The impoverishment of experience, the disenchantment of the world. These phrases summarize the Arts and Letters assessment of the modern conditions produced by the industrial-bourgeois-scientific revolutions that reduced reality to instrumental utility. One way to understand the arts revolution that began in bohemian Paris in the nineteenth century is as a project to retrieve and update the particular practice of pre-modern civilizations most responsible for enchanted experience: the principle of correspondences, a mapping between the macrocosm and microcosm of events (as above, so below). Baudelaire, the first modern artist, described the environment of the new industrial city as a forest of symbols (for which the code was lost). The avant-garde, when it salvaged epiphany from religion as the primary device of modernist expression, did for hermetic wisdom what Moorish Islam did for Greek philosophy during the middle ages: preserve, translate, and update a deprecated or forgotten heritage. Life in premodern civilizations was intelligible by means of wisdom, a systematic explanation of how reality works, backed by the authority of tradition. The prototypes are China and Rome. Decisions at every level of society, from official imperial programs to individual dilemmas, were guided by divination, augury, which is a cultural practice for delivering current knowledge of reality to individual decision-making situations. The device consists of using some chance technique (eg. flipping coins) to connect a situated dilemma with a codified archive of proven conduct.
Revolutionary modernity destroyed all traditional authority, while creating new conditions of reality driven by forces understood (if not necessarily controlled) only by specialized experts. The void left by collapsed tradition was filled by a new institution—entertainment: mass media popular culture promoting capitalist commercialism. These are the conditions confronted by electracy, which is to digital technologies what literacy is to alphabetic writing. Electracy takes up the challenge of inventing a new wisdom adequate to post-revolutionary conditions, by upgrading a practice of correspondences opening a dialogue between individual experience and global forces. The wisdom is not readymade, but is generated on the fly, disclosing patterns and propensities in events. It specializes in Benjamin’s dialectical image, able not only to glimpse but to hold and share the image of the past that flashes up at a moment of emergency. The formal operation is the MEmorial, in which individuals (updating augury), treat public policy problems as guides to personal dilemmas. Public policy disasters (as in Paul Virilio’s Museum of Accidents) are a qualitative measure of threats to well-being. The raw material of expression is entertainment popular culture, which is to electracy what epics and mythology written in Greek were to philosophy (sources from which could be extracted a new mode of reasoning native to the new apparatus). The technological vehicle is augmented (mixed) reality, providing an interface that re-enchants everyday life with a new iconography for tagging and tracking collective decisions. The ultimate goal is appiphany (collective consciousness-raising).