“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

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Western man, don't you... come aroounnd....

“What madness says of itself is, for the thought and the poetry of the beginning of the 19th century, equally what the dream says in the disorder of its images: a truth of man, a very archaic and very near truth, very silent and very menacing: a truth under every truth, the closest to the birth of subjectivity, and the most distributed on the level of things; a truth that is the profound retreat of the individuality of man, and the inchoate from of the cosmos: What dreams, is the Spirit in the instant that it descends into matter, and it is the Matter in the instant that it lifts itself up to the Spirit. The dream is the revelation of the very essence of man, the most characteristic process, the most intimate of life.” - Foucault

There is little mention of the new world in Foucault’s book about madness. But I spy with my little eye a whole world of docking points, places where the savage connects to the madman. These figures operate in tandem, in the mysterious fields of the Western man, bronco buster and pissant – and they also operate, I’d say – taking a bold step – as sosies, parody doubles, of homo oeconomicus, that new species hatched upon the word by what Polanyi calls The Great Transformation. That transformation operated upon the European savage, be he the Galician serf watching Napoleon’s soldiers marching by or the Irish peasant crawling through the fields to find a place to dump his starving body, as it operated upon the New World savage – and sometimes, as in the ‘providential’ emptying out of Ireland and the ‘providential’ ‘vanishing’ of the Indian in the Midwest and South, with surprisingly similar results. The treadmill of production is already switched to the on position.

Memmie le blanc and the other feral children of the 18th century are curiosities of the boundary that also cuts across the treatment and definition of the mad. Which means that the discovery of the European savage, the feral child, changes its meaning and terms during the 18th century.

Jumpcutting, then, to the problem of languages that still brings up all the old circus figures, re that New Yorker article – what Duguld Stewart says about Adam Smith’s essay on the origin of language gives us a nice little peephole into the narrative that was given to Memmie’s life, and would be given to Kaspar Hauser’s – these creatures from the woods in whom conjecture was magically embodied in the village, transported to courts and ending up apprenticed to shoemakers or put in nunneries, to the great delight of the savant:

“When, in such a period of society as that in which we live,
we compare our intellectual acquirements, our opinions, manners,
and institutions, with those which prevail among rude tribes, it
cannot fail to occur to us as an interesting question, by what
gradual steps the transition has been made from the first simple
efforts of uncultivated nature, to a state of things so
wonderfully artificial and complicated. Whence has arisen that
systematical beauty which we admire in the structure of a
cultivated language; that analogy which runs through the mixture
of languages spoken by the most remote and unconnected nations;
and those peculiarities by which they are all distinguished from
each other? Whence the origin of the different sciences and of
the different arts; and by what chain has the mind been led from
their first rudiments to their last and most refined
improvements? Whence the astonishing fabric of the political
union; the fundamental principles which are common to all
governments; and the different forms which civilized society has
assumed in different ages of the world? On most of these subjects
very little information is to be expected from history; for long
before that stage of society when men begin to think of recording
their transactions, many of the most important steps of their
progress have been made. A few insulated facts may perhaps be
collected from the casual observations of travellers, who have
viewed the arrangements of rude nations; but nothing, it is
evident, can be obtained in this way, which approaches to a
regular and connected detail of human improvement.

In this want of direct evidence, we are under a necessity of
supplying the place of fact by conjecture; and when we are unable
to ascertain how men have actually conducted themselves upon
particular occasions, of considering in what manner they are
likely to have proceeded, from the principles of their nature,
and the circumstances of their external situation. In such
inquiries, the detached facts which travels and voyages afford
us, may frequently serve as land-marks to our speculations; and
sometimes our conclusions a priori, may tend to confirm the
credibility of facts, which, on a superficial view, appeared to
be doubtful or incredible.”

This may appear to be a remark relevant only to speculative histories and anthropology. However, what unfolded from the idea of conjectural history, as Stewart saw, was the whole theory of economics, which brought with it the notion that social action can be modeled, and that the models can be like models of other material events. The main thing about these conjectural histories is that the expert, representing us, is at one end. We are the goal.


amie said...

Les blancs débarquent. Le canon! Il faut se/ soummettre au baptème, s'habiller, travailler./ J'ai reçu au coeur le coup de grâce. Ah! je ne/ l'avais pas prévu.

-from Mauvais Sang in Une Saison en enfer

roger said...

I know those lines well, Amie. From one of my favorite poems.

There is also the great passage in Voyage au Bout de la nuit where Bardamu gets the rundown on the situation out in Africa from, is it Robinson?