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KT's picture

"no longer the sole producers, stewards, and disseminators of knowledge or culture, universities are called upon to shape natively digital models of scholarly discourse for the newly emergent public spheres of the present era." (1)

As the information age has taken hold, thoughts, views and writings have gained a wider realm of dissemination than ever before.  The internet and its databases have provided the knowledge of those who came before to all and any without a filter or intermediary.  Thoughts and ideas are presented through an open door for all to enter and interact.  The results of this openness have enacted many changes in all that we think and do, especially in the Digital Humanities.  The antiquated idea that a writer constructs her writing as “original” and as an individualized piece of work is being challenged by the overwhelming flow and mixing of ideas by anyone and everyone.  The idea of the individual owning a deed to an idea is being replaced by a common space occupied by all. In “The Geography of Thought,” Nisbett delineates the differences between Western individualist thinking and East Asian collective. It is in this light that I’d like to examine our traditional process of “original” writing, explore how the Digital Humanities is reconceiving that concept to a more collective framework and how this might change the landscape.

"They thought of themselves as individuals with distinctive properties, as units separate from others within the society, and in control of their own destinies." (2)

The history of the self-centric view-point dates back to the ancient Greeks.  Due to their coastal location, they encountered people of varied cultures and ideas. As a result, there was often conflict that needed to be resolved.  In order to facilitate this process, the society perfected the technique of debate to decide right and wrong, the truth was either this or that and the idea of individual took hold.

"Westerners are the protagonists of their autobiographical novels, Asians are merely cast members in movies touching on their existences." (3)

By contrast in China and other East Asian countries, the ethnic homogeneity and community based village life promoted harmony, a want to fit in and not be distinctive.  In China, there was no need to figure out who was right, there was a need for The Golden Mean, the principle by which the extremes are undesirable and the goal is to live in a middle ground where the citizens can interact in cooperation with each other as part of a greater whole.  

These different ways of existing help to frame our actions and interactions and have specifically influenced how we write.

"…to rethink our authorship practices and our relationships to ourselves and our colleagues as authors, not only because the new digital technologies becoming dominant within the academy are rapidly facilitating new ways of working and new ways of imagining ourselves as we work, but also because such reconsidered writing practices might help many of us find more pleasure, and less anxiety, in the act of writing itself."  (4)

In the Humanities, the process of writing an original piece of work has traditionally been an individualized process.  We sit down to write something “original,” and when we finish, we may share it with the intended audience.  In Katherine Fitzpatrick’s “Planned Obsolescence,” she argues that in light of the new digital publication age, the gates are now open and the old ways of producing individualized writing are being replaced by the new digital society.  Peer review need not come from a select few, but may come from all.  As she demonstrated by putting her book online for review as it was being written, there is now a different way of supporting the process of new ideas that hinges on collective practices.  But is this new process really the best process?  What if the collective view promotes complacency?  Will we work as hard? Maybe there is no individual versus collective, but instead, a mixing of both.

"What would an educational system look like if it was grounded in the objective of giving students the wherewithal to participate in the creation of new worlds/realities, instead of giving them what we think is needed to be successful in a particular one?  …In what ways might our own lives be different, if we thought of them not in terms of particular goals and competing with others to achieve them but rather in terms of valuing individual distinctivenesses, our own and that of others, and using those to create worlds/realities, individual and collective, as yet unconceived?" (5)

Professor Grobstein’s quote speaks to the collective view of and/both as opposed to the individual mantra of or/versus.  In mixing collective and individual, there is room for new worlds that are not meant to facilitate merely fitting in, but also worlds that are made for the group.  We can have and/both and or/versus.  And by promoting both, work towards gaining the best of both.

A good cook blends the flavors and creates something harmonious and delicious.  No flavor is completely submerged, and the savory taste is due to the blended but distinctive contributions of each flavor.  (6)

The Confucian text is a reminder that it is not conformity that is the goal, but harmonious blending.  As Nisbett concludes his study of individual and collective views, he speculates that a merging of the two views will occur.  As I look at the Digital Humanities, I wonder what the driving force will be in deciding which aspects will merge and how they will do so.  Is it the economics, the technology, new purposeful design by the users?   How will they combine to write the new script for the Digital Humanities and its rhizomes?


Bibliography and Works Cited

[1] ) Digital Humanities Manifesto /exchange/courses/literarykinds/s12/notes/3

[2] Nisbett, Richard, E. How Asians and Westerners Think Differently… and Why. Free Press, 2003. Kindle Edition location 462-67

[3] Nisbett, Richard, E. How Asians and Westerners Think Differently… and Why. Free Press, 2003. Kindle Edition location1274-79


[5] /exchange/node/7718

[6] Nisbett, Richard, E. How Asians and Westerners Think Differently… and Why. Free Press, 2003. Kindle Edition location 313-17





Anne Dalke's picture

Tyranny of the Collective?

I read your reflections fresh from this morning's review of The New York Times, where I found an interesting challenge to the "tyranny of the social," and the ways in which it limits individual distinctiveness... I'm primed for, and quite drawn to, your elucidation of Paul's notion that what we might seek to build is a "new world" in which communities are defined, not by homogeneity and "fitting in," but rather by the creation of spaces in which difference might flourish. I find this vision particularly compelling, in light of (your report of) Nesbitt's comparative account of the "self-centricity" nurtured by coastal conflict, in contrast to the "homogeneity of community based village life." Creating a village in which distinctiveness might flourish is a powerful bringing together of those two sets of values.

And so now I'm wondering about what sort of writing might best facilitiate the emergence of such worlds. For example, one thing that interests me a lot here is the mode in which you choose to write: it seems to mimic some of the "broken" forms on display w/ in The Breaking Project. You don't "set up" or explain any of your quotes, don't tell us who's speaking before the speech begins (though you do include links below). So those passages "drop in," rather like meteors, that a way of figuring a collective in which difference is unassimilated, unaccomodated, uncompromised? A way of not valorizing individual voice?

My own reaction to such a mode of writing is one of trying to make the essay more coherent, of wanting to put these various voices into more of a conversation w/ one another, have them engage in more interaction. For instance, is the web really a space where there is "no filter or intermediary" for ideas? (maybe check out Google Analytics, which demonstrate--rather than the "open door" you describe--a very deliberative marketing strategy).  What sort of intellectual community are you constructing, if your mode doesn't help your readers into your text, but invites us rather to roam about in it ("cyberflaneur"-like), with no particular aim or goal in mind, following our own whims rather than a sequence of ideas you have constructed? Were you intending (or, intention or not, have you created) a text in which "thoughts and ideas are presented through an open door for all to enter and interact"? Are you trying, here, to create an experience which refuses "complacency," and makes the reader "work hard"?--as a means of addressing some of your concerns about "the collective view"?