19.252 many taxonomies

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sun, 4 Sep 2005 07:23:53 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 252.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk> (28)
         Subject: being Oxymandias

   [2] From: Ryan Deschamps <Ryan.Deschamps_at_Dal.Ca> (57)
         Subject: Re: 19.249 many taxonomies

         Date: Sat, 03 Sep 2005 07:46:54 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: being Oxymandias

As someone who spent years and funds marking up a text, I've had
Oxymandian megalomaniacal moments -- "Look on my text, ye Mighty, and
dispair!" Perhaps there is this difference: that the new speed of
change has been such that unlike Shelley's King of Kings I can gaze
on my own half-decayed monument and learn something. In Humanist
19.240 I pointed Gould's and Vrba's sentence -- that taxonomies
"reflect (or even create) different theories about the structure of
the world" -- toward markup. Dino Buzzetti has elegantly and quietly
summed up what I meant:

>My point is that we have to accept this basic fact and come to
>realize that markup is essentially ambiguous and indeterminate like
>text. And try to put this indeterminacy to good use by developing
>appropriate tools to deal with it. Otherwise we have to resign
>to markup overload and to live with fixed taxonomies.

Some of us, with Feyerabendian passion, won't live with fixed
taxonomies but war against them. But how much better (to quote
something from my youth) to make love not war. So, again to the
question I had in mind, clarified thanks to Dino: what tools? I
envision something like a cross between textual markup and relational
database design -- i.e. something designed *from the get-go* for the
functionality that would appear to lie between those two kinds. I
know I am dreaming, but is this a dream worth attempting to implement?


Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7
Arundel Street | London WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax:
-2980 || willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/

         Date: Sun, 04 Sep 2005 07:01:57 +0100
         From: Ryan Deschamps <Ryan.Deschamps_at_Dal.Ca>
         Subject: Re: 19.249 many taxonomies

> --[1]------------------------------------------------------------------
> Date: Sat, 03 Sep 2005 07:08:11 +0100
> From: Dino Buzzetti <buzzetti_at_philo.unibo.it>
> >
> Willard,
> I am very glad you raise this point:
> > Markup, our flavour of the decade, seems to promote an
> > excessive tendency to cement in whatever we know how to describe.
> > We've got to move on. But how?
> Well, it would take long to answer. Let me just hint to what I have
> in mind. Take the title of Lynne Truss' bestseller on punctuation:
> (a) Eats, shoots and leaves .
> You may be puzzled and remove the comma to realize that we are talking
> about a panda, who indeed
> (b) Eats shoots and leaves .
> By reading (a) you are puzzled because you assume that the comma,
> actually *markup* (I spare the argument to prove it), is part of
> the text. And it is, actually. As it is also a metalinguistic
> device to assign (b) one of two possible interpretations. As
> soon as you do it, you assume that your diacritical sign (or tag,
> for that matter) is part of the text.

I don't believe that the relationship is that neat. For instance,
given some paragraphs of appropriate context, the average reader may
not even notice the misplaced comma. Even if you do recognize the
comma, if the phrase is in context, the comma is not a tag at all --
it is a <b> that produces italic text. Or it tags annoyance for
certain copy writer types and english teachers.

Personally, I very much enjoyed this review of eats, shoots and
leaves: http://www.newyorker.com/critics/books/?040628crbo_books1

A poorly placed markup could be more profound effect than a misplaced
comma. Missing an end-bracket, for instance can make a real mess of
text -- to the point that it is unreadable. CSS does alot to impact
the aesthetics -- and therefore the readability -- of textual
information. And via xml you have the descriptive information to
help other objects besides the text (ie RSS feeds & search engines)
somewhat organized.

Markup may distinguish between interpretations, but it extends to the
aesthetic -- albeit non-textual aesthetic. My impression is that it
is more akin to the design and shape of a book than it is to
grammar/punctuation, although it may have characteristics of
both. The confusing part is that it is a jeckyl-hyde sort of
thing. It looks like text (and is therefore description) when
viewed with one set of spectacles, and it is mere accent to language
using another.

But where to take this in a way that will matter to the average
reader of internet text? Here's another way at achieving meaning
through something besides markup --
http://www.tenbyten.org. Cross-reference as markup?

Ryan. . .

Ryan Deschamps
Received on Sun Sep 04 2005 - 02:35:49 EDT

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