The Analytical Onomasticon Project An Auto-Ethnographic Vignette

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Willard McCarty


As Russ Wooldridge pointed out many years ago, all too often “the computer disappears into the background” once its results are to hand ( This is especially true if those results fall short of expectations. In the following I describe the history of a project whose failure in those terms turned out to be far more important than its impossible success would have been. The moral of this story is that with persistence the futile struggle to conform works of the imagination to finite, algorithmic requirements is, or can be, transformational. To quote Italo Calvino, the encoder plays a game that if played long, hard, and well enough “finds itself invested with an unexpected meaning [. . .] slipped in from another level” (1980/1966, §4).





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I. Questions and Experiments
Author Biography

Willard McCarty, King’s College London

Willard McCarty is Professor Emeritus, King’s College London; Editor of Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (2008–) and the online seminar Humanist (1987–); and co-organizer (with G.E.R. Lloyd and A. Vilaça) of the workshop series “Science in the Forest, Science in the Past” (Cambridge, 2017–). His current book project is an historical, anthropological, and philosophical study of the relation between digital computing and the human sciences. See