The course and intensity of terminal thought patterns in near-death experiences can tell us much about our frameworks of subjectivity. A subjectively-centred framework capable of sustaining action and purpose, must, I think, view the world ‘from the inside’, structured so as to sustain the concept of an invincible, or at least a continuing, self; we remake the world in that way as actionable, investing it with meaning, reconceiving it as sane, survivable, amenable to hope and resolution. The lack of fit between this subject-centred version, in which one’s own death is unimaginable, and an ‘outside’ version of the world comes into play in extreme moments. In its final, frantic attempts to protect itself from the knowledge of vulnerability and impending death that threatens the normal, subject-centred framework, the mind can instantaneously fabricate terminal doubt in extravagant, Cartesian proportions: this is not really happening, this is a nightmare, from which I will soon awake. This desperate delusion split apart as I hit the water. In that flash, when my consciousness had to know the bitter certainty of its end, I glimpsed the world for the first time ‘from the outside’, as no longer my world, as raw necessity, an unrecognisably bleak order which would go on without me, indifferent to my will and struggle, to my life as to my death. This near-death knowledge, the knowledge of the survivor and of the prey, has some strange fruits, not all of them bitter. [Plumwood 30]
Here, in what may be considered Shakespeare’s last tragedy, our vision of the protagonist is unrelentingly singular, and the “satiric” perspective does not modify that vision in a humorous way, as it does, for example, in Antony and Cleopatra. Coriolanus is not funny except at certain isolated moments; it is capable of engendering disgust, but not a sense of absurdity, as Timon is, because Shakespeare meticulously explores the character of Caius Marcius in a manner he never does that of the Athenian misanthrope, who remains substantially in an unfinished state. Moreover the relationship of Coriolanus to his community is thoroughly deducible in human terms. This is not true in the earlier play because Timon has no fully developed human attachments. In Coriolanus we are prevented for the most part from open laughter by the dreadful and carefully investigated emptiness of the central figure. [Proser 507]
Caesar, with his much-debated aspirations to kingship, his personal courage, his desire for power was an equivocal figure not unlike the Guise. League pamphleteers seem to have been fond of drawing analogies between them. [Briggs 266]
Yet although Marlowe did not have access to the wide variety of sources available to modern historians, his account comes much closer to historical fact than has been previously acknowledged; it is at least arguable that he represents the events much as they would have struck an impartial observer of the time. In his presentation of the massacre itself he appears to have reproduced with remarkable accuracy forms of ritualized violence peculiar to the French religious wars. [Briggs 259]
Something that meaningful to us cannot be left just to sit there bathed in pure significance, and so we describe, analyse, compare, judge, classify; we erect theories about creativity, form, perception, social function; we characterize art as a language, a structure, a system, an act, a symbol, a pattern of feeling; we reach for scientific metaphors, spiritual ones, technological ones, political ones; and if all else fails we string dark sayings together and hope someone else will elucidate them for us. The surface bootlessness of talking about art seems matched by a depth necessity to talk about it endlessly. And it is this peculiar state of affairs that I want here to probe, in part to explain it, but even more to determine what difference it makes. [Geertz 1474]
But anyone at all responsive to aesthetic forms feels it as well. Even those among us who are neither mystics nor sentimentalists, nor given to outbursts of aesthetic piety, feel uneasy when we have talked very long about a work of art in which we think we have seen something valuable. The excess of what we have seen, or imagine we have, over the stammerings we can manage to get out concerning it is so vast that our words seem hollow, flatulent, or false. After art talk, ‘whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent,’ seems like very attractive doctrine. [Geertz 1473]
If we are to have a semiotics of art (or for that matter, of any sign system not axiomatically self-contained), we are going to have to engage in a kind of natural history of signs and symbols, an ethnography of the vehicles of meaning. Such signs and symbols, such vehicles of meaning, play a role in the life of a society, or some part of a society, and it is that which in fact gives them their life. Here, too, meaning is use, or more carefully, arises from use, and it is by tracing out such uses as exhaustively as we are accustomed to for irrigation techniques or marriage customs that we are going to be able to find out anything general about them. This is not a plea for inductivism — we certainly have no need for a catalog of instances — but for turning the analytic powers of semiotic theory, whether Peirce’s, Saussure’s, Levi-Strauss’s, or Goodman’s, away from an investigation of signs in abstraction toward an investigation of them in their natural habitat — the common wold in which men look, name, listen, and make. [Geertz 1498]
