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Introduction: Electracy

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3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 There is an analogy for what we are doing when we collaboratively explore the possibilities of new media. We are to the Internet what students of Plato and Aristotle were to the Academy and Lyceum. When the Greeks invented alphabetic writing they were engaged in a civilizational shift from one apparatus to another (from orality to literacy). They invented not only alphabetic writing but also a new institution (School) within which the practices of writing were devised. Here is the salient point: all the operators of “science” as a worldview had to be invented, by distinguishing from religion a new possibility of reason. Electracy similarly is being invented, not to replace religion and science (orality and literacy), but to supplement them with a third dimension of thought, practice, and identity. “Electracy” is to digital media what literacy is to alphabetic writing: an apparatus, or social machine, partly technological, partly institutional. We take for granted now the skill set that orients literate people to the collective mnemonics that confront anyone entering a library or classroom today. Grammatology (the history and theory of writing) shows that the invention of literacy included also a new experience of thought that led to inventions of identity as well: individual selfhood and the democratic state. Thus there are three interrelated invention streams forming a matrix of possibilities for electracy, only one of which is technological. There is no technological determinism, other than the fundamental law of change: that everything is mutating together into something other, different, with major losses and gains. What is the skill set that someday may be assumed of electrate people native to an Internet institution?

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Apparatus Table

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The argument is that the disciplines of Arts and Letters have as much to contribute to the essential formation of electracy as do science, engineering, computing and related technical fields. Up until the seventeenth century, the technological and rhetorical dimensions of artificial memory developed together. The image logics of the memory arts were discredited in the context of the emerging empirical sciences because of their association with hermetic magic. One of the laws of media, according to Marshall McLuhan, is that innovation involves the retrieval of some features from the cultural archive thought to be obsolete. Contemporary imaging has much to learn from the mnemonic arts of the manuscript era. The role of the humanities foregrounded in this essay is pedagogy: the development of teaching practices to support the bootstrapping of education into an institution that is symbiotic with electracy (to learn a lesson from the unhappy relationship of Religion and Science, if that is possible). The methodology of this invention is heuretics (the use of theory for the invention of new discourses) as distinct from hermeneutics (the use of theory for interpretation of existing discourses). Heuretics coordinates with grammatology: grammatology provides the historical example — in our case, the practices of logic invented in the Academy and Lyceum. Heuretics adopts those inventions as a template, to suggest what is needed or possible today, following a motto derived from the Japanese poet Basho: not to follow in the footsteps of the masters, but to seek what they sought.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The guiding discipline for my approach to this project is poststructural theory (the French reading the Germans reading the Greeks). Jacques Derrida’s reading of Kant’s Critique of Judgment (the Third Critique), especially in the essay “Economimesis,” is a touchstone for this theory. The lesson of this genealogy (to summarize quickly an entire problematic) is based on Aristotle’s observation that Being may be said in more than one way. Heidegger (in the mid-1930s) took Aristotle’s observation as an invitation to “begin again,” to devise a new metaphysics (a new ontology, a new classification system), different from the conceptual one created by the Greeks. The Greeks exploited the propositional capacities of written language, declarative assertions that alone, Aristotle noted, were subject to determinations of true/false, answering the question “what is X?”