Reading a recent NY Times Op Ed article, I became distinctly aware of the ‘very real’ possibility that we might “be denied…to enter into a more original revealing and hence to experience the call of a more primal truth” (Heidegger 14). In “Digitizing the Humanities,” Armand Marie Leroi speaks about the digitization of the humanities, which equates to reducing the study of human culture to a monological form of data that can be accessible for scholarly study.
To begin Leroi defines this digitization as a “transformation of the humanities into science.” A problem lies in this contradiction: the essence of humanity cannot exist as a science because it implies reducing the possibility of our creative spirit to a determination. Moreover, who would make this determination? Of course it would be efficient to access the humanities online, but access cannot replace the plural interpretation of the humanities. Yes, access offers convenience; but it only provides the subject with the recognition of experience and not the perception of experience. John Dewey writes: “But receptivity is not passivity. It, too, is a process consisting of a series of responsive acts that accumulate toward objective fulfillment. Otherwise, there is not perception but recognition. The difference between the two is immense. Recognition is perception arrested before it has a chance to develop freely” (54).
Can perception be quantified? Leroi suggests “The quantification of the humanities is driven by an inexorable logic: Digitization breeds numbers; numbers demand statistics.” It is precisely this inexorable logic that threatens poetics because poetics are blocked by our relationship to the essence of technology. This relationship defines our need to shape our thinking to meet the demands of technology, hence statistics. Logic is useful, but it enchains us when it becomes our only mode of thought. Indeed logic standardizes our thinking, and not only our thinking but it also dominates our relation to a free space, a space without pre-determination. If the humanities were digitized, we would form our thinking and behavior to meet the demands of the presentation; and digitized presentation is not dialogic.
Leroi presents Harold Bloom’s work and echoes his question, “What is poetic influence anyway?” It is influence that sparks thinking, and let’s not forget that it is grounded in perception. Unfortunately, education moves away from approaching thought that’s grounded in perception and moves toward recognition that forces repetitive use of technology and standardization. Leori claims the study of poetics can only result in a “wearisome industry of source-hunting, of allusion counting, an industry that will soon touch apocalypse.” Funny, this sounds a great deal like subjects lost in the repetition of adjusting their thinking to meet the demands of the tools that dominate their lives. Leroi finds the idea of art problematic because as a machine; she questions how it works. Yes, an artwork is a machine and this is a great question that we cannot leave unanswered: How does the machine work? It works through human interpretation. In other words, we need to develop our thought around interpreting images, thinking through imagination, debating meaning, and developing our thought further.
Ironically, Leroi suggests that our explanatory vacuum should be filled with organic evolution, such as cognitive psychology. Yet cognitive psychology interprets perception, which reveals itself by interpreting experience rather than recognizing stereotypical data. Fortunately, scholars in the humanities are not anti-science, but hope for collaboration that respects the plurality of experience and not the reduction of humanity to “One Republic of Learning.” We are co-responsible in our search for questioning experience by making ourselves aware of the possibility of thought. Moreover, rather than digitizing the humanities, we should de-structure our standardized modes of thinking. Heidegger suggests that ‘bringing forth’ is Poiesis, and also Physis. He claims that it is “the arising of something from out of itself” (Heidegger 117). Therefore, ultimately, mining pre-determined human culture online will limit thought rather than encouraging us to bring forth our own interpretation and our own experience into the world.
Leroi, Armand Marie. “Digitizing the Humanities.” The New York Times. 12 February 2015. Web.
Accessed at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/14/opinion/digitizing-the-humanities.html?
Dewey, John. Art as Experience, New York: Penguin Books LTD., 1934. Print.
Heidegger, Martin. “The Question Concerning Technology,” in Basic Writings. Ed., David Farrell Krell. New York: Harper Collins, 1993. Print.