“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Poetry CSI

Which is a more accurate description of an omelette?

“This omelette reminds me of my father. It is yellow, and yellow was a popular color this week. It has cheese in it, and cheese comes from cows.”

“This omelette was evidently made with three eggs. They were cooked for about five minutes on a medium heat. Some salt was added.”

Which one is about “content”? Which one is about “form”?

I can't believe we're still having this discussion. 

The interview with Hillis Miller I posted a while back says something very interesting. When he was at Harvard, there was a huge fashion for doing concordance research: producing them, using them, and so on. As he points out, Google has made all that stuff irrelevant. As he also points out, and this is true, Geoffrey Hartman's fresh readings are still fresh. They blew everyone away at the time as no one else was doing them.

In ten years or less some kind of search engine will be able to do all the “content” based, thematic readings you young whippersnappers think are cool. Your “research” will be irrelevant.

Most of that stuff is either already said, or just mind projection, or easily computable given the right kind of engine.

Does anyone actually want to do something original any more in Ph.D. research? To do so, you need either to burrow into a library, or do an incredible, fresh reading, or both.

In an age of advanced computation, there needs to be advanced imagining, and advanced reasoning, for freshness.

You want to do Ph.D work in English? Read a poem, as a poem. You want to study a movie? See that movie as a movie. You want to study a videogame? Talk about its physical and software architecture. Tell me about iambic pentameter, rhyme scheme, tropes.

So Alexander Regier and I were wondering whether to teach a class on that. My idea for a title was

How to Fucking Read a Fucking Poem

But rather more diplomatically Alexander suggested

Poetry CSI.

The poem is splattered all over the page. What happened? Answering that is called Ph.D research.


Michael O'Rourke said...

I'm transcribing an interview with Hillis where he says similar things at the moment. You can listen to it here (#12) https://itunes.apple.com/ie/podcast/ucd-humanities-institute-podcast/id417437263

Michael O'Rourke

Bill Benzon said...

"...iambic pentameter, rhyme scheme, tropes."

You might also want to come up with a new descriptive vocabulary. We need it.

Henry Warwick said...

Aaaaah - now you're catching onto my PhD dissertation! I told you that hard drive would change the way you think about this stuff... Someday, when you have a windows machine, index that drive with Dropout.exe and then run content searches to your hearts content. The shit just blows my mind every time I do it.