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[Xmca-l] Re: Unreading Althusser



Hi Henry!

Yes, the Greenberg and Benjamin essays are perennial!  It is difficult to remember what the world was like before the Internet, and even harder to recall what the world was like when one had to stand in front of a work of art in order to know it. 

There are relationships to mechanical reproduction and the kitsch in art, but in terms of education and research, the collision of more texts to read and less time to work with texts to sufficiently understand them means that there is likely less going deeply into them, and more skimming than what may be already the case. It's almost an inversion of the difficulty of getting your hands on an article from a hard to find publication.

(I'd be curious if any elders want to share what that world used to be like?)

Just to get a book or a newspaper in the middle of nowhere, say Java or Timbuktu or Alaska, was a huge deal 150 years ago and one might read something several times, which was particularly the case when books were rare and expensive. People would love and care for the text by learning it by heart. Now it's about skimming or pumping up one's speed reading skills, and even if one acquires this ability there will never be enough time to read the entire Internet!!! Today, we must pick and chose what we let inside our heads. 

What I wonder if this practice of over-proliferation can cause the emergences of "bubbles of knowledge"? People think they know but in reality they do not; they possess an appearance of knowledge with no substance. I like the metaphor of the soap-bubble, as this was used in The Historical Meaning of the Crisis in Psychology (Chapter 3 The Development of the Sciences) but in a different way. In that case, it was real knowledge that developed from an idea into a discovery and how that discovery becomes integrated into the cultural scientific practice which it concerns and is eventually supplanted by subsequent ideas that in turn develop into new discoveries and so on. A huge, cooking stew of bubbling layers of understanding!

But this is different: what happens when there is a high reproduction of pseudo-knowledge over authentic-knowledge? When simulacra gets mixed in with the originals? Consider the viability of the Huffington Post 15 years ago, no one would have thought it possible to be a valid organ of news. 

So if knowledge is considered merely interpretive, that we can vote upon based upon whether we like it or not, then it is only a matter of time that the inauthentic proliferates hiding the authentic from view. (Will the real Vygotsky please stand up?) There is a potential that education becomes a farce upon itself.

These stories of knowledge aren't knowledge, but possess something like what Steven Colbert calls "truthiness". Hence, the Internet can be just as easily be a platform for distributing incorrect understanding over actual understanding. Meaning-making becomes meaningless.

So that's what I'm thinking about as of late. How is it possible to ensure proper understanding? And who decides what is proper? How to tell the original from the kitsch, if you've never seen the original?

In any case, I'm thrilled that you enjoyed the essays, I hope with a nice cup of tea!

Kind regards,

Annalisa