<CPOV> A critique of the idea of neutral language

Alan Shapiro Alan.Shapiro at gmx.de
Fri May 28 20:38:01 CEST 2010



that's a very good question, Jon, thanks for asking. The example of Peirce is excellent.


I believe that a Peircian semiotic could be implemented on the Internet (or a successor to the Internet), and that this a very worthwhile goal. A sort of Peircian emphasis on content, meaning, or deep referent as counterpoint to what is currently happening on the Internet, which is the nightmare realization of the fundamental media-theory-insight of McLuhan-Baudrillard that "the medium is the message" gone haywire, on drugs, so to speak. Content means nothing right now. Everything is links, links, links, where can i get my website or blog linked or ping-backed to as many other websites as possible. And this happening in the context of the rampant reign of Homo Economicus. More links to my website equals more visitors equals higher google ranking equals the dream of the pot of gold.


Any chat of any kind today immediately deteriorates into: are you on Facebook?, are you registered at the Huffington Post?, do you have Skype?, MSN?, Yahoo Messenger?, etc. Meet me at odesk or elance and let's get exploited together. That's a nice app you've got, but does it run on iPad? Nice book there, but it is on Kindle? The media that overwhelms the message was TV for McLuhan-Baudrillard. Today that fetishized media is Facebook, skype, MSN, etc.


And add to that list the fetish of "just the facts, ma'am" of the Wikipedia gatekeepers.


The second half of my answer to your question will be in the context of explaining something about my project which is my contribution to the conference reader. Focusing on Star Trek (there are about 100 Wikipedia articles on Star Trek, at least), i am establishing myself as a good Wikipedia citizen making contributions which, on one level, are indeed adding to the mountain of fetishized facts. However, i am doing this with awareness in such a way that I simultaneously deconstruct from within the fetish of facts by subtly pointing out contextualizations, ambiguities, uncertainties, undecidabilities. Today, for example, on this very day, I was very involved with the Star Trek question: was the character Flint Shakespeare? (Flint is a character in The Original Series episode "Requiem for Methuselah" who is immortal and was many of the great creators of human history, like DaVinci and Brahms). The "fetish of facts" nitpickers will debate until the cows come home whether Flint was Shakespeare or not. Half will defend one thesis, half the other. Of course that's a ridiculous binary. The episode, which is in fact a brilliant literary story, presents evidence on both sides of the question and the question is undecidable.


So that's what I think is the first step to take. We have to deconstuct Wikipedia from within. That's what we should do. A Trojan Horse strategy. We have to stand the coin of whether we are Wikipedians or critics of Wikipedia on its edge, neither heads nor tails. I love the Twilight Zone episode where the guy flips his coin into the newspaper boy's coin box and it stands on its edge. (then he can read minds all day)


Back to Peirce: Peirce is the best semiotician, better than Eco or Derrida or Baudrillard or Greimas or Jakobsen, because his viewpoint includes everything about the chains of signs and signifiers that is in their systems, but Peirce also emphasizes meaning, the referent of the sign. 


The hypertext cultural theory crowd of the 1990s of Landow, Bolter, Brown University, etc. didn't really get Peirce. A Derrida-only-inspired view of hypertext is exposed to a kind of nihilism of the chain of signifiers, it seems to me.






So where would you want to go with this?  The links that you gave debouch,
as they say, onto a very wide field, most of which is far more interesting
than the Wikipedestrian defile on whose fruits we currently gorge -- or gag.
To your new rhetoric I might well add the golden oldie of Peircean semiotic,
but what would be the first critical step in the application to wikioid media?

Jon Awbrey

Alan Shapiro wrote:
 > As a contribution to the ongoing debate and discussion, I have
 > posted at my website some writing by my friend Marc Silver called
 > "Arguing the Case: Language and Play in Argumentation":
 > http://www.alan-shapiro.com/arguing-the-case-by-marc-silver/
 > This is an excerpt from Marc's book which addresses
 > the question of neutrality in discourse and knowledge.
 > Marc Silver is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Modena, Italy.
 > -- Alan N. Shapiro

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