Messiness as a Virtue

I'm re-reading Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous today for my New Media class and really appreciating his chapter "Messiness as a Virtue." Two passages worth sharing (i.e., remembering):

Simplicity was the only reasonable strategy before we developed machines that can handle massive amounts of data and metadata. (182)

To know a thing, thought Aristotle, is to see what is essential about it (that humans are rational animals) and not be fooled just by what happens to be true about it (that humans have their navels on the front). The definitions of those essences determine which things are in a category and which are turned away. Here there is no messiness, only an order so precise and harmonious that it is beautiful. Or so Aristotle and generations of thinkers assumed. So do we when we argue about, say, how to define race, knowledge management, or blogging. But suppose this sort of Aristotelian categorization-through-definition were shown to be an essentially artificial way of approaching the world. Suppose the neatness it strives for is impossible. Suppose messiness is not a flaw in our thinking but enables it. (183)

That second passage resonates with Vitanza's rejection of negative dialectic in Negation, Subjectivity, and the History of Rhetoric, that ontological categorization via the negative (definition) is an attempt to kNOw others (to either reduce them to the same or to eliminate them entirely):

While the negative enables, it disenables. As I've said, it's mostly a disenabler because it excludes. Something is by virtue of Nothing, or what it is not.
The negative--or negative dialectic--is a kind of pharmakon, and in overdoses it is extremely dangerous (e.g., a little girl is a little man without a penis! Or an Aryan is not a Jew! And hence, they do not or should not--because in error--exist). The warning on the label—beware of overdoses—is not enough; for we, as KB says, are rotten with perfection. We would No. That is, say No to females, Jews, gypsies, queers, hermaphrodites, all others. By saying No, we would purchase our identity. Know ourselves. By purifying the world, we would exclude that which, in our different opinions, threatens our identity. (12-13)

And, of course, this is Levinas's problem with philosophy--that it puts ontology before ethics, rather than recognizing that it is the "messiness" (alterity) inherent in the ethical relation that always, already precedes the ontologically-capable thinking self/subject. What Weinberger stresses is the extent to which the negative is a function of literacy (in Ong's terms), and how our new technologies afford us a new perspective to rethink our moral dedication to neatness. Can messiness be akin to Godliness (hint: I think they can, if Godliness calls upon Levinas's notion of the Other beyond Being)?

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