Mysteries of Secret Societies

May 13, 2012

Jan Verwoert takes the principles of the knowledge-power relation a step further as he assigns capital value to the disclosure (trade) of knowledge. He unravels the two faced nature of the power of knowledge and subsequently seeks an escape from the social rules of engagement on which the ‘secret societies’ of the Information Age operate. But how do we escape the power of knowledge that is to liberate us? In light of Verwoerts discussions I extend Anna Klingmanns question: ‘Is the library as a public institution in a position to offer some form of resistance to the increasing value of knowledge as a commodity?’ (Klingmann, 2005, p.254).

In How do we share? The secret? How will we experience? The Mysteries? Verwoert defines secret societies as ‘modern regimes of the open secrets’ (2011, p.138) in which information is a form of capital traded through coded forms of indirect communication (Voewert, 2011, p.136). In an attempt to defy the capitalizing on information and the corrupt brokering of open secrets, Verwoert urge us to rediscover the ‘poetry of the secret’; the mystery.

If we accept Verwoerts notion of mysteries to display hope for a place beyond economies of disclosure, at which lies a connectedness to the world of the living, not yet and no longer living (2011, pp.139-140); of the mysteries not as secrets, but signs or signatures that form open-ended questions to the public; of reading and writing as one of the practices which maintain the connection of such mysteries (2011, p.140), can the library be thought of as a collector and distributor of independent signs? In secret societies of the Information Age, is the public library a freezone that rejects the capital value of knowledge? An institutional treasure chamber for unravelling mystery? Or should we (re)assess this proposition by inscribing to library the terminology provided in Exhaustion and Exuberance, in which Verwoert presents the modern predicament of ‘I Can’ and ‘I Can’t’, free choice and the possibility of options exhausted by the ‘just-in-time production’ that defines the force behind the pressure to perform (Verwoert, 2010, p.35)?

The library has the power to instil in a child the love of reading, to discover the poetry of secrets, to reveal the mystery. As an adult, I am struck by a wall of infinite inspiration and options in the multitude of literature available for my consumption. In the library I have the whole world at the fingertips for my disposal. It presents a motivating yet intimidating and exhausting proposal. A proposition to consume, digest and dispose of information. It impose on me a propelling force to read, write and rewrite, to preform. Faced with a simultaneous ‘I Can’ and ‘I Can’t’, the majestic volume of words leaves me perplexed. Like abstract art and poetry, the tapestry of books creates a moment in which ‘meaning remains provocatively latent’ (Verwoert, 2010, p.29). Before me lies the ‘value of a potentiality that remains presently unactualized’ (Verwoert, 2010, p.29). The books paint a utopian picture in which the opposition of ‘I Can’ and ‘I Can’t’ is suspended in a distant but visible ‘not quite yet’ (Verwoert, 2010, p.27).

I pick a book. The act of reading cultivates the ‘relationship of latent meanings’ – words I have read reverberate in the words I read, the latent vacuum of thoughts ‘make words tremble of the page’ (Verwoert, 2010, p.30-31). I write. I take part in the global circulating of information. But is it through ‘exuberance’ of desire that I do so, or is the demand to perform what determines my action (Verwoert, 2010, p.38)? I feel empowered yet in debt as the library points to the potential to perform (Verwoert, 2010, p.48). But if others can, so can I (Verwoert, 2010, p.49). As the library defines the parameters in which I engage with the work of others, I undertake the performance of my own creation. I convert my debt into actions of dedication (Verwoert, 2010, p.49). I relinquish my illusion of the potency of myself and acknowledge the debt to the other (Verwoert, 2010, p.48). I add to the collection of mysteries.

Like individuals, architecture and institutions, live under the pressure to perform. Like warehouses, public libraries retain a ‘temporal latency’ (Verwoert, 2010, p.56). With no time for latency in high performance culture, the deadline of ‘just in time production’ (Verwoert, 2010, p.57), renders the public library a dinosaur of the Information Age. As the written word is gradually replaced by digital means of communication, the modes of operation of the public library is suspended at a point of ‘temporary exhaustion’ (Verwoert, 2010, p.66). The institution is at the point at which we reconsider its value and contribution. We contemplate its redundancy, retention, preservation, we anticipate its transformation into a historic relic, a passive museum, a memory, a self-justified state of inherent self worth. Yet, in wake of this pre-emtive deadline we have not come to accept for the public library to ‘relieve itself form the outside pressures to perform’ (Verwoert, 2010, p.62). In the ‘empty moment of full awareness’, and as the potential of a state beyond exhaustion arise, the library finds itself in a ‘state of convalescence’ (Verwoert, 2010, p.69). Through economic rational and cultural policies of New Public Management (NMP) that address the efficiency of cultural institution and the instrumentalization of culture in Sweden (Kann-Christensen, p.1) the library is fighting for recognition at a political level.

Its ‘illusion of potency is not yet restored’, but the ‘sense of appreciation is redeemed’ as the exuberant ‘I Care’ is returning in an unconditional ‘I Can’ (Verwoert, 2010, p.51,70). Although the ‘I Care’ lies at the heart of the library, in the democratic agenda to provide an equal opportunity to develop knowledge and skills, its objectives also aspire to fulfil national goals of a fundamentally economic nature. Through the mantra of ‘I make my own success’, the economics of the pressure to perform is manifest in the egalitarian proclamation of the public library. Now more than ever is the library assisting the navigation of what is the most precious commodity of advanced capitalism. It remains doubtful if the public library can operate on the principles of truly existential nature, freed from the ‘economic regime of demand’, and its services an altruistic ‘surplus unjustifiable by economic standards’ (Verwoert, 2010, p.52). The library could however submit to a state at which the building relinquishes the need to perform and operate under the simple parameters of ‘I Am’. I Am a Sanctuary of Mysteries.

– Mimmi Frendin

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