Humanities Computing : une tierce discipline par nécessité ?

Un message récemment envoyé sur la liste Humanist, par son animateur Willard McCarty, place bien, il me semble, les enjeux propres à l’intégration de l’informatique dans des disciplines comme les études littéraires.

Le problème, en l’occurrence, se pose dans la circonstance où les premiers acteurs du joint venture entre littérature et informatique deviennent les formateurs d’une seconde génération, celle-ci étant spécialisée dans la nouvelle discipline que devient l’informatique appliquée à la littérature. Légitimant à la fois cette discipline et perdant un peu plus le lien avec la discipline-mère (en raison de la charge de nouveaux apprentissages à assimiler, du décentrement des domaines d’intérêt…), cette seconde génération en viendrait à créer une rupture difficilement récupérable entre la première génération et les suivantes ? c’est le propos de Geoffrey Rockwell que McCarty cite au début de son article :

Ironically, in making a discipline in our image through formal curricula we are engendering practitioners that may close the discipline to those like us who took the self-study road. Therein lies a rupture.

Faut-il en déduire que cette approche des études littéraires par l’informatique est vouée à une dimension utilitariste, l’informatique devant toujours rester un outil, celui de l’artisan qui décide de bricoler le bout de code lui servant à faire avancer plus vite sa recherche ?

Mais par ailleurs, la surspécialisation n’est-elle pas le lot (que je ne cherche pas à justifier ? c’est une observation) de toutes les disciplines… ? Autrement dit, les études littéraires, finalement, ne sont-elles pas une spécialisation « à outrance » des humanités telles qu’expérimentées dans les siècles passés ? L’autonomisation des études littéraires est-elle une caution, par son « succès », d’autres développements par spécialisation, dont l’informatique littéraire pourrait être un exemple ? La question reste ouverte.

Pour mémoire, vous trouverez ici copie du message de W. McCarty :

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 542.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King’s College London
Submit to:

Date: Mon, 19 Jan 2004 08:54:19 +0000
From: Willard McCarty
Subject: rupture, continuing openness and an end to the ‘liberal’

Geoffrey Rockwell, in « Multimedia: Is it a Discipline? », Jahrbuch für
Computerphilologie 4 (2002): 59-70
(, Artikel), writes
that, « Ironically, in making a discipline in our image through formal
curricula we are engendering practitioners that may close the discipline to
those like us who took the self-study road. Therein lies a rupture. » (p. 63).

Apart from preliminary responses of mitigation that Rockwell notes, I can
see two others to that rupture. The first is the selfless response, or what
might be called the not-worthy-to-tie-the-shoelaces gambit. For those of us
that have taken the road described above, this has much to recommend it. In
us it would help engender good mental health. It would also (not to put to
fine a point on the matter) issue an appropriately bracing challenge to the
practitioners thus engendered. The second response, however, seems better
to me: to resist or stitch up the rupture, to keep the self-study road
open. I would argue against the formation of yet another discipline, with
its (inevitable?) fall into the « blinding clarity » of intense
specialization, if only for that reason.

I am reminded of the article by Peter Berger, « Sociology: A
Disinvitation? », Society 30.1 (1992): 12-18, with its damning diagnosis of
the malaise into which he charges the discipline as having fallen:
parochialism, triviality, rationalism, ideology. Whereas, he notes, the
askers of the big questions, such as Weber and Durkheim, could once (in
John Wesley?s words) say that ?the world is my parish?, few could now.
Disciplinary security can be deadly.

I am also reminded of « The Course of the Particulars: Humanities in the
University of the Twenty-First Century », an essay by Pauline Yu (recently
elected President of the American Council of Learned Societies), in which
she discusses alternatives:

>In his recent book We Scholars, David Damrosch calls for an emergence from
>the individualist isolation of disciplinary enclaves that have become
>entrenched since the beginning of this century into a culture of
>cooperation, a community of small-scale research groups and team-taught
>courses to overcome the limits of specialization…. In Bill Readings’
>more acerbic version, articulated in his book, The University in Ruins,
> »the existing disciplinary model of the humanities is on the road to
>extinction, » stripped of its raison d’etre as promoter and preserver of
>the national culture of the nation-state and now « cracking under the
>pressure of market imperatives » that threaten to turn the university into
>a transnational corporation governed by the discourse of « excellence. »
>Like Damrosch, Readings proposes the adoption of « a certain rhythm of
>disciplinary attachment and detachment »: intentionally impermanent
>collaborations that resist institutional entrenchment and inertia. And
>rather than involving an exchange of « the rigid and outmoded disciplines
>for a simply amorphous disciplinary space, » this loosening of structures
>ought to provide an opportunity to foreground disciplinarity itself « as a
>permanent question. »

It would also provide an opportunity to rework another mental structure
that stands in our way, what Rockwell calls the « unexamined hierarchy of
value » that opposes the ‘liberal’ to the ‘servile’ arts:

>?Another way the value put on knowledge for its own sake affects us is
>that it forces us into unnecessary contortions of self-legitimization. In
>order to justify teaching computing within a hierarchy of value that is
>dated and dubious (and manipulated by other disciplines) we are tempted to
>twist ourselves into a liberal art, though what that art is, once purified
>of computing, is more or less nothing. The alternative to servility is to
>cleanse ourselves of any hint of training in order to not look like
>applied computer science without the science. Not much remains after this
>exercise except traditional specialties like the history and philosophy of
>computing. Imagine if you will, an HC programme that produced students
>who, because training was exiled, couldn’t actually do anything on the
>computer, who couldn’t edit an electronic text or create a Web site. The
>absurdity of the situation is that, of course we have to do training, but
>we are shackled to a philosophy of education that is deprecates it and
>splits it from the important stuff. The doing of humanities computing is
>inextricably linked to the craft and our traditions of creation. That is
>what we should celebrate and teach in a disciplined fashion. The struggle
>to define this hybrid craft of computing and the humanities may lead, in
>the short term, to a rupture with the ethereal privilege of the pure
>humanities, but in the long term it will contribute to the breadth and
>health of the humanities.?



Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
Humanities | King’s College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20
7848-2784 fax: -2980 ||