Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 750.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2001 06:44:19 +0000
From: "David Halsted" <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: 14.0747 Gadamer on interpretation
For what it matters, I picked up _Truth and Method_ recently after a long
absence and a career change. Computing got me back to hermeneutics because
the process of defining what people want a computer to do is so hard. I
started reading some of Terry Winograd's books on design, and that got me
back into questions I hadn't really thought about much since grad school.
Somewhere between Winograd talking about people's inability to articulate
fully what they do every day (yeah, he got that idea from Heidegger) and
Frederick Brooks talking about the process of programming as "debugging the
spec" in _Mythical Man Month_ I found myself right back at questions of
interpretation and the articulation of an unspoken lifeworld. Then I picked
up Gadamer again, and then I got a new job a month ago and haven't had time
to think, but a lot of time to see what happens when unspoken assumptions
don't get written out into a formal description by people who can't
visualize what a program is (again, Brooks) . . .
Anyway, that's how I got back to Gadamer from computing. The implementation
of a spec (where a spec can be quite informal) in a program appears as a
kind of critique/interpretation of the text of the spec -- a reading that is
in some sense (if I'm remembering the Bloom I read a decade and a half ago
at all correctly) always strong because it always has to remake the
description of the program into something quite different. So I'd say
interpretation, and the classic hermeneutic pattern of working between the
part and the whole toward an understanding, are central to whatever it is
we're doing when we try to create working programs for carbon-based life
forms capable of linguistic misunderstanding.
For what it matters, in a project I'm working on at the moment, I actually
mixed part of the code in with the spec I was writing in a single XML. If
the spec is a text that must be interpreted, and the code is a reading, then
an XML spec that mixes code with the verbal description of the features the
code is supposed to instantiate mixes -- text and interpretation, literature
and criticism. The process of interpreting what is wanted and making
something sort of like it happen on a monitor is one that very much requires
the kinds of interpretation Gadamer describes -- in fact, the act of
interpreting the original articulation generally leads to a re-formulation
of the activity itself, so that programming becomes a way to change how
people think of themselves and their work, not simply a reflection of the
tasks at hand.
----- Original Message -----
From: Humanist Discussion Group
To: Humanist Discussion Group <humanist@lists.Princeton.EDU>
Sent: Friday, March 16, 2001 2:03 AM
> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 747.
> Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
> Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2001 06:56:25 +0000
> From: "Brian A. Bremen" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> Subject: Re: 14.0743 multiple perspectives
> I think the classic work of interpretation and hermeneutics in this regard
> is Hans Georg Gadamer's _Truth and Method_.
> Brian A. Bremen
> > Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 743.
> > Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
> > <http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/>
> > <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/>
> >  From: Wendell Piez <email@example.com>
> > >
> >  From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Francois Lachance)
> > Subject: Re: 14.0740 multiple perspectives?
> > Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2001 06:44:59 +0000
> > From: Wendell Piez <email@example.com>
> > Subject: Re: 14.0740 multiple perspectives?
> >Hi Willard,
> >At 01:47 PM 3/14/01, you wrote:
> >>So much for the context. Now my question. Who has written most clearly
> >>persuasively on the relevant paradox of interpretation, which takes
> >>of and to a varying degree remakes its object in the very act of its
> >Funny how threads intertwine. This reminds me of the work of Harold
> >from the mid-seventies through the mid-eighties, whose work I've been
> >reviewing for another purpose. "Clearly and persuasively" may be
> >in his case (the stuff was nothing if not controversial: some readers
> >it by turns over-audacious and obscure). But works like *The Anxiety of
> >Influence*, *A Map of Misreading*, *The Breaking of the Vessels* all
> >examine this theme.
> >> Since we can actually do away with the necessity of
> >>physically subordinating commentary and other sorts of interpretative
> >>notes, and thus give leash to their heretofore suppressed primacy, will
> >>not (also paradoxically) be increasing the importance of
> >>rather than minimising it, as some have dreamed computing would do?
> >Yes. It is a good lesson to assimilate, that our very acts of
> >for all time, the truth of the matter" really amount to adding
> >interpretations (new or not so new) to the stack.
> >I have been looking at *The Breaking of the Vessels*, which transcribes
> >lectures Bloom gave in 1981. One of the fascinating things about this
> >little volume is that no typographic distinction is made between quotes
> >commentary. Just to give you a taste (I open the book at random): having
> >quoted Wilde's *The Critic As Artist*, Bloom writes:
> > Are [Wilde's characters] Vivian and Gilbert not speaking
> > the language of poetry and the language of criticism? Wilde
> > is one of the pioneers at insisting upon the identity of the
> > two languages. Yet he has persuaded only a few critics and
> > poets after him. What is or isn't criticism always has been
> > problematic, and perhaps readers ought to be less certain
> > than they have been as to what is or isn't poetry. What is
> > most problematic here is the notion of language, since
> > increasingly we all trope upon the word "language" whether
> > we are conscious or not of our turning of the term. Wilde
> > was far enough ahead of his time so that most of us still
> > lag behind him. Yet any memorable criticism, from Longinus
> > to our moment, has had very little to do with the modest
> > handmaiden's role prescribed by the modern Anglo-American
> > academy....
