Greek Alphabet

Apparatus (Context #1)

Posted on: Tue, 2015-02-17 19:12   By: glue

This Group (and subsequent ones) hosts a conversation exploring the implications of electracy (apparatus theory) for education in a civilization adapting to digital technologies.  The conversation is first person, the posts are signed, offering my own acccount of how I encountered this question.  There is no attempt to be prescriptive or make normative claims.  Rather, each contributor to the conversation (whether here or in some other venue) explains how change looks from his or her vantage point. 

In my case, I came to questions of education reform through comparative literature, critical theory, media studies, as a teacher of Humanities General Education courses, Argumentative Writing, History of Criticism, Film Studies, Networked Leraning.  I first encountered "grammatology" (the history and theory  of writing) in graduate school (1970), reading Jacques Derrida's Of Grammatology in the context of writing a dissertation on Rousseau. "Grammatology" resonated with my first encounter with Marshall McLuhan's Gutenberg Galaxy as an undergraduate (1966).  Adopting grammatology as a disciplinary guide after graduate school led to the work of such scholars as Walter Ong, Eric Havelock, and Jack Goody, among others.  The Toronto School provided some ballast for the more radical work of French theory, the Tel Quel school, with which Derrida and many other post/structuralists were affiliated. The concept of apparatus (dispositif)--which came to organize my own inquiry-- was developed by Tel Quel theorists, who also were transforming the concepts of text, and of writing itself (écriture). Reading this scholarship and theory in the context of teaching introduction to argumentative writing in the morning, and film studies in the afternoon, produced the insight that "film" (multimedia recording) is the "text" of our civilization, with all the implications not just of equipment change, but civilizational shift.  I introduced the term "electracy" ("electricity" + "trace," the latter invoking one of Derrida's keywords), to clarify that inquiry about new technologies of information and communication concern the whole social machine. The following statement (cited from one of my blogs) is how I formulate our question.

Electracy, like literacy and orality before it, is an apparatus, meaning that it is a social machine (part technological, part ideological, part metaphysical). An analogy with the invention of literacy guides our experimental approach to electracy. The Classical Greeks invented alphabetic writing (the vowel, signs recording the spoken word, the material support for inscription); school and its practices (the Academy, the Lyceum, in which were invented the categories, method, concept, logic — in short: science); individual and collective identity behaviors (selfhood, democratic state).

The question pursued here is: what are the electrate equivalents of the literate institutional practices and identity formations? Despite all the explicit statements made by leading commentators rejecting technological determinism, much of the best theorizing of new media and digital technology in general today neglects the insights of “apparatus”: that the Internet is an emerging institution that is to electracy what school was to literacy; that the categorial, logical, and rhetorical practices needed to function natively in this institution have to be invented, and moreover that the invention of an image metaphysics (the equivalent of what Aristotle accomplished for the written word) has its own invention stream, independent of the features of modern recording equipment.