Re: caught wrong footed

Christopher Pound (pound@IS.RICE.EDU)
Mon, 11 Apr 1994 02:09:18 -0500

> I can assure you that a reference to the
> "poetics of speed" in the context of the Internet would just meet
> stunned incredulity amongst them. (I spent three years working on a
> PhD on routing algorithms before abandoning it, and am currently making
> a living as a network administrator; here I really do know whereof I
> speak.)

Hey! We've got a little something in common after all. I was a VMS system
administrator for a while, and now have a part-time job as a Unix
network programmer here on campus (only been doing that for about a year
though, and I didn't even finish a major is comp sci, so I'll quickly defer
to your judgment on the math stuff).

But, if you don't think that computer types don't have a certain affinity
for speed, you ought to check out one of the PC or Mac advocacy groups.
And, man, the way people complain around here when those groups come in
slowly! ;-)

> It seems that *everything* in the article has to be interpreted
> metaphorically...

Seems that way to me too ...

> > Here's a quote from Virilio: ...
> > See the connection?
> No, I don't, I'm afraid.

She writes like he does and about similar things. That was the connection.

> It really seems to me that all you (and Curnick) are doing is
> ransacking other disciplines for their jargon and symbols and using it
> to give your own discourse the illusion of sense (and power).

Sorry, if I confused you. I was just playing around with the math stuff
(and I admitted such) in an honest attempt to get you to re-read Curnick's
definition of information, which had been, to me, entirely sensible.

> So it really is poetry after all. (Or rhetoric, as Maureen Korp
> suggested.) In that case the editors of Arena should just be shot, as I
> fear some of their readers are going to look to the article as a source
> of information on the Internet.

As for it being poetry, sure. "Post-structuralists" and hermeneuticists
(but I should be more specific and give names like De Man or Gadamer) do
tend to agree with respect the figural or metaphorical nature of language.
Curnick probably agrees with them, but like you, I try to be more cautious
about what sort of fundamental natures I'll believe in. ;)

As a source of "information" about the Internet, you indicated that the
rest of the article did have certain points in it that would qualify as
such. Is there some harm in getting people to think about the Internet
in some way other than the way it is presented in, say, an RFC? This (the
representation of something from one's own culture) in terms which differ
from those in common usage is often fruitful when you're doing the
ethnography of something you're close to, culturally speaking. I dunno
if Curnick went too far and wound up "exoticizing" the Internet; from what
you said about the rest of the article, I think there's a chance she

> > that differentials have obscured the degree to which they are *deferrals*
> > of meaning (if I remember correctly, this should remind you of how and why
> > calculus was invented);
> I'm afraid not. The differential calculus was invented by Newton and
> Leibniz in order to solve certain physical problems; I don't believe
> "deferral of meaning" entered into it.

Now, like I said, I'm out of my depth here, but taking the limit of a
function and calculating the area under a curve *without* using calculus
both seem to me to be methods of chasing after a meaning which has been
(or would have been, in the case of some limits) indefinitely deferred.
I thought these things were involved with the invention of calculus, but
I stand corrected.

> What? Differentials have something to do with some kind of transcendent
> method?

Sure. Math, logic, and pretty much anything analytic. Heidegger dismantled
Leibniz' metaphysics in _The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic_. I don't
want you to take this the wrong way and think I'm here to recapitulate
Heidegger's mistake of thinking he could, in fact, escape all of what is
transcendental, but when you begin to think that "method" (differential
calculus, for example) is something separate from the thing it has been set
up to work for, you've introduced a transcendental into that method. I don't
think there's always a problem with that; it just happens not to be a feature
of differance (Derrida is the one who charged Heidegger with having not
noticed his own transcendentals after all, right someone?).

> Hmmm... I know a tiny bit about the history of art (probably as
> much as Curnick knows about biology or computer science) - do you think
> if I dressed a few banalities up with some really heavy symbolic algebra
> I could get it published somewhere?

Yeah, sure. Symbolic algebra has probably been legitimized beyond its
usefulness in academia. I bet things like that get published all the
time. ;-)

> And, as John McLeery has pointed out, a thousand papers which basically
> say "I think deconstructionism might be useful in studying X" don't
> amount to any evidence that it is in fact useful for something.

I said as much as well, when I said that I couldn't tell if Curnick actually
"goes anywhere with her citation" of Derrida from the fragment presented.

> I checked this by asking four random friends
> - they all agree that language is a broader concept than writing

Right. I agree with them too, since I haven't given myself over to Derrida's
belief that one might escape the opposition between _verba_ and _res_ by
transforming the former into the latter (that is, through the apotheosis of
the signifier), which is what Derrida is establishing through his definition
of writing.

> but it sure don't say anything interesting about computer
> networks.

Having not read the rest of the article, I can't say. I've definitely read
better things (e.g. Poster's _Mode of Information_ or various articles and
manuscripts by Sandy Stone). There are *thousands* of extremely traditional
social science analyses of computer-mediated communication out there, and I
would never say they shouldn't have been done. However, taking a "post-
structuralist" approach to computers can occasionally be illuminating with
respect to both phenomena (e.g. George Landow's _Hypertext_ which at the
same time explains some features of p.-s. in a very lucid way and suggests how
these ideas explain and open new possibilities for the use of hypermedia in

> I'll stick to laughing at Ludwig Plutonium's ravings in sci.physics

I love Ludwig von Plutonium! I've been a regular Usenet reader for about
eight years now, and I think he's even funnier than Kibo. :-) Definitely
funnier than Abian, McElwaine, or Argic, D00DZ!!!!!!!!!1!!!!

Christopher Pound ( | They think they are Parisians, but
Department of Anthropology, Rice U. | they are nothing. -- Pierre Bourdieu