Don’t Be the Bunny

Friday, September 26, 2014
Submitted by Gary Frost

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Feral Seminar, 2014
Resilience of Book Transmission

Please join us for open forums,
Thursdays, 2:00—3:30, Fall Semester
Room 2058, Main Library

We have a favorite dictum as we study and manipulate the experience of media. This is “don’t be the bunny” or otherwise fall victim to contending polarities. Such binary decoys provoke inconclusive debate and displace us from study of the wide territory exactly between simple contrasts.

Binary decoys are everywhere, emerging from embodied reflexes of Sinister and Dexter, right and left, of our bi-cameral brain. In the region of comparative media studies, we construe and entertain binaries such as analogue and digital, paper and screen or content and format. These are intrusions of embodied cognitions such hot or cold, light and dark or even Platonic vs. Aristotelian perception. As such, they are fairly harmless but these zigzags intrude busybody distractions, diverting us from more attentive study and richer experience of our bodily surroundings.

A useful feral move here is to look exactly in between such binaries. There we can encounter a wide territory for endless enjoyment and thoughtful product. The needed method includes actions of ambivalence, stealth, good humor and eerie relevance. Such feral behavior is actually rather well known and we can find both legacy and projected strategies to guide and authenticate any binary disrespects. We can recognize pioneering practitioners of philology and their models of reflexive comparative study. We can also apply tools of cognitive archeologists, resilience engineers and pragmatic philosophers.

This is the territory of lively “entanglement” described by Ian Hodder[1] and material engagement with “the cognitive life of things” as studied by Lambros Malafouris[2]. These cognitive archeologists have mapped zones of embodied cognition through study of thoughtful acts of tool making. It remains for us and for enclaves of bibliographers, publishers, conservators, artists and craft workers to narrate the exemplary cultural performance of books. Here we can study the unlikely diversity of the actions of books and why it is that different readers have unique engagements or disengagements with the same book. Here we can account for the book’s resilience of easy assimilation of ever-changing technologies and display formats and changing actions of literacy and book use and library assemblies. Why is there such innocent compliance with book making whenever we wish to convey embodied cognitions to an out-of-body cognitive thing?

Any pathway across this landscape will offer opportunities. As we advance investigation of the resilience of book transmission we notice not a cheap binary contest between codex and cloud or between haptic and automated navigations but a complementary performance of intersecting, interplaying and interdependent transmissions. We can stop thinking of things as things and see things as cognitions. For the cognitive archeologist a stone tool is a frame of mind dug out of the ground. For the feral seminarian considering resilience of book transmission the codex is a projectile intentionally thrown across time and cultures.

Feral living has risks. Amorphous composites are out there such as “digital humanities,” “print culture” or “search results.” Such phantoms displace our attentive, persistent investigations. They sound OK but serve as decoys for almost any kind of reflexive comparative study. They even parent self-condoning “cross-disciplinary” university departments. Amorphous composites divert us into overly partitioned specialties. Books transcend departments.

So, welcome to the reflexive life of feral learning and our chosen topic of resilience of book transmission. We value discovery and exploration of new territory. No enrollment, no credit, no tuition, no dismissive binaries of student/teacher or class room inside or outside. We are makers of product.

[1] See, Entangled, an archaeology of the relationships between humans and things, 2012.

[2] See, How Things Shape the Mind, a theory of material engagement, 2013.