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Anne Dalke's picture

New wine in old bottles: making it better? making it worse?

I LOVE this story of wine-press (how have I never before heard this story?) of the winepress "lifted out of its context" and employed for printing books; 'tis sure to become my most telling example of creative "recontextualization" (I've used it already @ two dinner parties....) Thanks so much for that, David--

Where I still want to think some more (and would be glad for company here) is what you're terming the current recontextualization that is the visual component of contemporary web discourse. I acknowledge that web videos are "reminding us of how much information can be conveyed by images," and like what you say about they are also reminding us of the "visuality of reading," but so far I'm really not seeing anything like the sort of "recontextualization" you and Peter Burke seem to be talking about: a creative re-framing that really entails the making of something new. So much of youtube (for instance) seems a refusal to reframe (or to "frame" @ all): it seems an unedited expression of an impulse to archive, rather than to re-think...

For instance, as a test case (since, somewhere around here we've been talking about science education), look @ the cluster/archipelago of science-islands in second life and/or the youtube overview of the science learning opportunities in second life. They seem as dull to me as the RL science classrooms I went running away from decades ago...

Where I ran to, of course, was novels, and their interpretation.

Speaking of which...your mention of Empson put me in mind of the recent novel by Elliot Perlman that plays on--and shares a title with-- his magisterial Seven Types of Ambiguity--do you know it? It's a fictional exploration of Empson's ideas, with the story told, Rashomon-like, by seven different characters. Some of the complexities include the juxtaposition, not just of the different points of view of different characters, but within a single self: "Why was I doing this? It was as though I were two people, one angry and itching for a fight...the other just...listening incredulously to the first guy and unable to stop him..."

Another insight I picked up from reading Perlman's novel has to do with an area of law called the "similar fact rule," which helps me to understand why "we" are all so loathe to entertain the play of multiple stories that Paul so unremittingly advocates for:

"Criminal procedure everywhere in the world suffers from the same quite unavoidable problem. There is a tendency for people to hear a story once and, thereafter, to deem any deviation from that first telling, from the version they heard first, a deviation from the truth, to regard the first version as the true version against which other versions are measured. But since, by necessity, the prosecutor in a criminal trial has to go first or else there is no case to answer, there can never be any way around this. The judge or jury will always hear the prosecution's version first."


This "rule" intrigues me; I'd like to understand a little more the brain structures-- our pattern-making inclinations?--that incline us to attach to a first telling, rather than seeking out, much less valuing, alternatives. If we could understand that a little better, maybe we could understand our slowness to revise stories, political arrangements, affectional attachments.....as one of Perlman's character muses, "There was some small element of truth in the pretext that I wanted to know other men. I just had not considered that their 'otherness' would always make them worse...."

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