Sunday, December 25, 2005


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Saturday, December 24, 2005

mass transit loses its Johnson

In 1966, during the transit strike led by Mike Quill in New York City, I and other sophomores walked to school. The high school was on 84th St., we started from Battery Park, choked more than usual by our leaden schoolbags. No cabs, no money for cabs. We didn't look kindly upon the transit workers whose strike action was the direct cause of our inconvenience. But even then we dimly saw that other, indirect causes were at work. A multivalent world of causes voiced by Quill -- a welter of conflicting visions of class and labor -- reverberated in New York's population. Back then a good deal of that population was largely displaced from Europe, from a world in which work and money and class were not anally segmented by corporate media room dividers from larger perspectives offered by various ideologies inherited from Marx, among others. Barely audible in the US except in places like New York, the burbling of a non-capitalist view of labor and oppression.*

The other day, Steven Berlin Johnson offered a similar fit of pique at the direct cause of New York's recent transit strike. Fortunately one of his commenters offered a counterbalancing perspective from The Nation:
For three decades, business and political leaders have been chipping away at the social benefits that came out of the New Deal, union struggles and the expansive, post-World War II years of Western capitalism. Driven at first by economics, but increasingly by ideology, the crusade to dissolve all employer and state responsibility for individual welfare has swept like a grim reaper through pension plans, health insurance, labor rights and minimum wages. New York transit workers are fighting to stop that trend in their particular domain, not for themselves but for the next generation of workers. They are fighting against the lie that abstract, neutral economic necessity, not the ideas and interests of the rich and powerful, are driving the demolition of what remains of social solidarity. Their fight is worth supporting in itself, for the dignity and well-being of a group of hardworking women and men.
That Johnson, a highly regarded writer about things current and intelligent (like the brain), could offer such a reductive view of the reality of New York labor is instructive. (In an earlier post he complains that there's no easy way to click on the web and find all the traffic cams along a certain route. The realm of slovenly atoms clearly has failed to live up to certain suddenly normalized expectations of ease aroused by our instaworld of clicks and codes.)

It's probably not by accident that Brooklyn is the first place the aliens erupt in Spielberg's War of the Worlds. When one thinks of transit workers in New York, one thinks of people of "other" ethnic persuasions working underground. As far as anyone knows, they live there, breed there, die there. Except when they're on strike.

New York has been the stomping ground for conflicts between disparate ideologies from distant cultures brought into sudden improbable adjacency in the brave new world. These ideologies often stand next to each other on the subways or buses, making their ways through the world in mute noninteroperable interface. If nothing else, the environment teaches that otherness exists, not to be clicked away. A certain tolerance, an expectation of complexity was the collective upshot. Or used to be. If our smart, allegedly cosmopolite bloggers like Johnson can do no better than offer simpled-down media takes on large, history-burdened tremors in New York, it is not the city that's failed the promise of the web.
*One way of distinguishing genuine cities is to note that somewhere "in" them is maintained a portal to a difficult, alien discourses deriving from far flung spaces and times.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

authenticity reflux

Via wood s lot:


Goethe describes the process of gaining knowledge in the following way:
When in the exercise of his powers of observation man undertakes to confront the world of nature, he will at first experience a tremendous compulsion to bring what he finds there under his control. Before long, however, these objects will thrust themselves upon him with such force that he, in turn, must feel the obligation to acknowledge their power and pay homage to their effects. When this mutual interaction becomes evident he will make a discovery which, in a double sense, is limitless; among the objects he will find many different forms of existence and modes of change, a variety of relationships livingly interwoven; in himself, on the other hand, a potential for infinite growth through constant adaptation of his sensibilities and judgment to new ways of acquiring knowledge and responding with action. (Goethe, 1807; in Miller, 1995, p. 61)
In Goethe’s view science entails “mutual interaction” with the phenomena. Engaging in this process we discover the “limitless” nature of connections and relationships in the world but at the same time our potential to continually grow and adapt ourselves to new, more adequate ways of knowing. Doing Goethean science means treading a path of conscious development. The question accompanying every aspect of the work is, “How can I make myself into a better, more transparent instrument of knowing?” In traditional science, we are much more likely to ask, “How can I find ways of adapting the phenomena to my specific approach so that I can answer my question?”


The above is from Doing Goethean Science, Craig Holtrege, in Janus Head: Goethe's Delicate Empiricism. Holtrege goes on to tease out a not unfamiliar model of science as conversation, citing others including Husserl.

What Goethe is getting at sets the knower/known, container/contained, model of static "stuff in the box" on its tin ear.

In a way, he's articulated the romantic epistemology of knowledge that courses through the early 19th century before being crucified on the X of science, "data," and the instrumentalities of early geekdom.

