Electracy and the Self on the Arrival

History of grammatology teaches us that the discovery of putting speech into alphabetical phonic writing, led to the birth of the institution called school. It took centuries for humanity to reach this stage. With phonic writing humanity stepped into literacy where the manuscript became the book in the power of the invention of the printing press. It is said that with the rise of print technology, simultaneity was born which resulted in the rise of the imagined communities (Benedict Anderson) that we know as nations today. This is why Gregory L. Ulmer asks what would this new electracy (digital world) give rise to? His speculative expectations remind us of the notion of people to come in Deleuze and Guattari. The age of electracy is displacing the book, libraries and the school. Hence, the question that haunts us all is: what are the new institutions of the era of electracy. The fact that we have moved into a post-literacy age, the institutions of literacy are steadily dying. We can see that reading habits are on the ebb, books are fast going out of fashion and libraries are replaced by databases. This means as the matrix of literacy is giving way to electracy, new institutions are sprouting up.

It has been said that Plato invented the practices that are still in vogue in academic institutions. Plato is said to have asked the question, ‘what is justice?’ He did not ask what justice can do or how it can be performed. In asking ‘what justice is?’, Plato assigned ontological function to the copulative verb to be. Aristotle and others that came after him carried forward this project. Eric Havelock tells us that it is literacy that gives us a sense of being a subject. This academic project is displaced by the new digital world. Ulmer says that electracy was born with the discovery of Photography in the 1830s. The technology of the alphabet enabled humans to record and then manipulate spoken words. The new recording technologies much more powerful than the photography capture the whole scene- the sight, sound and motion of human activity. It is difficult for us to study our own human moment because we are fully immersed into it but the image recording technologies enable us to enter this flux of life. To understand our immersion into this new world, we take the history of literacy as an analogy. We hope that this exercise will enable us to locate sites open for inventions. We take this position because we are not techno-determinists and think that technology opens possibilities for building/ inventing new institutions and identities. This is why we have to remain hermetically open to the matrix or the apparatus of electracy so as to grab the opportunities for inventions.

The analogy of literacy provides us templates to recognize inventions as linked to historical circumstances. We can trace how with the invention of writing, institutions and institutional practices of literacy arose. This look back at the history of grammatology in relation to literacy becomes a pedagogy that teaches us to invent practices that can be institutionalized as we live in the dynamic era of electracy. We can find Ulmer trying to invent practices that are in congruence with the age he calls electracy. The control of meaning through univocality is no longer possible as meaning shifts and slips in the new digital world. This does not mean ambiguity did not flourish in literacy. Full power of ambiguity was and is exploited by the poetics under literacy. Hence, Ulmer proposes poetics as a pedagogy that can bring learning in contact with imaging. He says that the institutionalization of electracy has taken place in the world of entertainment and we have stepped into the society of spectacle where reality and image has merged into a simulacra. To keep us updated with the world of electracy, Ulmer has invented a practice of teaching and learning that he calls mystory. It is based on the feminist insight that thinks the personal as political and extends the principle that ideology has to be approached holistically as an ecology and formalizes into a method Nietzsche’s insight that teaches that in every career there is a secret point at which the aphorism of thought intersects with anecdote of life. It finally brings subject formation to evolve into an inventive practice.

The subject of the era of electracy is dynamically metamorphosing. The new subject is an electorate. He/ she is not an agent but an agent. As a leaner, the electorate is not in the objective stance of the Positivists nor in the subjectivist stance of the Romanticists. He/ she is also not in the alienated stance of the existentialists. The electorate is not ‘one’. The subject of the network is already in relations with the networks. The new group oriented subject does not replace the tribal of the oral or the national of the literary era but supplements both the tribal and the national identities. This is why we need self-knowledge today more than at the time of Socrates. The Socratic dictum: Know thyself is indeed required to bring the self that is immersed into the networks of electracy to its senses. The self that knows itself will discover that it has become a heuristic self. It is no longer enthused by logical argumentation but sees things side by side. This juxtapositioning of things breaks the hierarchical either/ or logic of our thinking. The subject to come is going to be a heuristic subject. In fact such a subject has already arrived. The heuristic subject is a dividual. He/ she is multitasking as the hierarchy of vertical time has given way to the horizontal side by side experience of time. The self is inventive and is breaking time horizontally and is multitasking. Electracy has brought about a new subjectification. The self and its larvae are multiplying in the internet. The new world of the internet has condemned the self to be on the arrival who has never really arrived.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao