Here are three things about me and wikipedia:

1. I’m addicted to it.

2. I’m skeptical of instructors who view it as the Great Satan (even if they themselves surreptitiously use it).

3. I think it’s interesting from a theoretical standpoint.

I guess I’ll focus on 3, since I’ll end up sounding like even more of an enema nozzle than I actually am if I talked about 2, and nobody wants to hear more about 1. I shouldn’t talk about author-functions, really, since I don’t think I’ve read “What is an Author?” since undergrad, and I don’t have it here. But two things I’m reading right now are totally relevant.

Yesterday I taught about 6 pages of Newman’s Idea of the University (so here’s nineteenth-c. relevance), the first part of the “Knowledge Its Own End” section. It was quite a paradigm shift for my comp students to wrestle with the idea that a liberal arts education, by definition, did not prepare one for the workforce. Can knowledge be its own end? Smart bastards that they are, they suggested that even if somebody said they were learning something for the sake of learning, perhaps they were doing it because of social pressure: either to fit in or not to look stupid. I myself was not uncomfortable with the feeling that if the praise of useless knowledge is dead, so much the better; let it go into the dustbin of history along with higher ed for gentlemen only.

But isn’t wikipedia, if not knowledge for knowledge’s sake, something approaching that? Isn’t it interesting that the more or less disinterested pursuit of knowledge should exist on such a large scale, and outside the traditional sites of knowledge production? (Although, as anyone who’s spent too much time on wikipedia could tell you, it’s not a place for the production of knowledge–original research is strictly verboten.)

Second thing is from the preface to The Order of Things. Foucault begins by citing a passage from Borges, the famous Chinese encyclopedia moment, where animals are divided into:

(a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.

For Foucault, the “monstrosity” of the passage does not arise from “unusual juxtaposition” alone. Foucault gives the example of “the umbrella and the sewing-machine on the operating table” (from Lautreamont–more nineteenth-c. fun). Of this trio, Foucault writes, “startling though their propinquity may be, it is nevertheless warranted by that and, by that in, by that on whose solidity provides proof of the possibility of juxtaposition. But “in” the Chinese encyclopedia:

Absurdity destroys the and of the enumeration by making impossible the in where the things enumerated would be divided up. Borges adds no figure to the atlas of the impossible; nowhere does he strike the spark of poetic confrontation; he simply dispenses with the least obvious, but most compelling, of necessities; he does away with the site, the mute ground upon which it is possible for entities to be juxtaposed […] What has been removed, in short, is the famous ‘operating table.’

So I found out that the umbrella/sewing-machine/operating table comes from Lautreamont from wikipedia. But whether it’s right or wrong (and it’s right), isn’t it more interesting that I should find it out because an industrial band (Nurse with Wound) from the 80s titled their debut album that? The way wikipedia orders things is interesting to me not because it’s anarchic, but that you never know what strange things you’ll see juxtaposed together to form a classification. For example, on all pages having something to do with tourism (e.g. literary tourism), you’ll have a handy table which lists, among other things, types of tourism:

Accessible tourism · Adventure travel · Hiking · Mountaineering · Agritourism · Archaeological tourism · Backpacker tourism · Backwater tourism  · Bicycle touring · Bookstore tourism · Cultural tourism ·Dark tourism · Disaster tourism · Drug tourism · Ecotourism · Extreme tourism · Female sex tourism · Free Independent Traveler · Garden tourism · Grand Tour · Heritage tourism · Hitch-hiking · Literary tourism · Medical tourism · Music tourism · Naked hiking · Pop-culture tourism · Perpetual tourism · Pilgrimage · Sacred travel · Safaris · Sex tourism · Space tourism · Sustainable tourism · Staycation ·Volunteer vacation · Wine tourism · Campus Tour

Isn’t it interesting that the things that we might be interested in, like literary tourism, the Grand Tour, and Campus Tours, should rub elbows with things that I for one am interested in, like naked hiking and female sex tourism. And wtf is Dark Tourism, anyways? Well, after clicking, I found out a Victorian prison worth checking out should you ever be in North Wales.

There is a principle of proliferation in wikipedia, and it is not just a proliferation of knowledges, but a proliferation of orders, a proliferation of ands and ins.