“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, June 10, 2017

scripture reading today!

The weekend, around my house, is often devoted to scripture reading – the scripture being Adorno’s minima moralia. Here’s a lively bit that I’ve translated and distorted just a pinch, which casts a lot of light on our era – you know, the Age of Bush and Trump.

Fish in the water – Since the global distribution machinery of highly concentrated industry has dissolved the sphere of circulation, the later has begun a marvelous post-existence. While the profession of the go-between has lost its economic basis, uncounted private lives have taken on the guise of agents and dealers, even one might say that the whole private domain is confounded with this enigmatic busy-ness, which bears all the features of commerce without really having an object to deal in. Across the spectrum of anxious people, from the unemployed, to the most prominent, subject at every second to the anger of those whose investments he represents,  the belief is that empathy, industry, servicability, through clever turns and dodges  through businessman’s qualities, can one take on the air of the imaginary executive, and soon there is not a relationship that isn’t seen as a connection, no impulse that is not submitted to the mental censor for being perhaps too deviant. The concept of connections, a category of intermediation and circulation, was never best exhibited in the actual circulation sphere, in the market, but instead in closed, monopolistic hierarchies. Now that society is wholly penetrated by hierarchy, the dark connections stand everywhere that we still see a semblence of freedom. The irrationality of the system expresses itself never more greatly than in the economic fate of individuals where this psychology of parasitism comes out. In early periods, when there really was something we could call a bourgeois division between the career and private life, the passing of which one must almost mourn, the unmannerly ambitious man was mistrusted for following his goals in the private sphere. Today, in contrast, the person who subsides entirely into the private sphere seems to be arrogant, alien, and not with the program, since the person’s goals are not visible.  It is almost suspicious not to ‘will’ something: one doesn’t trust anyone of this type -, who lives  without legitimating himself with some counter demands of his own – to help us in snapping after the miserable  treats we are offered. Numbers of people make their jobs out of the circumstances that kick people out of their jobs. These are the nicest people, the bien pensants, that are friends with everyone, the righteous, that forgive every human meanness and with implacable hostility label  every not normalized impulse sentimenta. They are indispensable in their knowledge of all the strings and shortcuts of power, guess the secret judgments of the might and live off of their talent for nimbly communicating it. The are found in all political situations, eveen there, where rejection of the system reigns as self-evident and thus diffuse a lax and resigned conformism of their own type. Often they  captivate with a certain cheerfulness, through an empathetic participation in the life of others: a speculating selflessness. They are clever, witty, sensible and adaptive: they have polished up the old salesman’s spirit with the latest in psychology. They are capable of anything, even love,  yet never faithful. They don’t betray out of some compulsion, but out of principle: they value even themseves as profitmakers, which they cannot share with others. In their minds they combine elective affinity and hatred: they are a temptation for the thoughtful, but also their worst enemy. Then these are the ones who take the last little corners of resistence, the hours painfull reserved from the demands of the machine, and they cunningly shit on it. Their late ripened individualism poisoned whatever is left of the individual.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

the ontological drunkard's proof

Swedenborg, I think, is the only protestant ever to create an image of hell and heaven to set against Dante's. So I like him for that. But I really like Swedenborg because he argued that drunkards, who escape from a thousand seemingly fatal accidents, are a logical proof that guardian angels exist. Weirdly enough, though the ontological proof of the existence of God is taught in every first year philosophy class, nobody teaches the proof by drunkard of the existence of guardian angels. Furthermore, I think more people believe the latter than believe the former. So what is up with these philosophers?

Monday, June 05, 2017

political stories

narrative induction
Charlotte Linde is a rather brilliant ethnographer broadly within the symbolic interaction school – although not participating in that schools downhill slide into the irrelevance of infinitely coding conversations to make the smallest of small bore points. Rather, she has taken Labov’s idea that a story is a distinguishable discursive unit and researched Life Stories – she wrote the standard book on the subject.

In 2000, she wrote a fine study of an insurance firm with the truly great title, “The acquisition of a speaker by a story: how history becomes memory and identity.” https://www.scribd.com/document/209339886/Linde-How-History-Become-Memory-and-Identity
 Identity, with its columnally Latinate Id seemingly standing for noun in general, has during the course of my lifetime been dipped in the acid of the verbal form, and now little leagurers talk of identifying with their team – their grandparents would, of course, used identify to talk not of a subjective process of belonging, but an objective process of witnessing, as in, can you identify the man who you saw shoot mr x in this courtroom? Conservative hearts break as the columnar Id falls to the ground, but that’s life, kiddo.

Linde’s article circles around a marvelous phrase: narrative induction. “I define narrative induction as the process by which people come to take on an existing set of stories as their own story…” My editor’s eye was pleased and did a little dance all over my face to see that this was the second sentence in the article – getting people to forthrightly state their topic is, surprisingly, one of the hardest things about editing academic papers.  

Narrative induction properly locates story as part of a process of initiation. Linde, in this paper, is obviously moving from her concern with stories people tell about themselves – the point of which is to say something significant about the self, and not the world – to stories people tell about the world. Those stories often are about experiences not one’s own. They are non-participant narratives.

Linde divides the NPN process– as she calls it – into three bits: how a person comes to take on someone else’s story; how a person comes to tell their own story in a way shaped by the stories of others; and how that story is heard by others as an instance of a normative pattern.

There is an area, as Linde points out, where work on this has been done: in religious studies. Specifically, the study of metanoia, conversion stories. But there’s metanoia and then there’s metanoia. There’s St. Paul on the way to Damascas, and there’s Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom, on the way to the relative wealth of a Toyota Car Dealership, owned by his father-in-law. Linde, not having access to St. Paul, opted to study the trainees of a major American insurance company in the Midwest. Like Labov, Linde is interested in class issues. In particular, stories of occupational choice. In her Life Stories book, she presented some evidence that professionals present their occupational choice stories in terms of some vocation or calling, while working class speakers present it, more often, in terms of accident or need for money. Philosophy professors rarely will say, for instance, well, I needed a steady paycheck, looked at the job security of tenure, loved the idea of travel and vacation time, so I went into philosophy. They will give a story rooted in their view of themselves as emotional/cognitive critters. Labov’s work was done in the seventies, and my guess is that there has been some shift. The NYT recently published an article about “quants” in finance, many of whom came from physics, and their stories were all without a moral/personal dimension – they were all about money, not interest in finance. Interestingly, as a sort of saving face gesture, they all talked about how there are “deep problems” in finance.
Narrative induction is obviously about politics. It is one of the great instruments by which power is made into action and organisation.  To my mind, the discourse about democracy, which has become the central discourse in political philosophy, has become sterile; using the insights of narratology might liven it up a bit. There has to be more than democracy in democracy, or democracy just becomes another gimcrack put up job. There has to be stories within a democracy that sustain it. If the stories are simply about who is being elected, I think it is a symptom of democracy’s decay – its surrender to the old monarchial narrative.  
We need, in other words, to start looking at political stories. How they work, and how they do self-work This is an area that has not  been very well explored by political philosophers who want to infinitely suss out what Locke meant, or stuff like that. We need something  more novelistic. We need more ‘what is it like to be’ questions that will allow us to understand the political stories people tell.  And not stories that give political agents the character depth of lab rats pressing buttons for pellets.

Cause those stories, though cynically satisfying, are ultimately untrue. They are even untrue about rats.