The Timeless Psyche

Time seems to change nearly everything. From century to century, all different aspects of life vary such as cultural tastes, political theory, technology, etc. But it seems one thing that has changed very little is the human psyche; every time I read a classic piece of literature, I am reminded that the human (psychological) experience has not changed that much. Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway is an example of the timelessness (at least since the days of the Greeks) of this experience.

Before talking about the characters in the novel, I have to comment that Woolf’s “stream of consciousness” writing style is incredibly effective in conveying her character’s overall experience. As humans, we continually fade in and out between internal and external conversations, either with ourselves or with others respectively. Each type of “conversation” we engage in effects the other type by varying degrees depending on context. By this I mean that what we think about internally has some degree of influence over what we talk about with others, and conversely what we talk about with others has some degree of influence over what we think about. Thus, in Mrs. Dalloway, the characters become increasingly transparent as Woolf streams between conscious events.

Clarissa Dalloway is an insightful example of the overbearing role of internal thought in a person’s life. Clarissa’s external life is almost completely dominated by her memories, dreams, and regrets. As Woolf streams in and out of Clarissa’s thoughts, conversations, and actions, it becomes increasingly clear that Clarissa is tormented by her memory (or at least her perception) of her previous self. Clarissa constantly thinks about her old boyfriend Peter Walsh. Walsh, whose life choices have been less conservative than Clarissa’s, serves as a reference point for Clarissa. Most notably, Mrs. Dalloway feels that she, compared to Peter, has become nothing but an entertainer, or party-thrower.  In modern terms, Clarissa feels she has “sold-out” in a way Peter as not. But Clarissa also feels that Peter has failed in his own, more adventurous life goals. This realization creates a depressing reality for Clarissa because both her and her object of comparison, Peter, are seemingly failures. Because of this feeling of failure, Clarissa spends more and more time contemplating her own mortality. This predicament stems from the fact that nothing in Clarissa’s life lives up to, and certainly does not exceed her past memories. Romance is the best example. Nothing in the present is as good as the love of the past. Clarissa is incapable of feeling romantic with her husband, Richard Dalloway, and is tormented by memories of her past loves, Sally Seton and Peter Walsh.

Just from the first 65 pages of the novel, Woolf masterfully conveys the human experience with regard to regret and the haunting nature of memories. In my opinion, the experience described so far is identical to the one that many face today. But what is truly intriguing is the fact that the human psyche as described in this novel (and experienced by us today) is the same as it was 2500 years ago (when Plato wrote The Republic) and most likely it was the same for a long time before that.

Ramsay, the Humanist Party’s whip?

Stephen Ramsay could be the warrior DH needs to ensure its evolution into modern academia. He is dramatic. Perhaps it only seems this way because of the “3 minute” time constraint he is under in this speech, but regardless, you could really sense the emotion in his argument. More important than the fervor of his language is his overall go get-em outlook on the subject. He immediately makes clear his belief that Digital Humanities requires active participation. According to Ramsay, you can’t simply enjoy the benefits of computer representations, programming, etc. of the humanities and call yourself a Digital Humanist. The field is young (compared to one such as physics for instance), and its importance is becoming increasingly clear. But with this youth comes a need for structure and discipline (just like any living thing with the goal of survival). For this reason, Ramsay asserts that being a part of Digital Humanities, at this point in time, involves constructive involvement. He makes clear that “Personally, I think Digital Humanities is about building things. […] If you are not making anything, you are not … a digital humanist.” Perhaps more controversial is Ramsay’s stance on programming. He says that “as a tenured professor in Digital Humanities, I say…you have to know how to code”.  Clearly Ramsay wants active participation.

As to whether or not this stance is good or bad, I think it can only be good. He comes off as a kind of parent figure. He knows the potential of the field and wants to ensure its survival from the fate of other, “overprecise[ly] define[d]” fields of study such as Classics. Ramsay wants Digital Humanities to survive and to prevent it from dissociation. He is more than an avid fan of DH, he is a “whip” for the humanities party in a sense. But most significantly, he demands (and facilitates) the transformation of enticement, into action, into innovation.

Misguided use of Digital Humanities…?

I am a huge fan of Steven Colbert. During the summer, I watch his show (Monday-Thursday at 11:30pm) religiously. Recently, Mr. Colbert received SEC approval to form a “Super PAC” which allows him to receive unlimited monetary contributions to spend at his disposal (on political issues of course). Upon receiving so many contributions, he asked his viewers to send in a brief message describing what the Super PAC should stand for. I felt compelled to send in my own opinion.

How does this apply to digital humanities, you may be asking yourself. Well, about a month after Mr. Colbert asked his viewers to submit their opinions, he did a segment about the submissions on the show. To get a feel for his viewers’ opinions, he put all of the submissions into Wordle and displayed the most commonly used words from the messages. As a kid who takes politics way too seriously, I was kind of upset that he simplified people’s opinions down to commonly used words. Especially because the eighth most prominent word was marijuana, and here I was spilling my political heart out to the guy.

In Bloomsberg U’s “Manifesto”, the author says that “we [the digitial natives] haven’t done anything wrong; we’ve simply been misguided” with our idle use of technology. I am suggesting, very lightly, that the same can be true with the use of these “digital humanities tools.” Just Because Mr. Colbert can put all his viewer’s comments into a program that spits out commonly used words doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t actually read the messages and decide which ones are serious and which ones are complete jokes. Computers will never be able to distinguish between (at least I don’t think they will be able to) sarcasm and serious concern. And it is for this reason that I remain cautious about these types of resources and their use universally. We just need to be careful how literally we use these tools and make sure not to be similarly “misguided”.