THIS I BELIEVE
WE ARE UTOPIA
(IF YOU WANT IT)
Steve Kemple Kent State University School of Library & Information Science (LIS-60600) July 2010 The Highest to which man can attain is wonder; and if the prime phenomenon makes him wonder, let him be content; nothing higher can it give him, and nothing further should he seek for behind it; there is the limit. - Goethe1 There is no me, I do not exist. There used to be a me, but I had it surgically removed. - Peter Sellers Several months ago I presented a paper as part of Creative Economy, a series of discussions about art, labor, and economics, at CS13 Gallery in Cincinnati. Titled “The Cincinnati Time Store As An Historical Precedent For Societal Change”, this paper examined the ideas of Josiah Warren (considered by many historians to be the first American anarchist) and his experimental utopian economic ventures in Cincinnati in the 1820's as an alternative economic model of interest to “do it yourself” creative spaces. Especially in light of recent funding cuts to the arts, I suggested creative spaces might benefit from exploring similarities between their own projects and utopian ventures such as those implemented by Warren: “Such spaces exist on their own terms, incorporating a parenthetical economy implemented on the basis of voluntary cooperation by their members. When there is a crisis in arts funding,... such structures have the capacity to offer buoyancy and resilience. As makers of spaces, what better way to put what we are doing than by building little Utopias?” (Kemple 10). INFORMATION IS INHERENTLY SOCIAL. Just as the world is meaningless without people, so too are libraries. Ink could form onto countless pages and screens flicker unendingly. But without people, such events are nothing more than formless arrangements of substances and events. In such a case, meaning is dependent on there being someone to first encounter it, and meaning itself is a function of communication. Information is communication and communication is social. In this light, the field of library and information science is essentially social and
As quoted by Alan Watts in The Wisdom of Insecurity, page 151.
humanitarian. In Future Libraries: Dreams Madness & Reality, authors Walt Crawford and Michael Gorman write: “In short, libraries exist to give meaning to the continuing human attempt to transcend space and time in the advancement of knowledge and the preservation of culture” (Crawford 3). THE FRAMEWORK OF WONDER IS THE FRAMEWORK OF UTOPIA. In his essay “Positivism, Foucault, and the Fantasia of the Library: Conceptions of Knowledge and the Modern Library Experience”, Gary P. Radford writes: “The fantasia of the library is the experience of the labyrinth, of seeking connections among texts as well as their contents... one can work within this to create new labyrinths, new perspectives, and ultimately new worlds” (440). At heart, I am a wonderer. Because wonder is inherently social, I am compelled to share it with people. Children and young adults are especially receptive to this sensation; it is my conviction that such exposure is among the most enriching a young person can have. A young person who learns to say, “Wow!” will hopefully go on to become an adult who can say, “Wow!” And a world full of adults who can say, “Wow!” is a better world. By helping young people discover “Wow!” I am doing what I can to help make the world a better place. THE HEART OF WONDER IS CONTRADICTION. In this sense, every library is Utopia. And as technology allows us to further transcend space and time, we draw nearer to the literal meaning of Utopia, that is, we draw nearer to being no place. At the heart of wonder is contradiction, which is also at the heart of our profession. If we are to truly maintain neutrality as an institution, so far as content is concerned, we must be comfortable with contradictoriness. This is not so radical as it may sound, as it is already incorporated into the everyday practices of contemporary librarianship: On the shelves of every library, there sits contradictory information, sometimes the space between them mere is mere inches; sometimes it is even within the same volume. Such is the essence of our Utopia! Contradictions also offer didactic value. A recent study at the University of California Santa Barbara suggests that exposure to contradictory information has a beneficial affect on cognitive abilities. Although the implications of the study are controversial, we can agree that the ability to reconcile such information is a feature common to socially valued traits, such as creativity and intellect. By creating an environment rife with contradictory information, we can achieve the classical goals of enriching minds, without resorting to such inevitably problematic practices as canonical prescription. WE ARE UTOPIA! (IF YOU WANT IT). At the end of my talk at CS13, I presented the following maxims to the representatives of various local creative spaces. I now address them to you, my colleagues in the field of library and information science: In the present global recession, we must remember that an economy is more than a model of commercial exchange: it is a belief system. To adopt an economic model is to appropriate an ontology, a whole structure of meaning and valuation. We must remember this in no uncertain terms. In the present global recession, we must present economic alternatives, even wildly implausible ones, on the basis that change is far more subtle and complex than we had hoped. We must present them in no uncertain terms. In the present global recession, we must seek collaboration, community, discourse, and contradiction, in hopes that our Utopias will become vicarious paradigms for a renewed economy. In the present global recession, we must accept that we may not comprehend the difference we make, but must press on with our projects. And we must do so in no uncertain terms. (11)
WORKS CITED Kemple, Steve. “The Cincinnati Time Store As An Historical Precedent For Societal Change.” CS13 Gallery, Cincinnati, OH. 19 March 2010. Lecture transcript. Radford, Gary P. “Positivism, Foucault, and the Fantasia of the Library: Conceptions of Knowledge and the Modern Library Experience.” Library Quarterly. 62.4: 408-42. Print. Sellers, Peter. The Muppet Show. Episode 2.19. Television. 6 December 1977. University Of California, Santa Barbara. “Reading Kafka Improves Learning, Suggests Psychology Study.” ScienceDaily. 16 September 2009. Web. 23 July 2010. Watts, Alan W. The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety. New York: Pantheon Books, 1951. Print.