On Byways and Backlanes: The Philosophy of Free Culture

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

We see before us a turning in free culture. This turning, lies between the claims of the ordinary against those of the extraordinary, and suggests that we need to carefully examine our current situation. The ordinary highlights the fact that even in the beginnings of free culture there existed its middle and its end, that its past invaded its present, and even the most extreme attention to the present is invaded by a concern for the future. Whereas the extraordinary highlights the possibility of thinking that brings us out of this life-world and instead opens out and unfolds the way in which we might reveal a different world. This world could be said to be both within capitalism and between capitalisms. Here we might think about the transformation of the economic base from an industrial fordist form of capitalism, to an economy founded on the valorisation of information and code, a postfordist capitalism. Free culture, then, could be said to lie in the interstices, and in so doing could be a rare chance to help to point the way from the lived to the desired.

In this short paper I attempt to follow Heidegger (2000) in suggesting that the work of a philosophy of free culture is to awaken us and undo what we take to be the ordinary; looking beyond what I shall call the ontic to uncover the ontological (Heidegger 2000c: 28-35). In this respect we should look to free culture to allow us to think and act in an untimely manner, that is, to suggest alternative political imaginaries and ideas. For this then, I outline what I think are the ontological possibilities of free culture and defend them against being subsumed under more explicitly ontic struggles, such as copyright reform. That is not to say that the ontic can have no value whatsoever, indeed through its position within an easily graspable dimension of the political/technical the direct struggles over IPR, for example, could mitigate some of the worst effects of an expansion of capital or of an instrumental reason immanent to the ontology of a technological culture. However, to look to a more primordial level, the ontological, we might find in free culture alternative possibilities available where we might develop free relations with our technologies and hence new ways of being-in-the-world.

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David M. Berry