“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

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

and the wolf shall lead us...

Half a pound of heroin
half a pound of treacle
that's the way the story goes
out comes the evil...

LI has been contemplating one of the great lines of English verse over the course of the last couple of days, to wit, Rochester’s “And with my prick I'll govern all the land....” from the play, Sodom. But I’ve contemplated myself temporarily blind, vis a vis my Dom Juan thesis, so I’ll do Rochester at another time. Instead, today’s lesson from the book of LI (written by the archangels in seraphic blood) is about pins. As in how many economists dance upon the head of a pin? You know the answer – all of them.

Ho ho. In the 1760s, there was a controversy in Britain about a supposed Scots epic, Ossian, which had been “found” by a poet and published. Ossian was a forgery. Meanwhile, the real Scots epic was a-forging – that is, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. Smith provided the Homeric theology to this thing we be callin’ capitalism. So, unsurprisingly, small academic industries have grown up around his famous images. The invisible hand is the most famous of these; a small group has worked on the famous pin factory.

The Wealth of Nations begins like this:

“The greatest improvement*17 in the productive powers of labour, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is any where directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labour.
The effects of the division of labour, in the general business of society, will be more easily understood, by considering in what manner it operates in some particular manufactures. It is commonly supposed to be carried furthest in some very trifling ones; not perhaps that it really is carried further in them than in others of more importance: but in those trifling manufactures which are destined to supply the small wants of but a small number of people, the whole number of workmen must necessarily be small; and those employed in every different branch of the work can often be collected into the same workhouse, and placed at once under the view of the spectator. In those great manufactures, on the contrary, which are destined to supply the great wants of the great body of the people, every different branch of the work employs so great a number of workmen, that it is impossible to collect them all into the same workhouse. We can seldom see more, at one time, than those employed in one single branch. Though in such manufactures,*18 therefore, the work may really be divided into a much greater number of parts, than in those of a more trifling nature, the division is not near so obvious, and has accordingly been much less observed.

To take an example, therefore,*19 from a very trifling manufacture; but one in which the division of labour has been very often taken notice of, the trade of the pin-maker; a workman not educated to this business (which the division of labour has rendered a distinct trade),*20 nor acquainted with the use of the machinery employed in it (to the invention of which the same division of labour has probably given occasion), could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on, is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them.*21 I have seen a small manufactory of this kind where ten men only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations. But though they were very poor, and therefore but indifferently accommodated with the necessary machinery, they could, when they exerted themselves, make among them about twelve pounds of pins in a day. There are in a pound upwards of four thousand pins of a middling size. Those ten persons, therefore, could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a day. Each person, therefore, making a tenth part of forty-eight thousand pins, might be considered as making four thousand eight hundred pins in a day. But if they had all wrought separately and independently, and without any of them having been educated to this peculiar business, they certainly could not each of them have made twenty, perhaps not one pin in a day; that is, certainly, not the two hundred and fortieth, perhaps not the four thousand eight hundredth part of what they are at present capable of performing, in consequence of a proper division and combination of their different operations.”

Few books give you the main course right away like this. Smith was rightly proud of the phrase, division of labor. In one stroke, it divided an old way of looking at labor as a particular social function from looking as labor as one abstract thing. It was the discovery of a universal, accompanying the universal-to-be of the capitalist system itself.

Such a vast discovery, such a trifling object. Smith taught rhetoric, and knew all the magic tricks. It is as if Columbus had set sail with the Owl and the Pussycat in a pea green boat. The pin! The very emblem of smallness, a sort of atom of social matter – associated, too, with frivolity. Jesus had already used the needle as a (miraculous) stick with which to beat the wealthy – and here the wealthy fire back with pins. Then of course there is Little Red Riding Hood – I’ve done a previous post on this, so let me quote here from Teasley and Chase:

