Monday, 4 May 2020
There was an interesting article in The Conversation yesterday: The surprising origins of post truth – and how it was spawned by the liberal left. It’s interesting to me because it could be described as coming under the general rubric of cultural studies, not least for the reference to Jean-Francois Lyotard’s book The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, a key text in cultural theory. I won’t go into the article in depth - which starts by stating that post-truth is the international word of the year - as you can read it yourself. What I would like to do is include some extra cultural theory to support/expand on what the author, Andrew Calcutt, says and draw a few concepts together that are related to truth - reality, language and evil – and list them next to their respective theorists.
Michel Foucault: Truth, Discourse and Language
For Foucault statements, appearing as speech acts, are not about truth versus falsity, rather they designate a field of discourse that “emerges in its materiality, appears with a status, enters various networks and various fields of use, is subjected to transferences and modifications, is integrated into operations and strategies in which its identity is maintained or effaced” (2005, 118). Statements exist within a designated field, thus utilising relevant forces which dictate the validity of a given utterance. Foucault explains how the statement is partly concealed in its very deployment. ‘Truth’ is not a function of the words and sentences themselves, but the whole network of factors which form that specific utterance in the propagation of a specific statement. The statement exists through a form of appropriation and it is legitimised through the utilisation of the forces that exist, in an event-like state, around it. For Foucault “a true discourse engenders or ‘manufactures’ something that does not yet exist, that is, ‘fictions’ it” (1980, 193). In regard to the Trump presidency, we can see the power of statement and how it operates within a discourse of power, like all statements do. However, what is key to what I have written here in regards to Foucault is this manufacturing of something new, which also relates to my last post on the subject of Trump: #PresidentTrump – A Simulated Hold-Up. So, how does the concept of truth sit with another postmodern theorist, Baudrillard…
Jean Baudrillard: Evil, Language and the Sign
In The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact, Baudrillard says “It is impossible to destroy the system by a contradiction-based logic or by reversing the balance of forces – in short, by a direct, dialectical revolution affecting the economic or political infrastructure. Everything that produces contradiction or a balance of forces or energy in general merely feeds back into the system and drives it on” (2005, 4) and I believe we witnessed this process unfolding in the US presidential election. But what of truth? The people were witness to lies in the Trump election (and BRexit). These lies did not seem to matter as much as some of us expected they might – especially in the academic community (although we will always have a respective theory to why these things happen, depending on our own specialism). Well, it’s all tied up in semiology for Baudrillard. Baudrillard asks the question: “What becomes of the arbitrary nature of the sign when the referent ceases to be the referent?” (2005, 68). He goes on to explain: “The sign, ceasing to be a sign, becomes once again a thing among things. That is to say, a thing of total necessity or absolute contingency…For the sign is a scene, the scene of representation, of seduction, of language: in language signs seduce once another beyond meaning [and] the disappearance of this scene clears the way for a principle of obscenity, a pornographic materialization of everything” (2005, 68-69). In regards to good and evil, Baudrillard explains that the disintegration of the sign reduces these terms to “happiness and misfortune” (2005, 139). In the media many have said that it was the misfortune felt by the, mostly, white working class in the US that led to Trump’s win. This leads me on to the next set of terms, not by a cultural theorist, interestingly, but in a book that the article reminded me of: The People of the Lie.
M. Scott Peck: Stress, Evil and the Cult Leader
In his book about human evil, the psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck explains that this is what happens to individuals in times of stress: “The problem is that the role of the follower is the role of the child. The individual adult as individual is master of his own ship, director of his destiny. But when he assumes the role of follower he hands over to the leader his power: his authority over himself as decision-maker. He becomes psychologically dependent on the leader as a child is dependent on its parents. In this way there is profound tendency for the average individual to emotionally regress as soon as he becomes a group member” (from ‘Group Dynamics: Dependency and Narcissism’ in The People of the Lie) (1998, 223). The grandiose narcissist Trump is the cult leader par excellence. His self-appointed place as saviour of the vulnerable/misunderstood/side-lined makes him a ‘perfect’ leader in a #post-truth world!
Baudrillard, Jean. The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact. Oxford and New York: Berg, 2005.
Foucault, Michel. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Press, 1980.
Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. London and NewYork: Routledge, 2005.
