Is It Me or My Brain? Depression and Neuroscientific Facts
by Joseph Dumit
[Dumit, Joseph. 2003. “Is It Me or My Brain? Depression and Neuroscientific Facts.” Journal of Medical Humanities 24 (1–2): 35–47.]
- Wittgenstein says that there are certain points about which we no longer ask for an explanation or a test of its truth, and explanations come to an end:
- “Giving grounds, however justifying the evidence, comes to an end; —but the end is not certain propositions’ striking us immediately as true, i.e. it is not a kind of seeing on our part; it is our acting” (On Certainty, p. 204) (39).
- We might call the set of acts that concerns our brains and our bodies deriving from received-facts of science and medicine the objective-self”
- The objective- self consists of our taken-for-granted notions, theories, and tendencies regarding human bodies, brains, and kinds considered as objective, referential, extrinsic, and objects of science and medicine. That we “know”we have a brain and that the brain is necessary for our self is one aspect of our objective-self” (39).
- “Furthermore, objective-selves are not finished but incomplete and in process. With received-facts we fashion and refashion our objective-selves.
- Thus it is we come to know our bodies as endangered by poisons like saccharine, our brains as having a “reading circuit,” and humans as being either mentally ill or sane or borderline.
- I call this “objective-self fashioning” to highlight our own activity in encountering “received-facts.”
- I emphasize “received-facts” rather than just “facts”to highlight the activity of translation that has taken place in order for the results of a scientific or medical project to reach us.
- Each of these movements of facts from one media to another is also necessarily a transformation of the fact. Science studies scholars Bruno Latour and Michel Callon call this process “translation,” a term connoting both movement and change in meaning. We all know that a fact established in a lab is not known immediately by everyone, everywhere. It must travel through specific channels” (39).
- “Each of the aspects of our objective-selves has this personal history (of coming-to-know via received-facts) and also a social history. (39-40)
- “Some human kinds that we are starting to take for granted, e.g., depressives, require attending to broader social and institutional forces in order to understand how it is that we look to the brain for an answer” (40).
- “These social histories enable and constrain science at every level of fact conception, experimentation, publication, and dissemination and reception, but this does not imply that science is culture. Science produces facts in spite of and because of these constraints—laboriously, continuously, and creatively” (40).
- “And we fashion our objective-selves with the fruit of this labor in the form of received-facts in our own continuous and often creative manner, no matter how skeptical we are. This way of living with and through scientific facts is our form of life” (40).
- Examining sufferers of mental illness pints Dumit to a type of selfhood he wants to “a pharmaceutical self whose scale is one of days and weeks.
- Contrary to a Heideggerian phenomenology in which one is passively thrown into moods, here one’s abnormal neurochemistry actively throws one into depression or mania. Sometimes one can respond to this by taking drugs that, days or weeks later, throw you into yet a third state—not normal, but better.”
- This pharmaceutical Self brings forth “three critical aspects of objective-self fashioning for our purposes.”
- First, there is a tremendous flexibility and openness of explanation of the objective-self”
- Even in the face of specific received-facts about ourselves such as brain images, there is room for negotiation and redefinition. Sociologists and anthropologists of psychology have called this the “pandemonium” of folk psychology. But they also note that even as we can play with mind and brain, motivation and behavior, we also ultimately must satisfy local common sense” (44).
- “The second aspect … is the need for a nuanced, complex cultural, historical and institutional as well as scientific or biomedical understanding of context.
- Objective-self fashioning is an ongoing process of social accounting to oneself and others in particular situations in which received-facts function as particularly powerful resources because they bear the objective authority of science” (44).
- “The third critical aspect of objective-self fashioning is the fundamental connection between the brain as objective-self and one’s own personal identity.
- When genes are invoked as the cause of one’s objective-self and aspects of one’s personality they can become synecdoche for one’s identity. If one has a gene for depression, one can fear becoming depressed.”
- “We can note here that brain images further confuse the part with the whole—even though brain images only show a slice of the brain, they show the slice as representing the whole brain, which in turn is the person” (44).
- “Individual sufferers are trying to both understand their illness and live with it. These are activities that are not necessarily compatible. Using the notion of the pharmaceutical self, I would suggest that they have entered into a relationship with their brain that is negotiated and social” (46).
objective-self—our taken-for-granted notions, theories, and tendencies regarding human bodies, brains, and kinds considered as objective, referential, extrinsic, and objects of science and medicine (39)
objective-self fashioning—”an ongoing process of social accounting to oneself and others in particular situations in which received-facts function as particularly powerful resources because they bear the objective authority of science” (44)
identification— borrowed from psychology and semiotics, “we can characterize our relationship to culture as identification.In Kenneth Burke’s definition, identification includes the “ways in which we spontaneously, intuitively, even unconsciously persuade ourselves” (Burke, 1966, p. 301)” (36)
This article considers the roles played by brain images (e.g., from PET scans) in mass media as experienced by people suffering from mental illness, and as used by scientists and activist groups in demonstrating a biological basis for mental illness. Examining the rhetorical presentation of images in magazines and books, the article describes the persuasive power that brain images have in altering the understanding people have of their own body—their “objective self.” Analyzing first-person accounts of encounters with brain images, it argues that people come to understand themselves as having neurotransmitter imbalances that are the cause of their illnesses via received facts and images of the brain, but that this understand- ing is incomplete and in tension with the sense that they are their brain. The article concludes by querying the emergence of a “pharmaceutical self,” in which one experiences one’s brain as if on drugs, as a new form of objective self-fashioning.”
Continue reading Dumit – Is It Me or My Brain?
