17.001 Happy Sweet 16

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Wed May 07 2003 - 19:18:33 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 001.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Thu, 08 May 2003 00:14:39 +0100
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: Happy Sweet 16

    Dear colleagues,

    Origins and ends provide for interesting meditations and the telling of
    stories tall enough to exceed measure. As a poet friend of mine once wrote
    about a flight of crows,

    >Their dark bodies slide and twist into the red clouds
    >Where each becomes a letter of the spelling of the words
    >Of the telling of a story so long and so full of changes
    >That even the tale of Cadmus is but a part,
    >How he invented the alphabet while watching a flight of birds....

    In all their mythological contingencies still these stories are what give
    some shape and sense of purpose to the muddle in the middle. Which is where
    we are. And that, perhaps, is one reason we celebrate birthdays and
    other anniversaries ("turns of the year") -- to take our bearings from
    where we think we have come and from where we desire (or perhaps fear) to
    go. I won't tell the story of Humanist's beginnings, which by now has
    become a story charged with far more significance for me than whatever
    might have actually happened at the time.

    But to the point. Humanist has just turned 16, a very sweet 16 in my book
    of life, and accordingly I send you warmest greetings on this cool late
    evening in London. As for the "never having been kissed" which this
    sweetness of 16 proverbially, quaintly evokes -- I shudder to think what
    age a modern version of this statement would specify -- we can relax at
    Humanist's constant kissing and being kissed, by the joy as it flies, from
    day 1 of its virtual existence. No chasing this one out of the village with
    hooting and rock-throwing. If only Athena were not such a hard, martial
    character, the story of her birth would be a useful one here. So allow me
    to rewrite that story of origins, being orientated as I am, with Aphrodite
    in her stead. (You may, of course, prefer a luscious Apollo or a tender
    Hyacinthus, or even a Gladiator.)

    One must blow the whistle on anthropomorphizing, yet late adolescence seems
    just about right for the field Humanist grazes in (enter cow-eyed Hera,
    without the jealous fits, and no philandering husband). Thanks at the
    moment mostly to the Canadians, it seems, we can point to junior and senior
    academic positions that have recently been filled or are currently being
    advertised. We can point to a robust, healthy relationship between the
    academic and the non-/semi-academic sides of the equation. The collegial
    intermingling of humanities computing with computer science, with
    mathematics and with the history and philosophy of the natural sciences is
    very encouraging indeed. And all the other disciplinary kinships by means
    of which we are acquiring wisdom and stature.

    I certainly would not want to blink at the brutalities of the job market
    and various other challenges that may strengthen one's character but don't
    allow for the kind of intellectual growing we so desparately need from all
    the arising talent. Nor would I want to be understood as making light of
    the severe intellectual and social challenges that our interdiscipline by
    nature faces. But the vigour of the field seems to me unmistakable in the
    rapid growth of things to do, books to read, neighbouring disciplines to
    explore, friends in them to make.

    But the witching hour (by British Summer Time) is upon me, so I bid you
    goodnight with the Happy Birthday and look forward to a long life of
    conversation to come.


    Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
    Humanities | King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20
    7848-2784 fax: -2980 || willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk

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