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Showing posts from February 5, 2023

the chuckle track and the obscure object of bourgeois desire

  Adam doesn’t like the tv shows I watched when I was a kid, which are easy to find on the net. Especially the comedies. He can’t overlook or overhear the laugh track – an object that is also called a laughtrack and a laughtertrack. I’ve told him that some shows had live audiences – I have a dim memory that Norman Lear shows had live audiences – but Adam is a media wise child. He might be ten, but he’s a Parisian, no country bumpkin: “didn’t they put laugh and applause signs up for the audience”? When I was Adam’s age, laughtracks were the rage. You couldn’t watch a comedy on network television without an accompanying laugh track. Watching them now, the laughtracks seem grotesque. They have aged badly. They make the exercise in nostalgia painful. I’m not sure when the laugh tracks disappeared. After about 1980, I stopped watching network television. And even now, I watch network series, when I watch them, on Netflix. However, it would not surprise me if the laughtracks were junked

Blues for the "we"

  I’m a great believer in the impersonal “one”, and the editorial “we”. What the linguists call an agent defocuser. However, as an editor of academic papers, I have found that neither “one” nor the editorial “we” is in favour at the moment. It is the age of “I” or the passive verb. The former I often find intrusive, and the latter cowardly. However, you can’t be American and to the manner born without knowing, in your bones, that “one” is a hopelessly upper class agent defocuser. To say: One doesn’t do such things, is to mark oneself as the type of person who either goes to the Yale Club or wants to go to the Yale Club. I wonder why this class aura hangs around the “one”? And why it has so little oral usage – in the oral, one becomes, oh so fatally, you. In Benjamin’s essay, the Storyteller, the oral nature of the story, as opposed to the novel, has to do with the space of its performance. The storyteller in the village is face to face with the audience, within touching distance. A

Roots of the paranoid republic

  W hen Kurt Lewin came to America in 1929, he was already a famous figure in Berlin. Lewin had started out in social philosophy, the kind of thing practiced and theorized by Georg Simmel, but he had taken a turn into social psychology, and held a chair in Gestalt psychology at the Berlin university in the twenties. Having been trained in philosophy, he was fascinated by the underlying theory of the psychological experiment, criticizing the idea that the application of statistics and modelling the psychology laboratory on physics or the natural sciences was the best route for social psychology’s object: the mechanisms of human interaction. These are the dry vocational aspects of Lewin’s life in 1929. However, you can’t explain Lewin’s influence simply by referring to his papers. Rather, there was something about the man himself, apparently. This is the story told in James Korn’s history of the use of deceit in social psychological experiments: “A German-Jewish immigrant … radically

Looking back at the midlife crisis

    In the middle of my life – a point that I crossed while sitting in a messy studio   apartment in Austin – I looked around, and then at the mirror – where else? – and thought about the pattern of failure in my life. Of course, this was that old thing,   the cardboard middlelife crisis and all that, but out of the stereotypes in which we are locked we sometimes achieve spiritual insight. We sometimes find a key, unlock   the stereotype, and step out.   My answer, my key, to this failure I felt was: that I just could not take boredom. Boredom stuck in my craw. Or perhaps I should say my inability to endure boredom for the sake of making money. In this, I am spiritually one with the street people, the addicts, the semi-professional criminals – with all of those who never quite grew up, whose immaturity is caught in their throat. The difference is that, among the decayed Peter Pan gang, there is – as you will find out very quickly if you talk to them - an astonishing nostalgia for