[-empyre-] OSW: open source writing in the network
davinheckman at gmail.com
Tue Jan 24 21:18:55 EST 2012
You raise some very good points, points which highlight the truly
profound nature of digital communication technologies.
> Such a policing is indeed necessary to justify the very
> existence of pubic life as a distinct arena that ‘represents’ us, and in
> that sense is the essence of the democratic life of the bourgeois state.
> However, as the cost of publishing has been reduced to something close to
> zero for a good number of individuals and organizations, capital, and its
> concomitant bourgeois state, have significantly diminished in their ability
> to filter and legitimate the work of a professional class of public
> intellectuals and cultural critics.
In my own study of electronic literature, I find that many of our
attitudes towards the literary are shaped by accidents of history.
Fortunately, we have found a good medium for storing and transmitting
human expression in the book, itself, prefigured by an oral language
which was similarly crystallized in the creation of alphabetic
writing.... but over time, we have become habituated to seeing human
thought represented and archived in this format, so many believe that
this quality is intrinsic to the literary. Ignoring the possibility
that these are specific incarnations of an impulse that precedes it
and ignoring the possibility that this impulse will continue to be
carried forward in continuity with the present. Now, without getting
into semantic quibbling over whether or not we want to provide a
strict prescription for "literature," I think it is interesting that
we depend upon the limiting effects of the material object to
accomplish what it is that we desire from literature: Meaning over
meaninglessness, virtuosity over thoughtless crap, quality that stands
out against quantity. In other words, we still prefer to spend our
time using it in ways that reflect our interests, thus some would
rather read Literature instead of crap.... or, in the case you
describe, reliable publications over unreliable ones.
At the same time, we are keenly aware of marketing, pr, and
consumerism in the 21st century.... so we know that many operators
will exploit the logic of scarcity to present unreliable or crappy
texts as though they are worth the paper they are printed on. It
costs a lot to print a book. People have to buy a lot of copies to
make the bestseller list. Glenn Beck's latest book must be AWESOME!
In other words, we know by now that the material limitations of print
publishing are no longer a reliable indicator of a book's aesthetic
merit, moral quality, truth value, scientific significance, etc.
Now, often times when I say that I think we need to have some sort of
reliable means to sort useful information from crap, people suggest
that there is some elitism there. And certainly, when print was the
only game in town, such statements were directly tied to an implied
economic threshold, which kept some out and some in. But when, as you
note, many people can publish many things online with no filtering....
it is a mistake to assume that the process of conscious human
discernment means we privilege the haves against the have-nots. It
could be. In the case of commercial content and professionally
marketed materials, it is. But this, too, is an accident of history,
rather than something essential to the act of critical thinking.
Critical thinking does require time to read, think, communicate. It
does require the existence of a community capable of supporting and
sustaining this activity. (As an aside, if wanting to create a
community in which people can read, think, communicate, create is
"elitist," then what would an anti-elitist community look like?).
To get back around to my comment.... I think that you hit the nail on
the head when you point out the need for critical structures and
practices that are capable of looking at the broad field of cultural
information we swim in, and to filter those results in accordance with
values negotiated by a community. Once you take heavy hand of
material scarcity off the scales of publication, we have an
opportunity to think about what ought to be published without worrying
about the dynamics that made many of the hard decisions on our behalf.
We now have to decide how to prioritize information, because the
price of paper isn't doing it for us. And we need to think about how
search engines, social media, and government institutions are actively
trying to perform this role on our behalf.
If you look out there, and empyre as a community, has been very good
at trying to explore the potential of the new environment (and has
given a lot of similar projects, artists, critics, and activists, the
space to share other models for sharing work), there are groups of
people working on exploring the new models. And, as these little
perturbations in art and academic culture go, so there are wild
vortexes of widespread social change that are being negotiated. We
have to figure out how to articulate community in a positive way, that
moves the beyond the individual/collective, public/private dualities
that were formed under the zero sum game logic of society under
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