Underwood’s post usefully reframes and redirects Fish’s narrative about DH “saving” literary studies, but Underwood patiently explains why DH is not, and should not be, interested in engaging in the kinds of generational/methodological combat that Fish is endorsing:
In literary studies, change has almost always taken place through a normative claim about the proper boundaries of the discipline. Always historicize! Or on second thought no, don’t historicize, but instead revive literary culture by returning to our core competence of close reading!
But in my experience digital humanists are really not interested in regulating disciplinary boundaries — except insofar as they want a seat at the table.
As Laura Rosenthal observed on the Long 18th, Fish insists upon reading DH and its ambitions as an Oedipal narrative about succession and its anxieties. Underwood, correctly in my view, advocates instead for a more pluralist view of literary studies that could encompass a variety of theoretical and critical projects, including DH.
But I agree with Underwood that these kinds of battles over competing normative claims seem unsuited to DH, and misconceive its relation to literary studies as it is conventionally understood and practiced. It does not aim to displace literary studies or interpretation, largely because it represents an ensemble of practices too amorphous to be strictly defined, anyway. Nonetheless, it offers, as Underwood concludes, less a coherent theoretical or polemical project, as much as “the name of an opportunity.”
Technological change has made some of the embodiments of humanistic work — media, archives, institutions, perhaps curricula — a lot more plastic than they used to be. That could turn out to be a good thing or a bad thing. But it’s neither of those just yet: the meaning of the opportunity is going to depend on what we make of it.