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Exciting news for readers with some Italian: the whole of the Quaderni del Carcere and prison letters by Antonio Gramsci have been put online by the International Gramsci Society at GramsciSource. For those unaware of Gramsci, he was (with Lukacs and Lenin himself) one of the brightest intellectuals in the Communist camp; imprisoned by Mussolini for a decade or so, he wrote — using very interesting euphemisms for Marxist topics — “prison notebooks” that deal with every aspect of historical science, sociology, and Marxism. Famous for his adaptation of Romain Rolland’s dictum “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will” and his concept of “hegemony”, Gramsci is one Red whose importance can hardly be said to have faded.
The interface is nifty and will certainly aid new Marxist thought around the world; hopefully we will see similar “intellectual portals” open up for other important thinkers. (For those — like me — who are not Italianate: people may yet be unaware that the Joseph Buttigieg translation of the Prison Notebooks in their entirety has been completed, and is available as a paperback three-volume set. No way around it, comrades.)
It’s been a while since I’ve been attending to the blog. In the meantime, I’ve seen that there are a number of much-needed translation projects that have come to fruition — things I had dreamed about translating myself. There is a “vernacular” translation of Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy and a more careful and accurate translation of Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception. But what I want to talk about is the initial volume of Luhmann’s Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft out in English. The title alone must have given people nightmares: “The Society of Society” says less in English than it does in German due to our diminished genitive, and following the format of the other “—- der Gesellschaft” translations and making it Society as a Social System would mangle the point of the book. So, instead we have Theory of Society, vol. 1, from one Rhodes Barrett.
Luhmann’s world stature as a sociologist has only continued to grow since his death in 1999, shortly after the publication of this 1200-page behemoth. But people who have dipped into Love as Passion or Observations on Modernity and fear a brain-melting stew of second-order cybernetics and Parsonsonian structural-functionalism can relax. Luhmann learned much since the hauteur of Social Systems, and the explication of the concept of society — the boundary our communications cannot transgress, since to adapt Derrida there is nothing outside society — is more genial and concrete. Especially valuable is Luhmann’s discussion of “symbolically generalized communications media”, otherwise known as ideology; his analyses of truth, money, love and power as structuring forces in our social interaction is far more “materialist” than the common run of Marxists. A must-have for the socially minded.
A “bleg” or whatever: now that the Iraq war is ending and we have the decidedly unambiguous left-wing Occupy X— protests, what is the sense of today’s society people have? Is it still a network society a la Castells? Does Luhmann provide the necessary cues for studying global society? Or is the strangely personal character of the “global village” handled best by Hardt and Negri? My observation is that there is something of a “new anthropology” when people try to understand the situation of a place like Greece – there is less “we all put our pants on one leg at a time” rigmarole than in the post-communist era; we want to establish national epistemes that enable us to forego ‘sympathetic but concerned’ judgment of the kind the demands of the enrages compel, even from a left-wing standpoint.
Comments strongly desired – I’d like to get clearer about this sort of thing.
Muybridge, Washington Heights
A quick note about the proper use of Bataille. Bataille is only to be read by garcons in Manhattan or a suitable “substitute”, for the purpose of dealing with properly-brought-up girls who are too much. What’s gonna happen with Marcelle? Not much of much, since Bataille is really subrepted Lucretius: which is, like New York proper, much much too much, a key to understanding how those present in the center of it all with money “enow” are still subject to forces beyond their control, namely all of them, systematically drawing their activities through the “human chain” and physical reality through their aching heads. You don’t want to wake up in the city that never sleeps: you want to do something amazing, intellectual, striking, and prodigious at 4 AM on a completely safe Gramercy Park street: it can be done, but only you can do it — and imitatio…
A word about Los Angeles: where I have never been, except in LAX and reality: Beaverton is a Glendale of the mind. Many “urban studies” people endlessly trash LA, the city created by grandiose dreams of “making the desert bloom” and a remembrance of an ordo alto and tending towards the end of the world, a Balkanized and congested patch-work of brown fields and green lawns. Yet it is true that there is, can be, no city in the world equal to it: the creation of Los Angeles, a city in the place with the best climate known to man and away from innocence at any age, required fully owning up to the realities of urban living: if one cannot think of an adequate excuse for a city on the rolling plains of the Thames Valley, and it’s not actually that easy, of course there should be no great city on an ocean basin far away from “the cares of the world” (and easy outs for the lazy taskmaster).