Discourses of Authenticity Within a Pagan Community: The Emergence of the “Fluffy Bunny” Sanction
by Angela Coco & Ian Woodward
[Coco, Angela, and Ian Woodward. 2007. “Discourses of Authenticity Within a Pagan Community: The Emergence of the ‘Fluffy Bunny’ Sanction.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 36 (5): 479–504.]
- Discussing “fluffy bunnies” is “a group boundary defining exercise based on moral judgments.”
- It explores pagan ethics associated with the deployment of pagan artifacts and spiritual understandings.
- Implicit in the discussion is a sense of a “them” who are seduced by media images and popular practices, or implicated in producing them, and a (serious, authentic) “us” who presumably distance ourselves from such things (480).
- “In a consumer society one purchases objects—commodities such as Tarot cards, ritual tools, medieval dress—that enhance, edify, improve, and sustain self.
- These objects then act as material boundary markers that suggest things people wish to cultivate about themselves and exclude polluting aesthetics/others” (482).
- pagans are conscious of and practically engage in discussions about constructions of pagan identity and commodification of the craft which is exemplified in the notion of the “fluffy bunny” (499).
- “A range of tensions emerges which we argue indicates the ways pagans in late-capitalist (or postmodern) society reflexively create meaning-structures around the production and consumption of goods and services that have become popularized as “pagan.” The nuanced features of these tensions reveal the conceptual distinctions and symbolic boundaries pagans create in establishing an “authentic” pagan identity” (483).
- “The establishment of an “authentic” pagan identity is formed partly by one’s ability to discern the proper limits of commodification and consumerism in the pursuit of religious practice” (499).
- Fluffy Bunnies defined:
- “those people who gain a surface grasp of pagan practices but fail to incorporate pagan beliefs into their day-to-day life practices” (500).
- “uninformed, immature, and lacking in their understanding of the forces of nature and consequently dangerous because they may misuse magic”—informant (500).
- “a person who doesn’t know what they are talking about, or as was said not steadfast in there (sic) beliefs. I am sure that we have all met the 12 year old who is a high priestess and the leader of huge demonic armies and has alliances with the elves!!!!”—informant (500).
- “perhaps what bugs me most about these type (sic) is not so much the superficiality (which the ‘fashion-witch’ has in spades) but the hyposcrisy (sic) which often enables them todo harm whilst preaching love and light, and never once recognizing the results of their own actions”—informant (501).
- “They refer to the superficial practitioner’s tendency to focus only on the light, happy side of life without balancing it with the dark and difficult aspects of experience” (501).
The commodification of the religious impulse finds its most overt expression in the New Age movement and its subculture neopaganism. This article examines discourses in the pagan community in an Australian state. Pagans, who have been characterized as individualist, eclectic, and diverse in their beliefs and practices, network through electronic mail discussion lists and chat forums as well as through local and national offline gatherings. We explore community building and boundary defining communications in these discourses. In particular, we examine interactions that reveal the mobilization of pagans’ concern with authenticity in the context of late-capitalism, consumer lifestyles, and media representations of the “craft.” Our analysis highlights a series of tensions in pagans’ representations of and engagement with consumer culture which are evident in everyday pagan discourse. These notions of in/authenticity are captured by invoking the “fluffy bunny” sanction.
Continue reading Coco & Woodward – Discourses of Authenticity in a Pagan Community
It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens
by danah boyd
[ boyd, danah. 2014. It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. New Haven, CT, USA: Yale University Press. ]
- “Networked publics are publics that are restructured by networked technologies. As such, they are simultaneously
- the space constructed through networked technologies and
- the imagined community that emerges as a result of the intersection of people, technology, and practice.” (8, my spacing added)
- they are “publics both in the spatial sense and in the sense of an imagined community. They are built on and through social media and other emergent technologies … [and] serve much the same functions as publics like the mall or the park did for previous generations of teenagers.” (9)
- “Four affordances, in particular, shape many of the mediated environments that are created by social media.
- persistence: the durability of online expressions and content;
- visibility: the potential audience who can bear witness;
- spreadability: the ease with which content can be shared; and
- searchability: the ability to find content.” (11)
- Four affordances further explained:
- “Content shared through social media often sticks around because technologies are designed to enable persistence… Such content enables interactions to take place over time in an asynchronous fashion.”
- “Through social media, people can easily share with broad audiences and access content from greater distances, which increases the potential visibility of any particular message… In networked publics, interactions are often public by default, private through effort.”
- “Much of what people post online is easily spreadable with the click of a few keystrokes. Some systems provide simple buttons to “forward,” “repost,” or “share” content to articulated or curated lists.”
- “Since the rise of search engines, people’s communications are also often searchable. Search engines make it easy to surface esoteric interactions. These tools are often designed to eliminate contextual cues, increasing the likelihood that searchers will take what they find out of context.” (11-12, italics added)
“The internet mirrors, magnifies, and makes more visible the good, bad, and ugly of everyday life. As teens embrace these tools and incorporate them into their daily practices, they show us how our broader social and cultural systems are affecting their lives.” (24)
BUT, “As a society, we often spend so much time worrying about young people that we fail to account for how our paternalism and protectionism hinders teens’ ability to become informed, thoughtful, and engaged adults.” (28)
- Because adults don’t understand teens’ use of social media:
- we take posts out of context
- we conflate cyberbullying and “drama,” (“performative interpersonal conflict that takes place in front of an active, engaged audience, often on social media” ) when teens feel that actual ‘bullying’ doesn’t happen nearly as much
- we don’t recognize that teens use social media as a way of being social with each other, not as a method of withdrawing from sociality
- we see their acts of protest and politics as illegitimate
- many other reasons…
- on publics—”People develop a sense for what is normative by collectively adjusting their behavior based on what they see in the publics they inhabit and understand.”(201)
- definition of meme—”Memes start when a particular digital artifact—be it an image, a song, a hashtag, or a video—is juxtaposed with other text or other media to produce a loosely connected collection of media that share a similar base referent.” (210)
What is new about how teenagers communicate through services such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram? Do social media affect the quality of teens’ lives? In this eye-opening book, youth culture and technology expert danah boyd uncovers some of the major myths regarding teens’ use of social media. She explores tropes about identity, privacy, safety, danger, and bullying. Ultimately, boyd argues that society fails young people when paternalism and protectionism hinder teenagers’ ability to become informed, thoughtful, and engaged citizens through their online interactions. Yet despite an environment of rampant fear-mongering, boyd finds that teens often find ways to engage and to develop a sense of identity.