Positivism is dead. By now it has gone off and is beginning to smell. If, in the words of the Russian proverb, it is rotting from the head, that means that whilst there are those in science practice who think that it is still a valid metatheoretical position and foundation for a methodological programme there are very few who think about the validity of metatheoretically-founded methodological programmes who still think this. [Byrne 37]
It is perhaps not to be marveled, then, that the New Historicism has such talent for theater; the past is a costume drama in which the interpreter’s subject plays. Historical understanding, or what Collingwood called the ‘re-enactment of past experience,’ is an act. [Liu 733]
The overall result is that the New Historicism is at once more frank that the New Criticism — because it makes no bones about wishing to establish a subversive intersubjectivity and interaction between texts and their contexts — and excruciatingly more embarrassed (literally, “barred, obstructed”). While driven to refer literature to history (most literally in its notes referring to historical documents), it is self-barred from any method able to ground, or even to think, reference more secure than trope. Indeed, the very concept of reference becomes taboo. Ignoring the fact that historical evidence by and large is referred to in its notes (which has the effect of lending documentary material an a priori status denied the literary works and anecdotes it reads and re-reads), the New Historicism proceeds tropologically as if texts and historical con-texts had equal priority. Literary ‘authors’ thus claim an equivalence with political ‘authority,’ and ‘subjected’ intellects with their monarchical ‘Subject,’ through an argument of paradox, ambiguity, irony, or (to recur to dialectic) Lordship/Bondage not far removed at base from the etymological wordplay of deconstruction. As deconstructive ‘catachresis’ is to reference, then, so subversion is to power — but without the considered defense of tropology allowing deconstruction to found a-logical figuration in the very substrate of its version of historical context: the intertext. New Historicist contextuality is an intertextuality of culture without a functional philosophy or anti-philosophy. No Derrida of the field has made of the subversive relation between authors and authority what deconstruction makes of its subversion of reference: deferral. After all, it would be too embarrassing to admit that subversion of historical power (and of all the ontological and referential hierarchies still retained by Althusser in the gestural phrase, “in the last instance”) is just another differance. Such would be to confess the formalism of the New Historicism. [Liu 744]
Social order is not the result of the architectural order created by T squares and slide rules. Nor is social order brought about by such professionals as policemen, nightwatchmen, and public officials. Instead, says Jacobs, “the public peace-the sidewalk and street peace-of cities … is kept by an intricate, almost unconscious network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves, and enforced by the people themselves.” The necessary conditions for a safe street are a clear demarcation between public space and private space, a substantial number of people who are watching the street on and off (“eyes on the street”), and fairly continual, heavy use, which adds to the quantity of eyes on the street.85 Her example of an area where these conditions were met is Boston’s North End. Its streets were thronged with pedestrians throughout the day owing to the density of convenience and grocery stores, bars, restaurants, bakeries, and other shops. It was a place where people came to shop and stroll and to watch others shop and stroll. The shopkeepers had the most direct interest in watching the sidewalk: they knew many people by name, they were there all day, and their businesses depended on the neighborhood traffic. Those who came and went on errands or to eat or drink also provided eyes on the street, as did the elderly who watched the passing scene from their apartment windows. Few of these people were friends, but a good many were acquaintances who did recognize one another. The process is powerfully cumulative. The more animated and busier the street, the more interesting it is to watch and observe; all these unpaid observers who have some familiarity with the neighborhood provide willing, informed surveillance. [Scott 135]
Let us pause, however, to consider the kind of human subject for whom all these benefits were being provided. This subject was singularly abstract. Figures as diverse as Le Corbusier, Walther Rathenau, the collectivizers of the Soviet Union, and even Julius Nyerere (for all his rhetorical attention to African traditions) were planning for generic subjects who needed so many square feet of housing space, acres of farmland, liters of clean water, and units of transportation and so much food, fresh air, and recreational space. Standardized citizens were uniform in their needs and even interchangeable. What is striking, of course, is that such subjects-like the “unmarked citizens” of liberal theory-have, for the purposes of the planning exercise, no gender, no tastes, no history, no values, no opinions or original ideas, no traditions, and no distinctive personalities to contribute to the enterprise. They have none of the particular, situated, and contextual attributes that one would expect of any population and that we, as a matter of course, always attribute to elites.
