Monday, December 3, 2012

Entropic forests

My previous post suggested that Parks' critique of Google Earth was equivalent to its failure to fully implement a systems-oriented view of the world, for lack of duration and feedback. However, that idea still values local perspective only through transmission through the universal -- as Tsing writes of cybernetics, "the system of flow and feedback takes precedence to any internal point" (101). I'm realizing that my concept of cognitive mapping as a progressive approach to making sense of post-modernity is very much grounded in systems-thinking, which might be problematic. Tsing's critique has me wondering whether any project that engages the representation of global networks is by definition biased to the universal, and if there are any methods beyond ethnography for diagramming local interests without such deference.

This is somewhat of a map-vs-territory problem. When Tsing talks about the "simplification of the forest" (16), it is a necessary operation in order for it to participate in a project of larger scale, up to the universal system. It's also an informational operation, to return to Terranova and Thrift -- we have to reduce the entropy in the system for it to be calculable, whether we're looking at a map or running a simulation or communicating a theory. I suppose an alternative might be what we see in the collections of the Internet, whether it's a tumblr or Twitter -- these modes are expressions of the mass with high entropy. But though they might contain hyperlocal content, without duration/history, they remain affectively powerful and politically fraught with all the difficulties we saw with Crisis in Darfur.

Through the misrepresentation of local conditions in the representation of the system, but an actual dependence of the system on local conditions, local actions are creative generators. Tsing's anecdotes of market manipulation and the 'performance' of Western expectations fall along these lines. "Gaps are zones of erasure and incomprehensibility. Gaps occur where metropolitan projects do not reach so far or deep as to change everything according to their plans." (195) Gaps, in this sense, are a site of entropy, both destructive and creative -- friction is creativity. So I want to think/research more about whether there is a form of representation that incorporates creativity, self-organizes structurally, but still provides meaningful cognitive mapping on a global scale.


Also, as a Coloradan, I'm inclined to preservationism, having grown up in the inner city but with frequent and spiritually-infused trips to the mountains, very much in a Muir-informed tradition. "Its focus on personal inspiration in the encounter between an individual and Nature denied all social mediation" (96), was another very useful critique for me. The social conditions of the Rocky Mountains are not those of Borneo, and I'd not been self-conscious about recognizing the danger in that translation. I've engaged in plenty of eco-tourism.

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