Local Spirit Initiative

April 28, 2022 7:31 pm Published by

The accelerated developments in communications technology since the invention of the electric telegraph sped up the democratization of the marketplace of ideas. The traditional vertical dissemination of knowledge from educated elites to the people has been replaced by a lateral and apparently decentralized flow of information. Experts, scholars and scientist cannot rely anymore on authority guaranteed by entrenched hierarchy. The Nietzschean demasking of science as a ramshackle raft on flowing water built of an “enormous structure of beams and boards of concepts, to which the poor man clings for dear life” out of fear of facing the radical vulnerability of humankind has been folklorized and trivialized. One can lament the growing knowledge gap between advanced studies on the one hand and public opinion on the other as well as the loss of the privilege of the university researcher to be believed without an effort to present their case in a persuasive manner.

Or one can accept the challenging epistemological conditions that require the expert, the scholar and the scientist to master the art of persuasion by cultivating the cardinal rhetorical virtue of perspicuity in an effort of an effective transmission of ideas. Enlightenment thinkers accepted the challenge and engaged in vigorous and competitive rhetorical activity including the rhetoric of science, pamphlets and encyclopedic articles argued in an accessible and perspicuous style with full awareness of the rival rhetoric of the clerical pulpit and the superstitions of the simple folk. While the Enlightenment thinkers utilized the art of verbal rhetoric and illustration on the printed page, today we need to master non-verbal, architectonic rhetoric to tell our stories. Architectonic rhetoric is the art of spatialized, dynamized, sensationalized (as in making available for the senses) argumentation.

In 2018, Erika Kiss, Sigrid Adriaenssens, Chris Tully and John Higgins launched a faculty initiative in Princeton University that recognizes the increasing importance and opportunities of sensory learning, research and teaching through film and digital media. The first projects of the Local Spirit Initiative include co-teaching ‘Environmental Film Studies’ a Princeton course designed by Erika Kiss and the development of short research films and other immersive and mixed media teaching aid. Several award-winning film directors, who visited our campus, advise the faculty group’s filmmaking.

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This post was written by rfs