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Re: <nettime> A Puff Piece on Wikipedia (Fwd)
Keith Hart on Sun, 5 Oct 2003 20:44:46 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> A Puff Piece on Wikipedia (Fwd)

Brian Holmes wishes there were more people around today with ideas dangeous
enough to force them into writing anonymously for self-protection.

Michael Goldhaber suggests that if the likes of Osama bin Laden and Saddam
Hussein can 'publish' their ideas while on the run, there isn't much point
in anonymity. Indeed being known is itself a kind of protection.

Kermit Snelson says that the persecution of writers is a Straussian myth
used by the likes of Wolfowitz to run amok in Iraq. Indeed there isn't much
chance of anonymity these days given prevailing mnemonic techniques.

What did I have in mind? Nothing that resists the influence of these

To Brian I would say that I would not especially like to live in the time
of Europe's religious wars, even if there are those alive today who feel
that something similar is happening to them. I thought of Vico's idea that
the heroes who make a culture are succeeded by pale rationalist imitators.
I think I was saying two cheers for the liberal enlightenment and what it
bequeathed us, if we would acknowledge our inheritance.

To Michael, I guess one issue is whether we think serious writing makes
special demands. Rushdie was undoubtedly a persecuted writer, but he was
protected by a state. I don't regard Osama or Saddam as writers, although
Marcos is capable of compellinging prose. And I do think that writing
requires detachment, while the best writers are engaged. The dialectics of
intellectual work interests me and I believe that the examples I gave threw
some light on that political question.

To Kermit I would respond that the rather chaotic material I presented
contained several stories concerning anonymous writing in the 18th century.
Even if Kelly is a dogmatic Straussian, his book was new to me and, I would
hazard, to some nettimers who may not have ready access to a fifty-year-old
product of the Master. Moreover, the central issue of the individual person
in an age of omnipresent documentation might be illuminated by comparison
with another time.

Let's look at some of the concrete instances I mentioned. Locke certainly
was afraid for his life and in any case he lost his Oxford sinecure on
James II's accession and went into exile. When he published the Two
Treatises anonymously, his patron the protestant King William was fighting
a pan-European war against Louis XIV, putting down rebel invasions and
pacifying Ireland, all of which he could have lost. Hume, as I said, was
more concerned about potential loss of income. Then there was the game of
censorship in Paris involving a narrow coterie of insiders who all knew who
was who. Voltaire's cynical manipulation of this situation was quite
extraordinary and may have helped Rousseau formulate his principle of
personal responsibility for the citizen writer.

One secondary aim of my post was to highlight how writers took advantage of
the parcellization of sovereignty to dodge the consequences of writing
against the status quo. The fact that Voltaire made his home on the borders
between France, Geneva, Bern and Savoy, for example, and that a number of
these writers kept patrons, publishers and the like in several countries. I
wondered what the stakes were for publishing anonymously in wikipedia,
whether as publicists for Johns Hopkins or their antagonists.

It was just an exercise in comparing now and then, here and now. I don't
have a particular axe to grind. Since I write quite a lot, I think about
what makes heroes of some writers and how their achievement might be
grounded in their social practice. Strauusian enough for you, Kermit?

Keith Hart

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