Saturday, 6 September 2008

Panopticon in the Global Village - Reading Zygmunt Bauman's "Community"

To be frank, I have only just started, but the thrust of the book is clear: confrontation of the impossible dream of Community (particularly understood as Gemeinschaft of Ferdinand Tönnies) with the loose social coupling and insecurities of the contemporary, liquid modern (Bauman's term--one might just be tempted to say postmodern if not for the stigma the word currently carries) world. I was particularly intrigued to see Bauman's exploration of the issue of complete mutual understanding, one of the bedrock features of Community (capitalization is my idea, so as to differentiate the perfect dream--Platonic form, one is tempted to say--from any real-world, stunted examples of communities). I am reading the book in Polish, so I will not provide direct quotations (you do not want to read my attempts at retranslation into English), but Bauman (p. 17) describes this mutual understanding as the joy of never having to ask (anxiously, he makes sure to add) "what do you mean?" In other words, it is the dream of the perfect language all over again, the pursuit of which Umberto Eco (1995) so engagingly chronicled: the attempt to find the language of angels (or of creation), the perfect signification capable of chronicling truth and only truth (compare and contrast with George Orwell's Newspeak). Incidentally, it is the very dream that awoke with the new information technologies, where Marie-Laure Ryan (2001, as well as hundreds of other enthusiasts) could again boast of the possibility of nonsymbolic communication awaiting just beyond the corner.
Even more interestingly, the dream of Community might be the very impulse behind the creation of the millions of blogs (including this one, of course) where authors bare all to anyone and everyone who just might listen. Of youtube swarming with personal and intimate content and of widely publicized "secret" sex tapes of celebrities and would-be celebrities. Of the loss (shedding, perhaps, would be a better-fitting word) of privacy, not to a clandestine government (or corporate) operation, but to the world at large, in the last desperate attempt to create a community that would understand us all just as we are.

Bauman Zygmunt (2001/8) Wspólnota (Community: Seeking Safety in an Insecure World). Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie.
Eco, Umberto (1993/5) The Search for the Perfect Language : The Making of Europe (La Ricerca della Lingua Perfetta Nella Cultura Europea. Oxford: Blackwell.
Ryan, Marie-Laure (2001) Narrative as Virtual Reality. Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Economic Media. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.