From the Toolbox of a Serving Library

Angie Keefer, speaking in the week of the Type tool, offered an account of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s picture theory of knowledge. Departing from the colour green, she asked us to consider how we come to understand the diversity and metaphoric potential of a form. For example, I understand a forest, American money and Pantone 347 all to be green, yet what of these things binds them? What of their greenness unites them under this idea? Under the picture theory, experience precedes language so that my experience of the forest begs a name, one of which is green.

But it would seem to be that understanding green is a technique used to generate moves within a framework without specificities. I can imagine green apart from any particular experience of it, and I can play my imagination through its compendium rainbow of greens I have witnessed (Keefer did just such an experiment with us, pausing her slide show on a dynamic green frame which cycled through so many different, familiar shades). Where the picture theory incorporates the particular into the gestalt, this other method muddies the distinction between perception and thought. Experience and description are not either primary or secondary, but are both in an inflected relationship toward one another. Thinking is not knowing an argument, but is a skill for drawing distinctions among arbitrary unities, thereby creating new unities. It is not descriptive, but productive.

At least this is what I think Keefer suggested. As she is just getting to know Wittgenstein, I am just coming into her thinking.

However, all this talk of what and how we come to know raised a corollary consideration of what we have the right to know. More specifically, what do we not have the right to know? When so much information is literally available at our fingertips (provided you are in the company of a smart phone or laptop), the shape of silence or ambiguity begs to be diminished. Surely it is not just me and my friends who call out for the Internet to resolve any lazy dispute that a Sunday afternoon might offer. I have this quote, but I can’t remember where it comes from, and the Internet won’t tell me anyway, but what a fitting example: “Why are we so attracted by the missing, the lost, and the impossible to know, only because of the fact that we think everything is available to us?”

Here are two more, with citations:

“The silence failed this part of myself that desired to make politics, but it affirmed something new.” (Claire Fontaine)

“We might think that our norms of humanization require a name and a face, but perhaps the ‘face’ works on us precisely through or as its shroud, in and through the means by which it is subsequently obscured. The face and name are not ours to know, and affirming this cognitive limit is a way of affirming the humanity that has escaped the visual control of the photograph. To expose the victim would be to further reiterate the crime.” (Judith Butler)

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