19.726 the digital humanities and the digital arts

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sat, 22 Apr 2006 07:14:03 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 726.
       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> (61)
         Subject: analytic to empathic

   [2] From: Norman Hinton <hinton_at_springnet1.com> (2)
         Subject: Re: 19.723 the digital humanities and the digital arts

         Date: Sat, 22 Apr 2006 07:10:19 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: analytic to empathic

In the "Diary" column for the London Review of Books 28.8 (20 April
2006): 36-7, MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle ruminates on her research
into the relation between people and machines, especially into the
question of how we now tend to regard them: not whether we think they
are alive but, in the early 21st Century, what kind of life our
actions suggest we regard them as having. Her focus is "Tamagotchi
love" -- the emotion owners of these and other such devices express
toward what Turkle calls "relational artefacts". There is much of
interest in the topic, but with the ongoing discussion about
humanities computing and the arts in mind, I want to focus on a
particular aspect of it.

In her column, Turkle recalls two encounters with children twenty years apart:

>In the early 1980s, I met a 13-year-old, Deborah, who responded to
>the experience of computer programming by speaking about the
>pleasures of putting 'a piece of your mind into the computer's mind
>and coming to see yourself differently'. Twenty years later,
>11-year-old Fara reacts to a play session with Cog, a humanoid robot
>at MIT that can meet her eyes, follow where she is in the room, and
>imitate her movements, by saying that she could never get tired of
>the robot because 'it's not like a toy because you can't teach a
>toy; it's like something that's part of you, you know, something you
>love, kind of like another person, like a baby.' The contrast
>between the two responses reveals a shift from projection onto an
>object to engagement with a subject.

At the core of the argument I have been making for some time now is
Deborah's brilliant observation. There you go, I say to myself -- a
whole career built from something so obvious a child could see it,
and did, just about the time I came to the same conclusion. My
version of it was that what's most remarkable for the humanities
about computing is that having put representations of cultural
artefacts into the computer, we come to see them differently.

Perhaps, then, I may be excused for wondering whether once again a
child, Turkle's Fara, has got the jump on us by observing mutatis
mutandis that the computer is not so much an external thing into
which we shove our representations, rather that "it's like something
that's part of you... kind of like another person". Fara's remark
suggests that what we should be looking to is not so much, or not
exclusively, the analytic but the empathic relation between the
artist/craftsman and the production of his or her hands.

Two of the lectures in "Digital Scholarship, Digital Culture"
(Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 30.2, 2005), Yorick Wilks'
"Artificial companions" and Ian Hacking's "The Cartesian vision
fulfilled: analogue bodies and digital minds", are relevant here.
They're available at http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/maney/isr.

At the end of his contribution to Humanist 19.723, Steve Ramsay asks,
"How, then, does this vocabulary [of software criticism] (dumb as
statues) arrange itself into critical discourse? What's the
difference between pointing to enjambment or metonymy and doing
literary criticism?" In general, what happens in the training of a
literary critic, as he or she moves from enjambment-pointing and the
like to having the voice we listen to? What does this tell us about
our situation? My answer would be to pull out Northrop Frye's The
Educated Imagination (Toronto: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation,
1963; rpt Toronto: Anansi Press, www.anansi.ca), and then to ask,
what is an educated imagination of computing?



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: Sat, 22 Apr 2006 07:11:05 +0100
         From: Norman Hinton <hinton_at_springnet1.com>
         Subject: Re: 19.723 the digital humanities and the digital arts

The humanities need the arts and vice versa, and we all need both.
Whether they are digital or not is (you'll pardon my saying so in
here) irrelevant.
Received on Sat Apr 22 2006 - 02:29:57 EDT

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