Tuesday, December 1, 2009

This Blog Post is Both Serious and a Joke

A minor subtheme that has cropped up over and over in the readings this semester for me has been many authors' willingness to go for the easy pun. I fully understand the value of acknowledging polysemy, and I have nothing against exploring its possibilities on their own merits even where the actual connection of the symbols thus conjured to the source material is highly debatable. I start feeling dubious about an author's intellectual honesty - and, honestly, capacity - when they start implying that purely accidental (as in, not etymologically or anything but orthographically related) linguistic co-conjurings are somehow illuminating. They typically pull this implication off in a particular style that seems to be fairly widely accepted, in which they point out the connection in a knowing manner, but don't actually analyze it, and it is 'left unsaid' for the savvy reader to nod knowingly at. But sometimes what's left unsaid is truly unsayable, as for instance in the most atrocious example we have encountered, in the article about cell phone usage in the Philippines, where the fact that digits (numerals) are manipulated by digits (fingers) on digital (binary) devices was presented as meaningful. Guh.

Tsing's flirtation with joking, in her 'both serious and a joke' diagrams and acronyms, is not immediately so outrageous, but it is suspect. One theory is that the joking half of these bits of content are really just there to enliven the book and keep the reader happy. This would be a very sloppy (and unnecessary; the book is very entertaining as is) move and seems very unlikely. A more likely possibility is that she believes that the half-seriousness of her models in some way models a half-seriousness endemic to that which they represent. This is in line with her points about the drama of capital, and the economy of appearances. But how effective are these diagrams in drawing the reader's attention to the real-life absurdities they mirror? Do they simply distract and detract from what claims to rigor the book can make?

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