20.078 minding the gap

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Mon, 26 Jun 2006 06:30:25 +0100

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 78.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Mon, 26 Jun 2006 06:21:33 +0100
         From: lachance_at_chass.utoronto.ca
         Subject: Re: 20.072 minding the gap


Your post-solstice message "mind the dehiscence" offers an abundance of
entry points and a reader who takes the exhoration to heart just might
parse the subject line as not only a call to pay attention but also to
describe or model mind itself as "the dehiscence".

If the mind is ever restless it does from time to time focus. White space
assists in the focusing of mind. White space in verbal artefacts is akin
to what art critics call negative space in graphic representations.

You began with reference to Jerome McGann. Which if I read the unpacking
of the cornucopia metaphor correctly was the last item to be gathered in
the horn basket. I know you offered the cornucopia as an image and I know
that my literalizing it in this instance is taking the tumbling
togetherness of the cornucopic image and opening it up to temporality.
Cornucopia do not fill themselves. There is labour involved. Whether the
cornucopia functions by by the first in last out principle of stack
management, the reference to _Radiant Textuality_ opens, closes, or
focuses the other elements filling the basket. I will return to the
fungibility of first, last and centre.

I want to linger an instant on the question of the gap. Your summary of
the question that McGann asks situates the gap in the field of a pairing.

Jerome McGann asks if our purpose as scholars is not better served by
questioning the gap between a cultural artefact and its digital
representation rather than concentrating on its closing: "What if the
point were not trying
to bridge that gap but to feed off and develop it?"

I wonder if referent for "that gap" as pointed to by McGann is indeed
reducible to a space between "cultural artefact" and "its digital
representation". I am not implying that you are miscontruing the local
intent of the intervention offered by _Radiant Textuality_. I am simply
suggesting in a move to proffer a universal savouring of this cornucopic
element might want to take into account those who have tasted (and
continue to taste) the digitally-created culturual artefacts. Furthermore,
there are those that consider any artefact as a representation. Any gap
for them is not between an artefact as representation but between modes of
approaching either as the other. That is, a representation can be
considered in its artefactual aspects and an artefact can be taken as a
representation. Such an approach is mindful of avoiding the reduction of
representation to reproduction, especially a notion of reproduction
freighted with a _grand recit_ of the fall. I suggest that the gap to be
mindful of lies not between objects but within the observer's orientations
(or intersubjectively between the orientations of observers).

Indeed much is opened up by questions. It is here that I want to suggest
that depending upon the referent of "that gap" bridging may very well be
the intent and outcome of the drive to analysis, a bridge between people,
a conduit for intersubjectivity. Is not a cornucopia a sort of bridge
between the gathering and the sharing?

I now want to turn to the parrallel you suggest between the cornucopia
image and that of dehiscence. You do not explicity make the images
equivalent. Your narrative of discovery does however inivite comparisons
of the two. The horn basket is emptied and usually in its emptying it does
not suffer damage. The container subject to dehiscence loses its capacity
to act as a container in the same fashion. From the cornucopia I can take
the bean pods, once the beans are shelled, the material from the pods only
becomes pod-like again after a long detour process involving a route that
may travel through animal feed on its way to compost.

Recently I've been using the image of a cornucopia to express the
fruitfulness thus opened up to us, but earlier this week I discovered the
delightful image in Catherine Liu's fascinating book, Copying
Machines: taking notes for the automaton (Minnesota, 2000, p. 138):

"One of the reading machine's finest skills is its ability to find and
peel away with myopic intensity the dehiscence already at work between
grammar and rhetoric." (p. 138).

'Dehiscence' is defined in the OED as "Gaping, opening by divergence of
parts, esp. as a natural process: a. Bot. The bursting open of
capsules, fruits, anthers, etc. in order to discharge their mature
contents." (Etymologically the word is from modern Latin,
specifically Linnaeus, who is quoted as writing, "quum fructus
maturus semina dispergat".)

"[B]etween grammar and rhetoric" is this code for "dialectic"? It is this
appeal to the trivium, that helps me salvage the for me rather odd claim
that a reading machine can peel away a process even one already at work.
I am not so much troubled by the attribution of agency to the machine as
by trying to gather a machinic-sense of "peeling". Now if the word "away"
was not there I would gleefully embrace the image of a chiming machine. At
a stretch I could even imagine a machine peeling away with abandon like so
many church bells tolling. But the "myopic intensity" reference calls to
mind the anglo-expression about keeping one's eyes peeled. The visual mode
is at the fore here.

My eyes being what they are (attached to my ears) I am uneasy. I am
distinctly hearing "dehiscence" as a thing and not a process but I keep
seeing process. Ah the shadow of the OED! I consult another dictionary.
"A gape or gaping." A "gape" not "gap". Gape --- yes, a verb. But also a
very zoological marvel. "The expanse of the open mouth, as in birds; also,
the opening between the shells of a bivalve the edges of which do not
naturally shut tight together." [Note the consulted dictionary indicates
that "gape" has two alternative pronounciations one of which makes the
word homophonic with "gap".]

A cornucopia by the shore.

Still that already-at-work-between nags. Is the space arrived at in going
from grammar to rhetoric the same as going from rhetoric to grammar? For
example, from the realm of rhetoric take personification and pronouns from
the domain of grammar, are we not in the delirious nomad's land of
dialectic? [Sweet sweet white space got me from "noman's" to "nomad's"]

I merely want to signal that in a properly horny cornucopia "dehiscence"
concerns itself just as much with attachement as with parting.

And so with a mind to connectedness, I am puzzled by what divergence you
seek to capture in the seed/fruit image that bridges your move from Liu &
the OED to Ovid.

So from the gap bursts forth thought-seeds rather than fruit ready to
eat. Better, I think, for the results we get and what we do with them.

