[iDC] The Social Machine of Events

John Hopkins jhopkins at neoscenes.net
Wed Feb 8 10:57:35 EST 2006

>I've been advancing the argument that 'the 
>social machine of events', while incidentally 
>dependent on formal event structures, is 
>fundamentally dependent on hegemonic cultural 
>orientations that determine the range of 
>acceptable and desirable social interactions 
>within a given community. Furthermore, I've 
>argued that the familiar epistemological 
>conventions to which so many events default - 
>and which many of us have questioned both in 
>theory and in practice - are the result of the 
>cultural hegemony of literacy. I have tried to 
>show that the traditional form of the knowledge 
>events that we are discussing reflect the 
>dynamics of reading (i.e. silence, stillness, 
>solitude) rather than speaking (i.e. noise, 
>motion, community). In short I am arguing that 
>'paperism' produces 'panelism', and that if we 
>wish to transcend the limitations of 
>conventional (literate) event structures we 
>would do well to study the event structures of 
>oral cultures, for there the centrality of the 
>spoken word yields a different epistemology, a 
>different set of cultural expectations and very 
>different event structures.

this is one reason I take pains to NOT document 
my own teaching which is deeply based in 
oral/aural/aura *presence*.  reducing to a 
syllabus or selection of readings seems 
counterproductive -- I much prefer the unfolding 
of dialogue, given a few inputs of incite or 
insight, and very much keeping my own self open 
to shifting view points.  and maintaining a 
minimal framework (which is often (unfortunately) 
mandated by the local power structure) to satisfy 
those demands -- although ONLY when absolutely 

And, why study those cultures -- just take on the 
present possibilities of orality here, now, as it 
exists in this culture!

I was burning my archive last night, and the 
papers I was going through were class evaluations 
from the times I have taught in the US -- and it 
clearly stood out that a core source of affect in 
the courses was that simple exercise that I have 
described previously on this list -- the 
assignment of 2-hour dialogues, random pairs, no 
topical restrictions.  institutionally, young 
people are rarely, if ever given the opportunity 
to simply engage with no judgemental outcome 
expected.  most couldn't quite cope to begin with 
-- WHAT TO DO??  Well, isn't life largely defined 
by the momentary or sustained interactions we 
have with small groups or single Others?  Doesn't 
that ground us in these brief lives we have? 
Doesn't it provide us with inspiration to exceed 
our own small selves, provide us with 
opportunities to give, provide us with the soft 
landing of being received without judgement?

I feel that the nomadic nature of my last 15 
years of teaching (in 20-some countries) did one 
thing -- it stripped the paper from my teaching. 
Under most circumstances, handing out a pile of 
papers in one or another dominant language (if 
the relevant texts were available in anything but 
German or English) is sure to kill any local 
aspirations and lived experience.  I had the 
opportunity to allow ideas to unfold from 
dialogue.  (actually I didn't have a choice about 
that!)  The strange thing was, when I happened to 
be a visiting faculty at my alma mater (Univ of 
Colorado -Boulder), I was initially excited to be 
able to USE all those intelligent texts that I 
had collected from my network -- I soon 
discovered that the US university students' 
abilities of dealing with the written word were, 
well, to be polite, deeply lacking.  So much for 
those texts...

but I remember very clearly, the first class I 
taught at the Icelandic Academy in 1990 in the 
fledgling Photo Dept I had no visual aids, no 
texts, and only a small black board.  And a crew 
of taciturn Icelandic textile design students, 
so, little discussion (except in Icelandic which 
I was still new to...)...  ufff, trial by fire...

breaking bread is also key.

and just a comment back to panelism -- how is it 
that a read paper is so lacking as an inspiring 
event -- because the reader faces the paper, not 
the Other.  contrast with the situation when the 
speaker pushes the podium aside, leaves notes on 
the floor, draws up a chair and begins to tell a 
story.  all elements that govern the conditions 
of facing the Other critically affect the outcome 
of the encounter.   this should not be 

I have often thought the way to proceed with a 
panel is to select one audience member, and one 
panelist, put them on chairs facing each other in 
the center of a circle of chairs.  and let a 
dialogue arise.

I actually tried a variation of this when I was 
doing some extended teaching at Media Lab in 
Helsinki -- I had a class of 12 Master's students 
which met (of all times) at 5-9 pm FRIDAY!  early 
in the week I would meet with a single student 
and we would settle in (at a bar or cafe or 
somebody's house) for a 2+ hour discussion.  At 
the class meeting on Friday, the two of us would 
continue that talk for another hour while the 
rest of the class sat around us (usually eating 
-- we always had volumes of good food anyway). 
This simple act, completely discounting the 
subjects covered had an electric influence on the 
class...   A bit hard to describe, but it was a 
source of energy that drove and demonstrated the 
basis for human networks (which was the subject 
of the course "networking and creativity") -- 
that basis is the open flow of energy between all 
nodes of the network.

(wups, I'm slipping into a lack of sense in my 
words here, I'll stop now)...  (the most 
frustrating thing at the moment is to have to 
relate these experiences IN A TEXT to you!)... 
c'est comme ça!

>I wish to point out here that in oral cultures 
>'more interaction' is not necessarily the goal 
>of a given knowledge event. More interaction 
>does not equate more knowledge. On the contrary, 
>in an oral culture, often when someone is 
>speaking the degree of horizontal interaction 
>between listeners is inversely proportional to 
>the power and skills of the speaker. In other 
>words, when someone is telling a great story or 
>giving a great speech, people DO NOT talk to one 
>another, they do not even look at one another, 
>they are completely absorbed in a one-to-one 
>relationship with the speaker. There is more or 
>less zero interaction. It's when the speaker is 
>poor that horizontal interaction begins to 
>occur. People begin to mutter to each other, or 
>talk out loud, or heckle, or even 'bum the rush 
>the show', replacing the speaker altogether.
>What is important here, I think, is to recognize 
>that 'more interaction' is not the aim in this 
>performative context, but it is always a very 
>real option. Not an option that needs to be 
>designed or forced, but rather the inherent

"more interaction" means that the two engaged in 
interaction are more likely to be internally 
changed by the interaction.  although there is 
something of a quality issue here not quantity -- 
if those engaging are truly opening themselves to 
the multiple possibilities, risks, and dangers of 
empathetic engagement.  and I'm not talking about 
"knowledge management" -- the corpohacks can keep 
that to themselves...  I'm talking about the 
unfolding of being that occurs through the 
process of attentive engagement.  where all are 
changed through that amorphous shifting of 
viewpoint that occurs when one 'sees through 
another's eyes'...  this is the essence of 
learning.  and this is where the exceptional 
event of inspiration is rooted.

okay...  gotta go make some tea and watch smoke 
rise from the near horizon.  the forest is 
already burning here in Arizona, months before 
the normal fire season, and after 120 days with 
no precipitation...  dry...


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