Boyd’s conclusions are essential reading not only for parents, teachers, and others who work with teens but also for anyone interested in the impact of emerging technologies on society, culture, and commerce in years to come. Offering insights gleaned from more than a decade of original fieldwork interviewing teenagers across the United States, boyd concludes reassuringly that the kids are all right. At the same time, she acknowledges that coming to terms with life in a networked era is not easy or obvious. In a technologically mediated world, life is bound to be complicated.
Continue reading boyd – It’s Complicated
Taking Animism Seriously, but Perhaps Not Too Seriously?
by Rane Willerslev
[Willerslev, Rane. 2013. “Taking Animism Seriously, but Perhaps Not Too Seriously?” Religion and Society: Advances in Research 4 (1): 41–57.]
How do we take indigenous animism seriously in the sense proposed by Viveiros de Castro? In this article, I pose this challenge to all the major theories of animism, stretching from Tylor and Durkheim, over Lévi-Strauss to Ingold. I then go on to draw a comparison between Žižek’s depiction of the cynical milieu of advanced capitalism in which ideology as “false consciousness” has lost force and the Siberian Yukaghirs for whom ridiculing the spirits is integral to their game of hunting. Both know that, in their activity, they are following an illusion, but still they go along with it; both are ironically self-conscious about not taking the ruling ethos at face value. This makes me suggest an alternative: perhaps it is time for anthropology not to take indigenous animism too seriously.
Continue reading Willerslev—Taking Animism Seriously, but Perhaps Not Too Seriously?
Technologies of the Self
by Michel Foucault
[Foucault, Michel. 1988. Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. Edited by Luther H. Martin, Huck Gutman, and Patrick H. Hutton. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.]
- “Max Weber posed the question: If one wants to behave rationally and regulate one’s action according to true principles, what part of one’s self should one renounce? What is the ascetic price of reason? To what kind of asceticism should one submit? […]
- I posed the opposite question: How have certain kinds of interdictions required the price of certain kinds of knowledge about oneself? What must one know about oneself in order to be willing to renounce anything?” […]
- “Thus I arrived at the hermeneutics of technologies of the self in pagan and early Christian practice” (17).
Four major types of “technologies” (truth games)
- technologies of production—manipulation of things
- technologies of sign systems—signs, symbols
- technologies of power—policing individuals, politics
- technologies of the self—transformative operations on bodies, thoughts, souls
- tech of power + tech of self = domination
- “This contact between the technologies of domination of others and those of the self I call governmentality” (19).
THE DEVELOPMENT OF TECHNOLOGIES OF THE SELF
“I wish to sketch out the development of the hermeneutics of the self in two different contexts which are historically contiguous:
- Greco-Roman philosophy in the first two centuries A.D. of the early Roman Empire and
- Christian spirituality and the monastic principles developed in the fourth and fifth centuries of the late Roman Empire” (19, bullets added).
- to take care of yourself
- the concern with self
- to be concerned, to take care of yourself
- “When one is asked “What is the most important moral principle in ancient philosophy?” the immediate answer is not “Take care of oneself” but the Delphic principle, gnothi sauton (“Know yourself”)” (19).
- “In Greek and Roman texts, the injunction of having to know yourself was always associated with the other principle of having to take care of yourself” (20).
- you have to deal with your self before you can know yourself (go to an oracle)
“To summarize: There has been an inversion between the hierarchy of the two principles of antiquity, “Take care of yourself” and “Know thyself.” In Greco-Roman culture knowledge of oneself appeared as the consequence of taking care of yourself. In the modern world, knowledge of oneself constitutes the fundamental principle” (22).
Analyzing care of the self in three aspects:
- “How is this question introduced into the dialogue? What are the reasons Alcibiades and Socrates are brought to the notion of taking care of one’s self? (23).
- They make a pact-Alcibiades will submit to his lover, Socrates, not in a physical but in a spiritual sense. The intersection of political ambition and philosophical love is “taking care of oneself” (24).
- I’m honestly not sure I get this leap
- “In that relationship, why should Alcibiades be concerned with himself, and why is Socrates concerned with that concern of Alcibiades?”
- “Concern for self always refers to an active political and erotic state.”
- “The rest of the text is devoted to an analysis of this notion of epimelesthai, “taking pains with oneself.” It is divided into two questions:
- What is this self of which one has to take care, and of what docs that care consist?” [para]
- “First, what is the self? Self is a reflexive pronoun, and it has two meanings. Auto means “the same,” but it also conveys the notion of identity. The latter meaning shifts the question from “What is this self?” to “What is the plateau on which I shall find my identity?” […]
- ” When you take care of the body, you don’t take care of the self. The selfis not clothing, tools, or possessions. It is to be found in the principle which uses these tools, a principle not of the body but of the soul” […]
- “The second question is: How must we take care of this principle of activity, the soul? Of what does this care consist? One must know of what the soul consists.” […]
- “The effort of the soul to know itself is the principle on which just political action can be founded, and Alcibiades will be a good politician insofar as he contemplates his soul in the divine element” (25).
