Morning Reading

I was impressed by Language, Truth, and Wine. I believe that I’ll use it in class this week. It seems like a good way to talk about the slippery nature of language. Last week, I used Dick Hardt’s Identity 2.0 presentation, as I have several times before—but this time what I chose to emphasize is the way that most technology people use ordinary language to describe complex technologies. The frustrating effect of this is that even if you understand all the words, you may still have no clue what the speaker is talking about. I assign a memo where they must describe what Sxip is actually selling, something that is not even brought up during the presentation. That’s the essential part, as far as I’m concerned. What are we being asked to buy in all this?

I used this movie about trusted computing to discuss the pathetic fallacy. Trusted Computing has nothing to do with trust in the conventional sense, and nothing to do with trust as a “personal relationship.” In the second article I read this morning, I find myself appalled by Lindsay Walter’s shallow reading of Moretti. Studying literature (as opposed to reading it) has nothing to do with establishing a “personal relationship” either. That’s why most people who love to read literature for its “aesthetic experience” need not bother with degrees in it. One cannot speak about literature as a form of knowledge without speaking about its currency, markets, or circulation. Walter misses that issue entirely:

What Moretti is advocating sounds precisely like what the doctor should not be ordering. In general in America, there has long been a movement by the leaders of various institutions, like corporations, to distance themselves from contact with the actual materials they sell or process. In mining or car manufacturing, that might be legitimate — I think it is not — but for teachers of literature the shift is deadly because, pursued systematically, it would ensure that professors of literature did not personally have aesthetic experiences of engagement with works of literature.

Distance, ultimately, is the way knowledge is created in the Western world. By distancing our understanding of common words, transplanting them into new contexts, we create knowledge. By looking at literature as a presence in a world which we no longer have access to, we can learn something more than just our personal reactions to it. To ignore that is ultimately pathetic. Experience can only be related by comparison. Comparison only within the present generates only evanescent snowflakes, not transmissible knowledge.

James Burke has a nice bit about the reason why the West utilized gunpowder in a different way than the East in the Connections episode I watched last night. Same point. Though aesthetic knowledge is important, it is hardly the only form of knowledge. More importantly, can a teacher really teach aesthetic experience? I didn’t think you learned experiences, I thought you experienced them.