differences we are discussing
    with respect to work in humanities computing is a special case of cultural
    differences as a whole. Are they not, as a whole, both good and bad? I
    think of Clifford Geertz's fine essay, "Anti- Anti-Relativism", in his book
    Available Light: Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics
    (Princeton, 2000), pp. 42-67, in which he treats such things in the light
    and darkness of current intellectual cross-winds, as instances of the
    genuine problem of coming to know and interact with other kinds of people.
    Our own, local traditions are to be treasured, not treated as kinds of
    mental imperalism (unless of course they're used that way), to be disposed
    of in favour of a cultural esperanto -- but also to be realized as partial.

    This all ends in a question, because, I realize, I am arguing for the
    ex-pat's view of nationality and the adventurous cook's view of cuisine,
    i.e. I am being autobiographical. I suppose we all are, and that's just
    another statement of the problem. Your cookbooks will give you away every
    time. But -- I guess I'm hungry -- when I'm in Italy (all too rarely) I
    realize that however hard I may try in the kitchen it's not the same, and
    without the Real Thing going on there as a natural expression of that
    culture, my poor imitations would cease. Perhaps they should anyhow, but I
    do enjoy the results.

    Where does this get us? Back to the problem, as a real problem. Of course
    we should all speak, read and write all languages, and we all should be
    reading everything relevant to our field (which is limitless) written in
    all those languages, including Romanian (among many other languages in
    which such work is done). But that would clarify the problem, not solve it.
    And, in our ignorance, we're not *completely* wrong.

    Further comments?


    Dr Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer,
    Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London,
    Strand, London WC2R 2LS, U.K.,
    +44 (0)20 7848-2784, ilex.cc.kcl.ac.uk/wlm/,
    willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk, w.mccarty@btinternet.com

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