- Plato’s text sets out eternal problems:
- “First, there is the problem of the relation between being occupied with oneself and political activity.” […]
- “Second, there is the problem of the relationship between being occupied with oneself and pedagogy.” […]
- “Third, there is the problem of the relationship between concern for oneself and the knowledge of oneself.” […]
- “Fourth, there is the problem of the relationship between the care of self and philosophical love, or the relation to a master” (26).
- “This theme of taking care of oneself was not abstract advice but a widespread activity, a network of obligations and services to the soul” (26-27).
- oral culture—Socrates letters
- written culture—Augustin’s Confessions
- also Marcus Aurelius’s letter to his lover, Fronto (about what he did that day)
- The letter is the transcription of that examination of conscience. It stresses what you did, not what you thought. That is the difference between practice in the Hellenistic and imperial periods and later monastic practice. In Seneca too there are only deeds, not thoughts. But it does prefigure Christian confession” (30).
“In my discussion of Plato’s Alcibiades, I have isolated three major themes:
- first, the relation between care for oneself and care for the political life;
- second, the relation between taking care of the self and defective education; and
- third, the relation between taking care of oneself and knowing oneself” (30, bullets added).
- in the Imperial Period, end of dialogue—beginning of silent listening
- For Plato—”themes of contemplation of self and self care are related dialectically through dialogue” […]
- “in the imperial period we have the themes of, on one side, the obligation of listening to truth and, on the other side, of looking and listening to the self for the truth within” (32-33).
- “For Seneca it isn’t a question of discovering truth in the subject but of remembering truth, recovering a truth which has been forgotten. […]
- The subject constitutes the intersection between acts which have to be regulated and rules for what ought to be done. This is quite different from the Platonic conception and from the Christian conception of conscience” (34).
STOIC TECHNIQUES OF SELF
- “letters to friends and disclosure of self;
- examination of self and conscience, including a review of what was done, of what should have been done, and comparison of the two.
- Now I want to consider the third Stoic technique, askesis, not a disclosure of the secret self but a remembering.”
- “For Plato, one must discover the truth that is within one. For the Stoics, truth is not in oneself but in the logoi, the teaching of the teachers. One memorizes what one has heard, converting the statements one hears into rules of conduct. The subjectivization of truth is the aim of these techniques” (34-35, bullets and bold added)
- we assimilate truth, we do not master it.
- Melete (premeditatio mallorum)—imagining the worst case scenario and experiencing it (virtually!)
- Gymnasia—making up a challenge to actually experience (abstinence, fasting, etc).
- In transition form pagan to Christian belief, the church cooked up Illumination—the disclosure of the self.
- exomologesis – recognition of fact – public recognition of faith
- Penitance was at first a status – not an act or a ritual
- “To prove suffering, to show shame, to make visible humility and exhibit modesty—these are the main features of punishment. Penitence in early Christianity is a way of life acted out at all times by accepting the obligation to disclose oneself” (42).
- rub out sin and restore purity – show sinner as he is – revealing while rubbing out
- how did early Christians explain this paradox to themselves:
- medical: show one’s wounds in order to be cured
- trinbunal: judgement – confession of faults
- death: martyrdom, preference for death over abandonment of faith – refusal of the self – a break with one’s past identity, a new self. revelation = destruction
- “The difference between the Stoic and Christian traditions is that in the Stoic tradition examination of self, judgment, and discipline show the way to self-knowledge by superimposing truthabout self through memory, that is, by memorizing the rules. In exomologesis, the penitent superimposes truth about self by violent rupture and dissociation. It is important to emphasize that this exomologesis is not verbal. It is symbolic, ritual, and theatrical” (43).
“During the fourth century we find a very different technology for the disclosure of the self, exagoreusis, much less famous than exomologesis but more important” (44).
- “The well-developed and elaborated practice of the self-examination in monastic Christianity is different from the Senecan self-examination and […] must be understood from the point of view of two principles of Christian spirituality: obedience and contemplation” (44).
- Obedience—”John Cassian repeats an old principle from the oriental tradition: “Everything the monk does without permission of his master constitutes a theft.” Here obedience is complete control of behavior by the master, not a final autonomous state. It is a sacrifice of the self, of the subject’s own will. This is the new technology of the self” (44-45, bold added)
- Contemplation—considered the supreme good, with the goal of permanent contemplation of God. “Seneca had placed his stress on action. With Cassian the object is not past actions of the day; it’s the present thoughts. Since the monk must continuously turn his thoughts toward God, he must scrutinize the actual course of this thought” (45).
- three analogies:
- mill—thoughts are like grains, sort the bad from good
- military—we must be officers ordering good soldiers to the right, bad to the left
- money—conscience is the money changer degree of purity, effigy, origin
- “In conclusion, in the Christianity of the first centuries, there are two main forms of disclosing self, of showing the truth about oneself. The first is exomologesis, or a dramatic expression of the situation of the penitent as sinner which makes manifest his status as sinner. The second is what was called in the spiritual literature exagoreusis. This is an analytical and continual verbalization of thoughts carried on in the relation of complete obedience to someone else. This relation is modeled on the renunciation of one’s own will and of one’s own self” [para]
- “There is a great difference between exomologesis and exagoreusis; yet we have to underscore the fact that there is one important element in common: You cannot disclose without renouncing.”
- “This theme of self-renunciation is very important. Throughout Christianity there is a correlation between disclosure of the self, dramatic or verbalized, and the renunciation of self. My hypothesis from looking at these two techniques is that it’s the second one, verbalization, which becomes the more important. From the eighteenth century to the present, the techniques of verbalization have been reinserted in a different context by the so called human sciences in order to use them without renunciation of the self but to constitute, positively, a new self. To use these techniques without renouncing oneself constitutes a decisive break” (48-49).
