Humanist Discussion Group

Humanist Archives: March 20, 2023, 5:02 a.m. Humanist 36.461 - followup: agency & intelligence

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 36, No. 461.
        Department of Digital Humanities, University of Cologne
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        Date: 2023-03-18 13:32:43+00:00
        From: James Rovira <>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 36.457: followup: agency & intelligence

Many thanks to Ann James and Tim Smithers for their responses. Tim's
response reminds me of a review editor who very recently asked me to revise
my first sentence to ascribe agency to the author, not the book -- which
reminds me that I ask undergrads to go ahead and ascribe agency to written
texts rather than start every other sentence with, "In 'Title of
Work',"....". But that phrase is always followed by the author's name. This
concept of the agency of written texts apart from direct authorial
intervention is an old one. Milton has a poem, for example, describing
himself as a king and his poem as his ambassador acting on his behalf,
independently of him, with no small expression of anxiety. Ann Bradstreet's
"The Author to Her Book," close in period to Milton, uses a similar trope,
except her book is her wayward child rather than her ambassador.

So I think we have a workable paradigm here, seriously, that we could
extend to large language models. It bugs me that I didn't think of it
before. I think we should keep in mind, though, that the text only has
indirect or unintentional agency -- direct agency is in the author and then
again in the reader's act of interpretation at the other end, so that the
author's anxiety is not about how well the text actively represents him,
but what his readers are going to do with it. We see these ideas repeated
in Death of the Author paradigms that really appear early 20thC with T.S.
Eliot and then reappear in structuralism and post-structuralism.

Tim needs to follow some of my friends on FB, who are having a great deal
of fun with ChatGPT. One asked for a version of Who's on First using Star
Trek characters. The program, apparently, couldn't distinguish between
descriptions of how the humor works and an actual representation of the
humor. They've been silent about it a couple of weeks, though, so I think
they've become bored and moved on.

Much appreciation for Ann's recommendations. Agency is such a big topic
that we could look for models in a variety of sources and approaches.

Jim R

Dr. James Rovira <>

   - *David Bowie and Romanticism
   Palgrave Macmillan, 2022
   - *Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism
   Routledge, 2023

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