Attacking the Borg of Corporate Knowledge Work: The Achievement of Alan Liu's The Laws of Cool

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A review of Alan Liu's The Laws of Cool.

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[T]he humanities cannot afford to abandon its connection with history, or to construe this connection solely as the history of critical destruction. Such a narrowing of historical focus and thus of the meaning and importance of the humanities would be a grievous capitulation to the very forces that Liu so admirably deconstructs and wishes to combat.

Following the lead of Dario Gamboni in The Destruction of Art: Iconoclasm and Vandalism since the French Revolution, Liu looks for examples of "de-arting" that will have the "heft" to deconstruct the prevailing assumptions of knowledge work. This leads to what is in my view the most tenuous part of his complex chain of inferences, for "de-arting," in its emphasis on destructive creativity (the opposite of the creative destruction heralded by the relentless and constant innovation that underwrites the ideology of knowledge work), can easily slide into vandalism and even terrorism.

Though it may be true that few places on earth remain entirely unaffected by global information networks, surely it is an exaggeration to claim, as Liu says, ventriloquizing the voice of diversity management, that "pure business culture remains definitive of all culture.

Alan Liu's The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information is a big book—big in scope, ambition, research, vision, analysis, and the challenge it presents to the academy. Its publication represents a landmark event in understanding where we are headed as we plunge ever deeper into the infosphere of ubiquitous computing, global Internet culture, and information economies.

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Eric Dean Rasmussen