Continue reading Foucault—Technologies of the Self
Nation, Book, Medium: New Technologies and Their Genres
by Miranda Burgess
[Burgess, Miranda. 2009. “Nation, Book, Medium: New Technologies and Their Genres.” In Genres in the Internet: Issues in the Theory of Genre, 193–219. Amsterdam, Netherlands: John Benjamins Publishing.]
- This essay “treats genre less as a self-evident proposition than as an analytic category that is undergoing (re)definition, a scholarly mode that has itself become the object of study”
- “In arguing that the self-reflexive discourse of new media shares both a history and a form with the scholarly discourse about new media, this essay makes the case for the utility of genre theory in charting the process of media succession and in examining the experience of media change” (193-94).
- emphasis is on experience, defined here as “the interface between history and the subject, or the perceptual and analytic exchange between the flow of events and their narrative rendition” (194).
- “relatively few have sought to remake genre theory as what Cohen calls “a theory of behavior” (Cohen 2003: iv). By attending in a specifically historical way to what I will be calling the genre of new media history, this essay aims to propose, if not a general theory of generic motivation, then at least an account of genre formation in the context of the experience of change” (194).
Genre, Model, Method, Theory
- “Marshall McLuhan addressed the citation of older media by newer ones in his famous aphorism that “The ‘content’ of any medium is always another medium” (McLuhan 1964: 23) (195).
- “N. Katherine Hayles characterizes the relations between contemporaneously existing forms as a “medial ecology”: all media, and thus all mediated works, are to be understood in a context of interaction within and against one another (Hayles 2002: 33).”
- “I wish to emphasize the pragmatic character of genre in my own account of new media history, which will argue for the recognition of genres in process where a common ground of what I will call, for lack of a better term, narrative form can be found among writers and new media producers. But I want, at the same time, to underline the role played by genre both as an experiential reflection and a motor of historical change” (197).
New Media Histories
meta-media:the scholarship on new media 1991-2000
- “In the Anglo-American world of the 1990s, salons and newspapers rang to the clash of competing voices as academics, journalists, politicians and public intellectuals argued about new media […]
- “Jean Baudrillard and Jameson, were engaged with a corresponding set of problems, which they characterized as a loss of cultural depth, of a sense of location, of a historical sense, of a sense of the real (Jameson 1991; Baudrillard 1988).1” (199).
- the new media histories of the 1990s reference a past whose characteristic modes of social organization (the nation) and of writing and reading (the book) exist in an analytic proximity—indeed, an intimacy—that yields to a slippage between them.”
New media: The net.goths and their websites in the 1990s
- “The slippage of nation and book that typifies the meta-media of the 1990s is even more apparent in new media practice itself: in the social networking websites produced by net.goths at the end of the twentieth century” (203).
- “As in Rheingold’s account of the WELL, the participants in Nola-Goth.org envisioned their use of electronically mediated communication as a way to establish a form of direct democracy, which they described as a characteristic American public practice of the past and represented as having been lost. As in Doheny-Farina’s more skeptical analysis, however, they conceded the technology’s inadequacies by meeting in person to socialize and debate, and their electronic interactions remained nostalgic for the same material spaces: the town hall, coffeehouse, and tavern” (205).
New media and meta-media, 1790-1820s: Walter Scott’s situation
- “conjunction of (old) books with nations may well be an inherited expression of crisis, one that is not, however, transhistorical, but rather post-Romantic: a form of crisis founded at the historical moment when print becomes ubiquitous (St Clair 2004: 10–13). In this context, it may be seen that the old book that is an apparent generic requirement of new media history does indeed “come from” another genre, a precursor narrative of media change in which old books and new compete on the battleground of national community” […]
- “The “Net.Goth Directory book,” in particular, is a visibly, even exaggeratedly antiquarian object […]
- it resembles an earlier book: the “Mighty Book, With iron clasp’d, and with iron bound,” belonging to “the wizard, Michael Scott” in Walter Scott’s 1805 narrative poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel (Scott 1805: 2.21.8–9; 6.26.25). The antiquity of the Directory’s book thus refers doubly to its history: to the hypermediated forms of Romantic nationalism associated with Scott as well as to the interlocking conceptions of literary and national tradition on which new media history from the turn of the nineteenth century to the turn of the twenty-first has drawn in its nation—and canon—making” (208).
- “Scott’s poem intervenes, moreover, in a context that forms a striking parallel to the emergence and spread of new communications media in the 1990s: that of the widening of reading audiences and growth in periodical writing at the turn of the nineteenth century that William St Clair has termed the rise of the “reading nation” (St Clair 2004)” […]
- “The wooden frame of the press was replaced by iron, hand- fed broadsheets were succeeded by the mechanized feed of continuous paper, and, after 1811, the hand-worked press began giving way to steam (Steinberg 1959: 198–206)” (209).
Page 221, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “As these examples suggest, new media debate at the turn of the nineteenth century shares with the new media discussions of the 1990s a governing oppo- sition between materiality and dematerialization, substance and insubstantiality, in which the nation and old books serve as reassuring ballast.”
