Curtis White Takes Issue

“Excuse me. I know I have pledged suspended disbelief to this narrative, and I’m trying to be a good sport about it, but incredulity asks for a moment in which to say its piece. Incredulity says, ‘What ‘old village’ are you referring to? And why do you imagine that the idea of returning there cozens anyone into accepting your future? Is this village of which you speak so fondly in the Carpathian Mountains? Where are those mountains? In Carpathia? Is the village surrounded by rich forests and colorful songbirds? Is it like the cottage in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves? Or is it perchance in good old Missouri? Will we be gathering around the cracker barrel to listen to the androids indulge their homespun humor and tales of yesteryear down at the general sim-store? Will we eat the crackers, or will they be made of silicon? Will we later meet down by the river? Will Reverend Automaton bless us and dunk us in the eternal waters of the Ether Domain? Will the fragrance of genetically modified apple pie drift from matrix to matrix, causing a pang, a yearning, a hankering for the olden times when some of us had tatters of flesh attached to the hydraulics?'”

[From Middle Mind, a book about how our lack of imagination is destroying our country and the world, which– though I sympathize with the hesitations– ultimately I’ll be on board with, and have spoken of before: an argument that art or culture is most dangerous when it gives the illusion of engagement without providing tools for true criticism or rebellion, and that insufficient critical thinking skills make it hard to distinguish between art and culture that wants to actually push back and that that is mostly placating. Hard pressed to disagree with the notion that Americans are fairly impoverished as to White’s definition of the function of the imagination: “to critique and to imagine alternatives to the social status quo”; so here is his critiquing, the sincerely best parts of the book, I think, flexing and teeth-bearing, but then maybe because it is Most Entertaining so perhaps I do a disservice by quoting it instead of his actual arguments and I am not really engaging with his point, as this is all simply context for the book not for what he’s criticizing here, which is the idea that new technologies (“wearing the internet around your neck”) will bring us closer and make us, in fact, more like the village of our ancestors and less disconnected. You’re already wearing the internet around your neck; this isn’t very village-like. But a thing should be engaging to be engaged with, and moving on from his bite White offers possible solutions which are captivating and hopeful despite the weariness that seems to run through the rest of the book, and he is also deeply involved with my favorite book press so there you have it.]

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