Wednesday, December 13, 2017

the encyclopaedia and the database: utopian potentials

A fragment from a conversation with Lanfranco Aceti on Time, to be published at some point. The first line refers to Eco's idea that 'the knowledge we seek is unlimited because it assumes the form of a continuous interrogation'. The reference to Descartes refers to the 4 stages of the method.

The idea of knowledge not as accumulation of facts or data but as permanent inquiry has at first the structure of a future-oriented job of work. At the same time however, Calvino's concept of the encyclopedia as a project to give subjectless voice to the environmentalised, externalised and excluded surely points both to the silence of the dead and the silence of future generations (the silence of Gaia after humanity). The present is the only space of action, but it is also the only time of speech. This allows us more specificity about the possibilities for temporalising the relations established in database architectures. At present, databases extract relations from past behaviours extrapolated into the future for present profit. The present so constructed is therefore that singularity, the travelling but always still point into which past and present collapse to be consumed and discarded. This limited form of action is inherently destructive. It owns no obligations, only accumulation and debt. But if the present is the only time for action, speech and the resolution of obligations, it can be reconceived: no longer a point into which past and future disappear but the field of movements. Since, as system, the stilled, timeless present of the singularity is debarred from resolving the contradiction between coherence and completion, it already contains within itself the contradictions that stop it from unifying and universalising its knowledge in the Cartesian model.