Re: What does the replicating?

Collin Brooke (cgb1046@UTARLG.UTA.EDU)
Sat, 07 Jun 1997 20:02:09 -0500 (CDT)

Date: Sat, 07 Jun 1997 20:02:09 -0500 (CDT)
From: Collin Brooke <cgb1046@UTARLG.UTA.EDU>
Subject: Re: What does the replicating?

On Sat, 7 Jun 1997, Timothy Perper/Martha Cornog wrote:

> [snipa concise analysis of the appeal/danger of memetics]

> Which implies that Aristotle -- who describes this sort of ploy in his book
> on rhetoric -- is actually a proto-Dawkins, a memeticist-manque. Or is it
> the other way around? Is memetics simply a fashionable novelty that does
> little more than give a new name to old ideas? Thus we learn that rhetoric
> cuts both ways.

This is precisely one of the thoughts that I've been having, particularly
after reading Brodie's Virus of the Mind. His book didn't have a lot of
appeal for me, most of it repeating what Aristotle wrote 2500 or so years

> [snip a sentence] Memeticists need
> to address the issues that Groves is raising: and one of them is to
> demonstrate substantively that a memetics perspective offers unique
> insights that other -- and older -- disciplines lack. Another is to show
> that memetics has a solid grounding in something other than its own
> assertions about the nature of mind, free will, self-action, thought, and
> communication -- a grounding for example in evidence. Thus, memeticists
> need to make some *distinctions* -- that favored technique of both
> rhetoricians and scholars -- between its own efforts and those of other
> scholars. Are these disinctions purely in the opaque terminology of
> memetics, or do they refer to significant issues that uniquely privilege a
> memetics perspective? And if so, can someone give an example of such a
> uniquely valuable memetics perspective concerning any historical, social,
> political, or social phenomenon?
> The answer, it seems to me, is not to say "Well, I can see that you are
> simply not with it!" Memetics has an appeal blending charm and promise.
> But charm is not enough. Sooner or later we need substance.

I would have to agree with (Timothy? Martha?), and much of what they
write. The appeal of a theory that can include arguments against it
(psychology: you're in denial; marxism: you're ideological; etc.) is
strong, and my post took advantage of memetics' strength in that area
without acknowledging having done so. And I too want to resist the line of
argumentation (see Fish for this) that says either you agree with me or
misundertand me.

It may not be enough on the level of substance, but the personal appeal
for me (and of course, I would be remiss if I didn't admit that I may be
trained to this appeal) of memetics is that it may (I don't know yet)
enable some transdisciplinary discourse that is pretty minimal at this
time--I'm thinking here of Brockman's book on the "Third Culture," troping
on Snow's two cultures, for an example of a text that makes the argument
that I'm borrowing. My own training leads me to doubt many of memetics'
claims, particularly when it picks up a variety of evolutionary
theories and lumps them together (the differences between Popper and
Foucault, for instance, I find to be tremendous). But I also find it
encouraging that a field might begin to set for itself some boundaries
that don't automatically place science and the humanities on opposite
sides of the fence.

As far as an example of substantive research that recommends a memetic
approach, I would have to confess my relative ignorance on that score.
One suggestion, though, would be an essay by N. Katherine Hayles. I don't
have the title, but it originally appeared in Configurations, and was
reprinted in a book edited by Robert Markley, called Virtual Reality and
its Discontents. She attempts to refute some of the "paradigm shift"
claims that are made on behalf of VR, by contextualizing it in terms of
information systems research done since the 40's and 50's. I don't know
that her work is purely (as if!) memetic, but her argument combines
physical and mimetic artefacts in a way that I found compelling.

nevertheless, I would hardly argue for a new field on the basis of a
single article. I agree that research must ultimately justify itself and
its methods, but I'm also willing to wait a little while for memetics to
do so. That's definitely not meant to be a criticism of Timothy/Martha,
but rather an acknowledgement of my own suspension of disbelief. There
are others who make much greater claims than I would on behalf of
memetics, so I guess I'll shut up now, and let them jump in...

Collin Brooke
Humanities Program (Rhetoric/Critical Theory)
The University of Texas at Arlington

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