Underneath this mode of cognition is the signature of the unique, transformative exchange the produces something, or should one say, gives birth to some third thing, at every moment of genuine cognition. Which is where authenticity enters in. Also, it's a poetic mode.

So, one mode of knowing the authentically known is to know that it is not repetitive. This moment of knower knowing is different from all other moments. Does that mean it has a history? If so, than what emerges is no longer an organon of the known, but a story of the knower knowing. Implicitly with a certain incommunicable remainder.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

unutterably authentic

AKMA and Jeneane and Ray and Juke and more on Authenticity. (More links to be added later.)

In the realm of meanings for "authenticity" - various usages, which seem not to be talking about the same thing, unless they happen to be:
  1. authenticity of artefact. This usually involves a judgment about material cause: This item, thing, rudder, box of soap - no, that's probably wrong - painting - was caused by that cause - usually we invoke a hand or eye, or something going on (and there's the rub) between the hand and the eye, of some imagined craftsperson or artist.
  2. authenticity of performance. The Fishko example - the notion that the act acted is "true" to the act conceived by some actor who acted the act, whether onstage, or off, in Joycean fingernail-filing mode, or, in scripted arts, a doubling of authentical relations, where a performer, etc. produces a performance which enacts a conception/interpretation of another's conception of the act (Gould->Bach).
  3. authenticity of utterance. The matter of "keeping it real," which overlaps with ethical considerations of honesty, sincerity, integrity, hypocrisy, deceitfulness, anomie, etc., which are ethical judgments about the intentionality and spiritual state of the utterer. The utterance "has the stamp of" something. Consider AKMA's use of the term "impression."
Aren't these all Aristotelic tropes involving some relation between an inside/outside, cause/effect, aim/end?

It's fairly clear that considerations entering into a judgment about authenticity of utterance have not anything essential to do with judgments of material cause. Usually, unless conditions of falsified reproduction enter into it, we take for granted that an utterer is the cause of the utterance. To mix artefactual authenticality with the pathos of Heideggerian issues could be a category mistake.

But can we safely say an utterance is solely caused by the utterer? Surely an utterance involves not merely the mouth (larynx etc.) shaping the sounds, but matters of language, grammar, syntax, rhetoric, cognition, emotion, information, memory, muse, context, etc.

In all triviality, we may aim to say something, but what's in the scope exceeds our grasp. It involves an understanding more like the way a word is on the "tip of the tongue." We know it, but we don't. We can't produce it, we can only produce an utterance that states that it is there, beyond the reach of the utterance.

Or we possess an insight or understanding, say, that refuses to fit into the language models or available forms (to us). We struggle to articulate - and the utterance succeeds or fails as a result of the outcome. But we sense, often, a remainder, something left out. If we acutely sense that something is missing, has the utterance succeeded or failed, and does that make it less or more authentic?

What all of this has to do with felicity and luck and skill and polish and adroitness? And for that matter, with the seemliness of what we, our maturing generation, imagine to be an utterer of substance -- for Boomers, this is a spokesman for fine California wines.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Monday, December 12, 2005

weather edit

For the past several days IMproPRieTies has been moving steadily if a tad impatiently across the nation's waistband, from west to east. The Weather Channel has been consulted each day, to get a sense of snow, cold, etc. And each day, we have been advised of the imminent debut of the soon-to-be major weather picture:

Current psychomanic metrics commend:

with Mr. Bin Laden's baleful countenance superimposed upon -- or perhaps emerging eerily from within -- the hypotyposes, ecphrases, and related figures of enargia.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

"a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance"

Saturday, December 03, 2005

coup de foie gras with power lamb chop

"It's tough to follow the history of Lincoln Group, a contractor that won a $100 million contract with the Special Operations Command to assist with psychological operations. The common denominator to the firm's history is Christian Bailey, listed on its Web site as executive vice president, capital markets. After graduating from Oxford University in England in the 1990s..." CorpWatch

Image from The Lincoln Group. For another, look here. See:
The U.S. Military and the Age of 'Perception Management'

From The Rendon Group's (TRG) Home Page: "TRG helps clients prepare for potential crises and respond when they occur."

Readers of Rolling Stone should know that Mr. Rendon was an invited guest to Mr. Bamford's elite Washington club described in the story and that Mr. Bamford ordered the French wine and lamb chops. Mr. Rendon had seafood. The Rendon Group.

"We lost control of the context," Rendon warned. "That has to be fixed for the next war." James Rendon
These guys - the Lincolneers, the Mouseketeers, the Rendoneers - think they're playing The Great Game: bastard scions of Ben Jowett, translator of Plato, consigliere to the new Republic of white dominion. The Oxbridge-Harvard-Yale Axis of Evil Elvises.