The genre of new media history
- “These distinct situations share not only a narrative arc and a metaphoric register but also, I would suggest, a set of causes. To read the writings of new media historians from the turn of the nineteenth century is to find an explicit argument about the dependency of nations on literacy and the subjection of nations to the vagaries of reading. To some extent this Romantic argument may have been self-interested, rooted in very personal anxieties about the fate of literature, and poetry in particular, in what seemed to be the coming age of mass literacy and ephemeral written forms (see e.g. Keen 2000; Siskin 1998: 130–152). In this way, it parallels the hinted but rarely voiced concern of late twentieth-century commentators, academic and otherwise, about their own displacement by new media and new content—from the depopulation of academic courses and the corresponding loss of intellectual property to the tabloidization and disappearance of newspapers in the new day of the blogosphere (see Noble 1998; Liu 2004: 30; Angwin & Hallinan 2005)” (213).
- “the emergence of genre is a behavioral response to change. It is the outcome of the mingling of purpose (a response to the experience of history) and of purposiveness (the subject’s self-consciousness about his or her encounter with the forms in which history is understood and narrated) with a narrative response that, broadly, shares a common form, an arc, figure, or set of references” (214, italics and bold added).
- “to what extent can it be suggested that genre as a category, at once a hallmark of continuity and a register of evolution, is a writer’s (failed?) response to subjectively experienced agonies of change (as a loss of agency)? (215).
For Scott and for others, the nation and the book, whether figured as the traditionary objects of nostalgia or as threatened ideals in need of restoration or defense, serve as compensatory objects in the face of medial and social history. Both are always already superseded; the question is only whether they should or can return, and in what form. For these writers, … however, genre itself—the shape of the mutually metaphorical narratives of nation and book and its function as a common ground of reference, conversation, even understanding—is the real recompense for change, even as it helps to make visible the workings and experience of history” (216).
This essay examines some ‘new media’ practices of the 1990s together with late twentieth-century critical commentaries on computer-mediated communication and electronic textuality. It compares both with discussions of changes in communications technologies and readerships from the turn of the nineteenth century. Based on observations about narrative form—especially the mutual metaphoricity of the nation and the book—in conjunction with the associated qualities of self-consciousness about sociability, historicity, and mediatedness that emerge from this study, I propose an understanding of genre formation as a characteristic, and under-recognized, response to the experience of media change and outline the possible contributions a more self-conscious theory of genre could make to existing theories of media, mediation, and media succession.
Continue reading Burgess—Nation, Book, Medium
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
by Max Weber Translated by Talcott Parsons With an introduction by Anthony Giddens
[Weber, Max.  2001. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: And Other Writings. Translated by Talcott Parsons. 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge.]
Broken down by Giddens [then broken down further by me]—
- “In seeking to specify the distinctive characteristics of modern capitalism in The Protestant Ethic, Weber first of all separates off capitalistic enterprise from the pursuit of gain as such […]
- “only in the West, and in relatively recent times, has capitalistic activity become associated with the rational organisation of formally free labour. By ‘rational organisation’ of labour here Weber means its routinised, calculated administration within continuously functioning enterprises. [para]
- “A rationalised capitalistic enterprise implies two things: a disciplined labour force, and the regularised investment of capital […]
- “The regular reproduction of capital, involving its continual investment and reinvestment for the end of economic efficiency, is foreign to traditional types of enterprise. It is associated with an outlook of a very specific kind: the continual accumulation of wealth for its own sake, rather than for the material rewards that it can serve to bring. ‘Man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life. Economic acquisition is no longer subordinated to man as the means for the satisfaction of his material needs’ (p. 18). This, according to Weber, is the essence of the spirit of modern capitalism. [para]
- “What explains this historically peculiar circumstance of a drive to the accumulation of wealth conjoined to an absence of interest in the worldly pleasures which it can purchase? […]
- “Weber finds the answer in the ‘this-worldly asceticism’ of Puritanism, as focused through the concept of the ‘calling’. The notion of the calling, according to Weber, did not exist either in Antiquity or in Catholic theology; it was introduced by the Reformation. It refers basically to the idea that the highest form of moral obligation of the individual is to fulfil his duty in worldly affairs […]
- “Although the idea of the calling was already present in Luther’s doctrines, Weber argues, it became more rigorously developed in the various Puritan sects: Calvinism, Methodism, Pietism and Baptism […]
- “Of the elements in Calvinism that Weber singles out for special attention, perhaps the most important, for his thesis, is the doctrine of predestination: that only some human beings are chosen to be saved from damnation, the choice being predetermined by God […]
- “From this torment, Weber holds, the capitalist spirit was born. On the pastoral level, two developments occurred: it became obligatory to regard one- self as chosen, lack of certainty being indicative of insufficient faith; and the performance of ‘good works’ in worldly activity became accepted as the medium whereby such surety could be demonstrated. Hence success in a calling eventually came to be regarded as a ‘sign’ – never a means – of being one of the elect. The accumulation of wealth was morally sanctioned in so far as it was combined with a sober, industrious career; wealth was condemned only if employed to support a life of idle luxury or self-indulgence. [para]
- “Calvinism, according to Weber’s argument, moral energy and drive of the capitalist entrepreneur; Weber speaks of its doctrines as having an ‘iron consistency’ in the bleak discipline which it demands of its adherents” (x – xiii).
- The occident has the most rational systematic, and specialized way of doing pretty much everything.
- This includes capitalism—”the Occident has developed capitalism both to a quantitative extent, and (carrying this quantitative development) in types, forms, and directions which have never existed elsewhere” (xxxiii – iv).
- “But in modern times the Occident has developed, in addition to this, a very different form of capitalism which has appeared nowhere else: the rational capitalistic organization of (formally)free labour” (xxxiv).
- “The modern rational organization of the capitalistic enterprise would not have been possible without two other important factors in its development:
- the separation of business from the household, which completely dominates modern economic life, and closely connected with it,
- rational book-keeping” (xxxxv, numbers added)
Religious Affiliation and Social Stratification
- Historical question—”why were the districts of highest economic development at the same time particularly favourable to a revolution in the Church?” (4).
