Thursday, May 10, 2007

Tongue Stew: Everything is Miscellaneous, part 2

The first part of comments on Everything is Miscellaneous is here.

Here beginneth Part the Seconde:

I was going to write about how David Weinberger manages to talk about large changes without making us anxious about the new order slouching toward MySpace. I had a lengthy chunk of it written, mostly dealing with my doubts that he does justice to the ramifications of the change he's forecasting. (The tree of knowledge is central to the imagery of the text. As that tree falls, do such ramifications cease to ramify? Or do they continue, but, hidden in miscellaneity, become harder to trace?)

Anyway, here's part what I had in mind to say:

David Weinberger is talking about large changes -- like the murder of the Logos. For purposes of the narrative, the corpus of Hamlet becomes a prime example of the inessentiality, the blurring of things we like to think are monolithic sources; kingly authoritative things. Some might sense the interstitial rustling of a kingly ghost, the crumble of royal relations, a regicidal rottenness that is about to stink up the understairs.

But EiM mostly steers clear of the privates, the nether parts. The scenes are set in bright kitchens, underground archives, museum offices, Staples stores (Bias Outing: I avoid Staples like the plague -- that anal order, those white, white walls and the bins upon bins of exact replicas of pens and pencils and blotters and paper clips makes me yearn for Mexican markets, or a gatling gun); the narrative's set lighting is usually pretty bright (except in Eleanor Rosch's office) and order reigns, wildness has been tamed.

The settings, the interviews, the characters and examples all bespeak the bustle of salutary change:
Whether we’re doing it on purpose or simply by leaving tracks behind us, the public construction of meaning is the most important project of the next hundred years. 222
It's at moments like this that I want to set my phaser on Biblical and say:

David, as you know, the Goliath whose fall you are announcing is nothing less than what Western Philosophy since before Aristotle has called the Logos. You're telling us the story of Babel, only wonderfully changed for Web-based audiences. According to the patriarchal preferences of the Old Testament, the loss of the original tongue was considered a sad falling off from humankind's power to build not just towers, but the social orders of the cities that would populate them –- a collapse that left men's kind profoundly weakened, dulled, unerected, stupefied. Now you're telling us that the new enriched matrix of idiolectal variations which is supplanting the old order will enable us to regain "social knowing" via multifaceted categories, and ever more complex webs of relations. You seem to be saying that the crumbling Logos cookie will return us to a far richer stew of meanings without apparent loss of the benefits of the very thing that is said to be getting usurped.


I still want to say all that. But the more I think about EiM, and the better the feel I get for the rigor of the thinking in the book, the more I'm inclined to want to explore how it negotiates that tricky move which is its promise. A nos moutons.

More later then.

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Blogger Juke said...

It's one thing to decry an authority whose experience first-hand of you've seen through as little more than patriarchal cunning and the treachery of the first-come serving themselves. It's another to vault from that rebel stance to a repudiation of the idea of Absolute ("that there is a best way to order") Authority.
Not obedience to, which is the foundering so often, but recognition of, that kind of gospel-plow steadfastness that has nothing to do with proprietary scripture or ethnic exegesis, but is, like our physical moment, felt to be a lived-in thing, where we are, human against a background of the unimaginable. We need to step it down to a human scale to get it at all. Problem now is we've reduced most people's landscape to human and nothing but.
Harmony's like that I think, where the clavier needs a little wobble in its hertz to please the ear as it modulates through chord and key. There's room for totality, even as totality breaks into the unknowably vast assumptive - like the perfection of God is only ever going to be a series of risings-toward for little man and his kin, because we can't ever get there without becoming not-us.
And every single step of the way some opportunistic hustler's got his forearm's worth of watches out, standing at the edge of the alley - hey, right here, below cost, just for you, just this one time.
Easy to see through once you've been around the block a few rounds. But a snare for the innocent and rube.
So out goes baby bathwater metaphor and point.
Tom Robbins said precision in language bridges the isolating gulf of being more accurately and fully, or words to that, and thus offered a defense of silence in libraries and correct grammar and punctuation in writings. Because it's all we have, to connect.
It bothers me greatly, the way "science" or that section of the bleachers so designated, will humph its own moral strengths so tiredly against the silliness of the dim believers without pausing to remember it got that morality from hoary old superstitious metaphysician-driven religious proscriptions. Which were often all some seer had to keep the flock from straying terminally far (from an ideal).
Out, damned bathwater!
There's no real account-taking there that without some kind of centering goal we'll devolve into competing organisms, even further back than we are already - on what appears to be to me an Aristotelian path toward perfection, or God-knowing, or something like that.
Either that or nothing, in which case there is no case to be made for any moral position whatsoever, no right, wrong, or indifferent. Just preference and self-interest. Just yammering mechanical sticks and paste, strings trailing across the stage.
Doesn't scan.
But then I haven't read the book.

5/10/2007 9:25 PM  
Anonymous tom said...

I love this. What's baby and what's bathwater is getting harder to see, but I think for Weinberger that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Problem now is we've reduced most people's landscape to human and nothing but.

The reduction is happening all around us. Has been. Forever. But it's gotten way more pernicious now that it's frequently in corporate bottom-line interests to make sure we are as ignorant as possible, as consumed as possible, as free of larger schemata as possible.

What I think David finds salutary in the return of the miscellaneous is a kind of undirected destabilizing of top-down order. Opening up new ways of looking, seeing, sharing. Including ways that restore some mnemonics of the "unimaginable" that's been wallpapered over by scenes from American Idol.

Precision is the powerful means to the end of constructing something to stand on. What David's talking about is the messy flux that shakes up those orders, but because it's messy, it's not easily put at the service of single-minded ideologies.

I'm doubtless missing everything here, but I'll wager that ultimately David thinks a seasoning of Aristotle in the herbal bath of miscellaneous conversation will, without anyone in particular being Robespierrean, revolutionize what we know, how we know, and what we can and will do with it. That this will happen slowly, under no one's thumb, but it will, must, happen, because no one is going to be able to stop it. That is to say, there's a faith in our better natures behind David's forecast that's probably indemonstrable, but the better Pascalian bet.

5/12/2007 7:54 AM  

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