Tuesday, June 23, 2009

re-esemplastic rethread

Afterthought with regard to the thread in the preceding post, much of which focuses on the Berkman Center's mode of presenting talks. For me, the Berkman Center was just cited as an example of how current practice tends to put valuable intellectual property out there and then leave it to its own devices. David Weinberger explains that the Berkman's support of an author like Lewis Hyde has other facets, and that putting his lunchtime talk out there is better than not doing so, even if follow up responses to it do not get tracked.

I want to move off of Berkman to try to make a point that otherwise might be lost. Conversations don't often neatly begin and end. Some have been going on for a few thousand years. Ten years ago, it was suggested that "markets are conversations," but the definition of "conversation" remained somewhat open-ended, like the thing itself (it extended into a deep and mostly tacit theory of voice, among other things).

We in the US and elsewhere have had the habit, for perhaps too long, of assuming that conversation can be bottled up inside a piece of thingliness - a vessel like a book, a CD, DVD, digital file, painting, etc. -- and presented as a self-sufficient, closed object which can then be sold. I don't think that's what "markets are conversations" was intended to mean, but the closing of the conversation, like the enclosure of the commons, leads to improper notions of something as "a property," and then, "intellectual property."

What if intellect cannot be localized because much of what we think and say is already in a dialogic (or, allegoric) relation to other words that have been thought and said? If intellect doesn't lend itself to a local habitation and a name, then "intellectual property" is an oxymoron, or worse, a senseless grouping of phonemes.

Yet in our daily practice, as we're used to slicing up the stream of time into end-stopped segments, we share and sell moments in larger conversations, themselves moments in even larger conversations.

My point vis a vis Hyde was that even as he spoke of a commons and its loss through stages of enclosure, there was both a fidelity and a betrayal of his thinking in how it was situated. It is freely shared - qua segment, qua object, qua Berkman moment; but by bracketing it off from any further precedent or subsequent context, its necessary relation to its origin and its destiny, its power to bear witness to further repercussions of its own impact, is denied.

This is not merely a Berkman phenomenon; it's a representational phenomenon deriving from a scheme that believes intellectual objects have an integrity which in fact they do not possess.

Twitter might be a helpful gloss: no one on Twitter is the source of any given conversation, nor is it the case that a conversation takes place between the same interlocutors. Conversations are witnessed, piled in on, diverted, commented upon, rejoined, attitudinalized, left for dead, by a series of folks who may never directly speak to one another. On Twitter, conversation might be said the be the soul of indiscretion.

So, where the roots of ideas of intellect and property are being seriously examined, the representation of moments in their conversations would do well to explore how they can bring forward the links among themselves and their exfoliations.

Desideratum: A reverse wordcloud - where the words in a post that are cited, linked to, retweeted, etc., grow and (somehow) contain links to posts that link to them. Sort of like Eliot's Tradition and the Individual Talent, where later texts within the tradition contain and esemplastically transform earlier ones.

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