Saturday, 18 April 2020
This post is the first under the umbrella of Coronavirus Kairos. These entries will look at various cultural, sociological and/or political aspects of living in the time of Covid 19, taking a predominantly philosophical approach to a number of themes that affect our lives. I hope you enjoy them.
Many individuals are noticing a change of temporal perception during lockdown. Some of these 'feelings' around the passing of time are also somewhat contradictory: one can feel that time has slowed down while in the moment, but when looking back over a period of days, or weeks, time can also seem contracted.
A recent article in Aeon, entitled 'Time alone (chosen or not) can be a chance to hit the reset button', by a psychologist, examines solitude and the effects of it on our emotions, offering a term called 'dispositional autonomy' that is presented as being more significant than that of the introvert versus extravert dichotomy in dictating whether, as individuals, we cope better with extended time in solitude.
While today's psychologists might take a specific and very contemporary look at the effects of time in lockdown, philosophers and scientists have been discussing and measuring time for millenia, with various terms being invented to describe it. In Classical Greek philosophy two specific terms can be associated with time: kairos and chronos. Kairos is tied to action, which have an effect in regard to being applied to a specific set of circumstances. Chronos is concerned with the order of time (its sequential nature) and is seen as being consistent and external to individual interpretation.
These two terms could be considered to be connected through another term, telos, which means 'end' and 'goal'. For G.W.F Hegel telos was attached to history inasmuch as it progresses in a temporal fashion, phenomenologically influenced by the becoming of all the factors that underpin its flow towards this endpoint, its purpose. Of course, for Hegel, this is always influenced by the immanence of spirit as an expression of God. We can see here how kairos, as an action, can be attributed to historical moments in time, with chronos being the bedrock in which these take place - the underlying directional structure that propels time 'forwards'. In our current "corona time" (as I like to call it) we could view telos as being the historical place covid 19 has - and more importantly, will eventually have retrospectively - in the timeframe of a greater history, as yet not unfolded. Kairos could be the actions we take in this period that will affect that history.
Another useful time-related phenomenological term is one formulated by Edmund Husserl: "standing streaming". Standing streaming is concerned with the "living present". This term, I feel, is more relevant to how we are all coping with "corona time", thus: "It does not flow through time; it is, rather, that time flows through, or wells up, within, it - the absolute, living source-point of all constitution" (Smith 2003: 98). Here we can see articulated how living in the moment feels. It is the experience of the lived experience, in a sense, inasmuch as it is specifically individual, with a sense of self that becomes the linchpin of that experience. I like to think of standing streaming as being the 'I' that recognises the 'I' in the moment, however, I am not absolutely sure if Husserl sees it that way. Actually, there is probably a better model that would describe that effect, which is second-order observation (a term associated with autopoieses, which is about observing oneself observing something - see Maturana and Varela). I think second order observation coulod very useful for some people at this moment. It may help us watch our own thought as if we are an observer, providing some much needed critical distance if we are feeling anxious.
I would like to just take a look at one more approach to time. In Difference and Repetition Gilles Deleuze sets out his own definitions of the past, present and future (I find this book really difficult, The Logic of Sense is a walk in the park in comparison). For Deleuze the event is a process of becoming and differentiation. It is also not something that takes place between the past and future - which is how we would normally consider it and, even, experience it. It is, rather the the processual nature of becoming inasmuch as a 'happening' does not culminate in an event as such, it is always in flow (I hope I have go this right). "The event is not what occurs...it is rather inside what occurs, the purely expressed. It signals and awaits us (Deleuze 2004: 170). For Deleuze, everything is present!
Deleuze, G. 2004. The Logic of Sense. Continuum.
Smith, A.D. 2003. Husserl and the Cartesian Meditations. Routledge.
Wednesday, 12 February 2020
I have a chapter in the new The Routledge Companion to Urban Media and Communication edited by Zlatan Krajina and Deborah Stevenson (2019). The chapter is entitled 'Creating a Situation in the City: Embodied Spaces and the Act of Crossing Boundaries'. You can read more about the book here, and below is an extract from my own chapter which introduces a variety of urban interventions and walking practices:
This chapter will discuss the history of what appears under the general term of ‘urban critique’ in its many incarnations, such as modern day psychogeography, place-hacking, DIY urbanism, guerrilla urbanism and urban exploration. By examining the act of placing one’s body into the space under examination, we can begin to understand the dynamics that operate on us when crossing the material boundaries that appear in space, but also the symbolic ones that might be culturally formed in our psyche (such as ideas about who and who might not be allowed in certain spaces). Urban space is a mediated space that enables a form of reflexivity to take place when the individual engages with it in a critical way. The aesthetic and affective response that a person or group generates through the embodied process of the urban encounter, momentarily changes the space to fit the subjectivity of those placing it under scrutiny. While this process can be undertaken and expressed in multiple ways depending on the approach undertaken, what is consistent across these alternative methods is a challenge to the taken-for-granted view that urban space is simply a neutral space that happens to appear as ‘the built environment’ – something that is immovable, and yet also innocuous.
