Overweening Generalist

Thursday, July 7, 2016

An Idioglossary For Our Reading in the Info-Glut (Partial)

Last I wrote to you few weirdos, I groped toward a small section that I and possibly you encounter in your reading: your readings and their apparent effects on your sensoria.

Another approach would be a gathering of terms. If you're able to make use of even one term, I'll be happy. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

I aim my personal lexicon-blunderbuss, exhale, and fire:

exformation: In my previous blogspew I quoted David Foster Wallace on this term. Here are three other interpretations I've seen: 1.) Everything we don't actually say but which we have in our minds when - or before - we say anything at all. Whereas information is the demonstrable and measurable (in the Shannon sense of the math of information) utterance we actually come out with. 2.) "Useful and relevant information" 3.) A specific sort of information explosion.

I don't have in my notes who I am quoting in #2. I know it seems trivial, and perhaps it is...to you. And that's the very point. #3 seems a lot like DFW's gloss ("a certain quality of vital information removed from but evoked by a communication in such a way as to cause a kind of explosion of associative connections within the recipient") to me. #1 reminds me of all those riffs you and your friends have about not coming up with the perfect comeback in time. It's only later when you think, "Oh! That would have been the perfect riposte!" I think the Italian term fare secco qualcuno means this, but I don't quite trust my memory on this...which is an example of exformation?

HERE is the current Wiki on Exformation. That which was not said and that which was explicitly discarded? Tor Norretranders - the neologizer for exformation - wrote a book on consciousness that came out in Unistat around 1999. He said that which our consciousness rejects is the most valuable part of ourselves. Our brains are fantastic processing systems meant for survival. Apparently we make an image of the world in our heads, which is a fantastic strategy for biosurvival, and this nervous system processing information from within and from the environment...including an image of the imager itself, that very helpful phantasm: our "selves." It seems this idea about consciousness keeps being rediscovered and reframed. Just three days ago, George Johnson of the New York Times reported on consciousness in this way. It violates almost all of our notions about our "self" but there we go: my digression is already out of the way for this particular blog article.

Exformation seems to bear some sort of anti-matter family resemblance to Ezra Pound's idea of excernment, which was "The general ordering and weeding out of what has actually been performed. The elimination of repetitions...The ordering of knowledge so that the next man (or generation) can most readily find the live part of it, and waste the least possible time among obsolete issues." - Pound, as quoted in Christine Brooke-Rose's A ZBC of Ezra Pound, p.18. It's one of the functions of the critic, according to Pound.

                               a random beautiful fractal image, because why the hell not?

Noocene Epoch: I forgot how to place the umlaut over that second o. O well. I found this term in another 1999 book, The Biosphere and Noosphere Reader: "How we manage and adapt to the immense amount of knowledge we've created." The Noocene seems like a subset time-frame of the newly minted Anthropocene: the period since humans created massive Industrialization.

"Knowledge," not information. We all have our favorite ways to define the difference between these two phantoms. I see knowledge as of drinking age, and it's been around the block. Knowledge tends to grate on our nerves by being a know-it-all, but then it can be contrite and quite charming. Info tries to get away with whatever it can. It's underage, hangs around the pool hall and smokes cubebs stolen from its grandpa and who the hell knows where info will end up? Let's hope it makes good use of itself and doesn't kill somebody.

Wisdom watches both of them and shakes Its head.

componentiality: An aspect of modern consciousness. "Technology induces a cognitive style we call 'componentiality' - breaking up reality into separate components that can be analyzed and manipulated." - found on p.121 of Peter Berger's Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist, when writing about his 1973 book The Homeless Mind

At first glance: what a stupid term. But we swim in a componential world; obviously there were many millennia when human consciousness did not know of such a Damned Thing. It therefore seems manifestly not a stupid term. In fact: Sing to me! O Goddess! Of words that describe something right in front of my face, that I never noticed! I owe you one...

apophenia: German psychologist Klaus Conrad (d: 1961) coined this term, but I picked it up while reading William Gibson's novel Pattern Recognition, and he gave at least two glosses in different spots in the book: 1.) "The spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness in unrelated things;" 2.) "Each thing conceived as part of an overarching pattern of conspiracy." (pp.115 and 294)

Possibly related ideas: metanoia, paranoia, abduction in logic, reading Chinese, gestalting, pronoia - all or some of these terms as cited by the OG in the current context as being (possibly?) an example of apophenia. If I have been apophenic here, I blame it all on my reading. Don't look at me. I didn't do it.