- “the Reformation meant not the elimination of the Church’s control over everyday life, but rather the substitution of a new form of control for the previous one” (4).
- But, “The rule of Calvinism, would be for us the most absolutely unbearable form of ecclesiastical control of the individual which could possibly exist” (5).
- “not all the Protestant denominations seem to have had an equally strong influence in this direction. That of Calvinism, even in Germany, was among the strongest, it seems, and the reformed faith more than the others seems to have promoted the development of the spirit of capitalism” (10).
- Main task—”If any inner relationship between certain expressions of the old Protestant spirit and modern capitalistic culture is to be found, we must attempt to find it, for better or worse not in its alleged more or less materialistic or at least anti-ascetic joy of living, but in its purely religious characteristics” (11).
The Spirit of Capitalism
- Ben Franklin is a good example of the spirit of capitalism personified: “Time is money … credit is money … the good paymaster is lord of another man’s purse … He that idly loses five shillings worth of time; loses five shillings, and might as well prudently throw five shillings in the sea” (14-16).
- the summum bonum of this ethic, the earning of more and more money, combined with the strict avoidance of all spontaneous enjoyment of life, is above all completely devoid of any eudaemonistic, not to say hedonistic, admixture. It is thought of so purely as an end in itself, that from the point of view of the happiness of, or utility to, the single individual, it appears entirely transcendental and absolutely irrational. Man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life. Economic acquisition is no longer sub-ordinated to man as the means for the satisfaction of his material needs” (18).
- This goes against traditionalism, because, “A man does not “by nature” wish to earn more and more money, but simply to live as he is accustomed to live and to earn as much as is necessary for that purpose” (24).
- So for capitalism of this form to be achieved, “not only is a developed sense of responsibility absolutely indispensable, but in general also an attitude which, at least during working hours, is freed from continual calculations of how the customary wage may be earned with a maximum of comfort and a minimum of exertion. Labour must, on the contrary, be performed as if it were an absolute end in itself, a calling. But such an attitude is by no means a product of nature. It cannot be evoked by low wages or high ones alone, but can only be the product of a long and arduous process of education” (25).
- How can this be rational?
- “one may—this simple proposition, which is often forgotten should be placed at the beginning of every study which essays to deal with rationalism—rationalize life from fundamentally different basic points of view and in very different directions …
- “We are here particularly interested in the origin of precisely the irrational element which lies in this, as in every conception of a calling” (38).
Luther’s Concept of the Calling
- Luther’s “calling” can be understood as “a religious conception, that a task is set by God” (39).
- The idea was “unquestionably new: the valuation of the fulfilment of duty in worldly affairs as the highest form which the moral activity of the individual could assume. This it was which inevitably gave every-day worldly activity a religious significance, and which first created the conception of a calling in this sense” (40).
- “The effect of the Reformation as such was only that, as compared with the Catholic attitude, the moral emphasis on and the religious sanction of, organized worldly labour in a calling was mightily increased” (42).
- “for Luther the concept of the calling remained traditionalistic. His calling is something which man has to accept as a divine ordinance, to which he must adapt himself. This aspect outweighed the other idea which was also present, that work in the calling was a, or rather the, task set by God […]
- “Thus, for the time being, the only ethical result was negative; worldly duties were no longer subordinated to ascetic ones; obedience to authority and the acceptance of things as they were, were preached” (44-45).
- “Although the Reformation is unthinkable withoutLuther’s own personal religious development, and was spiritually long influenced by his personality, without Calvinism his work could not have had permanent concrete success” (46).
- “We thus take as our starting-point in the investigation of the relationship between the old Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism the works of Calvin, of Calvinism, and the other Puritan sects” (47-48).
The Religious Foundations of Worldly Asceticism
- Four principle forms of ascetic Protestantism:
- Baptist sects
- most characteristic dogma is predestination, that “only a small proportion of men are chosen for eternal grace […]
- “To apply earthly standards of justice to His sovereign decrees is meaningless and an insult to His Majesty […]
- “Everything else, including the meaning of our individual destiny, is hidden in dark mystery which it would be both impossible to pierce and presumptuous to question. [para]
- “For the damned to complain of their lot would be much the same as for animals to bemoan the fact they were not born as men” (60).
- So “We know only that a part of humanity is saved, the rest damned. To assume that human merit or guilt play a part in determining this destiny would be to think of God’s absolutely free decrees, which have been settled from eternity, as subject to change by human influence, an impossible contradiction […]
- “In its extreme inhumanity this doctrine must above all have had one consequence for the life of a generation which surrendered to its magnificent consistency. That was a feeling of unprecedented inner loneliness of the single individual. In what was for the man of the age of the Reformation the most important thing in life, his eternal salvation, he was forced to follow his path alone to meet a destiny which had been decreed for him from eternity. No one could help him” (60-61).
- “For us the decisive problem is: How was this doctrine borne in an age to which the after-life was not only more important, but in many ways also more certain, than all the interests of life in this world? The question, Am I one of the elect? must sooner or later have arisen for every believer and have forced all other interests into the background” (65).
- “two principal, mutually connected, types of pastoral advice appear.
- On the one hand it is held to be an absolute duty to consider oneself chosen, and to combat all doubts as temptations of the devil, since lack of self-confidence is the result of insufficient faith, hence of imperfect”
- On the other hand, in order to attain that self-confidence intense worldly activity is recommended as the most suitable means. It and it alone disperses religious doubts and gives the certainty of grace” 66-67).