The tallest building in LA was the Police Headquarters, where Joe Friday and Bill Gannon (not pictured: ’80s “tools”) did something which was somehow legal? Just so: New York’s “projected” Television City was an “empire of the mind” — revealing the megalomania that causes the “wondrous” sky-scraper to go up, and wages to go down. One must navigate from town to town, or stay in town, or go to UCLA in lieu of the morning glories of Berkeley or the hallowed fields of the Ivy League? Indeed; and if the tallest building in contemporary LA was ripped off from the Monument to the Third International, and the subway “surreptitiously” built to standards that shame Boston, you have no reason to complain. That is what it would be, city living, and if one is unwilling to accept the constraints of “rationality and reasonableness” one might have a worse experience somewhere better or a better experience somewhere worse. Points to everything: but no point to “raging against the dying of the light”, since it will rise again for somebody and that somebody could be you.
“If you have to ask what jazz is, you ain’t never gonna know” — Louis Armstrong
At this particular time, I would like to do something other than “celebrate American tradition” by speaking of jazz music. All throughout American history, various people have dreamt of “making it new”: a new life in the New World, clean and scientific and modern and meaningless. This is, unfortunately, not the quiddity of life in the Republic: an absolute modernism that turns on the true “moment” and the involution of “projection possibilities” fails to keep faith with a history that keeps recapturing us and teaching us the lessons of every second. From the man who could not tell a lie on to “the now”, to accept the modernist charges has meant coping with a symbolic world that does not achieve “closure” in the thoughts and dreams of the concrete mind.
It is this way, too, with jazz. The story beloved of those who found records from straight out of the vaults of freedom, c. 1960-1969, unbelievable music is not quite true: Albert Ayler’s military music, like the martial dance-steps of the itinerant city youth, evokes a black musical tradition older than jazz. “Jazz” is from somewhere else, and for something else: in short order, nowhere and nothing.
No music could be more wholly other than music as it had existed up to a point where an “independent city” created a generation of people capable of, among other things, speaking of Michelangelo in straitened circumstances; as Harvey Pekar has pointed out, systematically removing the traces of functional harmony and the “theologically vaulted cosmos” predated the opening of the New York record industry: from le jazz hot on, the only things being rung were changes.
When blue eyes were smoky like an opium den, life was not always so nice: and to counterpoint Walter Benjamin, the modernism of jazz was a “disequilibrating” force — with superior musicianship to no end, a person is alone in their thoughts and their world, and the forward momentum of a “plan” becomes less than questionable. The connosieurship of jazz makes for one of the hardest truths around.
However, I would like to end the note by explaining the redemptive promise of jazz, in the spirit of the American sociologist George Herbert Mead. Mead’s signal innovation in pragmatist philosophy was a theory of “taking the attitude of the other”, the mechanism by which human beings come to have human uses for each other: systematically considering the “history and theory” of another person’s mind. The Meadian lesson of jazz is that we are not “all together in this”, we are not moving ever-upward, our most intimate familiars have thoughts we can never understand — and that one ought not to “exterminate all the brutes”.
Although I don’t usually write on the “sociology of sport”, a thought came to my mind yesterday traveling through North Portland: perhaps the great baseball player Willie Mays was nicknamed The “Say Hey” Kid because he, like a white baller, returned baseball to its roots: to not mince words, bats predated baseball and were only later applied to tiny round objects by strong men of dubious origin. More seriously, he was a phenomenon whose play and persona said a lot about the sport — so much so that eventually he had to go away, except in the minds of Bay Area residents.
(That Is, So I Can’t Ride It)
I leave Washington County, where I have lived “on and off” for twenty-two years, today; I’m a little bummed out, since I haven’t even gotten a chance to ride the Westside Express Service, the westside suburbs’ new commuter rail line. Running on short-line trackage originally built by the old Oregon Electric interurban company, the line uses DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) cars between Beaverton and Wilsonville from 6 to 10 in the morning and 4 to 8 in the evening; as with the Portland Streetcar, a valid Tri-Met fare will cover the ride.
