Highlighted Selections from:

Death of a Discipline


DOI: 10.1215/10407391-2420033

Golumbia, D. “Death of a Discipline.” differences 25.1 (2014): 156–176. Web.

p.156: When I listen to the question asked by literary scholars, what I hear is: “How did this practice become part of our profession? What resemblance does it have to the rest of what we do? Why don’t I understand better what it is and is supposed to be? Who decided what counts as ‘digital’ for my discipline?” -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.157: Despite its insistence on being only a set of methods, DH can be productively understood as a political intervention within literary studies, one of whose functions is to challenge the authority of “non-DH” literature scholars regarding our own discipline, in particular via a tendentious deployment of both the terms digital and humanities. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.157: The question I am raising here is why professionals who are not humanists should be engaged in setting standards for professional humanists. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.158: The advent of DH within literary studies should not be decontextualized, although DH advocates routinely resist such contextualization. The fact is that the humanities academy in the United States has been under attack from a wide range of conservative political forces for decades, particularly under the assumption that the humanities are useless or fail to teach skills necessary for employment. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.158: Thus, a notable effect of the advent of DH within English departments has been to limit significantly the presence of active critics of existing politics, including the politics of the digital, within them. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.158: Most job advertisements and positions in English that foreground the digital follow the DH lead of stating from the outset a preference for skill-based, project-based practice that does not inherently engage with the rest of literary studies, and much of DH itself begins from a position of “loving the technology” that is much less distanced than the attitude scholars typically take toward their objects of study, regardless of their affective investment in them -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.158-159: Concern about the advent of DH need be identified, then, not with the direct implementation of a neoliberal politics, but instead with the displacement of a critical humanities praxis with one that announces its resistance to interpretation and to engaging with virtually every canon of existing interpretive thought. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.159: The question is not whether such practices may be valuable in the abstract; the question is whether it is politically, culturally, and professionally and ethically wise here, now, to endorse them as literary-critical practices. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.159-160: DH as a politics has overtaken (though by no means displaced) another, to my mind, much more radical politics, one that promised a remarkable, thoroughgoing, and productive reconsideration of the foundations of scholarly research but that, crucially, emerged quite directly out of the research practices and protocols that had been developing in literary studies until then. I am not necessarily implying a direct connection between the advent of DH and the relative decline of other projects; but I am suggesting that we need to consider the thesis that the rise of DH and the notable fall of other projects are not simply coincidental. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.160: DH recommends the demotion of interpretive close reading as the hallmark of literary study, especially in its widespread deployment of “distant reading.” -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.160: Rather than seeking out the marginalized languages of the Southern Hemisphere and elsewhere and engaging the literature produced by their speakers (see Golumbia, “Postcolonial”), DH has doubled down on the institutional investment in the world’s majority languages (often seeming not even to understand the kinds of problems Spivak raises about these); in important ways, it embraces the idea that literary scholars should be monolingual, although it sometimes ascribes this retrenchment to digital affordances over which it claims to have little control (see Fiormonte). -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.161: DH says that teaching must change, both in terms of subject matter and teaching method. DH declares that the profession itself must change, advocating “alternative academic” or “alt-ac” careers -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.163: Just as it has throughout our society, the use of computers in linguistics is widespread and has been profoundly transformational, arguably much more thoroughly than it has been in literary studies, but this has not pulled linguistics away from the study of human languages or instituted a massive rejection of the standards, procedures, and authority of linguistics as a discipline. It would make no sense to talk of digital linguistics in any thoroughgoing way because there is almost no linguistics that is not digital today; -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.164: Yet in literary studies, where the relevance of analytical computational tools remains unclear outside of a very limited domain, our professional journals, websites, and conferences are full of statements to the effect that the discipline must change utterly due to what computers make possible, or, in a less hopeful and less humanistic tone, what computers require of us. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.164: The reason for this difference, arguably, is just that linguistics as a discipline has not been a hotbed for the kinds of politically inflected interpretive practice that drives right-wing opposition, and the strength of this difference is an index of the ideological pressure that informs DH. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.166: Reading literature requires much more advanced skill than does roughly parsing scholarship in one’s own field in another language; the latter is precisely what the “reading knowledge” of a foreign language is supposed to grant. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.166: It is more than a bit ironic that exactly the values I understand to inform the foreign language requirement are directly rejected in the substitution, for it is hard even to suggest that DHers will otherwise not encounter Perl or R in their scholarly work. Further, since some form of programming is often said to be essential to DH, and since most DHers are familiar with programming to some extent, what is being substituted is a formal requirement to do what is already expected, something that will almost certainly not provide a scholarly encounter with the arguments of the “other.” -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.167: In Death of a Discipline, Spivak puts a particular and repeated emphasis on language study as a hallmark of the expanded field of global literary studies she imagines as a successor to the projects of comparative literature and area studies: the problem with a “combination of Ethnic Studies and Area Studies [is that it] bypasses the literary and the linguistic” (4); “the logical consequences of our loosely defined discipline were, surely, to include the open-ended possibility of studying all literatures, with linguistic rigor and historical savvy” (5); and most crucially, she notes that work with the historically minoritized and ostracized people of the Global South is “generally only possible with the class, physically ‘based’ in the Global South, increasingly produced by globalization, that is sufficiently out of touch with the idiomaticity of nonhegemonic languages” (10). -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.169: It is not simply that DH and cyberlibertarianism look like sympathetic bedfellows; it is that what DH and far-right critics of higher education say about other forms of literary study is largely identical, and the points where they diverge are those on which too much of DH remains silent. To put it as a pointed question: why should the single remaining site of interpretive humanistic education suddenly start disparaging writing, talking, reading, and thinking as the hallmarks of an informed polis? -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.170: This problem is replicated across most of the debates about DH and its politics, and one of the most disheartening facts about it is that the quality of the discussion is very poor: it really does seem that many of the most ardent DHers simply have not engaged (and certainly do not continue to engage, as other literary scholars do) key texts by Butler, Spivak, Henry Louis Gates, Hortense Spillers, Heather Love, Lauren Berlant, Sianne Ngai, and so many others. Thus, when we talk about race or politics or even postcoloniality, we cannot sustain an advanced discussion among scholarly colleagues, but instead find ourselves groping over basics. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.171: This is what I find so disturbing about claims like the one by Tom Scheinfeldt that we are in a “post-theoretical age” and that DH augurs “a sunset for ideology, a sunrise for methodology,” as if humanists in particular should accept the view that it is possible for the sun of ideology to set, for methodology (especially that which refuses theoretical reflection) to escape ideology, and to know we are in a “fundamentally new cultural situation” that challenges “our traditional methods of studying culture” (Hall 127). -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.172: Thus, a principle motivation both for a definition of DH as privileging the most unlikely practices for literary scholars—applying quantitative methods to the interpretation of qualitative texts—and for the refusal to allow digital practices by other literary scholars to be classed as digital humanities can be located in this effort to create an outpost of “literary studies” where the majority of literary scholars have little or no authority or influence. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.172: Much of DH’s influence comes not from such tools and projects, but from books, articles, blog posts, and position statements, all of which look much more like “traditional” scholarship than the rhetoric would suggest and whose relationship to other ongoing conversations in literary studies is often difficult to see. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014