Virtually McLuhan: Theorizing Code and Digital Life

Problematizing interpretation was the lesson I learned last week while listening to Suzanne de Castell’s provocative talk, One Code To Rule Them All:

“When all that has been solid melts into code, how do we rethink and re-make scholarly praxis – theory, research and pedagogy – built from and for a literate universe? Quality becomes quantity, arts and sciences are re-fused, media fluidly converge, and even the ontology of the body, this ‘too solid flesh’ of Hamlet’s distracted imaginings, becomes molten, as virtuality.”

Suzanne is a lively and engaging speaker, calling out to resuscitate the pedagogy of play, and ensorcelling my thoughts with terms like ludic epistemology, digital hermeneutics, design-driven theorizing and the navigation of UNCERTAINTY.

The uncertainty principle abouds...  Suzanne clearly shows how evidence-based research can be disabling, poking big holes in the elaborate fiction of the one truth from one rigid perspective, raising questions like: How does language prevent us from understanding? What does it mean to encode knowledge as a game? How does research serve to keep knowledge at bay? Foucault troubles our desire for certainty, calling this a rancorous will to knowledge that reveals no universal certainties except that all knowledge rests upon injustice as there is no right to truth, not even in the act of knowing. Foucault furthers argues that: “the instinct for knowledge is malicious (something murderous, opposed to the happiness of mankind),” as we are progressively and dangerously enslaved to the violence of reason and the quest for certainty: “knowledge now calls for experimentation on ourselves, calls us to the sacrifice of the subject of knowledge.”  Adding the words of Nietzsche, in The Dawn, “Knowledge has in us been transformed into a passion which shrinks at no sacrifice and at bottom fears nothing but its own extinction.”  Whoa!!!!  It’s time to slow down, to be still and to listen.

A recent conversation with Franc Feng about David Jardine’s Reflections on education, hermeneutics and ambiguity brings forth a research path that lies beyond the neutered quest for certainty, where ambiguity is not a mistake to be corrected or solved through exhaustive methodological effort, rather this path enlivens the possibility of generative inquiry that embraces the original difficulties of life with respectful attentiveness and a radical openness that does not foreclose. For we must preserve our space for listening to and dwelling in the rich interplay of textured human lifeworlds and inconsistent truths: knowlege becomes degenerative when we are so narrowly focussed on uncovering functional certainties. This desperate longing for foreclosure, this deep longing to mine data for fixed polished meanings, this longing for the last word where nothing else needs to be said, for things to be final once and for all… is ultimately (according to Jardine) a longing for unthinking, unknowing and unfulfillment: it is not a longing for life, it is a longing for death.


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