“The larger task is to bridge the gap between documentation practices and information needs that require the inclusion of a modernist, post-structural, and postmodernist paradigms, and the particular social and cultural ideas posited by a diverse community of users. They need to provide authoritative information but also acknowledge the fragmentary, arbitrary, and plural nature of object interpretation” (Cameron 2005).
All three of this week’s readings from the collection Museums in a Digital Age (Parry 2011) made mention of tensions between modernist and postmodernist paradigms—polysemy and curatorial intent, fluidity and fixity, chaos and structure. Marc Pachter’s (2002) article, for instance, argues that the structure and fixity of physical spaces and objects have become an antidote to an increasingly fluid, chaotic and virtual world. In a similar vein, Peter Walsh’s (1997) article shows that the Unassailable Voice (while appearing to be a unitary didactic voice) is a compromise among experts between fixed, simple explanation and complex accounts of ever-changing reality. Likewise the overall comparison Walsh makes between the Unassailable Voice and the chaotic, fluid, open access nature of the Web echoes this dualism. Fiona Cameron’s article also notes the importance of a balance between openness of meaning and establishing frameworks for understanding; while it is important to allow for a multiplicity of meanings (or “polysemic interpretive models”), some knowable contexts or systems are necessary to avoid complete misreadings. Curators, by acting as “knowledge brokers”, rather than all-knowing disseminators of knowledge, might usefully create effective avenues for allowing fluid meanings within understandable contexts.
In Pachter’s case, I found the argument a bit paranoiac about the state of the contemporary world (the age of artifice and bastardization!). In each of these cases, though, what I found interesting was the way that the seemingly unlimited and fluid possibilities inherent in digital technologies confronted structural or practical limitations.