20.168 the presence of Busa

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sat, 26 Aug 2006 15:23:28 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 168.
       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> (36)
         Subject: the presence of Busa

   [2] From: Martin Mueller <martin.mueller_at_mac.com> (85)
         Subject: Re: 20.167 the presence of Busa

         Date: Fri, 25 Aug 2006 09:15:37 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: the presence of Busa

Steve's question, about whether the Index has made a difference to
the theological project that inspired its maker, is a good one. It
would be good to know whether that work ever proved useful to the man
himself. A larger question Steve's question suggests -- whether it
made a difference Aquinas scholarship, or to scholarship more
generally -- is, I think, unanswerable. How can one determine how
much of a difference one has made, by one's books, teaching,
lecturing and so forth? A great scholar I know compared the
publication of one of his books to dropping a rose petal down into a
deep chasm, this anxiety of influence to waiting for the sound of its
impact. When I wrote to him to tell him how great I thought his book
was, he wrote back to say he could hear the sound of a great splash,
and it brought him considerable joy.

The anxiety of our own influence possesses many of us. Unfortunately
it also has possessed the bureaucrats, who have a great passion to
measure our performance, our "impact". How utterly mistaken an idea
of worth these metrics embody.

Sometimes one does something, perhaps taking many years to do it,
then abandons the thing because it seems wrongheaded, or one simply
gets bored with it. Then someone else comes along and runs with it,
does good work etc. Again, the answer seems to be that one cannot
know whether many scholarly acts (and, perhaps, many acts) amount to
much. How about foolish fashions of scholarship, which produce
mountains of citations, loads of publications, then vanish? How about
brilliant insights (such as Morton Bloomfield's, in 1963, on the
nature of personification) that don't come to much at the time but
later prove foundational to someone else's work? (Bloomfield's idea
was, I think, unworkable then because computing was too primitive to
be of any use to such a problem as he uncovered.) Clearly we need a
very generous, magnanimous conception of scholarship, and of life,
for what we do to flower as it can.


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, 26 Aug 2006 15:15:14 +0100
         From: Martin Mueller <martin.mueller_at_mac.com>
         Subject: Re: 20.167 the presence of Busa

Steve Ramsay raises a fascinating question. From this exchange and a
little other knowledge, I gather that Father Busa felt early in his
career that you could not make definitive statements about an
author's habits of thought unless you first studied everything about
his way with words. I use 'definitive' advisedly because that
appears to be the way Father Busa thought about his work, to judge,
for instance, from Steve's own discussion in an earlier draft of his
Algorithmic Criticism, which I read with much pleasure.

What if Father Busa never got around to making those statements about
his author's habits of thought? It looks like he never did--at least
not in the direct way in which Plato never wrote his Lecture on the
Good or Verdi never wrote his opera about Lear--although one could
make a good case that both of them indirecty did just that much of
the time.

How does this matter? Does it call into question the Herculean labor
of the Index Thomisticus? Was Father Busa wrong about the long detour
he took? Or should its results and utility be measured by what others
did with it? And how do we know what they did with it?

Behind Father Busa's project stands a millennial hermeneutical
tradition that is nicely captured by the title of Augustine's
(incomplete?) commentary De Genesis ad Literam or "On Genesis word by
word." Father Busa's Index was the first (?) big project to put
digital technology in the service of giving a new dimension of
exhaustive completion to "word by word" and he has been justly
honoured for it. Therefore I sense another question behind Steve's
initial question. What about this entire enterprise of which Father
Busa's Index is such a spectacular example? Is it a proper detour
that will help in reaching large goals, if not by the original
author, then by others? Or is it an instance of what Heidegger calls
Holzwege, lumber trails that lead nowhere in particular. But
Heidegger's use of the term is pretty deeply ironic and seems to be
raise all manner of questions about what it means to be a way that
leads somewhere.

On Aug 25, 2006, at 2:51 AM, Humanist Discussion Group (by way of
Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>) wrote:

> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 167.
> Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
> www.kcl.ac.uk/schools/humanities/cch/research/publications/ humanist.html
> www.princeton.edu/humanist/
> Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu
> Date: Fri, 25 Aug 2006 08:48:48 +0100
> From: "port]is.an.option"@unlserve.unl.edu
> >
>On Thu, Aug 24, 2006 at 06:44:01AM +0100, Humanist Discussion Group
>(by way of Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>) wrote:
> > The question is not so much 'did he ever return
> > to his investigation of the notion of 'presence'
> > but rather, how did he move on from this
> > research?
>Well no, actually. This is the question (for me at least). No one
>denies that Busa's investigations into the notion of presence inspired
>his most famous contribution to the field. My question is whether,
>having built the Index, he ever went on to use the Index to further
>the theological project that inspired it. I gather from your message
>that the dissertation itself pursues the question of presence, but did
>not (for obvious reasons) rely on the digital version of the Index.
>Busa himself famously declared the reason for the index in the article
>in the *Annals*:
>"[A] philological and lexicographical inquiry into the verbal system
>of an author has to precede and prepare for a doctrinal interpretation
>of his works. Each writer expresses his conceptual system in and
>through his verbal system, with the consequence that the reader who
>masters this verbal system, using his own conceptual system, has to
>get an insight into the writer's conceptual system. The reader should
>not simply attach to the words he reads the significance they have in
>his mind, but should try to find out what significance they had in the
>author's mind" (83).
>It does not seem to me beside the point to ask whether he (or anyone)
>ever managed to undertake a "doctrinal interpretation" of Thomas using
>the Index.
>Stephen Ramsay
>Assistant Professor
>Department of English
>University of Nebraska at Lincoln
>PGP Public Key ID: 0xA38D7B11
Received on Sat Aug 26 2006 - 10:47:58 EDT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0 : Sat Aug 26 2006 - 10:47:58 EDT