“As the original tale opens, a dominant concern is the path to be chosen:
Once a little girl was told by her mother to bring some bread and milk to her grandmother As the girl was walking through the forest, a wolf came up to her and asked where she was going. "To grandmother's house," she replied. "Which path are you taking, the path of the pins or the path of the needles?" "The path of the needles." So the wolf took the path of the pins and arrived first at the house.
Although Darnton usually investigated the meaning behind puzzling elements, he has dismissed the reference to the paths of the pins and the needles as nonsense. Yet, here is the first example of a symmetry that provides a clue to the tale's meaning.[6]
Each character's selection of one of the paths reveals a destiny. Red Riding Hood's choice of the path of the needles is synonymous with her decision to become a prostitute. The meaning of the line is revealed in an obscure nineteenth-century history that explains that among "women of doubtful virtue . . . bargains were struck on the basis of a package of bodkins or lace-needles, or aiguillettes, which they normally carried as a distinctive badge upon the shoulder, a custom surviving to Rabelais' day."[7]
The meaning of the wolf's choice of the path of the pins is found in the term bzou, which was used interchangeably with loup in the original French version. Although loup is the common French word for wolf, the definition of bzou is more obscure. Paul Delarue, the editor who has compiled thirty-five versions of the folktale, found that bzou was always used in the story for brou or garou, which in the Nivernais was loup-brou or loup-garou. All these are variations on the French word for werewolf, a supernatural being associated with witchcraft. Early modern Europeans held that Satan had the power to take the form of a wolf.[8]
Sixteenth-century French society believed that the presence of a devil's mark on a witch's body proved her allegiance to Satan. Since the mark was a blemish on the skin that was insensitive, the discovery of the mark through the use of pin pricks became a standard feature of witch hunting. Just as Red Riding Hood revealed her true identity through her selection of the path of the needles, so the wolf revealed his identity as a witch by choosing the path of the pins.”

Indeed, the shapeshifting wolf was knocking at the door in 1776.

Economists, however, get the shivers when fairy tales are mentioned, being the wolf’s dumbest children for the most part. A true disappointment to the Loup-Garou, that’s for sure. While the wind howls outside and the stormclouds gather, they soothe themselves with more technical and standard questions. Which are addressed by Jean Louis Peaucelle in an article in the European Journal of the History of Economic Thought entitled, Adam Smith’s use of multiple references for his pin making example. I will post about that next.

Those interested in the Derrida/Marx controversies of late, hosted here and at the Colonel’s site, should check out the current post at Rough Theory.


roger said...

No comments???
Like Niobe, I will weep over my children, then. Weep Weep.

Praxis said...

Don't cry, Roger :-). We're all agog, we silent reading masses - we're waiting for more...

But of course I love this: "It was the discovery of a universal, accompanying the universal-to-be of the capitalist system itself." The division of labour is really the homogenisation of labour... the establishment of this new social thing - labour in general - is achieved and concealed with this masterly piece of misdirection...

Chuckie K said...

I assume that it is actually the ominous endless cloudless zenith limning months of dust, wilt and burn that leads you to despair.

And what hand remains invisible as Adman minces labor? The hand with the money to buy the wire for tens of thousands of pins and to buy a handful of hours of labor.

Anonymous said...



roger said...

Amie, that is a nice ad - although the wolf is a way too non-menancing, and chaperon rouge looks like stripping for the wolf would be her pleasure.

But speaking of great wolves, as I was looking up those beasts, I came across a wonderful Parisian wolf, the great bobtailed Courtaud, who appeared with 12 other wolves outside the city of Paris in the summer of 1447 ready to party on sweet Parisian flesh. He was so fierce that it took a while to figure out how to put him and his buddies down. They lived in caves in an area called Le Louvrier, and guess what famous musee occupies that spot now? In 1450 they killed 50 Parisians - and then finally they were lured to the square in front of Notre Dame, the place was blocked off, and they were slaughtered.

roger said...

Amie, that is a nice ad - although the wolf is a way too non-menancing, and chaperon rouge looks like stripping for the wolf would be her pleasure.

But speaking of great wolves, as I was looking up those beasts, I came across a wonderful Parisian wolf, the great bobtailed Courtaud, who appeared with 12 other wolves outside the city of Paris in the summer of 1447 ready to party on sweet Parisian flesh. He was so fierce that it took a while to figure out how to put him and his buddies down. They lived in caves in an area called Le Louvrier, and guess what famous musee occupies that spot now? In 1450 they killed 50 Parisians - and then finally they were lured to the square in front of Notre Dame, the place was blocked off, and they were slaughtered.

Anonymous said...

LI, wow, I didn't know the tale of the great bobtailed Courtaud, shame on me. And I'll never be able to think of the Louvre quite the same again! So the wolves were slaughtered in the square before Notre Dame? Hmmm.

So, re the Chanel ad. Far be it for me to extol the magic powers of Chanel 5, if one can afford the damn perfume, which I have to admit is quite lovely. Somehow your posts have me thinking about the question of scent. And smell. I might be wrong, but I don't think this particular sense is mentioned anywhere in the many versions of the Chaperon Rouge tale. You have listening, ah the girl should not have listened to the wolf. You have seeing, the striptease of the girl before the wolf, and the girl looking at the wolf/grandma and remarking his/her incredible features. You have eating, the wolf eating grandma and girl, or girl eating the remains of her grandma.

The only sense not mentioned is that of scent or smell. It is likely a stupid question to ask, as apparently it is only savages and animals who follow a trail by scent, unlike civilized folks. Nevertheless, I wonder - in the spirit of wolves, if I can put it that way - about tracking and following a trail by scent...