The image reminds me of the summer play of spitting watermelon seeds. But
the horny basket is promiscuous: sunflower, almond, pumpkin, poppy, crowd
in. Of course the image is not operating solely on the difference between
seed/fruit; that difference is accompanied by the implicit comparison
between ready-to-eat and needing-preparation. Allow me a diverting
digression. How one eats and how one thinks are linked by how one
classifies. Consider the poem "Strawberries" by Souvankham Thammavongsa
[to which I do a grave diservice by not replicating its disposition on the
page] "STRAWBERRIES / do not / hide their seeds / They scatter / into
their own bodies / before / they find ground /" as an apt metaphor for the
humanist scholar. But before you do ponder the next and concluding lines
of the poem "You suppose / they are like others / and slice one / Now, you
know / there is no need"

I do so much want to leave you digesting that digression but you offered
more from the cornucopia.

In classical Latin, however, we find the root verb 'dehisco' with very
different but equally useful imagery. In Met 13.882ff, for
example, Ovid describes the rage of Polyphemus, who smitten by
Galatea attempts to kill her lover Acis with a huge piece of rock
wrenched from the side of a mountain. Only a small fragment of the rock
reaches Acis, but even that is sufficient to crush and bury him. Galatea
intervenes, causing Acis to assume his ancestral powers as a river-god.
The blood trickling out from beneath the rock becomes water,

...tum moles iacta dehiscit,
vivaque per rimas proceraque surgit harundo,
osque cavum saxi sonat exsultantibus undis,
miraque res, subito media tenus exstitit alvo
incinctus iuvenis flexis nova cornua cannis,
qui, nisi quod maior, quod toto caerulus ore,
Acis erat...

"Then the mass that had been thrown cracked wide open and a tall
green reed sprang up through the crack, and the hollow opening in the
rock resounded with leaping waters, and, wonderful! suddenly, his
new-sprung horns wreathed with bending rushes. It was Acis...." (Loeb
transl.; my thanks to John Burrows for pointing me to this passage.)

>From your paraphrase of the Ovidian text, I am inclined to think about
aggregates. A small part of the rock reaches vs being struck by a small
part of the rock. "Only a small fragment of the rock reaches Acis" The
question is is that small fragment still connected to the rock?

Such grueling granularity is going on to graceful degradation. But before,
let us, inspired by your attempt to recuperate the figure of Polyphemus,
ask if the one-eyed cyclop's tearing away is not the first act of

And so the forceful attempt by jealous monstrosity to crush the lover
fails in a great eruption of erotic energy. Or, one could say, we need a
Polyphemus in order to effect the transformation of rather ordinary stuff
into miraculous being.

Do we need rage or a daemon? Recall that Ovid through the mouth of
Polyphemus compares Galatea to a violent mountain torrent and proclaims
her harder to move than rocks and her anger deadlier than lightning.
Recall as well that his cornucopian song lists among its catalogue of
produce strawberries which the Giant proffers to the Neriede to pick by
her own hand. Notice too the frame: Galatea is telling the tale while
Charybdis combs her hair. Would the tale be different if the interlocutor
were another?

Habits of reading the hilum. Minding less the gap and anatomizing more the
entrances and exits. Splicing the metaphor.

Ah, the play of metaphor.

Delicately skipping between the performed and the preformed,
I quote Kenji Ueda and note a different living tradition.

<quote> In Shinto there is not a single existence which serves no purpose.
Shinto considers the work of all things in a spiritual manner. It
categories all things by using the words _tama_, _mono_ and _mi_. _Mi_
may also be written as the character for body or fruit. It is believed
that _mi_ comes to an end after fulfilling its purpose. _Mono_ refers to
objects or bodies other than man such as animals. These spirits often
bring harm to man or disrupt his activities. Although it is believed that
_mono_ may at times lend to him a helping hand. _Mono-no-ke_ (a
un-natural being) expresses this spiritual aspect of _mono_. This form of
belief is reflected in tales of the supernatural beings that have been
conveyed to us from olden times. The purification ceremonies held today
even for computer equipment, factories and ships is done so with the
prayer that the spirits of _mi_ may work properly and that there be no
interference from _mono_. These ceremonies are even performed to console
the spirits of animals used in medical experiments--something
unimaginable in the West. [...] Whether the departed souls actually die
or not is dependent upon our celebration. It is the same with the
Kami--their presence depends on our celebration for them.

To category as different from to categorize. It's a catachrestic nuance
worth exploring. Proforma, at least, to recall that the cultured artefact
is a product of group process and that the group's process involves
individual and aggregate products.

A concluding treat:

       Ovid's Metamorphoses, 1567
         The first translation into English -
             credited to Arthur Golding

The roundeyd devill made pursewt: and rending up a fleece
       Of Aetna Rocke, threw after him: of which a little peece
   Did Acis overtake. And yit as little as it was,
       It overwhelmed Acis whole. I wretched wyght (alas)

By the play of pronouns the reader is brought to identify (or resist
identification with) the cross-gendered speaking voice (male poet through
female character), to stand in a sense between the destroying and the
destroyed. Totem poles are meant to decay in the raincoast forests of the
Pacific Northwest which is actually northeast in relation to Japan. Ruin
is ritualized.

And so I return to centre, last and first. How is one to match the "outer"
subject line of the message to Humanist "minding the gap" with the message
quoted within with the subject line "mind the dehiscence"? Are we to
string them along? minding the gap mind the dehiscence
and reparse with a view to watching the activity act:

minding /
the gap
mind /
the dehiscence /
minding /
the gap /

Thank you for offering such loopy lunacy at solstice time, a time where
the moon and its phases are not always foremost in our thoughts.
Received on Mon Jun 26 2006 - 01:54:22 EDT

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