17.082 text & context from a computational perspective?

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Thu Jun 12 2003 - 02:41:59 EDT

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                    Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 82.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Thu, 12 Jun 2003 07:05:44 +0100
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: text & context from a computational perspective?

    In the last chapter of The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and
    Historical Representation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1987), Hayden White
    has the following to say about the issues involved in rethinking
    intellectual history:

    >At the center of this set of themes is the crucial one, not only for
    >intellectual historians but for historians of anything whatsoever, namely,
    >that of the text-context relationship. What is this relationship? What,
    >indeed, is a text -- an entity that once had an assuring solidity and
    >concreteness, indeed a kind of identity that allowed it to serve as a
    >model of whatever was comprehensible in both culture and nature. What
    >happened to that text that used to lay before the scholar in a comforting
    >materiality and possessed an authority that the "context" in which it had
    >arisen and to the existence of which it attested could never have? Where
    >is this context which literary historians used to invoke as a matter of
    >course to "explain" the distinctive features of the poetic text and to
    >anchor it in an ambience more solid than words? What are the dimensions
    >and levels of this context? Where does it begin and end? And what is its
    >status as a component of the historically real which it is the historian's
    >purpose to identify if not to explain? The text-context relationship, once
    >an unexamined presupposition of historical investigation, has become a
    >problem, not in the sense of being simply difficult to establish by the
    >once vaunted "rules of evidence," but rather in the sense of becoming
    >"undecidable," elusive, uncreditable -- in the same way as the so-called
    >rules of evidence. And yet this very undecidability of the question of
    >where the text ends and the context begins and the nature of their
    >relationship appears to be a cause for celebration, to provide a vista
    >onto a new and more fruitful activity for the intellectual historian, to
    >authorize a posture before the archive of history more dialogistic than
    >analytic, more conversational than assertive and judgmental. ["The Context
    >in the Text: Method and Ideology in Intellectual History", p. 186]

    How do we in humanities computing respond to the "undecidable, elusive,
    uncreditable" text-context relationship?


    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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