Archive for February, 2007

Preface to The Wretched of the Earth

February 28, 2007

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote these bits in 1961:

"The European elite undertook to manufacture a native elite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of Western Culture; they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth. After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, whitewashed. These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers; they only echoed."

"We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made of us."

Technocracy and Rebellion: The May Events of 1968

February 21, 2007

This chapter… some notes. Feenberg “argues for subjecting technology to democratic debate and reconstruction.” That’s from one of the blurbs in the front of the book. I’m going to read through to the end of the book before I touch another chapter. There’s something happening here in the first part of this book that is completely disconnected from anything I understand.

This chapter is supposed to “open a window on the revolution in thinking about technology that continues to this day.” But again, not being much of a reader, and born after May ’68, I haven’t been much influenced by the thinking before this revolution. The essentialism and determinism explained in chapter 1, I don’t know, maybe being born after ’68 the thought of being creative in the world has just always existed.

And I don’t mean creative in the sense of free and easy artists. Maybe determinism comes from an inability to see our own selves. Perhaps it’s a belief in God, or a desire to believe in an authority, because the superficial message we get is not our people’s. The perfect example comes around every year. Each November 11 we’re reminded of the state’s role in securing our rights and freedoms. I grew up in a union home. The change in our standard of living didn’t come from the government. A dying generation created my situation. They literally had to fight the state(complex) to improve our lives.

Once you’ve seen it in your life, you recognize it in history. Civil rights, women’s right, Gay rights, no one in standard issue uniform went to war for their rights.

The ’68 student movement creates a new politics, “challenging capitalism in new ways.”(p.21)

Feenberg “reconsiders” the May events along four themes.

  1. logic of student revolt
  2. student/worker relations
  3. middle strata’s ideological crisis
  4. new libertarian image of socialism

“[the students] refuse to become professors serving a teaching system which selects the sons of the bourgeoisie and eliminates the others;”(p.25) They rejected their “role in the process of social reproduction.” While Feenberg alludes to a complex “c” conservatism in the university(p.23), the students’ writing claim the revolt was not about the situation in the university.

Society “pretends to be based on knowledge.” The students called for workers’ self management and for a transformation of daily life and culture.

The middle strata sided with the people.

“workers would set there factories back in motion on their own account.”(p.39)

Sartre wrote, the events of May ’68 “enlarged the field of the possible.”

“In the domain that interests us here, these movements were precursors that announced the limits of technocratic power”(p.43)

Love in the Days of Rage: some notes

February 20, 2007

The connections that can be made when reading books simultaneously are interesting. There is the event of May 1968, even more interesting is the historical perspective. Sloterdijk deals with the event in 1980, Feenberg in 1999 and Ferlinghetti in 1988. I might come back to this after reading The Critique of Cynical Reason. There are also issues of self that come up in LITDOR that I’m thinking through Siddhartha. That said I’m going to write notes on what I’ve read so far and then after all the writing I’ve set up for myself I’ll work on one book at a time. Reading wildly in the odd time that I have is easy and enjoyable, but it complicates thinking and writing.

some notes:
In defense of the beats… Ferlinghetti is more famous for his bookstore, press and isolated cabin than he is for writing. Those 3 beat writers had their moment. That didn’t stop them from writing beyond it. This novel is written twenty years after Kerouac’s death, in the same long meandering poetry-for-sentences that made On The Road what it is. I pull phrases out of those sentences… Some ideas…

identity/self and proof
There’s something here, something… like The Apology which starts with a couple sentences that erase the idea of self…

The co director of the theatre says, “I approve of your movement, but why occupy the Odeon?”(p.78) She defends the theatre against any idea that it is bourgeois, but the students vote permanent occupation.

