An interesting article was just posted reviewing Ben Kafka's recent book The Demon of Paperwork: Powers and Failures of Paperwork. It's interesting in pointing out the bureaucratic nature of writing, and, more importantly its optimistic promise of the power of transparency in making governments accountable. Precisely here, the gordian knot of surveillance and citizenship is tied.
Just read through an interesting review on digital humanities and the emerging shift from literature to data, by Stephen Marche, "Literature is not Data: Against Digital Humanities," LA Review of Books,
http://bit.ly/Rs8F7w. Marche, it seems to me, is not against digital humanities as such. Rather his concern is for the hubristic utopianism that pretends that digitisation of data will save the humanities. This relates to my own research on the theological meaning of the codex book at the moment. As Marche puts it:
Recently, I've tried to think through the meaning of writing after Derrida, and Lyotard, etc. What's often missed is the strange set of side comments and footnotes that they made on writing itself. As Derrida recognized, this concern for writing goes back to Plato's record of Socrates' aside on the priority of speech (most famously in the Phaedrus). It's as if the need to record and repeat is part of philosophy itself somehow and digital media is the latest radicalisation of this tendency. Radical both in its change, and in its return to the root (radix) of the problem.
As book historians attest, the codex provided a set of techniques which we developed to make meaning. Pages cut, margins spaced, paragraphs, periods and breaks, all designed to humanise information, aid the memory, and connect us to the infinite abyss poeticized in Gilgamesh all those years ago. And yet, we stand today in a collective amnesia of this history of the book, a blind eroticism of the latest iPhone, or the milliseconds it takes Google to produce its limited results. Little care or concern is voiced for what we are losing in this shift to data.
"Insight remains handmade," Marche writes. A simple summation of the small side comments and technical reviews, which concern themselves with the digital devices' strain upon our eyes and hands. Will these comments lead to some sense of the ease with which these grim data reepers help or hinder the meaning making work which we linguistic animals must labor to achieve?
Let me be clear, I am not a luddite. My aim is simply to point out the need for ancient humanist techniques and not to leave it to a few tech executives and focus groups at Apple or Google. Just as Nietzsche declared God to be dead, which decried our feeble theologies more than the life of transcendent deities, so too, we must remind people that Steve Jobs is dead. It is not his corpse that should concern us, but the spectre of a single magician who would be responsible for the fragile, finite, human struggle we are in.
'And how is the value of books changing in an increasingly digital culture in which, depending on how you look at it, print is becoming either less or more valuable? Price suggests that we need to better understand the print “before” against which we position the digital “after”: too often, she argues, “we use idealized printed texts as a stick with which to beat real digital ones” in ways that “flatten the range of uses to which the book was put before digital media.” But as this book shows, the meanings of the book in Victorian Britain were just as diverse as the multiple uses to which books were put. By complicating the two-way distinction of text and book, Price above all suggests that the contemporary binary of print vs. digital is a false dichotomy, one which pushes us towards asking the wrong questions and creating all-too-simple answers. As Price ventures, the most interesting question to ask may be not “what the Victorians felt about the book but why they felt so much.” The same might be said of our feelings towards books – both print and digital – today. Books matter in every sense of the word, and better understanding “how to do things with books” can both enrich our study of the Victorian period and enliven our cultural debates today.'
- "Books Before and After" by Charlotte Mathieson, http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/?p=18726
Just saw a brilliant film which links the academic rivalry of two Talmudic scholars to questions about contemporary Israeli national identity. The Footnote was a Best Foreign Film, Academy Award Nominee and winner of Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival this year. It portrays a father who has been passed over for the Israel Prize, which had been awarded to his son. Through an erroneous twist of fate the son decides to give up his prize, but fails to conceal his sacrifice from the philological prowess of his father. At the heart of the rivalry between them are a series of inside hermeneutic jokes, biting depictions of academic culture, and subtle reminders about the political romanticism which underwrites the quest to reconstruct the Talmud (and other sacred scripture). It's a clever and touching film, but a particular must see for scholars of ancient near eastern literature and Israeli nationalism alike. One of the most poignant quotes from the film comes from a scene where the son, Prof. Uriel Schkolnik begs the chair of the prize committee to let his father receive the award:
Yehuda Grossman: Uriel, there is no greater betrayal of your father and his principles than what you are asking of me. In spite of all my criticism of him your father never validated a mistake because it was convenient. You know that.
Uriel Shkolnik: Yes, but he won't.
Yehuda: We will.
Uriel: So what? So what?
Yehuda: It turns the whole system into a circus.
Uriel: No. It means that there are things more important than the truth.
Yehuda: Like what? Family? Like your father, I do know something about cutting corners... about abandoning the truth.
Uriel: Enough! Enough with this truth! So much aggression and violence you hide under the word 'truth'? I don't believe in this romanticism. You don't seek the truth. You seek honours just like other mortals. Such a terrible thing you're doing in the name of truth. It's just a prize. A prize, that's all. It's not a betrayal of anything.It's just a small nice thing you can do for a colleague, if only you'd be a little flexible. Just a tiny bit. That's all I ask of you. That's all.
The Footnote (He'arat Shulayim), 2011, Dir. Joseph Cedar (Interestingly, the Hebrew root, shul of the title He'arat Shulayim, can refer both to the seams on the robes of a priest, as well as to the flabby nether regions of the body; a further cut, it seems to me, at the 'power' of scholarship, HALOT, pg. 1442).
"What did Faham know that would cause such a worldwide scandal? Most likely it was that the codex had arrived in Israel nearly whole. Yet only after its arrival did nearly 200 pages disappear. And perhaps it was this secret that led the codex, the most important Jewish book in existence, to not be restored and put on careful display but instead be stored in an iron case in the offices of the Ben-Zvi Institute at Hebrew University." - http://nyti.ms/OvUP5s
"The Hotel Indigo in Newcastle, England, is replacing the once-ubiquitious Gideon's Bible with Kindles -- in every one of its 148 rooms -- starting July 16. Travelers looking forward to finding the Bible in the hotel's dresser drawer need not worry, however: The Bible is pre-loaded onto the e-readers from Amazon." - "Rocky Raccoon checked into his room, only to find a Kindle?" http://lat.ms/N8at6h