Willard McCarty: 'Machines of demanding grace: speculations toward a book on the problem of digital interpretation'
The great anthropological question “What is man?”, raised by Immanuel Kant in 1800 and made the overarching question of philosophy, has been taken up in our time, for example, by Anthony Giddens’ exploration of the perilously negotiated process of “going-on being” in the reflexive construction of self (Modernity and Self-Identity, 1991); Ian Hacking’s dissolving away of the singular soul by probing multiple personality disorder (Rewriting the Soul, 1995); Giorgio Agamben’s “anthropological machine” evinced e.g. in Linnaeus’ homo sapiens, which he reads as denoting a creature in perpetual becoming (L’aperto, 2002); and G. E. R. Lloyd’s subtle navigations across cultures and centuries among the historical variants of “what counts as being human” (Being, Humanity and Understanding, 2012). If, then, the human is in perpetual re-formation, what is the role of computing and the technoscience it communicates? In this talk I will use Sigmund Freud’s notion of the “great outrages” perpetrated by the sciences on human self-love and the moral programme of science that it articulates to suggest tentatively a way in which the digital humanities might do better than supply data for interpretation that happens elsewhere by other means.
Biographical note: Willard McCarty, FRAI, is Professor of Humanities Computing in the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London and Professor in the School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics at the University of Western Sydney. He is Editor of Humanist and of Interdisciplinary Science Reviews and founding Convenor of the London Seminar (2006-2012). For more see www.mccarty.org.uk.