I have sent and bene all this morning hunting for players, juglers & such kind of creaturs, but find them harde to finde

January 14, 2013 § Leave a comment


I want to propose that the dark side of the digital humanities is its bright side, its alleged promise: its alleged promise to save the humanities by making them and their graduates relevant, by giving their graduates technical skills that will allow them to thrive in a difficult and precarious job market. Speaking partly as a former engineer, this promise strikes me as bull: knowing GIS or basic statistics or basic scripting (or even server side scripting) is not going to make English majors competitive with engineers or CS geeks trained here or increasingly abroad (***straight up programming jobs are becoming increasingly less lucrative***)

My main argument is this: the vapid embrace of the digital is a form of what Lauren Berlant has called “cruel optimism.”

So, the blind embrace of DH (***think here of “The Old Order Changeth***) allows us to believe that this time (once again) graduate students will get jobs. It allows us to believe that the problem facing our students and our profession is a lack of technical savvy rather than an economic system that undermines the future of our students…

Now, if the bright side of the digital humanities is the dark side, let me suggest that the dark side—what is now considered to be the dark side—may be where we need to be. The dark side, after all, is the side of passion…

This dark side also entails taking on our fears and biases to create deeper collaborations with the sciences and engineering. It entails forging joint (frictional and sometimes fractious) coalitions to take on problems such as education, global change etc.. It means realizing that the humanities don’t have a lock on creative or critical thinking and realizing that research in the sciences can be as useless as research in the humanities—and that this is a good thing. It’s called basic research.

It also entails realizing that what’s most interesting about the digital in general is perhaps not what has been touted as its promise, but rather what’s been discarded or decried as its trash (***think here of all those failed DH tools, which have still opened up new directions***)read more

ART: Andre Petterson

It is more important to affirm the least sincere; the clouds get enough attention as it is

November 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

Literature cannot meaningfully be treated as data. The problem is essential rather than superficial: literature is not data. Literature is the opposite of data.

Data precedes written literature. The first Sumerian examples of written language are recordings of beer and barley orders. But The Epic of Gilgamesh, the first story, is the story of “the man who saw the deep,” a hero who has contact with the ineffable. The very first work of surviving literature is on the subject of what can’t be processed as information, what transcends data.

The first problem is that literature is terminally incomplete. You can record every baseball statistic. You can record every trade over the course of a year. You can work out the trillions of permutations and combinations available on a chessboard. You can even establish a complete database for all of the legislation and case law in the world. But you cannot know even most of literature, even English literature. Huge swaths of the tradition are absent or in ruins. Among the first Anglo-Saxon poems, from the eighth century, is “The Ruin,” a powerful testament to the brokenness inherent in civilization. Its opening lines:

The masonry is wondrous; fates broke it
The courtyard pavements were smashed; the work of giants is decaying.

The poem comes from the Exeter Book of Anglo-Saxon poetry and several key lines have been destroyed by damp. So, one of the original poems in the English lyric tradition contains, in its very physical existence, a comment on the fragility of the codex as a mode of transmission. The original poem about a ruin is itself a ruin.

Literature is haunted by such oblivion, by incipient decay. The information we have about the past is, in almost every case, fragmentary. There are always masses of data which are simply missing or which cannot be untangled. The most obvious and relevant example is Shakespeare. There are nine different versions of Richard III; there are three versions of Hamlet, each with missing sections or added sections. There are missing plays. Cardenio. Love’s Labour’s Won. They no longer exist. So even the work of Shakespeare, which has been scrupulously attended to by generations of scholars, cannot be completely described. Literature is irredeemably broken and messy.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Nicky Peacock

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