Your posts have had me thinking not just of le Chaperon Rouge but of a movie called Le fond de l'air est rouge. Or as the title in English goes, A Grin without a Cat, which is the "strangest thing" per Alice.
The film brings together the "red" and wolves. The last sequence of the film is in the USA. Guys in helicopters with rifles, chasing wolves in the prairies and nonchalantly shooting and killing them at will, one after another after another. It is brutal. The voice-over says, some wolves survive, they are not all dead...


roger said...

Hmm, good question about scent. The folk sources might not mention it. Even Angela Carter's version doesn't mention smell. Although what a gorgeous version it is:

Children do not stay young for long in this savage country. There are no toys for them to play with, so they work hard and grow wise, but this one, so pretty and the youngest of her family, a little latecomer, had been indulged by her mother and the grandmother who'd knitted the red shawl that, today has the ominous if brilliant look of blood on snow. Her breasts have just begun to swell, her hair is like lint, so fair it hardly makes a shadow on her pale forehead; her cheeks are an emblematic scarlet and white and she has just started her woman's bleeding, the clock inside her that will strike, henceforth, once a month.

She stands and moved within the invisible pentacle of her own virginity. She is an unbroken egg; she is a sealed vessel; she has inside her a magic space the entrance to which is shut tight with a plug of membrane; she is a closed system; she does not known how to shiver. She has her knife and she is afraid of nothing.

Her father might forbid her, if he were home, but he is away in the forest, gathering wood, and her mother cannot deny her.

The forest is closed upon her like a pair of jaws.

roger said...

Ah, in the last story of the Bloody Chamber, Wolf-Alice, a story about a theme dear to LI’s heart – l’enfant sauvage – Carter does describe the girl, raised by wolves, smelling:
“Two-legs looks, four-legs sniffs. Her long nose is always a-quiver, sifting every scent it meets. With this useful tool, she lengthily investigates everything she glimpses. She can net so much more of the world than we can through the fine, hairy, sensitive filters of her nostrils that her poor eyesight does not trouble her. Her nose is sharper by night than' our eyes are by day so it is the night she prefers, when the cool reflected light of the moon does not make her eyes smart and draws out the various fragrances from the woodland where she wanders when she can. But the wolves keep well away from the peasants' shotguns, now, and she will no longer find them there. “
Then of course, the hunters kill her step-mother, the wolf, and she’s taken to the nuns to be domesticated, then outsourced to a graverobbing Duke, a kind of werewolf. She snuffles, grunts, and has learned the ways of the broom, though never domesticated enough for a bed. Carter describes her – o, beautifully – like this:
“She grew up with wild beasts. If you could transport her, in her filth, rags and feral disorder, to the Eden of our first beginnings where Eve and grunting Adam squat on a daisy bank, picking the lice from one another's pelts, then she might prove to be the wise child who leads them all and her silence and her howling a language as authentic as any language of nature. In a world of talking beasts and flowers, she would be the bud of flesh in the kind lion's mouth: but how can the bitten apple flesh out its scar again?”
Isn’t the wolf the human limit and its fate an emblem set? Eugen Weber, in Peasants into Frenchman, writes:
“So much misery. So much fear. Of menaces known and unknown; and of the known, above all wolves, mad dogs, and fire...
In Maconnais the wolves disappeared in the 1840s, and in Orleanais one could cross the forest without risk of attack by 1850. But elsewhere wolves ran freely in packs through forests and mountain regions until close to the end of the century. The last wolf in Chateauroux forest was killed in 1877. In Britany they were attacking animals into the early 1880s, and in 1882 Maupassant recorded that in Lower Britany sheep were put out to graze with cows to provide “la part du loup.” WOlves were hunted in the Movan into the 1890s .... and in Vosges, Brittany, the Charentes and Perigord. In 1883, 1,316 wolves were killed in France or, rather, official bounties were paid for that many heads... Evil omened spots were linked with wolves, like the notorious Carroi de Marlou or Mareloup in Sancerrois, where witches’ sabbats were rumored into the twentieth century; and so were the activities of the terrifying meneurs de loups, who set the beasts on one. “

northanger said...

Do you know why we clink glasses before drinking?... It's so that all the five senses are involved. We touch the glass. We smell the drink. We see its color. We taste it. Hearing is the only sense that doesn't participate unless we create it. (Tortilla Soup)

Amie, interesting. the sense of smell is the only sense with "a direct, physical route to the brain".

roger said...

To broaden this thread, this is another version of Little Red Riding Hood. Notice that the wolf acts, oddly enough, exactly the way I act whenever I see a Santogold video. Hmm.