November 20th, 2011 / 8:23 pm
Power Quote

To Afford Polyvalence

You use the heading “Dialectic of Modernization” to describe how society’s empty center is filled with illusionary images of a center.

In Spheres III, I attempt to explain why we should not only purge the two portentous words revolution and mass from our vocabulary, but also the concept of “society.” It suggests a coherence that could only be achieved by violent asserting conformism. The conglomerate of humans that has, since the 18th century, called itself “society” is precisely not based on the atomic dots that we tend to call individuals. Instead, it is a patchwork of milieus that are structured as subcultures. Just think of the world of horse lovers—a huge subculture in which you could lose yourself for the duration of your life but which is as good as invisible if you are not a member of it. There are hundreds if not thousands of milieus in the current social terrain that all have the tendency from their own viewpoint to form the center of the world and yet are as good as nonexistent for the others. I term them inter-ignorant systems. And, among other things, they exist by virtue of a blindness rule. They may not know of one another, since otherwise their members would be robbed of the enjoyment of being specialized members of a select few. In terms of their profession, there are only two or three types of humans who can afford polyvalence in dealing with milieus. The first are architects who (at least virtually) build containers for all; the second are the novelists, who insert persons from all walks of life into their novels; finally come the priests who speak at the burials of all possible classes of the dead. But that is probably the entire list. Although, no, I forgot the new sociologists à la Latour.

In other words, the multiple personality on the one hand and the single networker on the other— those are the two options I see open to individualized populations. The way homo sapiens is influenced by the dowry from the days of hording is no doubt insurmountable, but because the explication of that old heritage continues simultaneously in various directions, the proto-social elements of the life of sapiens can be reworked. They lead to an electronic tribalism. In the dyadic motifs, by contrast, the intimate relationships are explicated to such a degree that intimacy can quite literally be played through with the technical media of self-supplementation. In the long run, human types arise that are fairly unlike what we have known to date.


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  1. reynard

      sounds a bit like rosenberg’s ‘herd of individual minds.’ i’m reading this victor turner book on symbolic action in human society, & while he is considered somewhat old school compared to latour, and though i’ve only just begun, he says some interesting things that relate to these ideas. in the preface he discusses arnold van gennep’s discovery that ‘human culture had become cognizant of a tripartite movement in space-time’ & that ‘in all ritualized movement there was at least a moment when those being moved in accordance with a cultural script were liberated from normative demands, when they were, indeed, betwixt and between sucessive lodegments in jural political systems. In this gap between ordered worlds almost anything may happen.’ turner takes this idea & applies it to rosenberg’s theory that ‘the culture of any society at any moment is more like the debris, or “fall-out,” of past ideological systems, than it is itself a system, a coherent whole. Coherent wholes may exist (but these tend to be lodged in individual heads, sometimes in those of obsessionals or paranoiacs), but human social groups tend to find their openness to the future in the variety of their metaphors for what may be the good life and in the contest of their paradigms’

      in any case, i don’t think we need fewer words, but more, way more. obviously, they must come out of a need, rather than a desire & they will inevitably be related to these transitions & overlapping paradigms & usage, as individuals die & individuals are born. as turner says ‘Yesterday’s liminal becomes today’s stabilized, today’s peripheral becomes tomorrow’s centered’ – the wikipedia for turner’s symbolic anthropolgy is short but sweet, calling it the antipode to cultural materialism, and including the geertz quote, ‘Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of
      significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and
      the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search
      of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning.’

      anywho – hope all’s well in the land of mist & snow ;~)

  2. Lilzed

      Based on the first sentence I feel like you could have picked a really cool image for this one, but you didn’t

  3. deadgod
  4. alexisorgera

      so, the thesis of this excerpt has something to do with advocating (?) electronic tribalism, but what does that look like (facebook??) and how does that relate to the “patchwork of milieus” from which we cannot escape, unless we’re priests, novelists, or architects. i like this very much but i don’t know where to place it/space it.

  5. Anonymous