“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

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

scribble scribble scribble, mr. gathman

It might still not seem clear why LI’s relentless pursuit of the triumph of happiness should have lead us to talk about social animals. As our friend Alan said a couple of weeks ago, our posts about happiness fail to represent any principle of order. We leap around like the jester Dauphin in Huckleberry Finn, stripes painted across our ass, now going here, now there.

Now, primo, partly the problem is due to the flightiness of LI’s mind. Partly it is due to the fact that we are doing this as an historien du Dimanche. No license or position outside the text assuages the readers doubts about the catholicity of our choice of topics. In essence, LI is claiming that there is a topical hole, here, however much the successors of Lucien Febvre have claimed to make the sensibilities the object of historical study. And so we beat about in that hole, looking for themes.

Segundo, topics are generated by actual enchainments within social facts. It is, for instance, a social fact that the early modern era treated the passions as thought they were properties of a certain ‘animality’ in the human makeup. This trope goes back a long way in folk psychology and the writing of the scholars. You find it cropping up among the philosophers of the enlightenment – Kant’s the royal example, with his strong notion that the passions are at once something not quite human and all too human. The sensual interest is an animal interest. The non-sensual interest is – freedom. Fit for men, those creatures who can disburden themselves of the soiled rags of their animal impulses.

Finally, tercero, if we see changes in the way animals are conceptualized in the nineteenth century, our instinct – which is that of a solid ‘birds flock together’ man – is that probably, we’ll see changes in the way emotions and feelings are conceptualized that will mirror their former concept kin. And if the opposite of the sensual interest is freedom and freedom is the political legitimator par excellence – and if, in a pantomime that reverses such talk, freedom in the economic sphere is to let your sensual interest dictate without impediment – well, this too has to have an impact on the way society becomes the object for a host of sciences.

These notes I shore against the book to come. Onward, then, to Hofmannsthal’s The Letter.

1 comment:

Praxis said...

"and if, in a pantomime that reverses such talk, freedom in the economic sphere is to let your senusal interest dictate without impediment..."

I'm reading Marshall's 'Principles' at the moment, and it's striking (if predictable) the extent to which his characterisation of economic man is driven by an eminent Victorian moralism. Basically (familiar theme): the poor are like animals, they lack higher feeling, and therefore they partly escape scientific characterisation - who knows what these dissolute and desperate folk will do?

Animality, in Marshall, isn't just a dedication to following your sensual interests; it's also irrationality in the way you follow those interests. So there's a higher hedonism and a lower hedonism - and the lower hedonism actually betrays hedonism because it isn't hedonistic enough. The poor don't know how to maximise pleasure because they lack moral fibre - they lack reason.

This could, I guess, be made part of a secularism story: as Darwinism conquered everything, and religion seemed to die, new ways had to be developed of maintaining the human/animal distinction. Perhaps the movement from the model of biology to the model of physics, in economics, is part of this? Biology maks us all animals; physics can describe an abstract space from which (a re-imagined) animality is excluded.

Anyway, I'm very keen on this new beastly direction your happiness project's taking. That's what I meant to say. No more thoughts from me.