Sunday, November 06, 2005

Gibbous Waning

I was especially intrigued by two points Hutchins makes in this chapter. They are not exactly connected to each other, so that may make this post seem a little scattered.

First, on page 221 he points out how external objects act as a “memory” for their users, in this case referring to a blank cell in a log book maintained on the ship. Though Hutchins doesn’t mention this point, I was reminded of our discussion earlier in the semester about how technology like databases obscures information that is left out of their architecture. Similarly, as in the case Hutchins mentions, technology like the cell in the logbook makes certain information incredibly important (or conspicuous in its absence). In the book’s example, the blank in the log book reminded the log recorder that the plotter had missed a fix and needed to complete it. As Hutchins points out, this is not the job of the recorder, but the blank in his book allowed him to assist the plotter in this way.

Though this example is non-trivial—if enough fixes were missed, the boat could run aground—it made me think of ways in which similar processes work on more trivial cases. Currently, I’m writing—à la Fleck—on the ways in which thought communities restrict the type of information available to literary theorists and how this restriction plays a role in determining the theories that theorist will produce. It seems that the ideas of other writers important to the theorist would work just like the log book, creating “blanks” in a thought style that, because of their presence, demand to be filled.

Secondly, I was fascinated by the comment of Roy D’Andrade which states that employees at an auto manufacturer might in reality be engaged in making social relationships with the production of cars being merely a side-effect of this process (225). This is a fascinating inversion of the intentions of the actor in this situation, implying that the best way to make cars is to try to make social relationships. (This point could be related to one made in class that the best way to play a piece of music is to not think about playing it.) To relate this idea back to my paper, it seems—at least in the case of the text I’m looking at, T. S. Eliot’s The Sacred Wood—that the theory did not come about as the result of an attempt to make theory, but as a byproduct of the activity of critiquing the theories of others.

In both these cases, it seems to me that these theories can add to our understanding of the writing process, by making us more aware of the situated nature of the writer in a social/historical context. (I guess the ideas are related after all; I pointed at two disconnected parts of Hutchins’s book, and the lines intersected at me and my paper.)


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