Striving to Understanding

In reading Mrs. Dalloway for the third time, I was struck by a different interpretation this go around in light of the digital humanities articles we have been reading.  I saw a similarity between the digital humanists who are struggling to define who is a digital humanist and what digital humanities actually is, and the characters in the world of Virginia Woolf’s novel.  This similar notion of how to interact with others and essentially, how to understand others who may be different, or not as different as oneself is present in both the novel and the digital humanities articles.

Woolf employs stream of consciousness to examine the complexity of the human mind by presenting internal conflicts and musings of individuals.  By exploring the way in which people think, Woolf suggests that the drive to understand another’s thoughts is a key aspect of being human, and when it is ignored or overlooked, this leads to negative consequences.  For example, the treatment of the complex character of Septimus suggests that unhealthy relationships and people stem from the inability and unwillingness to try to predict or relate to what other people are thinking.  Septimus is unable to feel anything, and identifies this as his downfall.  Therefore, without trying to relate to or understand others, he is not able to function in the social world.  Further, the way in which Septimus is treated clearly illustrates this outlook.  The doctor who treats Septimus believes that the problem with Septimus is that he needs to “take an interest in things outside himself,” intimating that without the desire to consider what others are thinking, his own thinking is deficient.  However, the novel indicates that simply being aware of other people is not enough.  Lucrezia, while constantly interacting with people, still feels that “there was nobody.”  The fact that Septimus does not attempt to comprehend her thoughts or relate to her initiates these feelings of loneliness and does not fulfill her need for bonding.

In applying this notion to the digital humanities sphere, Alex Reid articulated the divide between what is digital humanities and what is not, and questioned if the ideas can be reconciled.  Additionally, he also presented two venn diagrams, and suggested that perhaps there is an overlap between the notions of the digital and humanities world, and that “all humanist study is mediated by the digital.”  Therefore, he too illustrates that considering the “thinking” of the other may be beneficial.  The notion of grouping the digitists and the humanists in different groups is widely accepted, yet Reid suggests that delving into the overlap and seeing that they are not so different may be the more accurate route to take.  In applying Woolf’s model, if the digital humanist scholars do not attempt to reconcile the differences, just like Septimus, this may lead to a breakdown and will not be as successful as they could otherwise have been.  Just as Woolf presents the notion of attempting to understand others as essential for one’s existence in society, Reid speaks out about this idea as well, suggesting where connections can be made that can advance the field of digital humanities.


5 Comments on “Striving to Understanding”

  1. Jessica Lee says:

    Very interesting connection you made between Mrs. Dalloway and Reid’s piece. I agree with you in that Septimus’s inability to engage with and understand the people around him was a huge contribution to his downfall. In much the same way, Reid is right when he says that digitists and humanists must merge their thinking together in order to establish a cohesive, symbiotic understanding. Without this understanding, advances in digital humanities could be ineffective or scarce.

  2. Brian Croxall says:

    This is a fascinating connection you’re making, Reina. I just had to share it with the wider world. I’ll probably ask you to speak more about this tomorrow in class.

  3. Alex Reid says:

    That’s an interesting take, Reina. Perhaps we can have both. That is, digital humanists (what I might prefer to term computational humanists) can follow their routes of specialization while also building connections with other humanists doing digital work and the rest of the humanities that increasingly find themselves immersed in the digital world. Of course those connections need to come from all directions. We are all facing a digital future together.

  4. […] [Indeed, Brian Croxall's "Intro to the Digital Humanities" students over at Emory have had wonderful conversations about the articles they are reading with the actual authors of those articles who have come to comment on their blogs.  See some great discussions going on between student and author in the comments on posts here and here.] […]

  5. […] [Indeed, Brian Croxall's "Intro to the Digital Humanities" students over at Emory have had wonderful conversations about the articles they are reading with the actual authors of those articles who have come to comment on their blogs.  See some great discussions going on between student and author in the comments on posts here and here.] […]