Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains:
Knatz.com / Teaching / Society / Social Epistemology / Reality /
Mission: to point out that awards are nonsense without an accurate map of the territory
The New York Times and other organs publish best seller lists. I don’t know that any team of scientists goes over their figures, falsifies their procedures … but there’s little reason to: of all things to be skeptical about, sales figures are the least suspicious. Money is one thing we do take seriously, have some accountability regarding. Those same organs will also report awards such as the Academy Awards, the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize … Do you see that they are vastly different kinds of things? that they have vastly different epistemologies?
“Experts” in Cannes or Hollywood get together and tell the rest of the world what the “best” something is: best novel of 2000, best movie, best song, best animation … The last time I saw figures on the number of novels published in English in the United States — more than a decade ago — the stat was something like 5,000 novels. Are we supposed to believe that experts read all of them? Are we supposed to believe that the experts were uniformly conscious the whole time? uniformly critical? uniformly appreciative? Are we supposed to believe that the experts have a universal sensibility? Is there any objective definition of “best”?
I remember staying up all night hoping to have the first Rubik Cube I’d seen and purchased as a Christmas present for my son solved by the time he awakened for me to give it to him. Word was that the number of possible combinations approximated the number of atoms in the observed universe, that if you turned combinations randomly, it would take the age of the solar system or the age of the universe or some big number, before it came out right. And I thought: anybody making one move a second for fourteen billion years isn’t going to be paying attention when the solution comes up randomly. The sides will match for one second, and one second later, they won’t match. No one will ever know whether it was “solved” or not: except by the improbable coincidence that they’d be paying attention at that one rare moment. Now: when not writing, I read constantly. I’ve been reading increasingly constantly for one half century (having started regular reading at ten or twelve). Of the thousands of novels published in English in the US in 2000 I’ve read a few. Some were very good. Some I judge to be “great.” But even if one of them was the equivalent of War and Peace how could I judge it to be best? Even if I could, even if my claim deserved something other than derision, what about the novels published not in the United States? What about novels published in other languages? What about forms of literature other than the novel? What makes us believe some other form of literary art isn’t growing among the weeds which we may someday judge to be superior to the novel?
And what makes us think that the five thousand novels published were all that were written? The number published should probably be squared before we’d approximate the number written: in the United States, in English.
Ah, but of course the novels not published weren’t any good. Oh really? What basis do we have for that assumption? Certainly not any historical precedent. Literary criticism of the past few centuries is a record of cultures missing some large percentage of their quality art. Byron was popular; Keats just barely got published, was unkindly reviewed … Even there: we happen to have salvaged Keats as well as Byron, Blake too. But who’s to say that there weren’t some other genius, some dozen, some three dozen, who didn’t get salvaged?
Now if experts would only say something like: Of the movies I saw, sober, moderately alert, alone, no one playing with my fly, I had the greatest enthusiasm for … Who could argue with such an assertion? (The statements should be accompanied by hyper-text notes on which projects failed to find funding, which received it by non-kosher means, which projects were never submitted for funding … Realize: Kafka’s novels are judged to be among the best of the century, yet he didn’t want them published, didn’t submit them, specified that they were to be destroyed.)
Robert Southey will be remembered
after Homer and Shakespeare have been forgotten:
but not until then.
OK, that’s only a start. I now see that I haven’t put it in the best order or included all of even my most essential points. A better job will have to wait for another time. But I hope somebody gets the idea: nothing is more absurd than the idea that civilized society speaks anything but nonsense. These are all part of the lies we tell ourselves to pretend that we know our world, our own environment, have good judgment, are doing well in the scheme of things, are safe as we are …
Of course I also hope you’ll consider where my creative writing fits into all of this. Realize: publishers have told me that they go out of their way not to publish good literature: that’s not where the big bucks are. Realize also: the experts don’t know shit. Don’t just consider the history of poetry, don’t just think of Van Gogh dying unsold; think of the systematic repression of ideas practiced by kleptocracies from day one. A fast review of the Church’s repression of non-standard theological and philosophical imaginings might be a good starting place.
