Sunday, December 17, 2006

it's a funny situation

This semester, one of my final term papers referenced an excerpt from Donna Haraway's 1991 book, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (click on the link, there's a great chart on wiki). Since reading this stuff, I've been obsessing about information science--specifically, the possibilities yielded by attempting to diagram different critiques of the same text.

Stan linked me to the site of a Yale Professor Emeritus, Edward Tufte, who has written a great deal about the visual presentation of information and statistics. Tufte's stuff is primarily concerned with how the aesthetics of mapping information facilitate the interaction between the creator of the diagram and its audience; I'm more interested in the relationships between the positions that are mapped--in the case of literary analysis, the disparate "readings."

Haraway comes up with a wacky little drawing of a "bush," which, she claims, yields a de-centered presentation of readings that offers "a diagrammatic model for indicating how feminist theory and the critical study of colonial discourse interact each other" (111). Or, in simpler terms, how different readings of the same text are connected/different. While her description supports her non-hierarchal theory of situated interpretations, the literal map of the "bush," like the physical referent it signifies, implies a root--an overarching starting point that she calls "experience"--which branches into multiple binaries. By virtue of this totalizing concept and the hierarchical structure it connotes, the "representational technology" (112) of her paradigm fails to to disrupt the system of reading she's trying to unravel (i.e., a linear anthology, or a structure that overtly attributes "correctness" to some readings). The bush implies fixed situations, a universal origin, and unidirectional affinities and differences; essentialism is an intrinsic attribute of each of these tropes.

I know very little about informatics/diagramming, but it seems to me that a practical paradigm of situated readings that better adheres to the theory's epistemological standpoint is a web of positions--a diagram that refutes order, origins, and binaries in favor of plurality and relational meaning. Such a diagram better reflects Haraway's desire to represent "an open, branching discourse with a high liklihood of reflexivity about its own interpretative and productive technology" (112). The utility of a web is derived from examining the fibers that stretch between its points--the affiliations and experiences shared by variant positions--and in investigating the nature and magnitude of the spaces between them, or the different perspectives produced by disparate contexts.

In using such a model, affinities and differences are recognized--not perceived as impenetrable. This poses, I think, a practical paradigm that addresses Stanley Fish's attitude towards tolerance, which I discussed earlier.

In laymen's terms, here's what I mean. My family is about to spend three weeks together (a biannual phenomenon). Naturally, this leads to a great deal of conflict; we all have very disparate tastes, dislikes. Consider, however, the web of situated positions I've created: You might notice that several Kimes's share affiliations--my brother and I both enjoy The Office, my parents like frappucinos.

Exploiting such differences--while either addressing or avoiding placing pressure on differences--can lead to a mutually favorable situation. Feminists and postcolonialists can construct coalitions from such bonds; my family can stave off fighting for a day or two if there's enough white wine to go around...


NickAntosca said...

am i to understand that you are the only member of your family who does not like "being clean"?

Rich said...

nice(?) to see that someone else's parents like bill o'reilly too...good use of the chart.

Aditya said...

if you think haraway is trippy, you should attempt deleuze and guattari; a thousand plateaus will blow your mind away.

Michael said...

outlet malls.. how plebian

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