Annie says to Julian, “I don’t believe you — believe in you.”(p.58) Julian later says, “I see myself pretty clearly.”(p.59)
“She a supposedly “dissident” artist, the daughter of old Lefties, what was she doing here now, in love with this rich official of the French banking system who claimed to be some kind of anarchist yet seemed to do nothing but go to his bank, eat well. live will, talk revolution, and make love to her?”(p.57),
“still intent upon persuading Annie that he was indeed on the right side”(p.27)

Annie never really knows who Julian is.

“…a great unblinking eye that left no place to find one’s private self…”(p.8)

collective weight
“Freed yourself?” interposed Annie. “But what about everyone else still hung up in it?”(p.67), “…the anarchist and the Trotskyists and the communists who hated everyone else…”(p.54)

fascism
“what kind of antifascism were we working for anyway?”(p.59)

bread
What’ve you got to eat besides fancy words?”(p.64),

revolution
“It’s a long time since my student days, yet it still hasn’t happened, the real ‘revolution’ hasn’t happened yet, it’s the same old story, the students divided against themselves as before, and the anarchists and the Marxists still on the same side but still violently opposed to each other, the students and the workers together but not together, each still unable to really understand the other, still with wildly different goals, even though they come together against the state…”(p.32)

anarchy
“The idiot anarchist…”(p.66), “If they wouldn’t be real anarchist, then I would continue on my own”(p.64), “They wanted ‘liberty’ for everyone, in the abstract, but they couldn’t give full liberty to anyone to act on his own!”(p.64),”Working separately we’d all be separately free”(p.63)

underground
(p.62) They talk here about the underground, it just reminds me how misused the word is. People took their freedom underground because they had to. Today’s underground music and art scenes…

real world
“back into the real world, Paris 1968, where everything was about to happen.”(p.14), Growing up in Castelo Branco, Portugal “once in a while I came upon a magazine that gave me some inkling of the outside world, of real life.”( p.35)

middleground
“there is no middle ground anymore.”(p. 58)

consciousness
(p.88) new consciousness
“.., his ancient land where he had known the consciousness of birds, …”(p.105) bird consciousness/bat consciousness “If, someday two brains could be joined what would be the result?… …Or might a human someday be joined to an animal, blending together two forms of thinking… …a philosopher might after all come to know what it is like to be a bat…”(Larissa MacFarquhar, The enigma of consciousness, The New Yorker, Feb.12, 2007)

hindsight
The novel was written in 1988, twenty years after the event. This bit echoes a chapter in Questioning Technology:

It was a new consciousness, or an ancient consciousness rediscovered. And it was a new feminist consciousness, the Gaia hypothesis, based on what was being called the New Physics, the earth seen as Mother Earth again, ancient source of all, and man raping that mother, beginnings with Blake’s “dark, satanic mills” and roaring forward to the dark atomic mills, the nuclear mills with their undisposible radioactive wastes. This whole new view a part of the rebellion of the sixties everywhere, a kind of “youthquake” against everything artificial and unnatural in modern life, and the French student revolt a part of the general worldwide cry of youth against the dehumanization of the human animal more an more separated from its animal roots, from the earth itself, the green earth. The spirit of ‘sixty-eight was the first halting cry of what twenty years later would burst forth in a great new political movement, a new green movement, Green Power, which would have little to do with all the old political labels like Marxist, Maoist, communist, Trotskyite, anarchist, Republican, Democrat, or whatever. It would be a whole new ball game, and it would sweep the world. It was a game that Julian could hardly know, even Annie was only dimly able to articulate it herself. It would sweep the world, into the twenty-first century.”(p.88-89)

good stuff
“…the students speaking in chalk and spray paint: ” (p.44) this is followed by a number of slogans. (Somewhere out there Andrew Feenberg has a digital collection) This says something about voices. What?

Love in the days of rage (notes)

February 20, 2007

The connections that can be made when reading books simultaneously are interesting. There is the event of May 1968, even more interesting is the historical perspective. Sloterdijk deals with the event in 1980, Feenberg in 1999 and Ferlinghetti in 1988. I might come back to this after reading The Critique of Cynical Reason. There are also issues of self that come up in LITDOR that I’m thinking through Siddhartha. That said I’m going to write notes on what I’ve read so far and then after all the writing I’ve set up for myself I’ll work on one book at a time. Reading wildly in the odd time that I have is easy and enjoyable, but it complicates thinking and writing.

some notes:
In defense of the beats… Ferlinghetti is more famous for his bookstore, press and isolated cabin than he is for writing. Those 3 beat writers had their moment. That didn’t stop them from writing beyond it. This novel is written twenty years after Kerouac’s death, in the same long meandering poetry-for-sentences that made On The Road what it is. I pull phrases out of those sentences… Some ideas…

identity/self and proof
There’s something here, something… like The Apology which starts with a couple sentences that erase the idea of self…

The co director of the theatre says, “I approve of your movement, but why occupy the Odeon?”(p.78) She defends the theatre against any idea that it is bourgeois, but the students vote permanent occupation.

Annie says to Julian, “I don’t believe you — believe in you.”(p.58) Julian later says, “I see myself pretty clearly.”(p.59)
“She a supposedly “dissident” artist, the daughter of old Lefties, what was she doing here now, in love with this rich official of the French banking system who claimed to be some kind of anarchist yet seemed to do nothing but go to his bank, eat well. live will, talk revolution, and make love to her?”(p.57),
“still intent upon persuading Annie that he was indeed on the right side”(p.27)

Annie never really knows who Julian is.

“…a great unblinking eye that left no place to find one’s private self…”(p.8)

collective weight
“Freed yourself?” interposed Annie. “But what about everyone else still hung up in it?”(p.67), “…the anarchist and the Trotskyists and the communists who hated everyone else…”(p.54)

fascism
“what kind of antifascism were we working for anyway?”(p.59)

bread
What’ve you got to eat besides fancy words?”(p.64),

revolution
“It’s a long time since my student days, yet it still hasn’t happened, the real ‘revolution’ hasn’t happened yet, it’s the same old story, the students divided against themselves as before, and the anarchists and the Marxists still on the same side but still violently opposed to each other, the students and the workers together but not together, each still unable to really understand the other, still with wildly different goals, even though they come together against the state…”(p.32)

anarchy
“The idiot anarchist…”(p.66), “If they wouldn’t be real anarchist, then I would continue on my own”(p.64), “They wanted ‘liberty’ for everyone, in the abstract, but they couldn’t give full liberty to anyone to act on his own!”(p.64),”Working separately we’d all be separately free”(p.63)

underground
(p.62) They talk here about the underground, it just reminds me how misused the word is. People took their freedom underground because they had to. Today’s underground music and art scenes…

real world
“back into the real world, Paris 1968, where everything was about to happen.”(p.14), Growing up in Castelo Branco, Portugal “once in a while I came upon a magazine that gave me some inkling of the outside world, of real life.”( p.35)

middleground
“there is no middle ground anymore.”(p. 58)

consciousness
(p.88) new consciousness
“.., his ancient land where he had known the consciousness of birds, …”(p.105) bird consciousness/bat consciousness “If, someday two brains could be joined what would be the result?… …Or might a human someday be joined to an animal, blending together two forms of thinking… …a philosopher might after all come to know what it is like to be a bat…”(Larissa MacFarquhar, The enigma of consciousness, The New Yorker, Feb.12, 2007)

hindsight
The novel was written in 1988, twenty years after the event. This bit echoes a chapter in Questioning Technology:

