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Showing posts from December 11, 2022

The heart has its reasons

  I recently read Wiliam Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, after seeing an article in the London Review that made a case for it. I can see the case: the writing is exciting for the most part, until it is dragged into that dread sink of genre fiction, the need for a resolution of a problem. I’m down with solutions, I’m a great fan of pacing out London under the shadow of Sherlock Holmes and finding the criminal, but I’m also a fan of things blowing up in your face. And a little too little blew up in the face of Gibson’s coolhunter heroine, Cayce Pollard. I admired her as an occasion for transvestism – the property Angela Carter rather patronized in D.H. Lawrence, all those stockings and dresses – but as an occasion for detection, her advance to the resolution of the problem became increasingly like an exercise in algebra: “solve the problem with a proof as to how you arrived at the solution.” In solving her problem, Cayce comes into contact with one of those gross “entrepreneurs” of the ear

The Breakfast Cereal Box: our place in the chain

    Breakfast cereal is an emblem of the industrialized food system. If the system had a totem, surely the faces of Captain Crunch, Tony the Tiger, and Snap, Crackle and Pop would be displayed on it. The cereal box I opened this morning to feed my boy, Kellog’s Smacks – which features a froglike creature with big eyes, an open mouth, a startlingly human tongue, and human like hands, splashing about in milk and wheat stalks and larva shaped honey smacks, against a vivid red background – tells me that it provides me with “50 % Vit. D. Daily Needs”. I’m never sure if I should believe this kind of thing, or even really what it means – one bowl? The whole box? On the back it provides me with a printout of “ingredients” and”nutritional facts”. That the words are in English and Arabic points to the global system – this Kellogg’s cereal box has been somewhat vaguely routed or controlled by the Kellogg’s office in Casablanca. This box is a marvel as well as, given the ecological tragedy of ag

The psychology of experiment: Kierkegaard

  There are, in the notes for Kierkegaard’s   Repetition, a number of variations around the subtitle, which Howard and Edna Hong translate as “A venture in Experimenting Psychology”. Kierkegaard also tried “Experimenting Philosophy” and “Experimental-Philosophy”. This is a suggestive subtitle for a book about – or at least entitled – repetition, since experiment itself is a form of human activity that, ideally, verifies the theories that it is meant to test by creating a situation that can ideally always be repeated by any competent operator. In the dialectical sense in which Constantine Constantius (who may be the experimentor of the book – or may be the subject of the book’s experiment), in a sense the experiment is already repeated even in its very first instance, since it is intended from the beginning to be repeatable – it is designed along the lines of repetition. But there is another sense in which just the opposite is the case. In Hans Christian Ørsted and the romantic legacy i

Physiology and media

I know many people who, while being fully literate and even liking to read, manage to read only a half a dozen books per year. Now, it is the quality of the reading that counts, of course. Yet, I think that there is more going on here than simply lack of time. I suspect that there is an almost physical discomfort with large blocks of reading. Myself, I am as immersed in reading as a fish is in water; however, my media of reading has changed. Although I still check out books from the library and buy books, the bulk of my book reading is epub or pdf. This is a change that I was never expecting, never even wanted, but that crept up on me like a goodtime habit turned addiction. This means that I read even large books, such as Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, on the computer. This has changed the sheer physical process of reading for me. The physiology of it. I have transferred to the screen the feeling I sometimes got from reading of choking. Choking on a too muchness. This is not a criteria th

Europeans, Africans, Tones, Power

The “strangers” in the European enlightenment, the Persians, Chinese and African kings – they are not only there to be strangers. They are there to show how strange the Europeans – or the European elites - really are. Voltaire expanded the stranger base to aliens from other planets. Rousseau took up the Hurons of Baron Lahontan's dialogues. The estrangement effect of the stranger helps the philosophe to understand the power arrangements embedded in everyday life. I found a wonderful quotation from an African king in William Hazlitt's great essay, Reason and Imagination, that I think takes that awareness a great step beyond. Since we have witnessed the unexpected rise of an old nineteenth century utilitarianism in our day, Hazlitt's struggle with utilitarianism has assumed an unexpected pertinence. Reason and Imagination is one of a number of Hazlitt's pieces - including the portrait of Bentham in Spirit of the Age - that seeks to undermine the hold of Benthamite utili

Character on and off paper

  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 Africa. A