Gregory Ulmer's Electracy: An Archive
Contributors: Jeremy Cushman, Alex Layne
School Affiliation: Purdue University
Email: Jeremy Cushman, Alex Layne
These first two pages express our understanding of Electracy and why we wanted to create an archive from Ulmer’s ideas. It is, however, only these first two pages we would like to claim as our own. The remainder is constructed as a wiki on purpose. In the spirit of the MEmorial, this project is always a beginning. We hope you will feel encouraged to add to, argue with, rewrite, and remix all that can be found inside the archive.
Archiving and Failing to Archive One Method of Electracy
- What looks like generalized schizophrenia from the point of view of literacy, however, is understood in electrate terms symptoms of a change in subjectivation intrinsic to the new apparatus.
- What [Plato’s] Socrates, in effect, is saying is that the perfection of the whole requires the subordination of the parts; and that the subordination of the parts contributes to the perfection of the whole.
- Classicism is the subordination of the parts to the whole; decadence is the subordination of the whole to the parts.
Not all that deep below the surface of Gregory Ulmer’s Electronic Monuments is an acknowledgment of cultural decadence. His work whispers that America is without a clear sense of its value-system, a dominating whole for the many parts. This is not, contrary to plenty of cable news stations, the result of a move away from religious principles or a general decline of morality. Instead, the decadence we’re experiencing can (and for Ulmer, should) be linked with a radical shift in how we communicate with and understand both our world and ourselves. The shift is coming; it’s already occurred. And Ulmer’s name for it is Electracy.
What you’ll find here is a sometimes successful and, more interestingly, sometimes unsuccessful attempt to arrange Gregory Ulmer’s Electracy into an archive:
Transcript: Cushman and Layne, Dialogue
(Please note: this transcript documents many of the "Interruptions" from the authors occurring throughout the subsequent pages.)
Electracy is the term Ulmer uses to describe our relatively new relationship with information, knowledge, and the cultural value-systems that produce and are produced by that relationship. Electracy, put plainly, is a response to problems. For example, Ulmer suggests that in oral cultures (or within orality), people “consulted diviners to help resolve personal problems. In literacy, scientific consulting addressed problems directly by discovering their material causes and providing material remedies” (p. xxiv). Neither orality nor literacy have vanished—both the Church and the scientific method in all their iterations continue—but a cultural movement toward electracy, toward the emergence of an new apparatus “will be as different from literacy ultimately as literacy is as different form orality."
Here’s the big deal: this difference is not only technological but also institutional and behavioral (p. xxv). What’s at stake, then, in understanding and, to some degree, deciding how electracy operates is no less the ways in which we engage with our world and how we become aware of ourselves in that world. That is, electracy changes everything. But for Ulmer, electracy has yet to produce any one response people can use (consult) to resolve personal and social problems, “but it is working on one” (xxiv).
Or at least Ulmer has worked on a method of response. He writes, “The challenge of education within literacy has been to figure out how to translate individual learning into social formations” (p. xxv). He goes on to remind us how Socrates introduced literate reasoning into an oral culture, bringing to light contradictions in that culture’s values not before realized. Of course the Athenians made their opinions of this literate reasoning heard, leading to the death of our literate philosopher. But rather than build a church to memorialize Socrates, which Ulmer tells us would have been the response of a oral culture, Plato “invented the institutional means for reproducing dialectical reasoning in a method that could be taught and learned by ordinary people so they would not keep making the same mistakes” (p. xxvi). In other words, Plato assembled a structure for applying the new apparatus of literacy (or at least literate reasoning) to social problems. Plato invented a whole to contain the parts.
Literacy Versus Electracy
Electracy, if we believe Ulmer, has upended literacy. It’s here. Electracy is a new apparatus, but it lacks method. We lack an inventive Plato. We can’t be sure what the values of electracy are, how to apply it to problems, or how it alters both our relationship to others and our selves. We are in a time of decadence, or as Ulmer might say, a time for invention, for creating order out of chaos. Ulmer is not interested in creating martyrs—his vote to kill Socrates was never cast. Instead, “What Ulmer gives us is a specific method for not just putting ourselves into the Internet, but also seeing what an electrate [rather than literate] culture, made ubiquitous by the Internet, puts into us” (Morey par12).
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