In-Universe Perspective

I was reading up on one of my favorite movies, The Terminator ([beginning of insanely long tangent] which I love that Stephen Downes references when re-framing what might otherwise be bulldozed as an unquestionable firing offense of a teacher in this post:

Connecticut Teacher Fired Over Myspace Page – his teacher was fire for having a MySpace page that had “among other things, pictures of naked men with ‘inappropriate comments’ underneath them.” We are not told what the comments were, nor told what the pictures were (perhaps they were of the governor of California in his first shot in Terminator 2). Again, this is a firing for perfectly legal behaviour under the heading of ‘nappropriate’.

Having been a English teacher at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn for a year and a half while that jackass Bloomberg was revitalizing New York City while trying to gut the Union (and he is re-writing the rules to run again–I hate that rich bastard!), his point is very well taken [end long tangent]) I was fascinated that the character Kyle Reese had his own full-blown Wikipedia page. I was even more intrigued when I saw the warning at top of the entry suggesting the article describes a work of fiction “in a primarily in-universe style.” What? What the hell does that mean?

Well, I followed the link, and here is the definition of the in-universe style and the accompanying problems:

The problem with in-universe perspective
An in-universe perspective describes the narrative from the perspective of characters within the fictional universe, treating it as if it were real and ignoring real-world context and sourced analysis. The threshold of what constitutes in-universe writing is making any effort to re-create or uphold the illusion of the original fiction by omitting real-world info.

Many fan wikis and fan websites (see below) take this approach, but it should not be used for Wikipedia articles. An in-universe perspective is inaccurate and misleading, gives undue weight to unimportant information and invites unverifiable original research. Most importantly, in-universe perspective defies community consensus as to what we do not want Wikipedia to be or become.

In fact, it is this in-universe style that really attracts me to Wikipedia. The fact that people frame these works of fiction (as well as objects, events, places, people, etc.) with a kinda of personalized relationship to the subject often makes it that much more powerful. Moreover, the ability to decipher numerous voices within one article is fascinating as well, and kind of suggests a kind of arrival of the multivocal non-fiction (as opposed to Bahktin’s focus on fiction) that makes the encyclopedic style a kind of creative non-fiction.

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3 Responses to In-Universe Perspective

  1. Mikhail says:

    This is a thought provoking post, Jim.

    A couple of things by way of engagement:

    Wikipedia is odd because it is at heart multilingual (heteroglossic a la Bakhtin maybe) — composed of many voices, languages even, and by the words of many different people. Yet it strives to appear univocal — the voice of knowledge, of authority and clinical detachment. Eventually, the voices of many will, with much editing and rewriting over time, come to sound like the voice of one. What may sound in-universe at first, will eventually sound sterile and very much objective as it is refined and corrected by many different users.

    One of the many things that makes it interesting is that nothing on Wikipedia is complete, nothing is final — no article is ever finished. New voices, new languages are always invited in. If they were not, Wikipedia wouldn’t be wikipedia. What doesn’t change is the collective will to accuracy and authority that keeps all those voices and languages in check. It is self-policing.

    If it wasn’t quite as late, I might have tried to drag Panopticism in there too. (What’s worse than Bloomberg is that some silly academics (some historians I’ve met — sorry, Luke) love to argue that Bakhtin and Foucault are inherently contradictory and cannot be discussed in the same sentence unless you are pointing out how they cannot be invoked together in making the same argument.)

  2. Ed Webb says:

    Wiki- is heteroglossic and process-based, -pedia is a univocal voice of final authority: wikipedia is, therefore, like Adorno’s negative dialectic, an inherently tension-filled, dynamic process, with the tensions always apparent and unresolved, with no final resolution of thesis and antithesis into synthesis. But the truly fascinating thing is what wikipedia reveals about apparently non-heteroglossic media. Even the venerable OED or Britannica are always only provisional, however much they may project solidity, permanence, resolution, synthesis. Wikipedia and similar crowd-sourced projects throw into relief the provisional and transitory nature of human knowledge. The point is to be OK with that.

    In the Jim Groomiverse, I’m sure everyone is OK with that.

  3. Reverend says:

    @Mikhail,
    I think with this you have picked up the very issue that many people are increasingly having with some articles in Wikipedia:

    What may sound in-universe at first, will eventually sound sterile and very much objective as it is refined and corrected by many different users.

    A kind of normalizing logic amongst editors may very will frame this space more steriley. yet, it is still the most amazing experiment of all these Web 2.0 tools, and the struggle over interpretation and information is nowhere more apparent on the web. That said, as the guidelines become hard and fast rules, there may be some larger concerns. The idea that an article needs recognized Media and journal references is an interesting paradox for Wikipedia because it suggests its authority comes from the very entities it may by some be seen as an alternative to. Wild, just wild.

    @Ed,

    You are tireless, I love it!

    wikipedia is, therefore, like Adorno’s negative dialectic, an inherently tension-filled, dynamic process, with the tensions always apparent and unresolved, with no final resolution of thesis and antithesis into synthesis.

    That is really what I meant to say when I mentioned “struggle” above in my reply to Mikhail, and the fact that the construction and battle of what makes knowledge is, I entirely agree, the unbelievably amazing element of Wikipedia. It also makes me wonder why more tools like that would allow us to do something like Jon Udell’s Heavy Metal Umlaut video more readily with wikipedia. Visualizing the changes to an article over time via video is such an amazing tool for communicating the impermanence of human knowledge, as well as the attempt to articulate it clearly. Anyone else remember the Firefox plugin that took a movie of the Wikipedia history page as an article was built? What ever happened to that?

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