unravelling threads

Robert Thornton (031RTHOR@MUSE.ARTS.WITS.AC.ZA)
Sat, 23 Mar 1996 03:47:33 -0500

Yes, I suppose threads do die, but the ones on power and the spin
offs into foraging societies and patriarchy are not ready to die. I,
for one, had some other deadlines to attend to, and ran out of time
for awhile. Also, althoug it seemed like a sort of game at the time,
I did feel the sting of Rohrlich's flames (e.g. 'stay in South
Africa', 'Do you think he really has anything to say to you', and
other generalised abuse) and thought it best to step out of the
kitchen till the smoke cleared.

I don't think the treads have unravelled, but I was amazed at how
quite the Anthro-List suddenly became. (Metaphorical) Women and
children ran from the streets and ducked behind the wagons while the
gunslingers squared off their hips and unlimbered their guns.

I think Holly Swyers' comments about the 'genre' of internet
conversations, and kavanaugh's response is
germane. I feel that it is not so much that internet conversations
are 'like a conversation' or 'like a cocktail party' or like a
'formal communique', but rather that the genres are in fact
'blurred'. Tehy are all of the above and more besides. We do not
know, precisely, what genre we ar writing in,
and do not therefore have any extra-textual cues as to how to read
postings. Postings are often mixtures of cocktail banter, fun or
serious conversation, joking, formal communiques, ritual formulas,
habitual diatribes, boundary-marking and territory-claiming
utterances, meaningless filler, and, occasionally, hate speech, and
angry words. These may be all mixed up together. In face to face
communication, tone and content are controlled by feedback between
persons. This is not the case in email 'speech'. We listen with our
eyes and we speak with our fingers in this medium, and though it
seems like speech, it is not. In order to engage in these
conversations, we have to imagine each other, I think, in some way as
real other humans even though all other cues are missing. We all
invent different rules for the game that is only partiallycontrolled
by feedback from others. This is a new abstract space that we
inhabit. We enter the frontier when we enter the internet, and
'lawlessness' is, I suppose what we must expect. It is a space filled
with ambiguity and irony, and there are plenty of sharp edges to get
caught on.

There is much more to say about power, too. And Machievelli. And
trial balloons, lead balloons, red herrings, chestnuts, blind leaps,
pearls and swine, cabbages and kings, patriarchs and unicorns,
Princes and African kleptocrats, flames and emotional baggage.

Catch you later, okay?

===========Robert Thornton, Department of Social Anthropology======
University of the Witwatersrand, PO Wits, 2050 Johannesburg
South Africa
Office tel. : (011) 716-2900
Secretary, fax and answering machine: (011) 716-2766
Home tel: (011) 646-2578
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