“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, October 01, 2009

little things and the deathgame


World history, Ludwig Schlözer wrote in 1787, was synonymous with the history of “Erfindung” – a word that can mean either discovery or invention.
“Everything that makes for a noble progress or regress among mankind, every new important idea, every new kind of behavior, pregnant with consequences, which the rulers, priests, fashion or accident enduringly bring among a mass of men should be called by us, out of a lack of a more appropriate word, invention.” [67 Weltgeschichte]

Invention or discovery – this, Schlözer thought, was the secret hero of history. Not the discoverer, necessarily: “The inventors (alphzai) themselves are mostly unknown. Often they don’t deserve to be eternalized: than not seldom, simply accident lead a weak head to a discovery, that only later generations learned to use.”

It was also the secret of Europe’s dominance. For small Europe was the ground zero of discovery. Europe, not coincidentally, defined discovery – the verb preeminently described the European act or gaze. America, to use the most obvious instance, may have been seen by millions of its children, and yet it was only when it was seen by Europeans that it was discovered. Thus, like the meat in a nutshell, crack open the word discovery and you find universal history itself before you.

It is a curiously non-heroic heroic history. Schlözer, one of Germany’s truly Enlightened intellectuals, was ruthlessly mocking of an older, heroic history that placed kings merely because they were kings at the center of historical action.

“It goes back to the decadent taste for the deathgames (Mordspielen) of old and new man-murderers, named heros! Lets not rejoice any longer in the smoking war histories of conquerors (Eroberer), that is, over the passionate story of these evil doers who have lead nations by the nose! But for the present believe that the still musing of a genius and the soft virtue of a wise man has brought about greater revolutions than the storms of the greatest bloodthirsty tyrant; and that many happier sorites have ornamented the world more than the fists of millions of warriors have desolated it.”

Given this shift in the emphasis on what history – world history – is about, it isn’t surprising that Schlözer wants us to see the “little things” as the great ones: “… the discovery of fire and of glass, carefully recounted, and the advent of smallpox, of brandy, of potatoes in our part of the world, shouldn’t be left unremarked, and so one shouldn’t be ashamed to take more notice of the exchange of wool for linen in our clothing than to seriously and purposefully deal with the dynasties of Tze, Leang, and Tschin.”

Schlözer’s separation of the ‘little things that one shouldn’t be ashamed of noticing’ and the deathgames of the tyrants would not, of course, survive the scrutiny of a master of world history like Marx. He would notice that deathgames are ingrained in those little things, and those little things are engrained in the deathgames. We kidnap Africans to raise sugar cane to make rum to intoxicate the sailors who kidnap Africans. This circle of biota, human bodies, taste buds, brain cells, and money can be named circulation, lightly lifting up the name given by Harvey to the movement of blood in the body. Looked at, as Fielding did (whose Enquiry uses the word circulation to discuss London “life”), one sees that a creation story that separates the liquids and the solids won’t do. In a sense, the Fielding of the Journal to London, being eased of the deathgame at play in his body by being drained of his built up liquids, is an emblem of the monster-London he depicts in the Enquiry, where the solids – the solid division of the classes, recognized in the law statutes he cites that go back to Richard I – are melting under the “torrent” of currency, and the liquids – the circulation of traffic in the street – are solidifying under the ambush of robbers.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Time- in qualudes and red wine

Time is waiting in the wings

While it may seem that the history of the happiness culture and the history of policing are on two entirely different trajectories, they really aren’t. When the bond between the governors and the governed becomes that of a project of collective happiness – even and especially in the form of a government that permits the pursuit of individual happiness – then Nemesis, the gaze in which the happiness of some is exactly the cause of the unhappiness of others, is going to be at its crack work. That is, even as the edifice of collective happiness is built, the cracks in the edifice give rise to surveillance and order. And this order is embodied in the policeman. The eighteenth century brought about both the outlines of the modern paradigm of happiness and the project of substituting a government hired and supported police force for the old order of private justice, an old order that made do with private thief catchers, private ransoms for goods stolen, and enforcement of norms by ad hoc crowds, charivaris and the like.

Jessica Warner uses Fielding’s ‘Enquiry into the Late Increase of Robbers’ as a sort of boundary marker that indicates the end of the almost fifty year long moral panic about gin. Much of Fielding’s language – about the dangers of idleness and drunkenness among what he calls the lower sort – has by this time achieved a canonical status in the battle between the reformers and a political establishment that was quite comfortable with using the tax revenues from gin to fight its battles. As Fielding complains that gin is debauching the child in its mother’s womb, making him unfit for soldiering latter on, the soldiers were literally being paid out of the proceeds from taxing gin.

The question of idleness is still a hot one in the history of the industry revolution. The old Marxist claim was that the industrial revolution sucked the time, and thus the life, out of the worker. In the 60s, the group around E.P. Thompson claimed that the increase in working time through the eighteenth century was to be judged in terms of the intesification of labor A 1998 paper by Hans Joachim Voth, Time and Work in 18th century London, surveys the standard positions, the most interesting one being as follows:

“The importance of holy days in England before and during the Industrial Revolution has been a matter of discussion for some time. Herman Freudenberger and Gaylord Cummins added another aspect to the issue of labor intensification when they argued that the observance of holy days was sharply reduced during the eighteenth century.5 The basis of their contention is a list of holy days contained in a handbook published by J. Millan in 1749.6 He gives 46 fixed days on which work at the Exchequer and other government offices ceased. Later, during the second half of the century, the observance of these holy days is said to have vanished slowly. Consequently, Freudenberger and Cummins argue, annual labor input possibly in- creased from less than 3,000 to more than 4,000 hours per adult male between 1750 and 1 800.”

Others have expressed their doubt about all this:

“N.F.R. Crafts, commenting on the substantial body of literature that suggests an increase in the number of working hours per year observed that "[m]easurement of this supposition has never been adequately accomplished.'"'11 Joel Mokyr concurs: 12 "We simply do not know with any precision how many hours were worked in Britain before the Industrial Revolution, in either agricultural or non-agricultural occupations."

Voth, however, thinks he has found a clever way to accomplish this measurement, at least in London. He took 7,650 cases found in the "Proceedings of the Sessions of the Peace, and Oyer and Terminer for the City of London and County of Middlesex" and analyzed the testimonies of witnesses about their time use.

“Crimes are committed on all days of the week, during all seasons of the year. All hours of the day are present in the sample. We can thus replicate a method for measuring time-use that modem-day sociologists favor: random-hour recall."9 In modem surveys, individuals participating in the study are asked to provide a thorough description of their activities for a randomly chosen hour of an earlier day. Very much the same occurs in front of a court when witnesses are asked to testify. Witnesses very often not only mention their occupation and sex (and, in a substantially lower number of cases, age and address), but also report what they were doing at the time of the crime, at the time when they last saw the victim, or when they observed the perpetrator trying to escape.”

From his sample, Voth has concluded that, as Freudenberger and Cummins claim, there was a crash of holidays and offdays in the last fifty years of the 18th century. In particular, Monday, which was a day often taken off by working men, gradually became a regular work day. Plus, of course, the holiday schedule was radically shortened. Voth concludes that the working year rose from approximately 2,763 hours in 1760 to 3,501 in 1800. Voth believes this solves a puzzle: how is it that wages fell during this time, but consumption rose? In fact, as in our own time, the rise in consumption and lifestyle was coupled with the rise in working hours. In the U.S., it is estimated that the average median household puts in 350 more hours per year now than it did in 1970. Hours haven’t risen for the male worker, but the female in the household is now much more likely to work – hence the rise. And the further rise in consumption even as wages for the male worker stagnate.