For decades I’ve told how my doctoral committee interrupted and insulted and then turned its back on my thesis-related exposition. They weren’t fired. They didn’t apologize. No: they took their salaries! They graduated your teachers! and your children’s teachers! Only intellectuals with a very low ceiling of intellect are tolerated.
Realize further: since the development of cybernetics, there’s no excuse. Perhaps not every movie can get made, every symphony be performed, but for sure, with the development of data storage and retrieval, everything could be published: at least in text form. Every writer should have public support in patenting his writing by the simple expedient of digital storage. Submissions to publishing houses could then be made by simple reference to the universal archive. The public too could access the archive. There need be no such thing as an unpublished treatise. The publishers’ claims of publishing good material would be falsifiable: that is, anyone in the world could check out what they rejected. 99% dreckamire? Sure. So is what is published. Ah, but that 1% … That’s where you’ll find the next Van Gogh, the next Kepler, the next Faraday. Had the public supported FIX,* provided it with data as well as the resources to handle the data, you’d have had pk since 1948 instead of just in the last half dozen years.
Heinz von Foerster admonished us to “map the community.” Ivan Illich suggested that all of society’s learning resources could be mapped in a public data base. In 1970 I founded such a data base: The Free Learning Exchange. I proposed that if learning resources could be digitally mapped, so could all public resources. FLEX could grow as FIX: Free Information Exchange. You got something to say? put it in the FIX library.
Of course the public didn’t support it. In doing so — failing to do so — the public has forfeited all claim forever to have any interest in freedom. (But of course talk of freedom has been nonsense ever since the invention of kleptocracy: kleptocracy ended freedom. Only the natural world was free.) (Not that it was without its own restraints: pre-kleptocratic peoples were as fully occupied with taboos, spells, enchantments … as we are with money.)
2005 05 27 We all know from grammar school that “good” is an adjective. English, for common adjectives, also supplies us with comparatives and superlatives: good, better, best. If something is good, is therre necessarily something else better? And if something is the best, does it therefore follow that that something is “good”?
Who won the Polish beauty contest?
In 1941 John Huston’s Maltese Falcon was released. Decades later Huston was still wondering how in hell even he could have made that movie so good. Citizen Kane was Orson Wells offering for the same year. I know people anxious to battle that Kane is the greatest movie ever made! Every year Hollywood gives a prize. That year the prise went to Ford’s How Green Was My Valley. Watch all three today: do you agree? Did you agree in 1941? In 1961?
Would any society but a kleptocracy care, among giants, which giant was the strongest? Does even a kleptocracy care which microbe is the tallest? And before we go taking comparisons seriously shouldn’t we have measurements from around the universe? Or do we all want to live in NYC, maybe Brooklyn, and think that the Yankees and Dodgers can have a World Series? (Well, as I’ve pointed out again and again, world is an utterly subjective designation.) My world and your world can never be the same. (Two Nazis delude themselves if they think they agree on politics.)
Year after year, the Academy Awards are a joke. Ah, but the new LifeTime Achievement Awards: they might mean something. In the 1940s both Shannon and Wiener should have gotten some sort of a prize for their work on information. Somewhere in there Gregory Bateson should have been given a dozen or two prizes: certainly for his definition of information. (By 2000 or so pk should have gotten something for further developing Bateson information!) But an annual prize? Either it’s too many; or too few.
@ K. 2000 09 23
2011 07 18 Above I said that I read a great deal? No longer true: no longer possible. Even if I could get my sight fixed, my attention can’t wander far from recreating K. @ pKnatz blog. 2011 12 31 My son gave me a Kindle with hundreds of great books already on it as an early xmas present. One can adjust the font pitch size: so I am reading again, with lust.