Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: Jan. 12, 2022, 7:03 a.m. Humanist 35.452 - Miller's Magic Number: associations and funding

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 35, No. 452.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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    [1]    From: <>
           Subject: Bricoler and Brocanter (63)

    [2]    From: Willard McCarty <>
           Subject: ethics and history (21)

        Date: 2022-01-12 01:28:26+00:00
        From: <>
        Subject: Bricoler and Brocanter


The posting about Miller’s Magic Number led one enterprising soul to go fishing
in the archives and dig up an old posting of mine from 2005 where another Miller
is mentioned.

To my interlocutor:

Thank you for unearthing this
My retracing your steps made me realize that Humanist has two archives each with
its own search engine.

And thank you for drawing attention to the two related expressions:

Bric et de broc (de)

My Robert Méthodique gives as a first and non-pejorative meaning for Bric-à-brac
the notion of an amassing of disparate items destined for resale. A Brocanteur
works with such items.

We can distinguish between the brocanteur and the bricoleur (from Lévi-Strauss)
and map them onto Barthes's Readerly and Writerly texts. (This is a circling
back on the 2005’s post preoccupation with Barthes and bytes):

I will not pursue here the mapping further since I don’t generally buy into the
binary between _plaisir_ and _jouissance_ … the intellectual and the erotic
exist in the everyday at every moment. And reader-writers and writer-readers are
the ilk of the age of digital machines.

Now to ponder what this might have to do with digital humanities or computing.

We are quite aware of the importance of making and linking to the field of
digital humanities. The bricoleur spirit is alive and well.

What of the brocanteur mode? There is an element or whiff of the impresario at
play in every grant application and every newsletter post. Selling and buying
are usually activities thought to be constrained by markets but in an attention
economy, similar to an economy of the gift, it might best be to think of them in
terms of offerings. Offerings which may or may not be received since there is a
radical non-coerciveness at play in these displays. A better anthropologist than
I can make sense of this little stub.

This however is an interesting lead:

mid 19th century: from French, from obsolete à bric et à brac ‘at random’.

Both the Bricoleur and the Brocanteur deal with the aleatory and the great
dérive of cultural detritus… and from the noise tune a signal. And cross signals
in a joyful noise.

François Lachance, Ph.d.

living in the beginning of the long 22nd century; sequencing the  "future

        Date: 2022-01-11 07:45:53+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty <>
        Subject: ethics and history

A response to François Lachance's note on George Miller's funding. I
strongly recommend gaining familiarity with the history of research in
the natural and social sciences in the late WWII and Cold War periods,
esp. in North America, and its relation to the imperatives of both hot and 
cold wars. 

Consider, for example, the relation of digital computing -- i.e. the machines 
we have and wouldn't be parted from -- to the development of nuclear 
weaponry. What we can do, as was said long ago, is to beat swords into 
plowshares. Perhaps a better historian than I can correct my impression that 
swords (almost?) always come first.


Willard McCarty,
Professor emeritus, King's College London;
Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews;  Humanist

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