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Showing posts from April 24, 2011

cherchez the lobster 2

In 1763, according to Linda Hanas , John Spilsbury, a printer, began to sell an item he called the “dissected map” to children in London. Interestingly, Spilsbury had worked as an apprentice to Thomas Jeffreys, who bore the title of Geographer to the King. But though Spilsbury is generally credited as the first jigsaw puzzle maker, there are other candidates. However, as Ann Douglas Williams points out in her book on the history of the jigsaw puzzle, Marie-Jean Le Prince de Beaumont was using “wooden maps” to teach children in 1759, which gives her a priority. The name should ring a bell among LI readers – we have mentioned Le Prince de Beaumont and her connections to the proto-Enlightenment in Rouen in a previous post. That the author of Beauty and the Beast would see, in the map, a labyrinth, is an almost too beautiful intersigne of the connection between the mythic and the enlightened, the battle of the moderns versus the ancient and the discovery of the Volksmythologie. A folk m

cherchez the lobster: modernist analogy

To discover the source of the philosophy of analogy in the 19th century, cherchez le homard. In 1822, Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire published his General Considerations on Vertebrae in which he announced the law of analogies – that is, he announced that living beings could be considered to have analogous organs or organic plans when such organs or plans were connected according to the same order. To show this, he took the lobster as an example. When we consider the lobster’s body plan by imagining the beast horizontal to the ground, we get one sense of the order of those connections – but if we imagine them “swimming on their sides”, our dissection of the lobster shows that the order of its organs are analogous to those of vertebrates. This, in turn, shows that we have a false view of the how the lobster moves – if he moves in a way that seems, from our perspective, right side up, from the perspective of the ‘law of connections’ he is moving on his side. “What our law of connections demands a

Freedom as a form of adventure

There is an overlap in the period of what Polanyi calls the Great Transformation – the period between the seventeenth and twentieth century – between various models of the modernization process. There is the theme of the liberal historians, taken up by Habermas in the sixties, that assigns to this period the creation of the bourgeois culture of sociability, which is identified with the schismogenesis of a private and public sphere; there is the theme articulated by Foucault that assigns to it the creation of the disciplinary society. And of course there is the Marxist analysis of it as the first epoch dominated by the capitalist mode of production, with all its cultural and political effects, from the creation of new class divisions to the establishment of new spaces and times – the space of the circulation of commodities, and the times - of abstract labor, of the turnover of commodity capital, etc. – in which whole populations begin to live. There are other spheres that I would like

confit de Hitchens

I had supplied myself with the proper material to take care of the three hours it would take for the train from Montpellier to reach Paris: an omnibus book of Maigret mysteries. A. had supplied herself with a stack of newspapers, among them the Sunday Observer. My eye was caught by the headline of the lead story in the Culture section: Amis on Hitchens. I decided, in the middle of one of Maigret's search for the murderer of a rich bourgeois in the Sixth Arrondissement, to sneak this section of the paper from A. and read the article, because the very headline gave me a feeling of ghoulish pleasure: for if, as I think is the case, Hitchens sacrificed not only his standing as a moral entrepreneur, but his art as a writer, in order to play the minstrel to the Cheney-Rumsfeld set of neo-colonialist wankers, then isn’t the most appropriate of all punishments that of being lauded in the suet-y prose of his friend, a man who has puzzlingly sacrificed his talents as a satirist of the bou