20.114 visualisation criticism

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sun, 16 Jul 2006 20:30:46 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 114.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Sun, 16 Jul 2006 20:08:00 +0100
         From: <sramsay_at_uga.edu>
         Subject: Re: 20.111 visualisation criticism?

On Sat, Jul 15, 2006 at 12:44:36PM +0100, Humanist Discussion Group
(by way of Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>) wrote:
> Technologically we may well be at the point at which digital
> visualisation techniques have become sufficiently successful and
> accessible that we are tempted to go whole hog into the visual
> rendering of our models and results. As far as I know, we do not yet
> have a persuasive theoretical means of rendering e.g. text-analytic
> results visually -- of making the primitive "Rossetti spaghetti" we
> can entertainingly produce actually say something theoretically
> consequential. (Corrections welcome.) But, I would guess, it's only a
> matter of time. Indeed, that time may be now, in some lab somewhere.
> The crabbed old rejection of the visual (and indeed more broadly
> material) by those who relegate the non-verbal to a decorative
> periphery obviously won't do. But, as Edward Tufte and others have
> insisted, pictures don't speak for themselves. Nor, as Northrop Frye
> argued, do verbal works of art, which are "dumb as statues".
> Criticism is required.
> What criticism do we have ready for the coming tide of digital
> visualisations? How well does it take into account the specifically
> digital means of production *and manipulation*?

I have long had an intuition that there is such a thing as
"humanities visualization" on analogy with "scientific
visualization" (the latter being a frequently asserted category in
visualization circles), and that such visualizations would lie
somewhere between the scatter plot (which Tufte describes as the
greatest of all quantitative visualizations) and "Rossetti spaghetti"
(described aptly above as "entertainingly produced"). Such
visualizations, it seems to me, would have to be insistent examples
of "criticism required" -- that is, artifacts that are less
concerned with demonstrating "the results," and far more concerned
with leading us into results that lie beyond the apparent
dimensionality of the data.

Perhaps that is going on in a lab somewhere, but I think the
acceptance of such modes of "seeing" (and Richards is too hot on
this point) will require an epistemological revolution. We are
conditioned to expect demonstration from, for example, text analytic
visualizations. We are not yet prepared to deal, in my opinion,
with metaphor, provocation, and interruption in the realm of
visualization -- with visualizations that have the same critical
status as the objects they purport to illuminate.


Stephen Ramsay
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Nebraska at Lincoln
PGP Public Key ID: 0xA38D7B11
Received on Sun Jul 16 2006 - 16:12:07 EDT

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