Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Internet: Breaking the Hierarchy of Knowledge

I've been thinking a lot lately about the hierarchy of information and histories. Much of the thoughts I've had on this come from two sources: thoughts on British-colonialism which has led to a British-centric focus on literature all around the world, and the book I recently finish (which I would highly recommend), The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje.

For years the center of the intellectual world was London. The British Empire (on which the sun literally never set) held the keys of knowledge, keys of writing and recording that were beyond much of the world. Fast forward two hundred years. Much of the world has caught up. We write, we think, we record, we invent, we innovate just like them (and often better). But for some reason, all over the world, what where once British Colonies are still taught the British Classics before their own culture's literature. I read a few essays on this which I found completely enlightening. If you're bored I've listed them below:

Heroic Ethnocentrism: The Idea of Universality in Literature by Charles Larson
Can the Subaltern Speak? by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

In the first, Larson explains his experience teaching Western Literature to students in Nigeria. He was shocked to learn that things he assumed were universal--a kiss, for example--were misunderstood by these readers. He realized as he sent off graduates that what this system had created was disenfranchised students who no longer related to their villages and homes, but were not completely Western enough to integrate in Europe.

Now, I believe there is true value in British Literature. I adore it in fact. I spent a semester in London studying it. Who doesn't crave some good Jane Austin candy now and again?


I wonder if we, as Americans, should first be raised on American literature, if we should be taught American classics and American stories first (and the Africans brought up in African literature and the Indians on Indian literature...) Maybe we should go even more local than that, maybe we should read stories and internalize stories that have to do with the place we are in, our place, our time, our history. After we grasp it, branch out, run wild, read all the Blake, Burke and Browning you can bear. It's important. It is! But only after realize where our roots are planted and what our people are about.

With the British Empire brought a hierarchy of thought, a canonized list of works superior to others in philosophy and ideals. Museums were organized according to the categories set up in Britain. The Dewey Decimal system ordered and classified our books. Everything was bound up in organization, in class, in hierarchical Western stratum. But I believe it's breaking down. How? With the Internet (which Mikey blogged about here and here).

There is no organization. There is no class. Sure it's overwhelming but think what it's doing ideologically to knowledge. You could argue this either way, it's good, it's bad, I get it. But it's also sort of exciting. It's opening up possibilities for rewritten histories, for truth to come forth that wasn't before. With the increase of literacy and access to computers, people can share their stories, their thoughts, their beliefs. What a wealth of learning this provides us. What a wealth of opinions and views. It's a revolution.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...