#critlit2010: trees and linkers

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photo by robokow

Kismet.

This morning I’m reading “The Hypericonic De-Vice,” from E-Crit, Marcel O’Gorman, and right in the middle of this passage –

… According to Ong, Ramus was simply responding to the need of universities to corporatize knowledge delivery:

… in the university, the teacher was also part of a corporation which was uncalculatingly but relentlessly reducing the personal, dialoging element in knowledge to a minimum in favor of an element which made knowledge something a corporation could traffic in, a-personal and abstract (almost as though it were something which existed outside a mind, as though one could have knowledge without anybody to do the knowing, as Ramists were eventually to maintain one could). (1958: 152)

The Ramist spatialization and infinite binarization of the world, which Ong refers to as a ‘corpuscular’ episteme, haunts our educational apparatus to this day; the same technological drive towards efficiency that spawned textbooks on logic is ow producing distance education and the ambitious electronic archiving projects that characterize much of the humanities scholarship in the digital age. (51)

O’Gorman is juggling Ramus, Ong, and Blake in this chapter. Here he is discussing Ramsus’s appearance at the cusp of printing, so that his trees articulating the division of knowledge into “natural” relations from generals to specials arrived at the moment when it could be distributed in print to young learners. Mnemonic devices to remind the learner of divisions of topics would not be needed after Ramus planted his schematizing of of bipartite division. Ramsus’s trees suited the economy of learning just-in-time. Kismet.

Here’s how it’s characterized at the university today, still in the corporate model:

Knowledge existing outside the knower = professional knowledge as it tends to circulate in the university.

Knowledge as the personal construct = amateur knowledge as it tends to circulate outside the university.

So, while I’m in the middle of passage, this week’s reading list from Critical Literacies arrives by email, including, Shirky: Ontology is Overrated, and Folksonomies – Cooperative Classification and Communication Through Shared Metadata, by Mathes.

Shirky sets what’s coming ([amateur constructed] folksonomy links that remove the need for [professionally constructed] hierarchical file systems) against other knowledge schemes (Dewey), and sees this:

What I think is coming instead are much more organic ways of organizing information than our current categorization schemes allow, based on two units — the link, which can point to anything, and the tag, which is a way of attaching labels to links. The strategy of tagging — free-form labeling, without regard to categorical constraints — seems like a recipe for disaster, but as the Web has shown us, you can extract a surprising amount of value from big messy data sets.

That is to say, we are moving from the filing system

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to the file system disappearing to leave the links

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images from Shirky

An observation: Constructing links does not eliminate the file tree. It’s still back there. But the links can remove dependence on the tree, and may remove the tree from the privileged position.

This is move from the Ramsian bipartite, where each item has to exist in one branch only, to the rhetorical, situational, probabilistic quantum where a particle can be in two places at once, exist in two states at once Shirky:

We are moving away from binary categorization — books either are or are not entertainment — and into this probabilistic world, where N% of users think books are entertainment. It may well be that within Yahoo, there was a big debate about whether or not books are entertainment. But they either had no way of reflecting that debate or they decided not to expose it to the users. What instead happened was it became an all-or-nothing categorization, “This is entertainment, this is not entertainment.” We’re moving away from that sort of absolute declaration, and towards being able to roll up this kind of value by observing how people handle it in practice.

The connect with critical literacy is pre-socratic, pre-Ramsian rhetoric.

The connect with PLEs might be this: Just as the book, the library, the taxonomy of the library, the taxonomy in the book are the hypericons of university knowledge, so the link, the directional gesture, the link-er, can be a hypericon of the PLE.