18.743 beyond being dubious and gloomy

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 27 Apr 2005 07:25:32 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 743.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Wed, 27 Apr 2005 07:10:07 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: being Leibniz or talking about it?

Vika Zafrin, in Humanist 18.741, extracts and highlights Alexandre
Enkerli's point that humanities computing appears to require the impossible
from us: that we all become omni-competent polymaths. As a field defined by
its interdisciplinary perspective on all the humanities, given mandate to
converse intelligently with them all and to engage with their work on a
rather deep level, his point seems inescapable. A very few of us may like
to have a go at being Leibniz (a polymath if there ever was one), but even
if a few (*very* few) emerge from the attempt with reputations intact, the
model is clearly not sustainable. We don't want a field with one or two
wizards in it -- snake-oil salesmen more like -- and everyone else hiding
behind rocks. A far better way forward, I think, is the one Vika talks
about. We can, and perhaps should, rail against the blinkered view of the
world that disciplinary specialization enforces, but the practical question
remains: what do we, can we, do about the situation?

The only response that makes sense to me might be called the Braveheart
solution -- minus the gory ending, and with all in the ragtag crowd
bravehearts. (A pause while you envision the scene....) It seems to me that
we need to move our idea of competence from the individual to the group and
that this actually can be done by making conversations, such as this one
and many others on Humanist, a top priority in our professional lives. Of
course one cannot put into one's c.v. something like the following....

2005. "being Leibniz or talking about it?". Humanist 18.745, replying to
Humanist 18.741 and replied to by Humanist 18.749, 753, 761.

For one thing, the contribution could be utter tripe. Rather, time spent
like this is, in the idiom of the day, an investment in our common future.
But perhaps more significantly, this move toward the group -- by autonomous
individuals, bravehearts all -- can be made by changing how we regard our
publications, and so how we use the mechanisms of publication. The core
idea is not to make Humanist like Critical Inquiry, even less like one of
the books by one of its distinguished authors, rather to make our articles
and books more like Humanist. To write them, with all our strength, as
competently as we are able, but to regard them as contributions to a long
conversation ("Of shoes -- and ships -- and ceiling wax -- / Of cabbages --
and kings -- / And why the sea is boiling hot -- / And whether pigs have
wings"). Not like monuments against time.

The poem does go on, I know:

>"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
>"Before we have our chat;
>For some of us are out of breath,
>And all of us are fat!"
>"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
>They thanked him much for that.

and, you may recall the Oysters get eaten! But then, time is short, contra
the Carpenter's patience.

Too utopian?



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Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7 Arundel Street | London
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Received on Wed Apr 27 2005 - 02:33:14 EDT

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