It was a new consciousness, or an ancient consciousness rediscovered. And it was a new feminist consciousness, the Gaia hypothesis, based on what was being called the New Physics, the earth seen as Mother Earth again, ancient source of all, and man raping that mother, beginnings with Blake’s “dark, satanic mills” and roaring forward to the dark atomic mills, the nuclear mills with their undisposible radioactive wastes. This whole new view a part of the rebellion of the sixties everywhere, a kind of “youthquake” against everything artificial and unnatural in modern life, and the French student revolt a part of the general worldwide cry of youth against the dehumanization of the human animal more an more separated from its animal roots, from the earth itself, the green earth. The spirit of ‘sixty-eight was the first halting cry of what twenty years later would burst forth in a great new political movement, a new green movement, Green Power, which would have little to do with all the old political labels like Marxist, Maoist, communist, Trotskyite, anarchist, Republican, Democrat, or whatever. It would be a whole new ball game, and it would sweep the world. It was a game that Julian could hardly know, even Annie was only dimly able to articulate it herself. It would sweep the world, into the twenty-first century.”(p.88-89)


good stuff
“…the students speaking in chalk and spray paint: ” (p.44) this is followed by a number of slogans. (Somewhere out there Andrew Feenberg has a digital collection) This says something about voices. What?

Raging Consciousness

February 15, 2007

I’m slowly working on an entry about reading. Love in the days of rage a novel by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, illustrates what reading is for me, or at least why I read. I picked the book out of a bargain bin years ago, in a fit of Beat reading, but never made it past the first sentence, which has to be one of the more poorly constructed first sentences in the history of the novel. So the slim book sat on my travelling shelf for years, until recently the subject of Paris 1968 surfaced in my reading. Feenberg devotes a chapter to that historic moment in Questioning Technology and in a blurb on the back cover of Peter Sloterdijk’s Critique of Cynical Reason Jürgen Habermas writes, “Inasmuch as he explains the aftermath of the shattered ideals of 1968 with means he borrows from philosophical history, he gleans from the pile of rubble a piece of truth.” So before devoting the next six months of my reading life to Sloterdijk, I read, over a few nights, Love in the days of Rage.

The Politics of Homework

February 13, 2007

I watched this documentary on Derrida the other night. An interviewer asks him a question about his knowledge of Seinfeld as deconstruction. Derrida doesn’t understand the question. He doesn’t know Kramer from Jerry, I’m sure, but it doesn’t matter. He says something like “A sitcom is not, can not be, deconstruction, and to anyone who thinks it is, I’d say, ‘Do your homework. Read about deconstruction.'”

I’m recalling this in response to the question “Why are you saying what you’re saying and what conversation is you engaged in that I have dropped in on too late?”

What I wrote about the preface to Questioning Technology, is merely a weak form of literary criticism limited to impression. I haven’t done my homework. I’ve yet to read Habermas or Marcuse or Heidegger. And so, writing about the preface, I can only describe my feeling of showing late, or unprepared, to this conversation. (There’s a Star trek episode where Picard is unable to communicate with aliens because they speak in metaphors. A place or person’s name refers to a historical situation unknown to Picard.) Marcuse’s name has an entire body of work, I’ve never read, attached to it. I ask the question of the preface, in ignorance, but the interest is real. I have gone on to read through to Part II. The second introductory chapter reassures me that the ideas attached to the names in the preface will be more fully explored as I read on.

Again I’m reading on. I’m looking forward to the philosophy. I’ve read Postman’s Technopoly and Roszak’s The Cult of Information and that’s about it as far as anything focused on technology. Both these authors were interested in making technology visible. They also write for school teachers. Questioning Technology is written for academics, or at least followers of a certain philosophical thread. It’s possible that after reading Questioning Technology, I will pick up that thread.

“We fight all the time about our conflicting theoretical views” This line from the email might lead to an idea of an ongoing conversation, a conversation that is somehow shaping my understanding of the preface. Maybe, it’s possible my reaction to the idea of a unifying theme comes out of that conversation. The word in the email was “fight.”

And it has to be a fight. (does it?) Any theoretical view that sees unity in its foundation can’t be reconciled with a view that sees the exact opposite, more an active opposition to unity, not just no foundation, but constant movement.

