Electracy, like literacy and orality before it, is an apparatus, meaning that it is a social machine (part technological, part ideological, part metaphysical). An analogy with the invention of literacy guides our experimental approach to electracy. The Classical Greeks invented alphabetic writing (the vowel, signs recording the spoken word, the material support for inscription); school and its practices (the Academy, the Lyceum, in which were invented the categories, method, concept, logic — in short: science); individual and collective identity behaviors (selfhood, democratic state).

The question pursued here is: what are the electrate equivalents of the literate institutional practices and identity formations? Despite all the explicit statements made by leading commentators rejecting technological determinism, much of the best theorizing of new media and digital technology in general today neglects the insights of “apparatus”: that the Internet is an emerging institution that is to electracy what school was to literacy; that the categorial, logical, and rhetorical practices needed to function natively in this institution have to be invented, and moreover that the invention of an image metaphysics (the equivalent of what Aristotle accomplished for the written word) has its own invention stream, independent of the features of modern recording equipment.

A shorthand version of what we seek in this blog is the electrate equivalent of essence. literate category formation (aka metaphysics) functions by means of definitional determination of essence (that without which a thing may not be what it is). This categorial operator was used to organize every aspect of literate civilization, including the social construction of identity in terms of essences. The movement away from essential identities in contemporary culture is not due to some emancipatory poltics; or rather, emancipatory politics, breaking free from eseentialism, is a symptom of the mutation in the apparatus, from alphabetic metaphysics to image metaphysics.

Heuretics proposes the following analogy, to be explored here.

Literacy = School / Concept / Self :: Electracy = Internet / Emblem / Brand


  1. The concept of electracy is very interesting to me and is something that I had also begun to formulate on my own, after reading Lyotard.

    At the present I am working on a large scale project that uses something similar to your analogy to tell the monomyth story of the Hero’s Journey (Joseph Campbell). The idea is that the story has already been told over and over via oral and literate mediums, and will now be told by Web pages that simulate well known sites (e.g., Google, Myspace, etc.) for each of the seventeen stages. The pages will be all linked in a way that will allow the viewer to choose the order and the stages of the monomyth cycle by “surfing”. … and maybe a little gentle guiding by the author/artist.

    I look forward to digging through the material here for conceptual influence.

    If you have any recommendations to particular articles or posts, I would very much appreciate it.

    Thank you for taking the time to create a blog on this subject.


  2. Image Logic

    I have been using existing image logics, such as the I Ching and Tarot, as relays to guide the formation of a contemporary image metaphysics (electrate classification or categorization). You might be interested in Jung’s commentary on the Tarot, combined with Calvino’s Castle of Crossed Destinies, to see the possibilities for an update path. To understand how epiphany may function as a decision science one may consider the example of any oracle or divination practice. Their contemporary relevance is in the diacritical relationship created among the figures. In any case, The Hero with a Thousand Faces maps isomorphically onto the Tarot. Since electracy needs to be a global rhetoric, it is useful to work comparatively across cultures and writing systems (grammatology). The formal interface metaphor for the I Ching is landscape painting, while for Tarot it is narrative. Chinese theoria starts with the season cycle of agriculture, while Western theoria contemplates the celestial cycle itself (astrology). The above are all rough generalizations, but suggest some interesting openings for heuretics.

  3. I am familiar with both the Calvino book and the connection between the Tarot, The Hero of a Thousand Faces, and the typical Western narratives.

    I’ll bet that yours was the first mention of The Castle of Crossed Destinies I have read in over fifteen years. It brought a smile to my face.

    The I Ching and its accompanying metaphor is a direction that I had not thought to include. I had been focusing on the narrative, but will now take a trip down the Eastern path to see where it leads.

    Again, many thanks!