Urban critique, in whatever its form, provides an opportunity for the city to be examined at the micro level, through what Michel De Certeau describes as “spatial practices” which take the form of modes of resistance to an imposed way of life as it appears in “lived space” (1988: 96). These spatial practices allow one to question, and even challenge, the usual ‘rules of the highway’, such how we cross the road at a zebra or pelican crossing, or do not drive on the pavement.
By providing examples of the different forms of contemporary urban critique in regards to forming - what can be described as - situations, the discussion will focus on how some people actively seek to question the way urban space is manifest, ask why it appears the way it does and whether we are able to challenge its, seemingly, fixed materiality. This chapter will provide an overview of these approaches and their mediated relationship with the practices of everyday life in mediated cities...
Sunday, 17 November 2019
The Global Scapes of Postmodernity: A Proposed Model for “Global Cultural Flow” in Fashion Education
Link to free copy of my article based on Appadurai's model of globalization.
Below is the abstract from my recently published article in Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture and above, if you click on the link, you can download a free copy (please note, there are only 50 free copies, so at some point they will run out).
This article proposes the use of Arjun Appadurai’s global scapes model, highlighted in ‘Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy’, as a tool for teaching fashion theory. Originally designed as a one-off lecture on globalization for undergraduates on a ‘Fashion and Society’ module, it has now been extended to cover the whole of the teaching on this module for a semester, with all subsequent classes referring back to Appadurai’s theory of scapes. Globalization is a hugely complex subject area, which is very important for students of fashion today. The reworking of this model to fit the worldwide network that makes up the fashion industry helps students to see their own place, and that of others, on a global scale. It also opens up discussion on important subjects that are all connected to fashion, such as ethics, geo-politics, discourse and practice.
Monday, 21 October 2019
Date: Thursday 7th November 2019
Time: 5.15pm - 6.15pm
Location: GM LT5, Geoffrey Manton Building, Oxford Rd, Manchester, M15 6LL (click here for map)
Tickets: Free - Just turn up!
Dr Tina Richardson will be talking about how the rock of the 1970s disguised misogyny through the employment of myth within the lyrics of the music. By looking at the character of the femme fatale, most well-known in literature and film, Tina will explore the dynamic of this female archetype and examine how in music it is masked behind a veil of mythology. Mostly concentrating on progressive rock, although not exclusively, the lecture will provide examples of music and utilise paintings of mythological subjects from art history. All welcome.
This talk is part of the RAH! programme of events at Manchester Metropolitan University. Please click here for a link to the event and full listings.
Saturday, 5 October 2019
The BASF factory at Ludwigshafen, Germany
Pictured on a postcard in 1881
By Peter Ghosh
Max Weber’s famous text The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) is surely one of the most misunderstood of all the canonical works regularly taught, mangled and revered in universities across the globe. This is not to say that teachers and students are stupid, but that this is an exceptionally compact text that ranges across a very broad subject area, written by an out-and-out intellectual at the top of his game. He would have been dumbfounded to find that it was being used as an elementary introduction to sociology for undergraduate students, or even schoolchildren.
We use the word ‘capitalism’ today as if its meaning were self-evident, or else as if it came from Marx, but this casualness must be set aside. ‘Capitalism’ was Weber’s own word and he defined it as he saw fit. Its most general meaning was quite simply modernity itself: capitalism was ‘the most fateful power in our modern life’. More specifically, it controlled and generated ‘modern Kultur’, the code of values by which people lived in the 20th-century West, and now live, we may add, in much of the 21st-century globe. So the ‘spirit’ of capitalism is also an ‘ethic’, though no doubt the title would have sounded a bit flat if it had been called The Protestant Ethic and the Ethic of Capitalism.
