“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

Friday, July 31, 2009

It is not good for man to be alone

The fifth book of Emile begins the “last act of Emile’s youth.” Which is described as follows: “Il n’est pas bon que l’homme soit seul, Émile est homme ; nous lui avons promis une compagne, il faut la lui donner.” This borrowing from Genesis, with Rousseau as the “we” and Emile as Adam presents us with a problem that is traditionally solved by simply extracting the concepts, here, connecting them to this “we”, and making out as if Rousseau were writing a treatise. The literary is a sort of small bend in the fall of the conceptual atoms, but nothing to worry about, if we go at this narrative as a thing that can be reduced to an exempla derived from the principles of practical reason.

However, enough - I've beaten this subject enough in the last post. Rather, here's the point: meditating on this not exceptional allusion to the creation story, we find we are faced with the true oddity of the project outlined in this book: this is a re-creation story in which Emile is and can’t be Adam. That he can’t be is clear enough – Rousseau has been clear throughout the book that there is an existing, intrusive society with which Emile will have to deal. Any education he receives will have to, in some way, work to insert him in that society. And yet that society is laced through with corruption in such a way that it isn’t clear that Emile will succeed in that society. And yet here, again, we have the Adam motif, for was Adam created to succeed in Eden? The story has always been unclear, always been related to many other stories in many other cultures about the peculiar fear that man evokes in the Gods. Created to worship God, and yet hiding, the Gods suspect, the aspiration to overthrow the Gods, to become as God.

It is not good that man is alone. In the blank towards which that statement gazes, there appears a woman – made not from Emile’s rib, but from our idea of the woman Emile needs, Sophie.

And as Emile is educated to take his place as a man, so Sophie should be educated to take her place as a woman. And that place is firstly a negation – of the solitude that is not good for the man. Right away, then, that place is company – peculiarly defined by a lack in the man. And yet, the logical step beyond company would seem to be the space of company, the public space. This is, of course, not going to be the case for Sophie – because that space is inhabited, it turns out, with many men, for all of whom it is not good to be alone, and who thus seek out the negation of that solitude in woman.

What is not good about that solitude? I’ll leave that question open for the moment.

Rousseau does go on to remark on the difference between his Genesis and the lesson of Locke, who Rousseau is tracking – Locke, who writes that not it is time for his gentleman to marry. Since I do not have the honor of raising a gentleman, Rousseau says, I will refrain from imitating Locke in this.

As for women: we can see that her first appearance, here, is as a negation, a necessary supplement, as pure company, as though, from the beginning, she is not alone. We can already see that this creation story is turning in the hands of its creator, and not exactly where those hands want it to go. This notion of women as company, as, on the primary level, a companion, will certainly determine woman’s education. But the denial of solitude in that first diktat will always fuck it up. Woman’s solitude will slide and hide under the hands of that creator and find their place in spite of his hands, ultimately corrupting woman’s companion-ship and throwing into question the education/creation of both Emile and Sophie.

“Sophie ought to be a woman as Emile is a man, that is to say, have all that is conformable to the constitution of her species and her sex in order to fill her place in the physical and moral order. Thus, let’s being to examine and conformities and differences of her sex and of ours.”

Thursday, July 30, 2009

narrative and nihilism

We could run this as though on a television screen, in the background.

Andre Amar from the Committee of Public Safety stands up to address the Convention. He is known as the “most elegantly dressed man in the Convention.” (Bire, 312) It is October 31, 1793 – the month of Brumaire – and he has been appointed the speaker for a committee that investigated the ‘woman question’. This is after Charlotte Corday answered that question by putting a knife very neatly in Marat’s heart. This is after Marie Antoinette cried out to the mothers at her trial to rise up, as she had been accused of incest. This was after Charlotte Corday had said, to her judges, that she was a “republican before the revolution” and remained one. This was after one of the judges had asked Do you suppose you have killed all the Marats – to which she answered, that one dead, maybe the rest will tremble. This was after David had drawn Marie Antoinette in the cart that drew her to the guillotine, no wig on her head, in a bare shift. This was after the executioner had taken Corday’s head from where it lay on the ground and had slapped it – for which offense he was put in prison. This was after the men of Paris were becoming rarer, as they were sent off to fight on all fronts. This was after the street scuffles had broken out concerning the law that women had to wear the cocard. This was before the trial of Olympe de Gouge, condemned on November 1, 1793.

Amar began his speech by saying, “I am denouncing to you a group of more than six thousand women, so called Jacobins and with pretention to a revolutionary society. Many of them, no doubt, have only strayed through an excess of patriotism; but others are only the instruments of the enemies of the public thing (chose publique), and have only put on the mask of an exaggerated patriotism in order to excite sectional movements and a kind of counter-revolution.”