Chapter 1: Technology, Philosophy, Politics (notes)

February 8, 2007

This might be a trick I use to move on. I’ll simply pull quotes from a chapter. They may or may not become useful to me later on…

“If human significance of technology is largely unmapped territory, this is mainly due to the idealism of Western higher culture.”

“Technological development transforms what it is to be human.”

Essentialism holds that there is one and only one “essence” of technology and it is responsible for the chief problems of modern civilization. I will offer both a critique of essentialism, which continues to set the terms of most philosophy of technology, and an alternative to it, in the concluding chapters of this book.”

“It is not easy to explain the dramatic shift in attitudes toward technology that occurred in the 1960s. By the end of the decade early enthusiasm for nuclear energy and the space program gave way to technophobic reaction. But it was not so much technology itself as the rising technocracy that provided public hostility.”

“Part I of this book therefore includes two chapters on particularly revealing events and debates of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I have chosen subjects which seemed important to me at the time and which shape the philosophy of technology presented in this book. I do not claim that these examples are typical, but I do believe that close attention to them opens a window on the revolution in the thinking about technology that continues to this day.”

“[Marcuse and Foucault] relate technical domination to social organization and argue that technology has no singular essence but is socially contingent and could therefore be reconstructed to play different roles in different social systems.”

“The debate between Habermas and Marcuse is the subject of Chapter 7.”

“In part II I attempt to develop and apply this new democratic conception of technology in the light of what social constructivism has taught us in the intervening years.”

“Whatever the ultimate status of scientific-technical knowledge, it is what we use for truth in making policy.”

“Must we choose between universal rationality and culturally or politically particularized values?”

“In the third part of the book, I will attempt to preserve these thinkers’ advance toward the critical integration of technical themes to philosophy without losing the conceptual space for imagining a radical reconstruction of modernity.”

“Its political implications appear where it interferes with human communication in essential lifeworld domains such as family or education.”

The Brahmin’s Son

February 6, 2007

I’ve pulled two quotes from the first chapter of Siddhartha. They deal with those ideas of “way” and “self”. Dealing with a novel chapter by chapter may not make the same kind of sense as dealing with chapters in textbooks, but I’ve read through this novel already, so chapter by chapter may not even be possible. As a whole, I’ve got nothing to say about the novel. These themes so obviously run through the book that I might just let these quotes hang here for now.

Nobody showed the way, nobody knew it — neither his father, nor the teachers and the wise men, nor the holy songs. (p.6)

One must find the source within one’s own Self, one must possess it. (p.7)

I’m also interested in writing about fatherhood as portrayed in the book. I could start writing about fatherhood as it appears in this chapter. But Siddhartha becomes a father later in the book and there’s a lot more material in the chapter that deals with that period .

When I say I’ve got nothing to say about the book as a whole, I mean I’m not interested in writing a polemic. Hesse is putting something forward. I’ll write about that. I’ve been thinking about the value of argument a little bit for the past few days. Of course I could do a little more thinking, but at this moment I’d say that any value in the idea of arguing, or the value of winning an argument is linked to some idealized concept of justice that has never existed in any social practice.

I’m about to start writing about why I am cynical, should I wait until we start reading Sloterdijk? I can bring in a quote from Siddhartha that’s more or less relevant.

Govinda knew that he would not become an ordinary Brahmin, a lazy sacrificial official, an avaricious orator, a wicked sly priest, or just a good stupid sheep amongst a large herd.

All these possibilities of what a man can become all take place under an ideal of good. In Siddhartha the possibilities are simply named, but critical thinkers will argue against these possibilities by invoking this ideal of good. Thinkers like Nietzsche (and his followers) who posit the ideals are false, also foresee major change as social consciousness becomes aware of these false gods. All this awareness and argument leads to nothing or the same, because of our hypocritical basis.

Does any character make more appearances in the Bible than the hypocrite?