Levi Bryant has an interesting post on how the internet is changing the way philosophy gets done. For Levi the web, despite its drawbacks, represents
“something of a dialectical synthesis between the Athenian agora and text. Any idiot gets to speak and participate in discussion, and audience is no longer an audience of fellow scholars within a discipline, but whoever comes along and has something interesting and intelligent (hopefully) to say. As a consequence, the sorts of dialogues that emerge in print are no longer determined by the gate-keepers of elite journals, conferences, or the pedigree of schools, but rather are the consequence of the formation of collectives that are borne of people that would like to talk a bit more with each other. Not only do we witness the emergence of electronic journals and presses devoted to rendering intellectual labor a dimension of “the common”, of that which is owned by no one, of that which is readily available to everyone who is able to click on a link, but all sorts of new possibilities emerge within this common as well. […] It is now possible for graduate students to engage with established thinkers one on one whether through email or through blogs.”
And over time, I’m sure (it’s happening already), those among the established thinkers who engage with these electronic-pioneering graduate students — blogging philosophers and cultural theorists like Bryant himself, Harman, Leiter, Shaviro, Jodi Dean, Henry Jenkins, et al — will grow in influence, while those who don’t will gradually fade away.
I don’t think the open-access internet will ever become the sole venue, and probably not even the primary venue, for philosophical and critical thought. Specialized journals and elite societies with their gatekeepers and credentials-checkers will continue to play an important role, because they perform a useful function and because the academic profession requires that sort of thing. But the two will grow into a kind of symbiosis with each other. So tomorrow’s Socrates and Zeno will be debating in the electronic agora as much as they will be lecturing in the academy, and Epicurus and Plotinus will be blogging the daily regimen from their philosophical communes. Traffic will flow smoothly and steadily between the streets, the teahouses and libraries, and the deserts and monasteries to which the empire’s refugees have retreated. (Or ecosteries, rather, where the practicalities of sustainable living will be figured out as society redesigns itself for a post-carbon future. A sweet thought in a time when the gushing blackness of oil seems bottomless.)
With all that in mind, it’s good to see Progressive Geographies, Archive Fire, Critical Animal, and others chipping in to the Vibrant Matter blogathon (which is becoming ever more spread out, including on this week’s host blog, Philosophy in a Time of Error).
And good, also, to see the continuing activity everywhere on the Middlesex crisis — which reminds us that without the academy the digital agora, at least its philosophical wing, risks losing its muscle, if not its raison d’être. Philosophy still needs the intensity of face-to-face discussion, debate, close mentoring, and the institutional grooming that goes along with it.
Still, it’s nice to dream of a world in which philosophy and the liberal arts aren’t seen as unprofitable appendages left over from an era of bloated welfare states (a neoliberal narrative that is deeply problematic), but where they are vital nodes within a culture of social and ecological transformation — not because philosophy feeds social change in some direct, instrumental way, but because of a shared recognition between philosophers and activists of how and why it is that we have come to live in a world of oil spills and economic crises, and how and why it could be all different.