17.372 reification

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Sat Nov 01 2003 - 02:44:01 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 372.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

       [1] From: "Stefan Gradmann" <stefan.gradmann@rrz.uni- (28)
             Subject: AW: 17.363 reification; or, a complaint

       [2] From: Aimée Morrison (40)
                     <aimee.morrison@ualberta.ca> (by way
             Subject: RE: 17.367 reification

       [3] From: Jascha Kessler <jkessler@ucla.edu> (20)
             Subject: Re: 17.367 reification

       [4] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> (40)
             Subject: imagination vs hand-waving

             Date: Sat, 01 Nov 2003 06:49:04 +0000
             From: "Stefan Gradmann" <stefan.gradmann@rrz.uni-hamburg.de>
             Subject: AW: 17.363 reification; or, a complaint

    Dear Willard & others,

    ok, here we go: this complaint by Willard seems absolutely justified in my
    eyes but far too weakly uttered - and possibly inconsequently. Among the
    reifications we then also should have our go on even shallower metaphors
    such as 'digital libraries' or 'e-learning' and other related (und utterly
    stupid) constructs such as 'e-books' should be considered, at same time
    making clear (and here things get tricky) why we keep using these non-sense
    terms in fund raising contexts (at least I admit doing so ...), since they
    make the people who keep the money think that they have understood what we
    are doing. And that they even steer what we do. Without having understood
    the very essence of it (which is *questions*, not answers!) - but that
    doesn't matter, as long as we can feed them with these handy metaphors, grab
    the money and - have to invent some shiny stories at the end to sustain our

    But do we believe in all this? Rhethorical questions may be admitted in this
    forum ...

    And as a consequence: should we seriously invest time in such a discussion
    (I believe we should!) with no result visible outside our community (this
    would be useless!!)

    Kind regards again from HH & goodnight -- Stefan Gradmann

    Dr. Stefan Gradmann / Virtuelle Campusbibliothek
    Regionales Rechenzentrum der Universität Hamburg
    Schlüterstr. 70, D-20146 Hamburg
    Tel.: +49 (0)40 42838 3093
    Fax.: +49 (0)40 42838 3284
    GSM : +49 (0)170 8352623
    E-Mail: stefan.gradmann@rrz.uni-hamburg.de

             Date: Sat, 01 Nov 2003 06:49:31 +0000
             From: Aimée Morrison <aimee.morrison@ualberta.ca> (by way
             Subject: RE: 17.367 reification

    dear all,

    another reification wrinkle.

    my immediate guess when seeing the words 'hypertext', 'reification', and
    'complaint' as i scanned willard's email, was that the substance of said
    complaint would be to lament that *hypertext* is often taken to be the
    *reification* of postmodern theories of textuality.

    i've been thinking about this lately. many early and passionate promoters of
    computing technologies for the humanities, among them george landow as
    exemplary case, employed a strategy whereby computing was justified for its
    instantiation/embodiment/reification of french theories at that time
    circulating to great controversy in the academy. in this vision, hypertext is
    the barthesian text v. work *literalized*, a double gesture that marks the
    former as theoretically sound or at least relevant to the work of the
    humanities, and the latter as material or reified and thus incontrovertibly
    existing. neat trick. certainly rooted in a particular historical moment in
    the american academy, but still, outdated and worth taking apart, i think.

    this particular reification of pomotheory/hypertext does a disservice to both
    processes/ideas/theories/practices, as, justifying one in terms of the other
    in a closed circle, we do not get to debate the nature of 'hypertext' on its
    own evolving terms, nor to understand postmodern theories of textuality as
    practices rather than objects. (that is, a 'work' or a 'text' in the
    barthesian sense is a matter of reading practice, not instantiation in a
    particular book or e-text form).

    in short, my complaint would be the trick of using *reification* as

    (to be silly and invert descartes, in this case, the maxim would be "it *is*,
    therefore it is worth thinking about.")

    but it seems this is not what willard was getting at. i'm interested in his
    idea of the reification problem too, but thought i'd drop this into the debate
    as well.


    . ++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Aimée Morrison Office: 4-14 Humanities Ctr.
    PhD Candidate, Dept. of English Phone: (780) 492-0298
    University of Alberta Fax: (780) 492-8102
    T6G 2E5 Email: ahm@ualberta.ca

    "If we examine the Lives of all the Poets, we shall find that they have all
    been miserable."
                                           -- Susanna Watts, c1802

             Date: Sat, 01 Nov 2003 06:50:08 +0000
             From: Jascha Kessler <jkessler@ucla.edu>
             Subject: Re: 17.367 reification

    Dear Willard:
    I think it might be helpful in this thread for people to go back a long way
    to Alfred North Whitehead's SCIENCE IN THE MODERN WORLD, an essential
    primer, especially for Humanists. His chapter on THE FALLACY OF MISPLACED
    CONCRETENESS deals with this issue, and thoroughly once and for all, from a
    mathematician, one who knows what symbols are, etc. It is a sine qua
    non. Poetry, if read at all these days, is something that is usually
    misread, and Whitehead, talking about Romantic poetry in Chapter 1, shows
    how this all works. Freud, of course, is another thread, but that leads
    elsewhere.. Koryzbski, one of the founders of Semantics in the 1st half of
    the 20th Century, has a vast work on this process. But most of these
    foundations are quite forgot, alas,
    jascha kessler

    Jascha Kessler
    Professor of English & Modern Literature, UCLA
    Telephone: (310) 393-4648
    Telephone/Facsimile: (530) 684-5120


             Date: Sat, 01 Nov 2003 07:03:53 +0000
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: imagination vs hand-waving

    I like Steve Ramsay's analogy, as it summons to view a situation so full of
    promise that so often results in cost-overruns and disappointments. But the
    analogy is weak:

    >Let us imagine a young married couple about to build their first home.
    >"We're so excited about the house."
    >"It has four bathrooms!"
    >"You can see the mountains from the back bedroom."

    Many young married couples have lived through this experience. The range of
    outcomes is well known, as is the nature of the entities "house",
    "bathrooms", "mountains" and "back bedroom". Seeing mountains from a back
    bedroom is well understood. Things may go wrong, as I suggested, but even
    the range of bad outcomes has been charted so many times as to be perfectly
    familiar. But in the case of "the" semantic web, there is widespread
    disagreement on what "it" might be. (Marshall and Shipman usefully
    discriminate three different things "it" could be.) No one can honestly
    claim "it" to be a familiar thing or even finite set of things. Despite
    that fact, many talk about "it" as if "it" were a known quantity, then go
    on to infer a number of other things. No such thing.

    There is of course the practical problem of how to motivate people, get
    grants and so forth. How to sell the idea. The architect wanting
    commissions from such fortunately well-off young couples will promote
    pedestrian dreams of the kind Steve has referred to. In writing grant
    applications we of course promise to change the world for the better,
    improve our national economies and so on and so forth. (I try honestly to
    formulate the first of these so that I can actually believe in what I am
    writing, but as for the rest....) All ordinary stuff, to which here I am
    making no objection. What I do think is wrong is the slopping over of
    promotional, salesman's rhetoric into what we say to each other.

    As I said, I've no problem with us imagining something that doesn't exist
    and has never existed. The basic problem I have is with pretending, to
    ourselves, that such a never-existent pseudo-thing like "the" semantic web
    is analogous to a house that hasn't yet been built. Worlds of difference.

    Yes, language is a complex, very human phenomenon, no doubt reflecting all
    our shortcomings. But the subjunctive mood works well for imagining things.


    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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