The University of Edinburgh and the crumbling of physical realities
I wanted push on a bit with Bayne’s “Academetron, automaton, phantom: uncanny digital pedagogies” article, if only to further experience the oddity (perhaps uncanny?) experience of speaking of our professor in the abstract. I took to the following quote as it fleshed out something that had been disjointed in my mind, namely the coupling of intellectual uncertainty and the blurring of fantasy and reality. This is expressed, and indeed probably most acutely experienced by myself and perhaps my fellow students, in the use of symbols and signs and how these assume a real importance. First the quote:
This crumbling away of material reality in favour of a ‘psychical reality’ (Freud 1919/2003) connects with the aspect of the uncanny which is to do with intellectual uncertainty, and the blurring of fantasy and reality. For Freud, ‘an uncanny effect often arises… when a symbol takes on the full function and significance of what it symbolises’ (150). Kristeva (1991) expands on this aspect of the uncanny:
In other words, the sign is not experienced as arbitrary but assumes a real importance. As a consequence, the material reality that the sign was commonly supposed to point to crumbles away to the benefit of imagination, which is no more than ‘the over-accentuation of psychical reality in comparison with material reality’. (Kristeva 1991, 186)
Lets use a case study here. The University of Edinburgh. A physical place with physical tradition, years of history, and perceived as excellent in education. The symbol itself has become iconic for me, a representation of something I have experienced innately, emotionally, but have never “seen” with my own eyes. I have never been to Scotland physically, but have experienced it digitally. The emblem below takes on a certain significance digitally; it ceases to be arbitrary as it a tattoo of experience, of shared learning, of endless search and questioning.
For me at least, the physical reality that the above was supposed to point to has disappeared to the benefit of my own imagination of what the University of Edinburgh is, what it affords, what association I have with it. A certain psychical reality emerges, a construct of Edinburgh as not only a place, but a language, a culture, a pursuit, an embryonic amoebic orb of people, mediations, and knowledge. The symbols take on a greater meaning; they are indeed the signposts of institutional construction.
Does Edinburgh afford a sense of the uncanny? For myself, yes. I often feel adrift (positive), bewildered (positive) and have experienced numerous instances of deja vu, more than I can even remember. It is through this deja vu that sometimes I see boundaries appear, lines being delineated. And I wake to find those lines obliterated. It is learning, certainly, but that icon, that symbol above, lets me know that I am afforded some sanctuary in this uncanny realm. It is a beacon, divorced from its physical reality.