There are three stops in between: at the Cascade Plaza “big-box” stores opposite Washington Square, the Tigard Transit Center, and downtown Tualatin. If service is eventually ramped-up (though getting people out of their motorcars and into the railcars manufactured by Tri-Met’s bankrupt supplier may be tricky), WES could very well provide an environmentally friendly “arterial” for Washington County — in lieu of the much-debated and often-shelved “Western Bypass” freeway from Wilsonville to Hillsboro.
[The portion of the MAX Green Line being built from Gateway to Clackamas Town Center along I-205 may do the same for the Eastside, but in my opinion the “viewsheds” are decidedly superior out here; as “Penn Central” riders once knew, rail only works if people care, and sometimes it’s too hard to.]
Post-commitment readers may have noticed the blog is drifting into a sociological metier; given that social analysis is everybody’s game, this has had a certain cast of rationality to it. In this post I drift into slightly choppier waters, cultural criticism and the body, and although there’s a tint of Gesellschafttheorie (ha ha) to it, it may indeed not be to everyone’s taste. This year women’s clothing has become more revealing, and walking around the area it is evident to my research team that young women (18-24 demographic, roughly) have rather a lot to show of themselves. Although I won’t attempt to displace Unfogged as the premier destination for pornogenetic speculation on the Internet, I have a few “Lamarckian” observations to make.
Over the last decade or so, cosmetic medicine — for those that have insurance — has improved. I say “cosmetic”, but I mean a general attention to morphology rather than simply making sure the organs are checking out OK. Lichtenberg once wrote of the smallpox vaccine eliminating a visage from the world; looking at unblemished young faces makes pimply old people feel trapped in a time vortex, and apparently everybody works out these days to look sharp at their office job. There have been changes in diet: without making cheap jokes about food additives, though who really knows, let me suggest that it was probably secretly really OK for the socially acceptable caloric intake for girls to be adjusted upward. Finally, though I am loath to think of the “dimes” of my youth as akin to foot-binding, it’s hardly a new idea that the “smoke-filled rooms” some of us grew up in might put a crimp on physical development. (It remains to be seen whether the political skills we acquired there will put us in good stead in dealing with the larger and more agile.)
Now, since I eke out a modest living as a hate-filled misogynist creep, you might think dealing with these young women would be tough sledding. It is true that those initially wearing the new styles were under the impression that only attractive and well-dressed men would be looking at their decolletage, but by this point it’s on a par or easier than dealing with the previous generation of young Portland transplants, who though they dressed more modestly were hipper and better-educated than you and really saw no social role for men they had no economic or sexual tie to.What does this say? Something about men and women together, and something about less super structures.
This experiment in dress (though it understandably goes back and forth, to the point that female refuseniks have adopted the dress styles of the early 60s as protest) is a learning experience for society, establishing a new balance between the sexes. Look, and what happens? Nothing. What would happen? Who knows? Most probably, people will learn a new set of social skills for defusing a too-keen interest in the appropriate sex: look at Europe, where people see “the goods” right off the bat on the beaches — or refrain from going for sebaceous, spiritual or ethico-political reasons (before celebrating the “Continental” we should also consider Brazil, which numbers among its major exports gender-bending pornography but has a strict no-nudity policy on its beaches).
Of course this regime of biopower is not without its risks; coming off real social gains by women and minorities during the Bush years (as opposed to the ’90s, where we talked a good game) a lot of young men harbor reactively misogynist and sexist attitudes that make them unable to connect with their female peers. “The school of flesh” might teach understanding, but it might also teach that no response is as good as a yes. And looking beyond the facade, what is the cognitive motive force of this sea-change? The failure of the economy, which is going to continue for as long as we live. Clinton and Bush hollowed out the American manufacturing base, and even if every Oregonian got a degree in Advanced Hydroponics there won’t be the wages or security of the past.
Though they may be perfectly intelligent, these lovely young things are in it together with the mass of humanity; “the bourgeois virtues” celebrated and cultivated by a certain strain of feminism are not for them. What role, then, for the dirty old man? I certainly think it would be progressive for my generation to do better than previous ones (except, perhaps, the Greatest Generation) and accept that age is not just a number, that ultimately the youth must be allowed to live their own lives and take a certain priority in some matters. However, I also think one of the hardest lessons for an unassuming man of any age to learn is not about the brush-off, easily recoded in sexist language, but that sometimes the profoundly attractive want one to play a role in their lives — relative to differences, other commitments, and a fundamental attitude of respect. But perhaps the matter requires further consideration.