[iDC] The Social Machine of Events

john sobol john at johnsobol.com
Thu Feb 2 10:22:32 EST 2006

On 1-Feb-06, at 8:39 PM, Brian Holmes wrote:

> Actually I'm quite fond of my literate skin and prefer it to all kinds 
> of other skins I could put on, or be cloaked in. The business about 
> the problem being paper, and all the subsequent repetitions of that 
> theme, sounds from my perspective like self-promotional digital BS, 
> sorry. You might be surprised how much dialogic experience you can get 
> through print, through literary forms, through philosophical argument, 
> through the social sciences - hmm, these are often very interesting 
> things, coming from very interesting people.


whenever i make the point that literate dynamics clog up non-literate 
situations upon which they are imposed, people defensively conclude 
that I am hostile to literate intellectualism. On the contrary, I've 
made my living as a writer for twenty years (many books etc.) and I am 
deeply responsive to its strengths and modalities. And as I hope these 
posts make clear, I am a keen fan of literate philosophical 
argumentation. However, unlike most people who embrace literate 
epistemology I am also highly sensitive to its weaknesses and its 
hegemony. This is because I've studied oral dynamics for even longer – 
as a working musician and improvising MC – and I've constantly had to 
work through the tensions between contrasting oral and literate 'ways 
of knowing'  in my own working and creative life.

Individuals who embrace literate epistemology often feel, as you do, 
that they prefer their knowledge culture to all others. This is of 
course perfectly fine and reasonable. Yet it can also be construed as a 
form of cultural imperialism when it is advocated by someone espousing 
dominant (literate) discursive forms at the expense of others. Your 
quoting of Kodwo Eshun seems a bit ironic in this context, as an artist 
like Sun Ra might have a difficult time finding a place in the new 
media 'chicken circuit' if he were working today. Not because he was 
Black but because his epistemology flowered far beyond the dominant 
literate codes. Couldn't it be that the problem Trebor stated earlier 
regarding the white-maleness of keynote-land is in fact directly linked 
to the historic paradigm that has consistently seen non-literate forms 
of knowledge-sharing marginalized and repressed by highly literate 
white males?

>> Paperism is the literate condition that privileges knowledge products 
>> over knowledge processes, seeking to turn every event into an 
>> artifact, a disembodied, decontextualized book on a dusty shelf 
>> rather than a communal psycho-kinetic collision.
> Honestly, that sounds rather foolish. One of the traps of the 
> performance ethos has been just blah blah blah.

Again, for me this is a familiar critique, valid as far as it goes. Yes 
there is a tremendous amount of self-serving wanking onstage. Yes way 
too many people feel they have more to say than they actually do. Of 
course if such grandstanding or pomposity occurs in an oral culture – I 
mean in a community, like mine in rural Quebec for example, where 
everyone is an active oralist – then he or she will immediately find 
him/herself laughed or booed or pushed offstage. Same thing in Jamaica, 
same thing in all the oral regions of the world. But because we who 
attend international art conferences are conditioned to respond 
socially according to literate codes we remain silently glued to our 
seats, bored beyond belief by the wanking and the format, without the 
skill, the courage or the collective will to hijack the proceedings for 
the collective good.

It's a cultural reality. I'm saying if you want to shake things up, you 
have to be willing to sacrifice the hegemony of literate culture and 
let other ways of knowing nourish the collective discourse in a given 
social context. Years ago I watched Cecil Taylor, that extraordinary 
trickster, turn a sluggish morning press conference on its head simply 
by categorically refusing to answer anything anyone asked him and 
instead provoking, with a few accusatory outbursts, an intense 
discussion between the festival organizer and the journalists present 
about the connection between art and media. In the end he sat there 
quietly for about 20 minutes, watching with a bemused eye and sipping 
champagne, as his happy pupils battled it out. I've never seen a writer 
pull off that trick. And I don't ever expect to.


bluesology • printopolis • digitopia
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