. Heidegger proposed a metaphysics based not on the semantics of propositions, but on poetry (and the other arts), whose aesthetic practice exploited not the properties giving essence or substance of things, but the properties producing emotional effects of atmosphere and mood. The relevance of this reference to philosophy for electracy is, first, to note that the philosophers did not invent the equipment of writing, but they invented the materialist metaphysics that capitalized on the analytical capacities of the technology, central to the shift in the apparatus from orality to literacy. Metaphysics (the determination of what counts as real for a civilization) exists within every apparatus, just as do narrative, identity formation and the rest, but configured in radically different ways from one apparatus to the next. The importance of Heidegger is that he explicitly outlined a category or classification system (metaphysics) different from the one based on substance (essences defined in concepts) created by the Ancient Greeks. This new metaphysics, drawing on aesthetic practices of language and art, is an important resource for electracy, whose categories function not through written words but recorded images.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Why does Derrida, continuing in the 1970s Heidegger’s project for the creation of an image metaphysics, deconstruct the work of Kant, one of the inventors of Aesthetics, as the point of transition out of literacy into electracy? Kant is credited with making the first innovation in the status of knowledge since Aristotle’s original distinction between pure and practical reason (between science and politics-ethics). Kant shifted the categories of being from nature to mind (his Copernican revolution), and promoted judgments of taste in beauty to equal status with empirical judgments of understanding (about what was necessary in nature), moral judgments of ethics (contingent matters of ethics and politics requiring human choice). Kant proposed aesthetic judgments of beauty as a bridge joining the necessary and the contingent, as a measure supporting deliberative reason in the public realm. Hannah Arendt took this proposal so seriously that the project she was working on at the end of her life (she died in 1975) was an updating of the three critiques (on thinking, willing, and judging). The judgment of taste supplemented the established and institutionalized axes of measure already in place: Right/Wrong (oral religious axis); True/False (literate science axis). The third axis, now promoted to equal status, is pleasure/pain (Spinoza’s joy/sorrow), whose relevance is not to truth or rightness but well-being. Well-being (the ancient question of the nature of the good life) mediates quarrels between what is true and what is right. Arendt believed that Kant’s analogy between judgments of beauty and moral judgments offered the best hope for democratic politics in an age of media spectacle (see Hannah Arendt, ”The Life of the Mind”, Vols 1 & 2, Mariner Books, 1981). My theme is that an apparatus has separate, interrelated invention streams (genealogies). Philosophers complain that the hegemony of the techno-scientific worldview in modernity resulted in the disenchantment of the world, an impoverishment of experience and a collapse into a one-dimensional utilitarian form of life. The Classical Greeks distinguished pure from practical reason, and committed their metaphysics to pure reason (science concerns what is necessary). Practical reason, dealing with the contingencies of ethics and politics, was not subject to science. The Franco-German updating of philosophy in poststructuralism extends metaphysics to practical reason. We may solve every technical problem, Wittgenstein observed, and still not have touched the human question.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Figure  2
The Four Critiques

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 The insight derived from this promotion of aesthetics as an equal partner in modern thought, is of a new strategy of meaning that restores measure (a guide for decision, for judgment) within the one-dimensional conditions of immanence in our post-enlightenment, and post-self (post-human) world. This new strategy is a retrieval of an ancient, pre-Socratic stance of wisdom, articulated most authoritatively by Heraclitus in the Western tradition, cited by Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, and Derrida (in the lineage I am following). ”The oracle at Delphi does not reveal or conceal, but intimates”. The update from literate to electrate metaphysics (taking that term always in the sense of the classification or category system supported by an apparatus), is to shift ontology (bringing into appearance a dimension of the real for purposes of management) from nature (physis) to second nature (genius, that is, human creativity, cultural productivity). Included in the shift (and this is Derrida’s specific contribution), is the relationship between first and second nature, that is, between nature and culture: what happens in the encounter between nature and human creativity? The event that reveals most about this encounter is disaster, catastrophe (tragedy). Following Kant’s supplementing of the judgment of beauty with an analytic of the sublime, Derrida takes up the latter, to propose a thought of disgust, turning Kant’s idealism into a contemporary abjectism. No attraction without repulsion.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 The feature of this history tested in my bootstrapping pedagogy is the formal device of the figure (vehicle + tenor) especially structured by proportional analogy (A:B :: C:D), fundamental to any oracle, parable, allegory, maxim and similar modes. The genealogy of this modern figure is from Kant’s proposal that aesthetic judgments of taste could mediate between pure and practical reason (science and ethics), through the poetics of modernist epiphany (Baudelaire’s correspondences, Rilke’s world-inner-space, Eliot’s objective correlative, Rimbaud’s illuminations, Joyce’s epiphany, Proust’s involuntary memory, Freud’s transference, Benjamin’s dialectical image, to name some of the most prominent examples), to Heidegger’s Open and Derrida’s Trace (electricity + trace = electracy). The point is that this formal construction must be taught in school (beginning in elementary school), along with math and science, not as “art” but as reasoning or method.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Epiphany as logic is not experienced directly but composed, designed, in a consulting practice dubbed the EmerAgency, a virtual consultancy by means of which all citizens participate in an Internet public sphere (possible only through a digital prosthesis). The oracle or parable strategy is to adopt a public policy problem (a catastrophe in progress) as an image of one’s own situation, thus testing the slogan of the EmerAgency: Problems B Us. Reading the properties of a breakdown of culture as a parable of my own personal situation performs Kant’s bridge, producing an affective passage between macrocosm and microcosm. The economimesis of this circuit or circulation is not causal or inspective but circumspective. Neuroaesthetics is knocking on this door at the moment, but even when the physiology of our embodied emotional triggers is fully mapped, we will still need the rhetoric of arts and letters to address this affective dimension of intelligence by digital means.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 With this theoretical and historical framework in mind, the following sections review my pedagogy for teaching electracy in a literate institution. It is useful to have in mind this larger institutional framing that is part of an apparatus. The worldview of orality is religion, with church as the institutional adaptation to literacy (religions of the book). The worldview of literacy is science, institutionalized in school. Thales is the first philosopher because he offered a materialist explanation of the cosmos (everything is water). Plato wrote the first discourse on method (Phaedrus), and Aristotle invented logic. The practice of analytical thinking (logos replacing muthos) was established in the Academy and Lyceum, but it took almost two thousand years for science to separate fully from religion. This historical relay helps us understand the dynamics, or economy, of the institutional forces at work in our own time. The institutional practices of electracy, so far, have been developed within the institution of Entertainment. The historical analogy help us appreciate the potential of Entertainment, not to judge it exclusively by its present accomplishments, but to imagine what it might be two millennia into the future. Electrate metaphysics is grounded in imaging, which is to say it is affective. The three worldviews with their practices and institutions coexist of course, and individuals enter the three discourses (entry into language) as part of everyday life in the modern world: family is the setting for orality, learning a native language from infancy. Entertainment is encountered soon after, through the electrate trojan horse of the TV set, videogame console and the like. Literacy often begins in the home as well, but is fully implemented when the child starts school. The institutional tensions around the borders and folds of these three institutions and their worldviews are familiar to us. The fates of Socrates (executed for corrupting the young) and of Galileo (silenced by the Church) have become emblematic of these tensions.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 New media networked practices are transitional, hybrid forms and experiments. The part of the apparatus most accessible within the arts and letters disciplines is the practices of imaging. Electracy needs to do for digital imaging what literacy did for the written word. The purpose of my pedagogy, then, is to learn to use the figural as a mode of image reason, as a supplement to the existing institutional commitment to argumentation and analysis. “Figure” here is the equivalent of “logic” and stands in for any and all formal aesthetic devices, especially (ultimately) those invented by the historical avant-garde as part of the separation of electracy from literate culture.Part One describes an assignment in my undergraduate course on E-Lit, in which the students encounter the “emblem” as a formal device of compression, in the context of five qualities of aesthetic significance generalizable to any medium, form, genre, modality. As Deleuze and Guattari have argued, the new abstraction is not a unified transcendental but a heterogeneous assemblage. Part Two describes a project for graduate students, using figure and emblem to compose a subject portrait as disaster. Part Three takes up the figural as collective research in deliberative reason (public policy decision making), describing a project undertaken collaboratively with the Florida Research Ensemble. The particular contribution that my essay makes to the this exploration of networked media is to open for further discussion, comparison, elaboration, and debate this pedagogical dimension of new media as apparatus. More and different approaches, case studies, cultural framings, are welcome.

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