> >Best regards,
> >Wendell Piez mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
> >Mulberry Technologies, Inc. http://www.mulberrytech.com
> >17 West Jefferson Street Direct Phone: 301/315-9635
> >Suite 207 Phone: 301/315-9631
> >Rockville, MD 20850 Fax: 301/315-8285
> > Mulberry Technologies: A Consultancy Specializing in SGML and XML
> > Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2001 06:45:33 +0000
> > From: email@example.com (Francois Lachance)
> > Subject: Re: 14.0740 multiple perspectives?
> >The beast described below is closer to the creatures of digital imaging
> >than those of text encoding but it perhaps captures the long tradition
> >bibliography of being aware fo the "remaking of its objects".
> > > So much for the context. Now my question. Who has written most
> clearly and
> > > persuasively on the relevant paradox of interpretation, which takes
> > control
> > > of and to a varying degree remakes its object in the very act of its
> > > subservience? Since we can actually do away with the necessity of
> > > physically subordinating commentary and other sorts of
> > > notes, and thus give leash to their heretofore suppressed primacy,
> will we
> > > be increasing the importance of interpretation --
> > > rather than minimising it, as some have dreamed computing would do?
> >D.F. McKenzie, drawing upon the work of Peter de Voogd on the marbled
> >pages of Laurence Sterne's _Tristam Shandy_
> >Each hand-marbled page is necessarily different yet integral with the
> >text. As an assortment of coloured shapes which are completely
> >non-representational, a marbled page as distinct from a lettered one
> >even be said to have no meaning at all. Most modern editions, if they do
> >attempt to include them, and do not merely settle for a note of their
> >original presence, will print a black-and-white image of them which is
> >uniform in every copy of the edition. By doing that, of course, subvert
> >Sterne's intention to embody an emblem of non-specific intention, of
> >difference, of undetermined meaning, of the very instablility of text
> >from copy to copy.
> >One can of course imagine an electronic edition where the image of the
> >marbled page is produced by a program that more or less randomly
> >a marbled page on the fly. One can also image an electronic edition that
> >provides a gallery of extant marbled pages from earlier editions. Or a
> >combination of both so that future readers can compare images of extant
> >physical copies with computer-generated "facsimile simulations".
> >Think of Ovid on an electronic billboard --- the physicality of the
> >inscription matters. Paul Monette in the preface to a collection of
> >elegies in honour of his dead lover recalls the importance of the
> >to the reading experience:
> >In the summer of 1984 Roger and I were in Greece together, and for both
> >us it was a peak experience that left us dazed and slightly giddy. We'd
> >been together for ten years, and life was very sweet. On the high bluff
> >ancient Thera, looking out across the southern Aegean toward Africa, my
> >hand grazed a white marble block covered edge to edge with Greek
> >characters, line after precise line. The marble was tilted face up to
> >weather, its message slowly eroding in the rain. "I hope somebody's
> >recorded all this," I said, realizing with a dull thrill of helplessness
> >that this _was_ the record, right her on this stone.
> >Of course the allusion to "peak experience" brings to mind Timothy Leary
> >would have added "set" to my mention of "setting" above. Mind set of the
> >readers. It is perhaps worth quoting Leary just to illustrate how close
> >psychedelic experience is to reading:
> >The specific reaction has little to do with the chemical and is chiefly
> >function of _set_ and _setting_; preparation and environment. The better
> >the preparation, the more ecstatic and revelatory the session. In
> >sessions and with unprepared persons, setting -- particularly the
> >of others -- is most important. With persons who have prepared
> >thoughtfully and seriously, the setting is less important.
> >from _The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of
> >the Dead_
> >No doubt this in not quite what you had uppermost in your mind but these
> >selections are not so distant from any consideration of what D.F.
> >calls the sociology of texts. And quoted here they serve to emphasize
> >whenever we ponder the complexities of computing and its fungible
> >artefacts, we remember that we are dealing with humans and machines and
> >very much like musical instruments both are prepared.
> >But half the fun is being surprised in one's unpreparedness -- it leaves
> >room for improvisation in the face of instability. Is that not the moral
> >of many and Ovidian tale?
> >Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large
> > some threads tangle in tassles, others form the weft
> > http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance
> Brian A. Bremen, editor
> William Carlos Williams Review
> Department of English
> The University of Texas at Austin
> Austin, TX 78712-1164
> Phone: 512-471-7842 Fax: 512-471-4909
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