Sunday, June 14, 2009

September 05, 2006 (1): The Bøyg

A variety of different paths have been leading me to think about the Bøyg. This is an episode of a fight in the Seventh Scene of the Second Act of Ibsen's Peer Gynt play (which does not seem to get performed very much, probably become of the overwhelming demands it makes for production). (Grieg wrote music for the Bøyg scene, but it was not included in either of the suites he later compiled.) According to the script, the Bøyg should be realized as a disembodied voice. In my translation, Peer describes it as follows:
Not dead, not living; all slimy, misty. Not so much as a shape! It's as bad as to battle in a cluster of snarling, half-awakened bears!
As a matter of fact, when Peer tries to lunge at the Bøyg, he succeeds only in cutting himself.

One of the paths that led me to the Bøyg is the current Confused of Calcutta discussion about Wikipedia and "Brickipedia" (i.e. the traditional multivolume print-version of an encyclopedia). I did a free association of Wikipedia with the shapelessness of the Bøyg. (By the way, Wikipedia does not currently have a "Bøyg" entry!) I realize that some may argue with Peer's description, at least to the extent that Wikipedia is living, in contrast to any "dead" printed artifact; but, to my own critical eye, Wikipedia seems to have certain zombie-like qualities (although I would not accuse it of being slimy)!

The important lesson from this scene, though, is the Bøyg's advice to Peer: "Go roundabout!" Peer wounds himself when he tries to confront the Bøyg head-on, ignoring this advice. After that, he is more inclined to listen; and this advice turns out to impact how the rest of the story evolves. My point here is that, where information is concerned, this can also be an important piece of advice. A direct path taken through Wikipedia or Google may take us quickly to the answer to a question; but the context-free nature of that answer may end up cutting us (a bit like the joke about the Swiss Army Knife that has a tool for anything you want to do: the problem is that, when you try to get the tool, you cut yourself on one of the blades)! If there are still people out there trying to distinguish the difference between "information" and "knowledge," I would offer up the claim that, because knowledge is always intimately tied to context, we can only arrive at it by going "roundabout!"

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