Epistemology is a complex and usually opaque subject concerned with the origins and nature of knowledge. The part of its subject matter that is relevant here is the interest it takes in definitions of truth and the sources from which such definitions come. In particular, I want to show that definitions of truth are derived, at least in part, from the character of the media of communication through which information is conveyed. I want to discuss how media are implicated in our epistemologies.
In the hope of simplifying what I mean by the title of this chapter, media as epistemology, I find it helpful to borrow a word from Northrop Frye, who has made use of a principle he calls resonance. "Through resonance," he writes, "a particular statement in a particular context acquires a universal significance." Frye offers as an opening example the phrase "the grapes of wrath," which first appears in Isaiah in the context of a celebration of a prospective massacre of Edomites. But the phrase, Frye continues, "has long ago flown away from this context into many new contexts, contexts that give dignity to the human situation instead of merely reflecting its bigotries." Having said this, Frye extends the idea of resonance so that it goes beyond phrases and sentences. A character in a play or story—Hamlet, for example, or Lewis Carroll's Alice—may have resonance. Objects may have resonance, and so may countries: "The smallest details of the geography of two tiny chopped-up countries, Greece and Israel, have imposed them-selves on our consciousness until they have become part of the map of our own imaginative world, whether we have ever seen these countries or not.
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Through resonance a particular statement in a particular context acquires a universal significance
From Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman. Page 17.