Tacit/Explicit Knowledge and the Traditional Society

McKeon’s book is so replete with intriguing examples, and striking readings of visual and written culture that I wish we had a bit more time to absorb and work with the text…but I take comfort in the fact that many of us will continue to discuss the book long after the formal proceedings have ended…here’s to this discussion and to Michael McKeon’s generosity in joining us as we read his book. Thank you to David Mazella for organizing it, and to Carrie Shanafelt as well.

I would like to hear more & talk more about the concept of “embeddedness” and the transition from “tacit” to “explicit” knowledge. Especially after reading David Mazella’s post about McKeon’s concept of modernity and the division of knowledge, I was curious to hear if any specialists on premodern cultures have read the book in manuscript or commented on the published text. Are traditional cultures and knowledges really so lacking in “self-conscious and explicit awareness”? Is it possible for any person who possesses language and the capacity for any self-reflection–or dissent or confusion– to be “embedded” in the tacit practices of a culture? I ask this, I suppose, because I have medieval colleagues who regularly chastise me (however gently & affectionately) for assuming that the epistomelogical/ cultural/ literary changes which congealed into modernity all emerged in the early modern period. I am not offering this as a critique or comment–I’m just curious.

I loved David Mazella’s idea of genres that come into focus and fade away–and the many examples in McKeon’s book of authors who draw on traditional and archaic modes for their own purposes and reinvent them (Burney’s work with the family romance; Matt Bramble’s pastoralism and so on). When I was reading McKeon’s rich and nuanced section on Behn I was thinking of more contemporary instances of the secret history form, even into the twentieth century…like _Primary Colors_ by Anonymous–and the conflation/ separation dynamic at work in the Clinton-Lewinsky affair…(the ways in which Clinton’s public and private roles were separated out, and then conflated, and then separated out again: private marital matters and–unfortunately–his “privates.” Some enterprising person might write something comparing Restoration secret histories and the material produced in those giddy and prurient and politically/privately conflated Clinton years…

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