Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Presciense of Borges

My original topic of discussion for this blog was centered on the fictional work of Jorge Luis Borges, particularly the story The Circular Ruins, so I have decided to spend some more time digging into his ideas. As a result of my efforts to connect with others online about the works of Jorge Luis Borges and his relevance in the digital age, I got a very nice response in the form of a blog post from someone interested in Borges. This insightful blogger suggested how some other Borges stories could give insight into modern conditions. For example, Tlön Uqbar, Orbis Tertius deals with a collaborative encyclopedia that recalls Wikipedia, and how it strongly effects the reality of a civilization. There is a plethora of possibilities to explore.

So I decided to check out another Borges collection from the library: The Aleph and Other Stories. The titular short story deals with a man who has in his basement an "aleph", a strange artifact which allows him to perceive everything that currently exists in the world simultaneously, and his misguided efforts to describe it all in poetry. The experience that the Aleph brings is overwhelming to the narrator in the story. And here I find another analogous idea. The way information technology is developing is giving us an experience progressively closer to that of the aleph. We are becoming increasingly connected to more information from more of the world, more easily and more instantaneously. This idea, along with the comments some of my colleages and others have made, has suggested that there is a dark side to the hyperconnected digital life. I didn't really consider these implications in my more comprehensive post on the topic, even though my own recent online experiences have hinted at them. There are many millions of people and  ideas online, and a lot of things to sift through, many of them not relevant or necessary. The digital experience can be overwhelming and time consuming, and we can lose our grasp on the smaller, more local realm of experience(as did the character in the story). In spite of my efforts to flesh out a strong argument, I find myself falling into a disempowering ambivalence.


  1. I absolutely know what you mean about disempowering ambivalence (awesome phrase by the way), and Borges is a great analogy to illustrate the drawbacks to omniscience poorly managed.

    This reminds me of how people claim to be so much busier in this generation than ever before, and I think instant communications has a lot to do with this. I don't think it's that modern society has so much more to do than our predecessors, but being so much more aware and connected to everything we have going on makes it seem that way. Perceptions of reality have changed over the years it seems.

    Anyhow, I found this article by Danah Boyd on how faulty technology is necessary in order for people to function these days.

    Not sure if that helps, but it hopefully moves your ideas along somewhat.

  2. I feel ya. I'm also trying to flesh out a strong argument. It seems like this "dark side" of the internet that your finding challenges your argument that there isn't that much of a divide between the the digital and real worlds, but I think that means your argument will definitely divide an educated audience. Is there a way you can acknowledge these counter arguments or refute them in order to strengthen your own argument?

  3. I think it's really good to pull in Borges' Tlon Uqbar story. I read that for the first time last semester in a Comparative Lit course. It was really the first time I have come into contact with Borges, and I remember thinking at the time, what is the relevance of this? This is just a really bizarre short story about something that would never happen. But, I really love how you drew parallels with wikipedia. To what extent is the digital world a creation of a whole other history, like the Tlon Uqbar encyclopedia? To what extent do people try and create a world and then pass it off as reality? This is just a thought, but it could be super cool to join with Allison in our class on this. Does China try and create a new history by suppressing the use of new media?

    Good job drawing parallels with Borges! They look like strong arguments to me!

  4. I think it's "prescience"...

    Also, your thoughts about the "aleph" make me think of the kind of "inside information" we can find with all the info available online...I was just going through my bookmarks on my computer, and I've got a bookmark for the dollar theater. The new movie as of last friday is Furry Vengeance. Beneath my bookmark for the dollar theater is a bookmark for Rotten Tomatoes, and then one for Metacritic. I love to go to the dollar theater. I hate wasting my money, even a dollar. So just before I go to a movie, I look that movie up on Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic, read a few reviews, get a sense of which movie is worth my time and which isn't.

    The bookmarks on my computer illustrate the ease with which we can find qualifying opinions on nearly everything we could encounter. A google search would come up with the same for just about any topic. I have two thoughts about this critique-on-demand.

    1. It's a cool thing to be able to find tools that allow me to more knowledgeably choose how to spend my time, to go into activities knowing what to expect. It makes me feel that I have more power in my life. All in all, I feel like the ease with which I can debunk hype is an overwhelmingly positive thing.

    2. But what might I be losing? For one, there's a danger to allowing someone else to perform critical judgements for me. How closely will the % Fresh actually signal a movie that is good or bad for me? How well will a mass poll meet my individual taste? Additionally, it might make the whole marketplace that much harder to critique. Like the cold virus that becomes hardier in relation to our increasing use of antibiotics, is it possible that our savvy use of critical tools gets equally countered by corporate minds who already take into account that we will use those critical tools? In the fast-paced world of marketing and business, will we be able to keep up with our critical tools? Do our efforts merely encourage the corporations to become even more insidiously defensive?