“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, May 17, 2007

holy and unholy fools in the streets

- Sophie Calle, Les dormeurs

Okay. To summarize our last post, Fred Hirsch proposed that, enfolded within the material economy, there is a positional economy, one derived from and dependent on social hierarchy. This is a broader notion than Ann Krueger’s rent-seeking, which was also being floated by the neo-classicals in the 70s, but you can see how they dovetail with one another. While Krueger thinks the extraction of rents is ‘non-productive’, Hirsch is saying, in effect, that Krueger is using the criteria of the material economy to analyze the positional economy, and that won’t do. In fact, there are positional goods and services, and one of the key drivers of the material economy since the dawn of capitalism has been positional competition.

Well, LI could spell out the current political implications of Hirsch’s notion – but we’d prefer to apply Hirsch’s notion to the little thread of history that LI has made its little theme over the past six months. If you take the positional economy as the lens through which you view the history of the early modern era, Foucault’s L’age classique, one possible interpretation leaps to mind – or to a mind ready to catch the larger leapers. In the early modern era, the great bourgeois project was to liberate the positional market, as it were. Much of the work of the enlightened philosophers was to that end. At the same time, by one of those fateful pieces of dialectical luck, their identity as philosophers was undermined by their success at this task. In other words, the philosopher as a type was tied to a certain kind of positional market – a highly rigid one. Far into the 18th century, the philosopher as a type really had a strong influence on the real philosopher, be he Locke or Condorcet. This figure was a sage. As a sage, he was bound to the ascetic ethos that developed a sort of hole in the rigid positional economy – proposed a way out of it. Renounced it. And here’s where the dialectical luck comes in – the culminating point for the liberation of the positional market was encoded in Jefferson’s phrase, the pursuit of happiness. Now, as it happens, the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of wisdom had been rivals – well, since Socrates was a pup. As the pursuit of happiness came to dominate the tenor of the positional market, the space in which the sage could exist was squeezed shut. The sage, in that space, took up a relation to the buffoon – his figural other, partner, foe – as well as to a way of thinking of the spacing of human life (how one should age) and practices consonant thereto.

So yeah, ha ha – we’ve come back to sages and buffoons. You didn’t think I was letting them go, did you?
More on this in a later post.

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