Another text I read says people with mental disorders are prone to apophenia. Okay, so maybe I am a little "off." So what? Anyway...here's an interesting Q, and it gets to near the heart of problems of Info-Glut 2016: are experiences of apophenia the symptom of mental illness, or the cause?

enmindment: I'm pretty sure the poet/classics scholar/writer on the "Deep State" Peter Dale Scott minted this term. He contrasts it with "the Enlightenment":

I believe in enmindment
the translation of light
into awareness of the dark
and understanding of that fear
we return to
whenever we forget
-from Minding the Darkness, p11

At first glance, lapping into second, this seems part of the overtone series for exformation, but it addresses an emotional component of it. It certainly seems to address all that reading we do that is not "fiction" that nonetheless makes us feel like we've been reading a horror story, eh?

Kampung culture: Another term copped from Peter Dale Scott. It means "narrow world-view" in Javanese culture. PDS was trying to find out more about Unistat's involvement in the slaughters of East Timor. Suharto, Sukarno, CIA and Dutch imperialism all appear. See p.213 of Minding the Darkness, but I hafta warn ya: it's not pretty. This unpacking of "narrow world-view" can take on some nasty hues. Even after the Dutch left, the Javanese still bathed in the blood of their brothers. Why? Kampung culture:

PDS quoting Pramoedya:

Even in the belly of Dutch power
Java still glorified

its Kampung culture
they bathed in the blood of their brothers
right up through 1966

And because Java was no longer
in the belly of European power
the slaughter reached an unlimited scale

Suffice to say: It Can't Happen Here!

Giambattista Vico used the term sapienza volgare, or "popular wisdom," which to Vico were ideas expressed through myth, rituals, traditions. I do not see this term as the "same" as Kampung culture, but it seems related. (via my own apophenia?)

anamnesis: An SAT-like word I shouldda known, but didn't: To remember. A recalling to mind. Plato's use: all souls need to be stimulated in order to remember an eternal Truth, or to accept axioms as self-evident. Chomsky seems to like this idea. I get it.

jouissance: Obviously French (cough): Enjoyment, or our French brothers and sisters seem to mean "Whatever gets you off." It seems aimed at our transcending of our ordinary/primary "reality." It's probably a good description for why I read. Leo Bersini considers jouissance intrinsically self-shattering and disruptive of the "coherent self." (possibly see McKenna, Terence?) In my delvings into glosses of jouissance a competing term, plaisir, often shows up, trying to get in on the conversation. Plaisir sounds like "pleasure," but it seems to strengthen dogma and individual me-ness. Roland Barthes eloquently defines plaisir as a "homogenizing movement of the ego." Plaisir might be defined as going for what you already know - more of the same stuff - while jouissance seems like an attempt to fracture the structure of the ego, whatever the ego "is," after reading about exformation...

Einfuhlen: Gore Vidal says he got this term from Johann Gottfried Herder, German polymath who died in 1803. Vidal unpacked it thus: "The ability to get into the past, while realizing that it's not just another aspect of the present, with people you know dressed up in funny clothes." I tend to link this term in my own thinking with Vico's entrare, which Vichian Isaiah Berlin described as the force of imaginative insight used to understand remote cultures.

I had always wondered vaguely about this when reading history, and fearing my imagination was falling short. This term helped remind me of how much is missing in history, which I guess we'll just have to learn to live with. The "missing" part, that it. Let us continue to develop our historical imaginations till death parts us! Why? Oh, all the usual reasons, but also: it might help stave off Kampung culture where you live.

unthinking: As opposed to re-thinking: I first noted this term in Immanuel Wallerstein's Uncertainties of Knowledge, p.104: He wanted to emphasize very deep-seated notions that, even though physical sciences have shown to be inadequate, nevertheless stay with us and lead us epistemologically astray. The great anthropologist Weston Labarre gave me a term similar: group archosis: "Nonsense and misinformation so ancient and pervasive as to be seemingly inextricable from our thinking." Thomas Vander Wal coined the study of folksonomics/folksonomy as the ordered set of categories - or "taxonomy" - that emerges from how people tag items, which works in cognitive anthropology. Oh hell: let me drop in another fave here: logophallocentrism, which Robert Anton Wilson interpreted as "We have a social system based on belief in the special magic power of words and penises."

Let's hope all that categorizing leads to something we can cash out and invest in the Sanity Sweepstakes...RAW reminded us we seem to have inherited a lot of our ideas from the apes. No wonder this crap is so hard to root out and overcome! This all seems something akin to...

unspeak: I found this term used by Steven Poole. It's language that "says one thing while really meaning that thing, in a more intensely, loaded and revealing way than a casual glance might acknowledge." I think I know what Poole was getting at here, but I may need to make more multiple glances. Is this like "enhanced interrogation"? I suspect so. Orwell's doublespeak, let's remind ourselves, was a form of language that says one thing while really meaning the opposite. So far, of the thousands of real-life examples, I like Bush43's "Blue Skies Initiative" which would have gutted the Clean Air Act and allowed corporations to dump their toxic garbage - or "negative externalities," in economist's-speak - anywhere they wanted. I may as well tack on cognitive policy, which, according to George Lakoff, is the policy of getting an idea into normal public discourse, which requires creating a change in the brains of millions of people. (see The Political Mind, p.169)

