Literature and Media Aggregators are Hermeneutic Collection Systems

i get my news from Yahoo.  Mostly because that’s my e-mail login, but also because the story headlines (and the stories themselves) are interesting.  I feel better informed of global and national events because of all this “random” reading.  But these stories are curated by the editors at Yahoo, supplemented by the Associated Press, and legitimated by the participation of Katie Couric.

This amounts to a social tracking system – a means by which we “track” or follow social trends.  Contemporary social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook provide more direct and personalized tracking, but newspapers, media aggregators, and even encyclopedias fulfill a very similar function.  We “follow” the editors by subscribing to their publications, and then we “like” or “share” by letting our friends know about what we read (see Standage).  This also follows Van Den Eede’s online collection practices, whereby people establish specific social identities by “collecting” stories, becoming the sources of “viral” gossip (see Kaplan and Haenlein; Johnston).

The ideological underpinnings of this cannot be denied.  From yellow journalism to the Wikipedia debacle surrounding the Amanda Knox trial, we see that editors significantly affect popular opinions on issues.  The availability of certain narratives over others will shape the language and timbre of discourse per Berlant’s intimate publics, and the exclusion of certain narratives leads to Miranda Fricker’s hermeneutic injustice in standpoint theory.  Although Fricker’s was primarily consider social exclusion along the lines of Jeanne Perreault’s autography, imagine  Keneth Jarecke’s photo of the Iraqi soldier burned to skeletal char during the first Gulf War (DeGhett) – had this image been a part of America’s cultural consciousness during the 1990s, would there have been more hesitation preceding the 2003 invasion of Iraq?  Perhaps greater investigation regarding the Bush Administration’s WamD claims?

This leads to the idea of the hermeneutic collection system, a means by which discourse is defined, shaped, and regulated through the selection and legitimation of public narratives.  It’s the corollary to Fricker’s hermeneutic injustice, the systemic means by which Berlant’s intimate publics become established cultural reality (even as other rhetorical realities become excluded and ultimately lost).

Naturally, we must also extend this categorization to literature – to all forms of “creative” writing.  Writers, by manufacturing new narratives that express shared ideologies (even in resistance to said ideologies), serve as aggregators of the ideologies.  In this sense, the aesthetic is intimately political, often expressing the forms and structures of social expectation that remain otherwise unspoken and unquestioned.  “Apolitical” or “arhetorical” texts can thus effect affective regulation through the reinforcement of social mores (see also Lynn Worsham’s “Going Postal.”

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