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Welcome to Day of DH 2010. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!


This Day of Digital Humanities begins and is likely to continue with very little explicit activity in the field to report on. The major events of the day are (1) repair of my washing machine, and (2) flight to Belfast to visit my partner, who teaches there. In the interstices I may get to think about the relation between I. A. Richards’ paper for the 1951 Macy Conference on cybernetics and the inheritances of literary computing, but it seems unlikely that much progress on that will be made today. And it is highly unlikely that there will be opportunities to report at all, since much of the day will be spent in dealing with the repair of my washing machine, washing a pile of clothes that have built up during its period of enforced idleness, preparing for travel, travelling and then enjoying various domestic activities in Belfast.

Would things be more interesting if life did not intrude so much? Probably not. On a day more conducive to what I do in the digital humanities, all I’d have to talk about is writing. Very dull to the observer. But then I strive for external dulness in order to get my work done.

I do peek at the two new bamboo plants in my back garden, Borinda macclureana (http://www.bamboogarden.com/Borinda%20macclureana.htm), from Tibet, just put in the ground last weekend. One is about 3 meters tall, the other only about 2. They should get about 4 meters tall, have 1-inch culms that turn purple. They are replacing 3 very big Leylandii that were the cause of worry and neighbours’ complaints and would only have grown and grown and grown, eventually blocking out most of the light. Now they’re gone, I have much more sunlight in the back garden and the prospect of great purplish culms with long green leaves waving in the wind. Not much digital about that, is there?

Now to think for a few moments about Richards’ thoughts on language and feedforward.

late morning

The washing-machine man has come and gone. The machine is fixed and whirring happily for me. I have finished writing my thoughts on Richards’ remarks to the Macy Conference in 1951, thus concluding the fourth lecture I am due to give in Alberta in about three weeks. One more to go!

The sun is shining brightly. Spring has arrived at last. A generous public benefactor to local culture is playing his music very loudly from his car as he parks it. Now he has turned the music off. Time for morning tea and a hopeful look at my newly fixed machine. I think the cycle is done. If so, I can hang the washed clothes up to dry while I am in Belfast.

The washing-machine man is a generous soul. He is coming by early next week to replace the water-inlet tap, which he says is soon to be the source of a problem. This he is doing for free. He left his home telephone number, which he wrote on top of one of the cabinets I had to expose in order to remove the machine for him to fix. The removal was possible because a very kind neighbour — close to a saint of a man — helped me last Saturday deconstruct my kitchen so that the machine could be removed. 

Human kind is at this moment, here in East London, oddly easy to think well of. Inspite of a very troublesome neighbour across the road.

mid day: speaking contingently

Earlier in the day, writing about I. A. Richards, I noted his preference for the optative rather than the indicative — discussion that explicitly expresses the wish or desire to speak contingently, in a particular way, rather than makes assertions “in the full indicative”. ”As if” rather than “it is”. I remembered that somewhere (I could see the page in my mind’s eye) I had read someone else at the Macy Conferences who had made a remark about slippage from the contingent. The fact that the image I had came from a book I had scanned and returned to the library I forgot and so spent quite a lot of time rummaging through my poorly organised library. At last a search of my computer turned up the item, by the American neurophysiologist Ralph W. Gerard, who spoke to the Macy a year before Richards. This is what he had to say on the topic:

“It seems to me, in looking back over the history of the group, that we started our discussion in the “as if” spirit. Everyone was delighted to express any idea that came in his mind, whether it seemed silly or certain or merely a stimulating guess that would affect someone else. We explored possibilities for all sorts of ‘ifs.’ Then, rather sharply, it seemed to me, we began to talk in an ‘is’ idiom. We were saying much the same things, but now saying them as if they were so….” (Gerard 1951: 11)

I wonder how often wonderful speculation hardens into doctrine and so loses the flexibility to change and to interact without destructive effect.

Anyhow, that’s where I leave things, quite possibly for the rest of the day. (A wonderful slip just now: starting, I thought, to write “the day” I actually typed “time”. Here’s hoping that Ryanair gets me intact to Belfast!)