20.548 synthetic work & its possible fallout

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sat, 31 Mar 2007 09:24:55 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 548.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Sat, 31 Mar 2007 09:16:05 +0100
         From: "Douglas Knox" <knoxdw_at_gmail.com>
         Subject: Re: 20.541 synthetic work & its possible fallout


Your use of the "modeling of" vs. "modeling for" distinction seems to
depend on the known preexistence (or not) of the object -- "the
original" -- that the model mediates. But isn't the experimental value
of the model sometimes precisely in the indeterminacy, possible
plurality, and potential abstraction of the objects of the model? That
is, we may set out to model a certain kind of thing, and from our
working of the model we come to think we perceive higher-order
patterns that we may decide are worth pursuing in their own right as
objects of inquiry. We may not have anticipated such patterns, and in
some cases they may be phantom patterns, and thus in fact only able to
be activated, if at all, as "models for," but there is a significant
and characteristic scholarly payoff in the instances where we decide
these new "models for" can retrospectively be seen as "models of" what
was there all along, had we only had the tools or occasion to bring it
to attention in this way.

I suppose something like your allusion machine could potentially
support any number of modeling purposes simultaneously. You suggest
that this allusion machine, once it encompasses a greater body of text
than any individual historically could have read, can no longer be a
"model of" the allusive gestures of a single text or author, and so
any further use of the machine would have to employ it as a "model
for." But wouldn't one typical scholarly move be to recover the "model
of" perspective by redefining the object of study -- perhaps
reappropriating a literary critical model for historical, linguistic,
sociological, or other use? It may be impossible to know in advance
what concepts one might want to construct and appeal to in pursuit of
an explanation of an unanticipated pattern, or who might want to take
up such a project. We may find in these patterns provocation to
speculative and aesthetic creativity, but we may also ask: what must
be true of reality for these speculations to have become possible at
all, and to have such interest for us as they do?

Neven Jovanovic's characterization of your allusion machine as a "web"
is quite apt. A kind of crude, historically flat approximation of your
hypothetical allusion machine is the World Wide Web itself, which like
your meta-corpus of allusion we can understand to be a kind of massive
network graph and so can model with machines that instantiate and
operate on network graphs. A search engine may begin by cleverly using
hyperlinks to approximate a model *of* reputation; but we have seen
such a machine in use become simultaneously, among other many other
things, a research tool, a model *for* reputation management, a
"database of intentions," a capillary structure for marketing, a
device of poetic exploration.

Douglas Knox

On 3/29/07, Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty
<willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>) <willard_at_lists.village.virginia.edu>
> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 541.
> 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: Thu, 29 Mar 2007 07:19:42 +0100
> From: Neven Jovanovic <neven.jovanovic_at_ffzg.hr>
> >
>your idea about "constructing allusions" is quite familiar to students of
>classical Greek and Latin literature. The implication --- that, by
>construing a "horizon of possible allusions", we construct a new reality,
>a reality that (quite possible) did not ever exist --- has also, I guess,
>occurred to many reading the "loci similes" lists of 19th c. critical
>What stopped philologists from thinking this idea through is the fact that
>by "construing something that did not exist" you are, in fact, creating a
>work of art, and not a "work of scholarship". So the "modelling for" is
>--- to my opinion --- similar to what Steven Ramsay and Stefan Sinclair
>have been proposing, and are doing, with their transformations of texts.
>One further point is: who is reading our imagined web of allusions?
>Because an allusion --- however probable or unprobable --- cannot exist
>*without readers*. Now, if you have a potentially vast jungle of
>allusions, what you want to see is, it seems to me, a map of all the paths
>and wanderings through this jungle. A means to record these webs of
>allusion that have been realized, the roads that have been travelled.
>And then --- here I am thinking aloud and ad hoc --- when you have this
>map of all the paths, you have to have somebody who will read the map.
>Who will read the readings.
>Neven Jovanovic
>Zagreb, Croatia
> >
> > Now let us say that the original is not merely absent or has
> > disappeared from the world but never existed at all. What are the
> > possibilities? One I can think of involves literary allusion. Let us
> > say for purposes of argument that we have in digital form all
> > relevant literature, reasonable representations of historical events
> > and whatever else might be considered possibly relevant. Let us
> > suppose we have a theory of how allusion actually works and are able
> > to write this theory into software that then uses the available
> > materials to construct some intelligible representations of possible
> > readings. In this fanciful example we're not specifying the readings
> > and working back to the mechanism (which would be analytic, yes?),
> > rather we're working from the poem, according to a theory of how
> > allusion does its thing, outward to results. Since it's now easily
> > imaginable that we'd have in digital form more literature than any
> > individual could hope to have read in a lifetime, there would be no
> > "original" readings to compare our results to. Then there's the tough
> > part. Since allusive connections would themselves affect the
> > possibilities of further such connections, my imaginary "model for"
> > would be evolving, not simply playing out what had already been in
> > some sense foreseen. This "model for" would then have the status of
> > an almost primary artefact.
> >
> > Comments?
> >
> > Yours,
> > WM
Received on Sat Mar 31 2007 - 03:36:35 EST

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