This modern ‘ethic’ or code of values was unlike any other that had gone before. Weber supposed that all previous ethics – that is, socially accepted codes of behaviour rather than the more abstract propositions made by theologians and philosophers – were religious. Religions supplied clear messages about how to behave in society in straightforward human terms, messages that were taken to be moral absolutes binding on all people. In the West this meant Christianity, and its most important social and ethical prescription came out of the Bible: ‘Love thy neighbour.’ Weber was not against love, but his idea of love was a private one – a realm of intimacy and sexuality. As a guide to social behaviour in public places ‘love thy neighbour’ was obviously nonsense, and this was a principal reason why the claims of churches to speak to modern society in authentically religious terms were marginal. He would not have been surprised at the long innings enjoyed by the slogan ‘God is love’ in the 20th-century West – its career was already launched in his own day – nor that its social consequences should have been so limited.
The ethic or code that dominated public life in the modern world was very different. Above all it was impersonal rather than personal: by Weber’s day, agreement on what was right and wrong for the individual was breaking down. The truths of religion – the basis of ethics – were now contested, and other time-honoured norms – such as those pertaining to sexuality, marriage and beauty – were also breaking down. (Here is a blast from the past: who today would think to uphold a binding idea of beauty?) Values were increasingly the property of the individual, not society. So instead of humanly warm contact, based on a shared, intuitively obvious understanding of right and wrong, public behaviour was cool, reserved, hard and sober, governed by strict personal self-control. Correct behaviour lay in the observance of correct procedures. Most obviously, it obeyed the letter of the law (for who could say what its spirit was?) and it was rational. It was logical, consistent, and coherent; or else it obeyed unquestioned modern realities such as the power of numbers, market forces and technology.
There was another kind of disintegration besides that of traditional ethics. The proliferation of knowledge and reflection on knowledge had made it impossible for any one person to know and survey it all. In a world which could not be grasped as a whole, and where there were no universally shared values, most people clung to the particular niche to which they were most committed: their job or profession. They treated their work as a post-religious calling, ‘an absolute end in itself’, and if the modern ‘ethic’ or ‘spirit’ had an ultimate foundation, this was it. One of the most widespread clichés about Weber’s thought is to say that he preached a work ethic. This is a mistake. He personally saw no particular virtue in sweat – he thought his best ideas came to him when relaxing on a sofa with a cigar – and had he known he would be misunderstood in this way, he would have pointed out that a capacity for hard work was something that did not distinguish the modern West from previous societies and their value systems. However, the idea that people were being ever more defined by the blinkered focus of their employment was one he regarded as profoundly modern and characteristic.
The blinkered professional ethic was common to entrepreneurs and an increasingly high-wage, skilled labour force, and it was this combination that produced a situation where the ‘highest good’ was the making of money and ever more money, without any limit. This is what is most readily recognisable as the ‘spirit’ of capitalism, but it should be stressed that it was not a simple ethic of greed which, as Weber recognised, was age-old and eternal. In fact there are two sets of ideas here, though they overlap. There is one about potentially universal rational procedures – specialisation, logic, and formally consistent behaviour – and another that is closer to the modern economy, of which the central part is the professional ethic. The modern situation was the product of narrow-minded adhesion to one’s particular function under a set of conditions where the attempt to understand modernity as a whole had been abandoned by most people. As a result they were not in control of their own destiny, but were governed by the set of rational and impersonal procedures which he likened to an iron cage, or ‘steel housing’. Given its rational and impersonal foundations, the housing fell far short of any human ideal of warmth, spontaneity or breadth of outlook; yet rationality, technology and legality also produced material goods for mass consumption in unprecedented amounts. For this reason, though they could always do so if they chose to, people were unlikely to leave the housing ‘until the last hundredweight of fossil fuel is burned up’.
It is an extremely powerful analysis, which tells us a great deal about the 20th-century West and a set of Western ideas and priorities that the rest of the world has been increasingly happy to take up since 1945. It derives its power not simply from what it says, but because Weber sought to place understanding before judgment, and to see the world as a whole. If we wish to go beyond him, we must do the same.
This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, 3 September 2019
If you are interested in schizocartography, or psychogeography in general, I will be presenting at the 4WCOP Psychogeography Conference on 6 September 2019 at 12.30 at Heritage Quay at the University of Huddersfield.
Schizocartography will be revisited, 10 years on, and you can see what will be covered in my talk below. Events are free, but you need to book a place.
Hope to see you there!