Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 220.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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Date: Fri, 05 Sep 2003 09:34:29 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The untimely and tragic death of Antonio Zampolli, reported here by
Alessandro Lenci on 25 August in Humanist 17.199, has left those of us who
knew him stunned and, alas, mostly silent. For those in Humanist who did
not know him, I refer you to the obituaries written by Michael
Sperberg-McQueen for TEI-L
and by Hans Uszkoreit for Language Technology World
(http://www.lt-world.org/ie_index.html). I will not attempt here to do
anything remotely like the same, having neither a great fund of stories
about the man with which to create a vivid sense of loss nor enough
familiarity within the scope of his interests and accomplishments to give a
fair professional assessment of our indebtedness to him. Both the loss and
the indebtedness are huge, without measure -- and the sharpest of reminders
that life matters, every blessed moment of it.
Thinking about Antonio for the last many days has had my memories of him on
the boil, reducing them to an unclouded exhiliration of intelligence. You
know, the state of mind induced by a great draught of Emily's "liquor never
There are many politically powerful men and women in the world, some of
whom are very smart. They do not have to talk to the likes of us, and
mostly they don't. We are a breed of specialists, and mostly, it seems, we
neither talk to those outside our well-defended specialities nor see the
need of real conversation -- which, after all, is dangerous: it means
taking the substantial risk of exposing our ignorance, and so actually
learning. God forbid that we should learn, and so learn that we weren't so
smart after all! If we still know why it is we do what we do, why it
genuinely matters in and to the greater world, we seem largely incapable of
communicating that which got us going originally, back when ideas mattered.
I don't wish to be inaccurately or excessively gloomy, especially not in
the midst of a celebration of Antonio's life. But I have been reminded of
what we are now missing.
Yesterday, amidst literal piles of quite mediocre scholarship that I have
had to read in recent days (see the piles of photocopies and printouts all
over the floor of my study, blocking the way to the door) I encountered an
article by the extraordinarily brilliant and plain-speaking theoretical
chemist Giuseppe Del Re, "Models and analogies in science", Hyle:
International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry 6.1 (2000). Suddenly,
once again, that rush from an encounter with a real mind. And so I
remembered Antonio, along with Northrop Frye, and a few others. When
talking with them it wasn't that they seemed so smart, and so by engaging
with us made us feel we were in fit company, at last among equals. Rather
it was, and always is, that in such conversations we suddenly thought
better, more clearly, faster than before. Intelligence, Ludwik Fleck wrote,
is a social phenomenon.
I will miss our powerful ally in the corridors of the language industries,
the able administrator, fine scholar and wonderfully warm-hearted friend.
How fortunate his students have been. How fortunate all of us.
Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
Humanities | King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20
7848-2784 fax: -2980 || email@example.com
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