- “Only one of the elect really has the fides efficax, only he is able by virtue of his rebirth (regeneratio) and the resulting sanctification (sanctificatio) of his whole life, to augment the glory of God by real, and not merely apparent, good works […]
- “Thus, however useless good works might be as a means of attaining salvation … they are the technical means, not of purchasing salvation, but of getting rid of the fear of damnation” (69)
- “the significance of the Reformation in the fact that now every Christian had to be a monk all his life. The drain of asceticism from everyday worldly life had been stopped by a dam, and those passionately spiritual natures which had formerly supplied the highest type of monk were now forced to pursue their ascetic ideals within mundane occupations. [para]
- “But in the course of its development Calvinism added some-thing positive to this, the idea of the necessity of proving one’s faith in worldly activity. Therein it gave the broader groups of religiously inclined people a positive incentive to asceticism” (74).
- “in so far as the rational and ascetic element of Pietism outweighed the emotional, the ideas essential to our thesis maintained their place. These were: (1) that the methodical development of one’s own state of grace to a higher and higher degree of certainty and perfection in terms of the law was a sign of grace; and (2) that “God’s Providence works through those in such a state of perfection”, i.e. in that He gives them His signs if they wait patiently and deliberate methodically” (84).
- Even so, “when we consider German Pietism from the point of view important for us, we must admit a vacillation and uncertainty in the religious basis of its asceticism which makes it definitely weaker than the iron consistency of Calvinism” (87).
- unlike Calvinism, which held everything emotional to be illusory, the only sure basis for the certitudo salutis was in principle held to be a pure feeling of absolute certainty of forgiveness, derived immediately from the testimony of the spirit” (89-90).
- “the Methodist ethic appears to rest on a foundation of uncertainty similar to Pietism. But the aspiration to the higher life, the second blessedness, served it as a sort of makeshift for the doctrine of predestination (91).
- “The emotional act of conversion was methodically induced … [and] the emotion, once awakened, was directed into a rational struggle for perfection” (92).
- The Baptist Sects
- “since predestination was rejected, the peculiarly rational character of Baptist morality rested psychologically above all on the idea of expectant waiting for the Spirit to descend […]
- “The purpose of this silent waiting is to overcome everything impulsive and irrational, the passions and subjective interests of the natural man. He must be stilled in order to create that deep repose of the soul in which alone the word of God can be heard.” (96).
- “It is our next task to follow out the results of the Puritan idea of the calling in the business world, now that the above sketch has attempted to show its religious foundations […]
- the decisive point was, to recapitulate, the conception of the state of religious grace, common to all the denominations, as a status which marks off its possessor from the degradation of the flesh, from the world. It is our next task to follow out the results of the Puritan idea of the calling in the business world, now that the above sketch has attempted to show its religious foundations […]
- “The religious life of the saints, as distinguished from the natural life, was—the most important point—no longer lived outside the world in monastic communities, but within the world and its institutions. This rationalization of conduct within this world, but for the sake of the world beyond, was the con- sequence of the concept of calling of ascetic Protestantism” (100).
- “it strode into the market-place of life, slammed the door of the monastery behind it, and undertook to penetrate just that daily routine of life with its methodicalness, to fashion it into a life in the world, but neither of nor for this world” (101).
Asceticism and the Spirit of Capitalism
- “In order to understand the connection between the fundamental religious ideas of ascetic Protestantism and its maxims for everyday economic conduct, it is necessary to examine with especial care such writings as have evidently been derived from ministerial practice” (102).
- “Richard Baxter stands out above many other writers on Puritan ethics, both because of his eminently practical and realistic attitude, and, at the same time, because of the universal recognition accorded to his works” (103).
- “Waste of time is … the first and in principle the deadliest of sins. The span of human life is infinitely short and precious tomake sure of one’s own election. Loss of time through sociability, idle talk, luxury, even more sleep than is necessary for health, six to at most eight hours, is worthy of absolute moral condemnation” (104).
- “Accordingly, Baxter’s principal work is dominated by the continually repeated, often almost passionate preaching of hard, continuous bodily or mental labour” (105).
- “If God show you a way in which you may lawfully get more than in another way (without wrong to your soul or to any other), if you refuse this, and choose the less gainful way, you cross one of the ends of your calling, and you refuse to be God’s steward, and to accept His gifts and use them for Him when He requireth it: you may labour to be rich for God, though not for the flesh and sin. [para]
- “Wealth is thus bad ethically only in so far as it is a temptation to idleness and sinful enjoyment of life, and its acquisition is bad only when it is with the purpose of later living merrily and without care. But as a performance of duty in a calling it is not only morally permissible, but actually enjoined” (108).
- “Let us now try to clarify the points in which the Puritan idea of the calling and the premium it placed upon ascetic conduct was bound directly to influence the development of a capitalistic way of life. As we have seen, this asceticism turned with all its force against one thing: the spontaneous enjoyment of life and all it had to offer” (111).
- “When the limitation of consumption is combined with this release of acquisitive activity, the inevitable practical result is obvious: accumulation of capital through ascetic compulsion to save” (116).
- “As far as the influence of the Puritan outlook extended, under all circumstances .. it favoured the development of a rational bourgeois economic life; … It stood at the cradle of the modern economic man” (117).
- “the intensity of the search for the Kingdom of God commenced gradually to pass over into sober economic virtue; the religious roots died out slowly, giving way to utilitarian worldliness” (119).
- “The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so […]
- This order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which to-day determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition, with irresistible force […]
- “In Baxter’s view the care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the “saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment.” But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage” (123).
- “To-day the spirit of religious asceticism—whether finally, who knows?—has escaped from the cage. But victorious capitalism, since it rests on mechanical foundations, needs its support no longer […]
- “No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrification, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the last stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: “Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved” (124).
Continue reading Weber—The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism