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Showing posts from August 5, 2012

Self and character

While doing her fieldwork among the Makassar, a people living on the peninsula of   Sulawesi, Indonesia who are ‘renowned” for their seafaring and fishing skill, Birgit Roettger-Roessler noticed that her informants were uneasy when asked to tell about themselves, and when they did, they told her narratively thin stories about what they did – not why they did it, or what they felt. On the other hand, she found that the Makassar enjoyed gossiping about each other. Roettger-Roessler was disappointed by this state of affairs at first, as the standard notion in the eighties, when she did her fieldwork, was that first person accounts were   more reliable –more authentic. Gossip, however, is, she presumes, the stock that fills up many an ethnographer’s notebook. However, as she reflected on this curious situation, she noticed that other anthropologists also reported that first-person autobiographical accounts were difficult to get from informants all over the South Pacific, and in Afric

From theophrastus to william burroughs: the proto-history of the routine

James Diggle, in his edition of Theophrastus’s Characters, claims that the work should be translated as something like Behavioral Types or Distinctive Marks of Character. The metaphor, still working on a flat surface, was a drawing, or the portrait. But the drawing was of a general type – generated from out of Aristotle’s typology of vices, as well as the vices of other moralists of antiquity. It was the character-defining vice that concerned Theophrastus, who took the medical view of them as aberrations from the soul’s true state of health. A German classicist in the nineteenth century defined Theophrastus’s notion of character as “the sum of individual symptoms of an ethical concept.” [Immisch, 1898] This strikes the right note – one notices that the characters –the toady, the chatterbox, the oligarchic man, etc. are not characters in stories so much as they are lists of characteristics, one following the other, with the same kind of identifying zest that is put into enumerating t

Goodbye, Mr. Nudge

Ah, it seems like Mr. Nudge is leaving the Obamaadministration .   This is probably sad news for the president. If Larry Summers was the brains of the Obama response to the Zona – the Great Recession – the very spirit of Obamaism is Cass Sunstein.   Obama’s general policy of compromise with all men (as long as they were rich, and to the right)   is embodied in a man whose major policy idea is government by “nudging”. Instead of the bad old liberal days, where the government corrupted men’s souls by guaranteeing them healthcare and the like, the new new liberal eschaton was to be brought on by a government that simply, quietly poked a finger in the back of the citizenry. Sunnstein was the head of a corporate hogwallow called the OIRA – the office of regulatory affairs – about which we have these glorious stats, from a previous article by David Dayen at FDL: “While the rest of the public might not know about OIRA, lobbyists have the office on speed dial. Industry groups visi