  4. This is indeed an interesting discussion board – I would like to add that there is a more ancient source for all of these cultural ideas and the formation of language in the ancient Indian tradition – which, of course, has roots in ancient Persian culture. The Greeks did not manifest their culture, language and social practice out of thin air – Greek language and culture has its roots in the Indian period in which Sanskrit was the language of trade and which language can be found as the root of all European languages – and many other denominations as well throughout Asia and the Pacific. Jung has written extensively and in some detail about these cultural foundations and associated social and political ideas. It is fascinating to read all of your comments and research into these scholarly areas. I will read through more and absorb your ideas and trains of thought with much excitement! JanW.

  5. […] with us. Except both words exploded in the catastrophe of the shifting apparatus from literacy to electracy. Our main difficulty is likely to lie in setting down the even older habit of decoding – the […]

  6. I’d like to hear more about the concept/emblem analogy. How is emblem an electrate version of conceptualizing?

  7. Emblem is not a version of conceptualizing, but does for electracy what concept does for literacy: provides the operator for organizing thought/language relations within a metaphysics. There is a fairly extensive discussion of “emblem” in Electronic Monuments. The challenge for invention (heuretics) then is to develop the authoring practice that follows for the emblem, in the way that the topical, commonplaces practice followed from concept.

  8. I will check out ELECTRONIC MONUMENTS as soon as I can…thanks for the reference.

    I have a follow-up question: what would the “metaphysics of the electrate” be? I would think that metaphysics is a residue of literate/conceptual thinking…

  9. “Metaphysics” is used here to refer to the classification system by which an apparatus configures “reality” out of “real.” Every apparatus has a metaphysics, just as it has narrative or identity formation. Aristotle’s first work was the Categories, elaborated into the work that later became known as Metaphysics (not Aristotle’s title). These are ontologies. Totemism, for example, functioned as the category system for oral societies. There is some confusion on this point, because “metaphysics” is sometimes used as a synonym for “ideology” or “Eurocentrism.” The “closure” of Western metaphysics could be translated as “the closure of literacy,” but not “the end of metaphysics.” So, totems do for orality what concepts do for literacy, and (prospectively), emblems for electracy.

  10. […] https://heuretics.wordpress.com/electracy/ […]

  11. […] the traditional institution seeks to cultivate, Ulmer’s pedagogy – Ulmer’s “electracy” seeks to connect. To connect, for Ulmer, essentially means that a student must disconnect […]

  12. This is really fun to read because it’s something I’ve been wondering about since I read Nicholas Carr’s Atlantic article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” No, really, since 1997, when my husband, Daria, and I, had an argument in our driveway about the reading culture transforming to an image culture. I buy it; I watched it happen with my students, but I keep getting stuck at the point that– here we all are talking about it with words.

  13. Thanks for a great discussion!

    Here are some thoughts that have occurred to me recently regarding this discussion. I am only beginning to think about this so this is largely unformed.

    How does electracy affect, and how is it affected by vibrational ontology? Electracy is a more sensual/physical, immersive experience (given its link to real-time tech and by extension virtual reality) than literacy which produces sensual experience internally. Since sound is the most immersive of the senses, it seems appropriate in this context to explore a vibrational ontology. Music as an organizational force would have something to contribute here.


  14. It is appropriate: the assumption of apparatus theory is that metaphysics (including ontology) is relative to technology in institutions (+ identity formation). Aristotle’s Categories are based in Greek (Indo-European) Grammar and may be elaborated into analytical method via writing. The digital apparatus (electracy) supports multi-modal-media, recording full motion image and sound, which enable and demand an upgrade of metaphysics. I have addressed this opportunity in most of my books (and still working on it). The continuing role of theory/philosophy, in the spirit of bootstrapping, is to invent experimental tests of the new ontology by analogy with how literate ontology was invented in Classical Athenian Academies. A vibrational (musical?) ontology may not be designed only via sound devices, for example. In general, via synesthesia, it seems possible in principle to engage the entire sensorium in an electrate metaphysics.

  15. […] Whether it is to communicate with others or just listen to music. With the steady development of electracy, our society will be solely dependent on social media as the main form of communication between […]

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