It Is Not The “Digital” But The “Humanities” That Vexes

In “Death of a Discipline,” Golumbia takes up a number of questions concerning the Digital Humanities, each of which stems from a fundamental criticism of the influence that DH has had upon literary studies and critical theory. In particular, Golumbia argues that DH is a political intervention within literary studies with a right-wing bent. Golumbia seems anxious of the potential influence of “cyberlibertarianism” as a perhaps undesirable ideology within literary studies (Golumbia 169). Golumbia also questions the precise utility of DH, asking “why, more than ten years after its advent, we continue to look for transformative possibilities” from it (172). Finally, Golumbia demands that DH “demonstrates its capacity to contribute to literary studies as a project in the humanities” and if it cannot, to “openly proclaim its rejection of [existing literary studies] practices and thus its distance from the discipline itself” (173).

First, although I understand how DH might be perceived as a political intervention in the humanities, I hesitate to call it inherently right-wing. I also am not entirely sure that calling it “right-wing” disqualifies it from participating in the discourse. In short, I am not clear on why Golumbia considers it necessary to identify DH as an”insidiously” right-wing intervention on literary studies. In attempting to defend the “humanities” from the “digital” I find myself more perplexed by the project of the former than the definition of the latter. What exactly are we intending to do here in the Humanities? What is our project? Golumbia insists that the whole project is being compromised by the “digital” without ever identifying what it actually is.

I am similarly unmoved by the suggestion that we should feel concerned over DH’s failure to meet its “transformative” promise after a decade. First, how would one measure whether or not it has been transformative?  Is it fair to assess its success based on what it promised ten years ago when at the time of the article’s publication, the iPhone had only been out for seven years and technology has advanced considerably since then? Further, what should we even consider to be DH?

Finally, I find myself disturbed by the implications of Golumbia’s insistence that DH either declare its purpose or declare its difference. This suggests to me a kind of inflexibility toward the objective of the Humanities, and reflects a kind of anxiety rather than a demand for greater clarity over DH’s purpose.

Works Cited

Golumbia, David. “Death of a Discipline.” D I F F E R E N c E S : A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, vol. 25, no. 1, 1.

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