C N E: Classical Episteme Not Episteme

CNE, or Classical Episteme Not Episteme is a hypertext version of the 18th Century French philosopher Denis Diderot's Éléments de Physiologie with supporting texts from Enlightenment and contemporary theorists of knowledge, being, culture and proto-biology. It explores the medium of hypertext to illuminate Diderot's ontology and his relentless ability to re-frame the philosophical act as a writing process of Nature. As the 18th century encyclopedia inverted reading and cognition in sending us away from a main argument to its antithesis, or to a new train of thought that would empower us to question our own epistemological groundings, so with CNE, a web of knowledge acts as a departure from a formalism that reached its positivity in the science of the 19th Century. In fact, it is no coincidence that Buffon's and Diderot's transformism mirrors the project of the encyclopédie in the way it distributed authorship across many articles but also across the space of the mind in its readers. Contemporary technologies of symbolic processing allow us to understand writing not only as inscription but also as a literary transformism that runs as deep as the networked architecture of hypertext.

Like the GNU software foundation's recursive, titular acronym, GNU, standing for Gnu Not Unix, 'CNE', or Classical Episteme Not Episteme points to its own membership in general knowledge structures while simultaneously distinguishing itself as a particular knowledge structure through negation. The classical episteme is an episteme of course, but it predates and post-dates a period in intellectual history when knowledge in linguistic form upheld its contract for the modern nature/culture settlement through asserting its positivity.

In the post-classical, modern episteme, language and discourse splintered into parallel formal and grammatical awarenesses, thickening the classical episteme, a once fluid soup. And so modern writing and inscription are significantly types of "premeditated" exegeses -- as if it were possible for writers to intimately control their writerly habitus by standing outside of it as omniscient redactors. In keeping with this control, modern philosophers usually retained one language for their arguments, rather than completely changed their tongues in the middle of their texts, aside from short, controllable references to texts written in these other languages. Outside of the soup or an episteme with layers folded over itself, it makes little sense to ask what any given corner has to do with any other corner or opposite region.

With the advent of post-structuralism and electronic writing, not to mention James Joyce, contemporary writers more often cause separate disciplinary trajectories to overlap, not unlike in the classical episteme. Moreover, other fields of knowledge that later become specialized or emerge in positive form after the 18th century, like biology, hold many keys to writing in the non-modern age. Specifically, the proto- biology of Buffon and Diderot allows us to understand this writing as a literary transformism simultaneously converging on readers from all sections of contemporary knowledge and culture, a transformism I hope to connect to historical transformism through excerpts I'll read.

For those not familiar with it, Diderot's Éléments offers us a materialism quite differently than his Rêve de d'Alembert and the Principes Philosophiques sur la Matière et le Mouvment. While all of these texts emerge from Diderot's immersion in the scientific writing of his day, not to mention from his study of chemistry under Guilluame-Francois Rouelle, Éléments more explicitly presents this materialism from an anti-literary standpoint, and in the un-form of notes and jottings, sometimes well-formed as notes becoming literary fragments.

With the textual provenance of its two versions harder to verify than 17 editions of one version of an essay of Voltaire, The Éléments is not the same text it was in the 19th century, and the well- formedness of the fragments and their contemporary order is a distinct product of the 20th Century, and the rediscovery of the Vandeul edition of the Éléments in the 20th Century.

Still the text remains aphoristic and telegraphs its arguments as if Diderot were sometimes using the "cut-up" method of William Burroughs, or Wittgenstein's method of writing on scraps of paper to accumulate his thoughts, his pensées, into a text. A caveat is that the codex book, in being assembled from the printing press out of order into a linear text, would present an "argument" to its reader seemingly as the product of a unitary author, but in truth, production processes such as these suggest, as does Nature, unitary beings or authors, but curiously, de-fragmented ones. Transformism as writing shows us just how distributed contemporary hypertextual writing can be, but the extent to which authorship is a reconstitution of many inscription processes.

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