The lack of context and particularity is not an oversight; it is the necessary first premise of any large-scale planning exercise. To the degree that the subjects can be treated as standardized units, the power of resolution in the planning exercise is enhanced. Questions posed within these strict confines can have definitive, quantitative answers. The same logic applies to the transformation of the natural world. Questions about the volume of commercial wood or the yield of wheat in bushels permit more precise calculations than questions about, say, the quality of the soil, the versatility and taste of the grain, or the well-being of the community. The discipline of economics achieves its formidable resolving power by transforming what might otherwise be considered qualitative matters into quantitative issues with a single metric and, as it were, a bottom line: profit or loss. Providing one understands the heroic assumptions required to achieve this precision and the questions that it cannot answer, the single metric is an invaluable tool. Problems arise only when it becomes hegemonic. [Scott 346]
Recent debates may also tend to overstate the technical challenges of interdisciplinarity. Distant readers admittedly enjoy discussing new unsupervised algorithms that are hard to interpret. 5 But many useful methods are supervised, comparatively straightforward, and have been in social-science courses for decades. A grad student could do a lot of damage to received ideas with a thousand novels, manually gathered metadata, and logistic regression.
What really matter, I think, are not new tools but three general principles. First, a negative principle: there’s simply a lot we don’t know about literary history above the scale of (say) a hundred volumes. We’ve become so used to ignorance at this scale, and so good at bluffing our way around it, that we tend to overestimate our actual knowledge. 6 Second, the theoretical foundation for macroscopic research isn’t something we have to invent from scratch; we can learn a lot from computational social science. (The notion of a statistical model, for instance, is a good place to start.) The third thing that matters, of course, is getting at the texts themselves, on a scale that can generate new perspectives. This is probably where our collaborative energies could most fruitfully be focused. The tools we’re going to need are not usually specific to the humanities. But the corpora often are. [Underwood 533]
The data may not contain the answer. The combination of some data and an aching desire for an answer does not ensure that a reasonable answer can be extracted from a given body of data. [Tukey 74-75]
In this article we have sought to construct a computational model of SOC style to study its diffusion as a world literary form. We find support for our initial hypothesis that SOC followed a wavelike pattern of dispersion from the world literary system’s core to its semiperiphery and periphery. Yet, at each stage of our analysis, our model charts the broad contours of this diffusion while exposing how this diffusion is marked by constant, heterogeneous variance. We do not see a single, monolithic pattern of diffusion but patterns of dissemination. In other words, we find patterns of difference (or variation) in sameness. This is an idea that is not extrinsic to computational or statistical methods but is deeply embedded in them. Indeed, among humanists, a common misunderstanding of modern statistical modeling is that quantitative models seek to explain everything about a social phenomenon and leave no room for interpretive ambiguity or indeterminacy. The opposite is true. A key feature of every statistical model is an error term that captures precisely what the model cannot explain. Moreover, a common reflexive technique in modeling is to estimate a model’s own inability to fully measure the underlying processes that generate a data set. Modeling is thus deeply invested in indeterminacy, whether of itself or of the data to which it is applied. [Long + So 364–5]
Our habit of doubting ourselves, echoing our earnest but never conclusive efforts to address the misgivings of others, shows more than anything else how at home are digital humanists in the humanities. Indeed, we are perfectly capable of sustaining all sides of this debate without encouragement. Of course I speak as someone to whom this particular problem is merely “academic” (understand this word in a weirdly reversed sense), as I am not personally dependent, at least for the present, on academic funding, either “soft” or “hard”. As soon as the discussion became consequential, I suppose I might be reluctant to take issue with any administrator or committee charged with managing a budget or prioritizing line items. Their jobs are difficult enough, I imagine. Yet it is with considerable astonishment that I read accounts of Lord Browne’s Report (again, this is easy enough for readers to learn about online if they don’t already know too much) and its promise to make British universities more “competitive” (sic) by decimating funding for education in arts, language and literacy. Is this the way a great nation treats its children, I wonder? What would Dr Arnold think? [Piez]
Is it appropriate to deploy positivistic techniques against those self-same positivistic techniques? In a former time, such criticism would not have been valid or even necessary. Marx was writ ing against a system that laid no specific claims to the apparatus of knowledge production itself-even if it was fueled by a persistent and pernicious form of ideological misrecognition. Yet, today the state of affairs is entirely reversed. The new spirit of capitalism is found in brainwork, self-measurement and self-fashioning, perpetual critique and innovation, data cre ation and extraction. In short, doing capitalist work and doing intellectual work-of any variety, bourgeois or progressive-are more aligned today than they have ever been. [Galloway 110]
In anatomical distant reading, the reason that the scholar is refraining from critical close reading is its uneconomical time-consuming quality and its deliberately narrow focus, but in the other case, distant reading is the only way for the scholar to extend the scope of his study without the anxiety of impossibility of an ideal knowledge. As a consequence, in the former, the distant reader’s inductive reasoning guides the direction of the study, but in the latter, it is the constellation of previous studies that directs the inductive reasoning. When the comparatist has attentively distanced his focus of study from a limited number of works, his mastership over those works is still preserved, thus he has the power to direct the path of his inferences. But in the other case, the scholar’s access to the object of study is already funneled, and his only way through it is to pass the filter of others’ researches. Moretti’s idea of collaborative research is problematic not just for implication of the political hegemony of English or the imperialistic attitude of the comparatist, as Arac noted, but also regarding whether the role of induction is placed primary or secondary. There is a huge difference between using other scholars’ works as source of inspiration, influence, or acknowledgment, and treating them as “data”. [Khadem 415]
For literary research to be possible, there must be some ambiguous space between patterns that are transparently legible in our memories and patterns that are too diffuse to matter. In fact this ambiguous space is large and important. We often dimly intuit literary-historical patterns without being able to describe them well or place them precisely on a timeline. For instance, students may say that they like contemporary fiction because it has more action than older books. I suspect that changes in pacing are part of what they mean. There is actually plenty of violence in Robinson Crusoe (1719), but it tends to be described from a distance, in summaries that cover an hour or two. We don’t see Crusoe’s fingers slipping, one by one, off the edge of a cliff. Twentieth-century fiction is closer to the pace of dramatic presentation. Protagonists hold their breath; their heartbeat accelerates; time seems to stand still. This pace may feel more like action, or even (paradoxically) faster, although diegetic time is actually passing more slowly from one page to the next. Even high-school students can feel this difference, although they may not describe it well. Narratologists have described it well, but typically credit it, mistakenly, to modernism. This change is a real literary phenomenon—in fact a huge one. But to trace its history accurately we need numbers. [Underwood 349]
The essence of the traditional humanist’s work-style is illuminated by comparing the pace and character of research publication across the disciplines, as Thomas Kuhn suggested years ago from his own experience (1977: 8–10). It varies widely, from the rapid exchange of results in the sciences to the slower pace of argument in the humanities. To varying degrees within the humanities themselves, this argument is the locus of action: the research itself (e.g. in philosophy) or its synthesis into a disciplinary contribution (e.g. in history) takes place during the writing, in the essay or monograph, rather than in a non-verbal medium, such as a particle accelerator. Contrast, as Kuhn did, the traditional research publication in experimental physics, which reports on results obtained elsewhere. In the natural sciences, as that ‘elsewhere’ has shifted from the solitary researcher’s laboratory bench to shared, sometimes massive equipment or through a division of labour to the benches of many researchers, collaboration has become a necessity. In the humanities, scholars have tended to be physically alone when at work because their primary epistemic activity is the writing, which by nature tends to be a solitary activity. Humanists have thus been intellectually sociable in a different mode from their laboratory-bound colleagues in the sciences.
If we look closely at this solitary work, we have no trouble seeing that the normal environment has always been and is virtually communal, formerly in the traditional sense of ‘virtually’ — ‘in essence or effect’ — and now, increasingly, in the digital sense as well. However far back in time one looks, scholarly correspondence attests to the communal sense of work. So do the conventions of acknowledgement, reference and bibliography; the crucial importance of audience; the centrality of the library; the physical design of the book; the meaning of publication, literally to ‘make public’; the dominant ideal of the socalled ‘plain style’, non sibi sed omnibus, ‘not for oneself but for all’; and of course language itself, which, as Wittgenstein argued in Philosophical Investigations, cannot be private. Writing only looks like a lonely act. [McCarty 12–13]