From the SuperModernism file

Reading Cory Doctorow's blog Craphound this morning (instead of doing my work) and came across an entry for a program called git or "Flashbake."

This program seeks changes in files you designate, and then records those changes, the system time of the noticed change, and then any other data you want to link to it.  Doctorow says he has his tied to the weather and personal blog changes, and wants to include what music was on his media player at the time as well.

All of this, he argues, is a corrective to the digital age's dismissal of the archive - that earlier authors' marginalia and various drafts indicate important realities behind the text that we should be able to access to find out more about the author's state of mind, the process of authoring a text, or perhaps the actual meaning of a work.

This program flashbake is another attempt, just like brain imaging, and other deployments of technology to correct the insights of postmodernism - that is, the subject is fluid, all changing, and ultimately unknowable as a metaphysical construct. The subject remains elusive; the only moments of stable subject we get are like bad Polaroids, and inference to a more stable subject position are sort of like writing biographies from a stack of Polaroids.

Modernist thinkers, and people who are still suffering from Enlightenment hangover (what a bender that was, we had a great time drunk on our own brewed-up conception that we could master and know the whole universe) find this sentiment a bit disconcerting. It's a bit scary to think that your identity is a construct, a fluid that takes form based on many factors, and not a self-aware static being that is interacting with a static, stable-state world.

So the logical reaction to postmodernism, besides dismissing it as sheer, simplistic relativism (oh, so we aren't who we are and nobody really exists so we can just murder people?) is to say, "Thank you postmodernism for the corrective, we will now patch it up." And technology seems a good method for doing that.

The idea is that postmodernism is not a totalizing critique of modernism, but a suggestion box to correct modernism, and soon technology will dismiss postmodernism's views. Brain imaging is a great example of this - we will soon see exactly why and how people have different opinions, because the technology allows us to see the mind at work right at that moment.  We will pin it all down, and have it - like a butterfly collection.

brain imaging is to the human condition as flashbake is to the problem of authorial intent. If we know every detail of every change on a manuscript - including songs, weather, and perhaps website views, we can present ourselves with the actual author's state of mind at the time of writing.  And then we can pin down meaning. We can know exactly what was up at the time of that correction and meaning won't elude us anymore.

The archive is a powerful trope, but the archive's power also stems from the idea of recovery and discovery - that not everything can be known about an author's intent, and the archive is a powerful source to return to in order to bring debates back to the table about meaning, origin and purpose. The value of the archive is to preserve the debate, not end it.

The value of flashbake and ohter projects of supermodernism is to end debate, to know finally (in both senses) the answer, and to pin it all down. But the question is begged.  Are these the signs of knowing or do we really know? Very much like the moon missions, the rocks we brought back from there raised new questions and provided little answers. What happens when we lock out interpretation of meaning? Doesn't meaning die?

Or the ultimate petitio: What good is a pinned down butterfly under glass?