[iDC] Speaking of techgnosis, read that Stewart Brand thing. That is just amazing social history.

Ryan Shaw ryanshaw at SIMS.Berkeley.EDU
Fri Oct 13 12:10:58 EDT 2006

Hello Mark,

I think you may be misinterpreting Turner's method in light of  
Bruce's comment about "social history." Having just read the book  
from which the essay at Edge was excerpted, I don't believe that it  
is intended as a historical account of a "great man." Rather he is  
concerned with understanding how the computer shifted from being seen  
as tool of the bureaucracy to a tool of the people, and how a certain  
network of people and organizations came to dominate the conversation  
around computing and how it should be integrated into our lives. His  
method in trying to understand this is to "follow the actors," and  
Brand makes for a convenient actor to follow.

So it's not history, and certainly not hagiography. Though Turner is  
fairly restrained in his criticism, overall the book paints a damning  
portrait, especially as he recounts the cyber-elite's love affair  
with the Republican right in the mid 1990s. I'm not surprised that  
the excerpt chosen for The Edge was mostly straightforward biography,  
rather than the critical views expressed more clearly elsewhere in  
the book, because the networks he so incisively criticizes encompass  
Brockman's "Third Culture" as well.

Your point about "reportage" is well taken though. Sometimes Turner  
relies too much on newspaper and magazine accounts instead of primary  


On Oct 12, 2006, at 8:27 PM, mark bartlett wrote:

> bruce,
> i shouldn't be answering this because i still owe brian holmes a  
> reply. but the reason i haven't responded to brian is because i'm  
> late on an essay that is working through the same time period that  
> turner addresses. though i address a different set of characters  
> and links. so i'd feel irresponsible to not deflate your  
> description of his essay as amazing social history. none of those  
> attributes fit it actually. fun maybe. and it does address  
> important moments in the story of techno-utopianism. it does  
> function as an interview would, as a primary source.
> but while turner's archeological dig reveals a few new links, it  
> also replays many erroneous historical narratives of the avant- 
> garde that from the point of the view of the archives, where i've  
> spent a great deal of time over the past several years, doesn't  
> hold water. He essentially replays the now standardized accounts of  
> the Black Mountain moment, than in his case, leads to Brand as the  
> "most influential person in America." That these narratives  
> themselves have been built under "social" conditions that would  
> give them a very different patina than is reflected in his  
> description of things, Turner never considers.  That lineage, to  
> avoid calling it a "genealogy," while far from irrelevant, is also  
> far from accurate, and  constructs an uncritical historiography in  
> the same old hegelian, evolutionist mode that over the past 30-40  
> years, various schools of criticism have demolished, though the  
> backlash against them, their theory and critical historigraphical  
> methods and perspectives, has returned with a vengeance, and a very  
> chilling vengeance in many ways. turner's article, while certainly  
> not based on backlash vendetta, by default contributes to it. it is  
> this problem, partly, that goaded me into responding, because as  
> i'm sure you'll agree, language is non-trivial, and it is exactly  
> social history that is more than ever necessary.
> so, it is necessary to point out that tuner's essay isn't 'history'  
> in the same way that the "History Channel" on PBS isn't history. A  
> serial, blow by blow account of the battles of WWII isn't history.  
> It's reportage, or, chronicle, at best, propaganda at worst; and  
> because it is only chronicle, it can never rise above itself to  
> look around. it is important material. but it can't be history, let  
> alone social history, without putting under examination its own  
> conditions of emergence, and without dropping its unrelenting  
> tendency to hagiography. cage was important, as is brand. but  
> cunningham is more important than cage, in my view, but i can't,  
> unfortunately, demonstrate that here. my point being only that the  
> reasons that cage has been so sactified have not been addressed,  
> that his role in the avant-garde has become reifeid, and so  
> naturalized, that such histories are nothing more than a 19th  
> century form of 'natural history.' He is species as definitive as  
> the most rare of mushrooms. but what about that fungus discovered  
> to be both singular, and the size of the state of oregon?
> mark bartlett
> On Oct 12, 2006, at 4:38 PM, Bruce Sterling wrote:
>> http://www.edge.org/documents/archive/edge193.html#turner
>> Go ahead, read that.  Really.
>> By the way, edge.org is what idc would be if idc had top-end  
>> literary agents.
>> Bruce S.
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