…the distinction we live with each day remains simply that between oneself and other people. And the primordial group of other people – our family – makes up the original cast of characters in the drama of life, a drama that we keep on reviving later with more and more people cast for the same few parts. As for oneself, one is the invisible man. One cannot see oneself, one can only see those with whom one has chosen to be identified.
The raw material of character, then, is not very raw after all. It has already been worked over. It has already been turned into a kind of art: the art of fantasy. Life is a double fiction. We do not see others so much as certain substitutions for others. We do not see ourselves so much as others with whom we are identified. When Plato said we see, not life, but shadows of life flickering in the firelight on the wall of a cave, he was an optimist. Or perhaps he made allowances for the extraordinary distortions and suppressions of shadow play.
Eric Bentley. The Life of the Drama
From chapter 2, Character
In sociology, the iron cage is a concept introduced by Max Weber to describe the increased rationalization inherent in social life, particularly in Western capitalist societies. The “iron cage” thus traps individuals in systems based purely on teleological efficiency, rational calculation and control. Weber also described the bureaucratization of social order as “the polar night of icy darkness”.
After a lecture, David Rieff, perhaps America’s most important writer on humanitarian issues, made this surprising comment: “You’ll never understand how politics works if you don’t understand Anna Nicole Smith.” What could Anna Nicole Smith have to do with politics—or brain scans, for that matter? Abundant clues to the answer could be found on any TV channel that night. There were viewers calling in, recounting their emotional responses to Anna Nicole’s life and death. Most of them were women, mourning her, idolizing her. To others, she was a gold digger, an empty-headed celebrity, a celebrity only because she was a celebrity. Her life and death resonated so profoundly with so many people because she exemplified a remarkable variety of narratives. Those narratives exist outside the body – in our culture – and inside the body – in the very building blocks of our brains. David Rieff was completely right—understanding the importance of Anna Nicole Smith will help us understand politics.
Lakoff, George. The Political Mind: A Cognitive Scientist’s Guide to Your Brain and Its Politics
René Girard: Why We Want What We Want
Saturday, September 17, 2005
Description of show:
“MIMETIC DESIRE IS AN ABSOLUTE MONARCH.” –RENÉ GIRARD
“Know thyself.” It’s not an easy proposition. As Entitled Opinions host Robert Harrison says, “To know yourself means, above all, to know your desire. Desires are what lurk at the heart of our behavior. It’s what determines our motivations. It’s what organizes our social relations. It’s what informs our politics, religions, ideologies, and above all, our conflicts.”
In this conversation, Harrison talks with Stanford’s expert on human desire, René Girard, whose work on the subject was rooted in literary criticism, but eventually reached across disciplines to embrace anthropology, sociology, history, religions, and even the hard sciences.
Girard began his work in the 1960s with a new concept of human desire: our desires are not our own, he said, we are social creatures, and we learn what to want from each other. He has been called “the new Darwin of the human sciences” and was one of the immortels of the prestigious Académie Française.
Their 2005 interview discusses envy and desire in literature — in Canto V of the Inferno, in Cervantes, Balzac, and Flaubert, but most of all in the plays of Shakespeare. They also discuss the role of vengeance as an act of mimetic rivalry, “snobbery” as a form of imitation, and the “sacramental” nature of advertising today. “If you consume Coca-Cola, maybe if you consume a lot of it, you will become a little bit like these people you would like to be. It’s a kind of Eucharist that will turn you into the person you really admire.”
Ultimately, they talk about the mimetic escalation of warfare, Girard’s late-life fascination with the war theoretician Clausewitz, and the need to renounce violence.
with Robert Harrison
How to think about disaster. Accepting one’s place in a vast, complex, and violent world is healthier than it sounds… more »
When William James gave up on religion, he went in search of a new avenue to save his life. Can his approach help you save your own? … more »
What Joseph Brodsky was able to set in motion: “Not the limits of a meager idea, but the activity of thought itself.” … more »
Beware the reflexivity trap — the notion that awareness of a fault absolves one of that fault. It is rampant in millennial fiction… more »
Why we hoard. Stuff attracts more stuff, and accumulation has a powerful logic rooted in history and biology … more »
Go forth and get you some learnin -> aldaily
Tacit knowledge (as opposed to formal, codified or explicit knowledge) is the kind of knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it. For example, that London is in the United Kingdom is a piece of explicit knowledge that can be written down, transmitted, and understood by a recipient. However, the ability to speak a language, knead dough, play a musical instrument, or design and use complex equipment requires all sorts of knowledge that is not always known explicitly, even by expert practitioners, and which is difficult or impossible to explicitly transfer to other people.
How much of working in an IT environment is tacitly learned? How much of that can be made explicit?
A common one – learning how the existing software works is often tacit. You get a ticket to modify some existing functionality. How it currently works, how it’s supposed to work, how to run it, what problems are known vs what problems are new. How often is all that directly explained?
“Valeria Ugazio’s book Semantic Polarities and Psychopathologies in the Family: Permitted and Forbidden Stories proved particularly useful. Ugazio considers the construction of identity in terms of a number of “semantic polarities” (fear/courage, good/evil, success/failure, belonging/exclusion) and suggests that in each family of origin one criterion of value will tend to be hierarchically more important than others in the way people talk about and assess each other. As a result, it becomes a matter of urgency for each individual in the group to find a stable and comfortable position in relation to this dominant polarity. Is it, for example, more important in this family to be seen as independent and courageous, or as pure and good, or as a winner? Wherever and for whatever reason an individual is unable to find a stable position—perhaps he or she wishes to be good but simultaneously yearns for transgression, or desires intensely to belong but then feels diminished by inclusion in the peer group—this can lead to the kind of conflicts and oscillations we associate with mental illnesses, or again with the tensions and ambiguities we find in creative art.”
Parks, Tim. Life and Work: Writers, Readers, and the Conversations between Them