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Showing posts from July 24, 2011


A French schoolmaster and statistician, Louis Maggiolo, proposed, in the 1870s, to track the rise of literacy in France using, as an index, the signature on marriage documents. Signatures by the married couple or by their representatives were required from the 1670s, when Colbert, under Louis XIV, reformed the state administration of civil affairs – births, marriages, deaths. Now, there are many problems, as various historians have acknowledged, with using the signature as an index of literacy. For instance, we are projecting schooling that joins together reading and writing onto a period in which it wasn’t necessarily the case that they were taught in conjunction – it was for instance not uncommon for women to know how to read, but not how to write. And a signature can also be learned as a gesture, or a drawing, without the performer knowing how the letter signs really connect up. However, the very requirement tells us something about the changing relation between the state and its su

narcissism of the learned

The narcissism of humankind In his Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Freud noted: ‘Mankind had to endure two injuries to its self love brought about by science in the course of time. The first was when it learned that the earth was not the center of the universe, but a tiny little corner in an unimaginably vast universe. This is attached to the name of Copernicus, although Alexandrian science had already expressed something similar. Then came the second, when biological research denied man’s supposed creaturely privilege, showing that he was descended from the animal kingdom and was ineradicably of an animal nature. This transvaluation occurred in our time under the influence of Charles Darwin, Wallace and their successors, but not without the strongest resistance of contemporaries. The third and most sensible wound to the human quest for grandeur has been experienced through today’s psychological research, which shows the ego that it is not even the master in its own house, but merely