Amar’s speech was the signal of another purge of the ultras, this time aimed at women. In it, Amar (imagine him speaking in a thunderous basso. Imagine his white linen shirt, and the washerwoman who ironed it. Imagine him at dinner) laid down the code: do women have the right to immerse themselves in government affairs? No. Do women have the “moral force and physique” demanded by the exercise of politics? “Universal opinion” responds to that. And what is the relation of women to the public thing? “Without doubt, it is necessary that they instruct themselves in the principles of liberty, in order to have their children cherish it; they can sit in as spectators at deliberations of the sections and discussions of popular assemblies; but, made to sweeten the moeurs of man, must they take an active part in discussions of which the heatedness is incompatible with the gentleness and moderation that make up the charm of the sex?” (Lairtullier, 185)

As this runs on the screen, so to speak, behind us, let’s return to the curious eclipse of place that I have outlined as it is detailed in E. Casey’s work. In essence, by the eighteenth century, place had been triumphantly expulsed from natural philosophy. Gilbert’s phrase is prophetic: there is no place for place in nature. But, in spite of this fact, in spite of the disrepute into which Aristotle’s proper place and power of place falls in physics, it does remain in the order of nature for the human sciences. One could even say that without place, it would have been impossible to grasp the world of the great transformation, must less try to subdue the subject to universal history. Place and its associated concepts, property, order, hierarchy, all remained social forces, as though in the same society and at the same time, place was not being hollowed out. There is a certain blank, a certain white space as though on a page, separating one column from another, here – the world reconstructed by mathesis and experiment in one column, and the human world, the world for humans, in the other. In the nineteenth century, that blank will find a name – nihilism. But the foreshocks were already being felt by the philosophes in the eighteenth century. Perhaps one could say that it was under the mysterious empire of that blankness that Rousseau’s conceptual structures seem always to suffer when the hand of his narratives are laid upon them. Nicole Fermon has mocked the tendency of Rousseau’s commentators to leave unexplained this gap between concept and mythos, as if it were a mystery, as if Rousseau were simply confused. She makes the case that instead, we are looking at a dialectical pattern.

I’m going to follow Fermon’s suggestion.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A stele is found in the desert: what kingdom was this?

You say we're almost all alone together...

“…il doit se dire d’avance que ceux qui les écrivent ne sont pas des Français, des beaux-esprits, des académiciens, des philosophes ; mais des provinciaux, des étrangers, des solitaires, de jeunes gens, presque des enfants, qui, dans leurs imaginations romanesques, prennent pour de la philosophie les honnêtes délires de leur cerveau.”- from the introduction to La Nouvelle Heloïse

When I talk about my happiness thesis to people who aren’t necessarily readers of LI, a spark of recognition will appear in their eyes, even if they disagree with me. But that spark dies when I try to explain the human limit.

My thesis is built upon these two themes. One of those themes is the emergence of a happiness culture, defined as a culture that adopts happiness as a norm by which to judge one’s life and expectations (on the individual level) and the success and intents of one’s collectivity (on the social level). That the happiness culture is a background constant for both capitalist reality and the socialist dream points to the way it emerges from the ruin of the previous order, the order of dependence and the limited good. But my second theme is that the happiness culture emerged in tandem with a particular kind of alienation at its margins. This alienation from the total social fact of happiness saw a dangerous cultural and social vacuum, which threatened the human imagination, as a product of the norms of the happiness culture. Of course, they didn’t see it as programmatically as I am expressing it here – they saw it in bits and pieces, and the alienated marginals often borrowed their vernacular and concepts from the happiness culture, often used unhappiness as a protest not against the norm of happiness itself, but against a system that produced unhappiness.

I am intent on tracing the interplay between, on the one hand, the creation of the happiness norm, and, on the other hand, the dissolution of the human limit – but as the latter process is dialectically complex, it is not an easy thing to trace. The idea that human power – through science, or through conquest – takes dominion over the world is an old, positivist theme. But in that process, the old human thing, defined by a world of limits and dependences, of sanctions and gods, necessarily collapses; its reconstruction as a human subject is, in a sense, the interiorization of a system of management that was not predominant in the old human thing.

Obviously, the philosophical history of the decline of the standing of ‘place’ has a connection with one part of my story – that is, the story of the dominion of man over the world. But, insofar as place is a notion that is neither formal nor material – as Aristotle noticed – we should notice place spreads over the physical and the moral order. It would be easy to draw the Heideggerian parallel between the displacement of place by space and the displacement of Dasein by the cogito. This may be one way of describing what is happening in the background. My notion is that the great transformation to capitalism pivoted upon a new sense of the substitutability of the human thing: Marx’s abstract labor. And there were several aspect of this new regime of substitutability – among them, the notion of equality. If the old order presumed on its ‘places’, with everything in its proper place, the emerging order presumes on its spaces – an equality can be set up so that theoretically, all subjects have a place in the public domain. And that means, as Condorcet was quick to see, that men and women have equal footing there.

Rousseau is an exemplary figure in as much as he experience to the full the agony of these shifts. And so it is that I am approaching him from the viewpoint of the place of women, because there is a maximum tension in Rousseau’s thought at this point. One shouldn’t, however, fall into the habit of thinking of this as a history that occurs in “thought’ – rather, it is a real history fought out in homes, shops, streets, frontiers, courts, markets, etc. It is under the sign of place and displacement that the notion of liberty and the notion of the stranger – a figure that incorporates the modality of adventure to which I keep returning – comes in. Instead of presuming that I know about public and private spaces from a sort of Habermasian assumption about coffee houses and domestic spaces, I have a notion that it is the possibility of the stranger that is on the horizon of the public/private divide.

This note I shore against some future use.