Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Not Weinberger's fault

When Zeuxis unveiled his painting of grapes, they appeared so luscious and inviting that birds flew down from the sky to peck at them. Zeuxis then asked Parrhasius to pull aside the curtain from his painting. When it was discovered that the curtain itself was painted on the surface -- the curtain was Parrhasius' painting, Zeuxis was forced to concede defeat. Wikipedia

Certain recent posts here at IMproPRieTies might seem rather random. What could Everything is Miscellaneous, JSTOR, the White House Press Corps and the Extraordinary and Plenipotent Roland E. Arnall possibly have in common? I'm not sure. All I know is, after reading David Weinberger's book, and writing a bit about it, a certain stimulus deriving from that reading seemed to propel me to "voice" certain, uh, reservations I've had about, among other things, the JSTOR Fortress of Knowledge.

Weinberger's take on miscellaneity is provocative. Even with Mr. Plenipotentiary Arnall - not that David in any directed way "caused" my interest in him - but when, in EiM, he speaks of shifting from an Aristotelian order of proper nomenclature, personhood and taxonomy to multiple, more open orders that are not so much contesting each others' claims but rather learning how to play well with each other, and to discover that knowledge resides between, not in, knowers, one of the first flags for me is the potential for fraud.

The space of fraud is the space between what something is said to be and what it "really is." Under an Aristotelian mode of knowing as representation, fraud is certainly possible -- and begins perhaps with the stories of Zeuxis, an artist Aristotle apparently did not care for, fooling the eye of the beholder -- but this falseness can be checked, unveiled, dis-covered through a penetrating effort of investigation (or by sheer chance); it can be seen to be other than the truth.

These considerations I think apply meaningfully to Journalism's failing to coincide with itself: News becomes news of the reception of the news of the reception of the... en abîme.

If everything is miscellaneous, it becomes ever so much more difficult to differentiate claims about some thing from the thing, because, per the argument, things per se, essences, no longer anchor the realm of signs. Metadata would appear to become increasingly difficult to distinguish from data - what is said about things replaces things with more of what is said about things: Reality dissolves into a welter of voices about reality, internet intercourse upends the stable epistemology of traditional discourse, rendering efforts to arrive at "truth" more problematic. Instead of a truth model of veil/unveil, we have -- no, in Weinberger's sense, we are becoming -- Parrhesian: all veil.

Obviously I'm still trying to figure out what David is saying, and why I'm finding what he's saying so provocative. While I wonder about these things, I'd be curious to hear whether other readers of the book find themselves provoked into vocalizing a bit more than usual.

And lest I forget, there's an interesting looking article about Aristotle and the Painters by Graham Zanker. Would have loved to have read it, but it's inside the anal crevass of JSTOR.

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