Grand jeté

The Glossary of Ballet may turn out to be a fruitful source of imagery.

Patrick Lambe is really onto something over at Green Chameleon, and it fits remarkably with my Pirouettes thread. Today’s post points to and quotes wittily from The Interstitial Library and Uncyclopedia, and I’ll reproduce a couple of bits here to tempt you to read Green Chameleon further:

We contend that every reader is an amateur librarian, with a mental library organized according to a private cataloguing system that is never identical with that prescribed by the AACR2R (the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, Revised). Since every system of organization highlights some kinds of information and obscures others, we contend that these idiosyncratic catalogues have advantages—advantages that could be shared.

We do not consider the “authoritative” taxonomies of the Library of Congress (or Barnes & Noble) to be superior to private ones. We are suspicious of taxonomies that appear self-evident, unbiased, objective. All taxonomies are interpretations. All interpretations are valuations. We ask, how does a given taxonomy, which is always a reduction and a generalization, come to be associated with objective or ideal categories of knowledge? We contend that the question of what matters and what does not is a political and philosophical one that should be open to the input of individual readers.

(that one is from Interstitial Library, and the next is Patrick Lambe himself)

Taxonomies and category systems are filters. They render certain things visible and help ensure those things are preserved. The things in between, not captured in our official categories, are ignored, and hence easily forgotten and lost.

If they are there but not seen, then we need strategies for seeing them – or for bumping into them. These strategies need to directly counter the mechanisms we use for rendering this stuff invisible. We need inversionary mechanisms.

…To counter the invisibilising effects of limited taxonomies, we need interstitial categorisation systems, that deliberately break sensible rules, and bring stuff together on idiosyncratic principles. Individuals do this all the time, so we simply need to be able to see their idiosyncracies.

2 thoughts on “Grand jeté

  1. Gardner

    Great catch. I find myself saying YES and NO at equal volumes and intervals.
    This is why I have been interested in learning more about knowledge management, as it’s an allegory for, oh, everything in our experience. But especially knowledge simpliciter.
    Two things are missing from the post you linked to (and often missing from the discussion in my experience). One is that filters or taxonomies (another name for genre, in many respects) are not only filters but words. They stand for concepts, the way words do. (pace Saussure.) Our thinking produces taxonomies (folksonomy=taxonomy by referendum) but is also dependent upon them–and they become a kind of language. From natural languages emerge best practices, and I teach grammar to my students and encourage stylistic maturity in them. So the idiosyncratic has its power, but I’m not throwing the taxonomies overboard–if I want to make myself understood, I cannot rely only on idiosyncrasy. Second is that the notion that knowledge is dynamic, ever-circulating, breathing in and out, washing some books up to shore while washing others away to the great unbounded deep, works very well for certain of the humanities, but works only occasionally for the physical sciences. A test case: what about advances in medical knowledge? Are they part of this great sussuration of knowledge, or are we really getting somewhere? Do we really need to rethink, oh, the idea of a cell?
    Just thinking aloud.

  2. oook himself

    Others (like my friend Ron Nigh) would argue this more eloquently than I can, and I’m not DISagreeing with what Gardo says in the above comment. “Thinking out loud” probably covers it pretty well.
    I think we (as a species, and culturally too) are particularly adept at the use of convenient/conventional models as approximations or generalizations, even though we know they aren’t really correct or accurate –e.g., the conventional portrait of an atom, with its nucleus and orbiting electrons, is crude and maybe even flat out incorrect, albeit heuristic. Likewise, the textbook illustration of a cell is a convenient model, but its diagrammatic representation is basically a cartoon, with convenient labels (‘cytoplasm’, whatever that is…), and similarly our imaging tools for molecules or cells, amazing as they now are, are still shadows-on-cave-walls. And sometimes one encounters competing systems of explanation which map imperfectly or even contradict the models we have grown up believing to be “true” –e.g., chakras and meridians, etc. just aren’t reconcilable with the “Western” medicine in which we’re so thoroughly invested. “Western” logic whimpers that the explanations can’t BOTH be right… Likewise, the reductionist/positivist model of consciousness as neurochemical/electrical epiphenomenon is incommensurate with the Buddhist model that sees Mind as a sense, co-equal with sight, taste, etc. Similarly with taxonomies: to be restricted to ONE is parsimonious, and may be efficient in an Occam’s Razor true/untrue sense …but it’s just not as much fun, or as interesting, as playing with multiple models of reality. Sometimes the “progress” comes from reveling in ambiguity and opening up uncertainty, rather than in reducing it, and so it may be with terminology and taxonomy. How much ambiguity and inconsistency one tolerates comfortably is probably a matter of personal style. I think I’m getting more tolerant as dotage approaches.

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