campus imperialism: Coined by Jaron Lanier, as far as I know. He touches on it HERE. Representatives of each academic discipline assume something like a Philosopher-King's eye view of all other disciplines, which are subsumed under their own. It gives rise to thinking such as the very common idea now - I touched on it earlier - that we humans are merely sophisticated computing machines. It's all data-processing, all the way down. While I side with Lanier and other qualophiles (a term I got, ironically, from Daniel Dennett, who seems a qualophobe of some sort): our own experiences seem not covered by any academic domain, while each area of the campus has its own particular ways to model what it thinks is my experience. Okay, this is at least my second digression, but while I'm on it I may as well: currently I see the admittedly brilliant Nick Bostrom's notions about the "Simulation Hypothesis" as taking up a lot of cultural space, perhaps deservedly so. However, a small gaggle of minions will make of this idea - an astounding one for sure! - more than perhaps it deserves: campus imperialism? I will admit the Simulation Hypothesis leaves me pretty damned spaghettified, which is a more extreme step - or colorful phrase! - than having one's mind "blown" or "stretched" by a novel set of facts or ideas.

Which brings me to another German term:

Unbehagen: something like "uneasiness." Einstein felt this in the face of the quantum theory, and he tried to get rid of it the rest of his life, to no avail. Because I'm a Soft Whorfian, I think Germans who use this word mean something a little more than uneasiness, but I don't have the German chops to say so or not. Bostrom's "Simulation Hypothesis" - that there's a better than 50% chance we are all simulations made by other Beings -  makes me feel Unbehagen, but even if it's true I don't know why it should matter. I mean, we were all getting along fairly well before the Sim Hyp, weren't we? Please say we were. Oh hell, it's all just campus imperialism anyway, right? Right?

Much of my reading, on the other hand and ironically and paradoxical to boot, seems to chase after this feeling of Unbehagen. Some H.P. Lovecraft can do it. Much of actual history does it. Certain conspiracy theories can do it. Borges does it, and even Argentines without means do it.

depressogenic: One of my favorite scientist-writers, Robert Sapolsky, used this term in an essay about what might be in all our futures. "Why do I assume we'll all be getting sadder? Mainly because it strikes me that there is so much in our present civilization that is depressogenic." - found in The Next 50 Years.

No comment...

ideology: "Ideas serving as weapons for social interest." - one of my favorite definitions, from Berger and Luckmann's The Social Construction of Reality, in a discussion of Marx.

How much of what we read fits into this definition of ideology? Keep your powder dry. (Or is it "powders"? Let us keep our various powders and powderings dry...)

Alright, I've done enough harm for today. My intent was to maybe give you one term that you might make good use of, not to make you feel even more annoyed (you know the definition) than you already were, which would defeat the purpose of this post.

                                           conception graphique par Bobby Campbell


Roman Tsivkin said...

This made my day:
"I see knowledge as of drinking age, and it's been around the block. Knowledge tends to grate on our nerves by being a know-it-all, but then it can be contrite and quite charming. Info tries to get away with whatever it can. It's underage, hangs around the pool hall and smokes cubebs stolen from its grandpa and who the hell knows where info will end up? Let's hope it makes good use of itself and doesn't kill somebody.

Wisdom watches both of them and shakes Its head."

I never metaphor I didn't like, but these ones take the cake!

Eric Wagner said...

Thanks for yet another terrific piece. The term joissance makes me think of Lacan, and Lacan makes me think of Shelly Brivic, my favorite living Joycean. In fact, Brivic has a new book coming out in December. Your piece led me to read the Wikipedia page on joissance. The references to many French thinkers made me think about my possible plan to really try to learn to read French fluently.

Anonymous said...

Random beauty is rare and fractals are even rarer in nature. The Kids Dont Get It, from World Container, The Trafically Hip. Gord watches us all and shakes his head. In French.

michael said...

@Roman - Good to see your name pop up...and as a commenter on the OG! Thanks for the choice vibes, man!

@Eric - I love the way "jouissance" sounds and feels...I guess it's sorta quasi-onomatopoeic? The very word has resonance with itself, and what it refers to. Or at least I choose to see it that way. Re: your future French: do a little bit every day! Then, when you get sorta conversational - maybe you already are and I wouldn't doubt it - find a partner to practice with. Interesting things can happen when you place an ad at Craigslist saying you want a partner to practice your French with...or so I have read.

@Anon - I never thought about it that way!

Eric Wagner said...

Thanks for your feedback. This discussion of learning languages reminds me of our discussion of musical virtuosity. I did daily Duolingo French exercises every day on my iPad for nine months, but then my iPad malfunctioned on my trip to Pennsylvania for my mom's memorial. I don't like doing Duolingo as much on my laptop. Also, as with music, I find myself contemplating a bigger time commitment to gain a deeper language proficiency.