Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Here's a story about television:

It's possible that the history of television does represent (though perhaps not in Badiou's sense,) the process of a truth; that intelligibility can operate without any particular context. The effect of commodity reproduction on the content of television, especially on advertising (where a lot of innovations were made), has been the erosion of those elements borrowed from other artforms that have proved unnecessary for the continued reproduction of television. Television has abandoned the contextualisation still found in theatre. In George Trow's phrase it presents The Context of No Context. Television almost invents, for its viewers, a second heuristics, required to understand or gain pleasure from its evolved form: a new science of interpretation. It's theatre disembowelled by the effects of competitive markets.

Instead of establishing the relevant, in relation to an established culture, television sets up a proxy context, or, more precisely, the viewer learns to construct a proxy context from habitually televisual television. A proxy context is formed by attributing, to an abstracted situation, interests or desires to whose antithetical struggle the situation relates. Television very often chronicles changes to a situation without describing this situation. The viewer learns to understand this (and of course it doesn't extirpate their normal thinking), but this system of heuristics, prompted by television, is strictly speaking illogical, and probably ends up exerting some influence on real life. The viewer is defined by an abstract necessity, a necessity without an object. And this apparent contradiction offers another angle of attack for advertising.

(All this probably dates back further, to the first mass produced newssheets. I'm tempted to date it to the point when Novalis decides to animate, as it were, Fichte's non I.)

Today's newspapers* actually do have something relevant to say, you have to skip to the respective entertainment sections to see this sort of effect. But there's some of this in Mr Blair's resignation: a discourse built around an imaginary consensus, completely divorced from the politics to which Mr Blair has directly contributed.

*i.e. the newspapers of 27th June 2007: the day of Mr Blair's resignation.

Introduction to the Female Brain

I was saying something about typologies; "ornamental" typologies and how they work, though the explanation I gave was a bit sketchy.

Luann Brizenden's The Female Brain is the most visible recent example of this genre, if not the most pernicious. This book makes extravagant false assertions about human psychology, claiming quite illusory differences in the mental pathology of men and women, to the extent of imagining the two sexes as distinct types or species.

The types outlined in The Female Brain have no basis in fact: they're more akin to the types outlined in astrology, but they borrow, as it were, their credibility from the natural sciences.

After Deleuze we can say that there aren't "essential" and "inessential" ideas. There are, however, different ways of conjugating ideas, and so different ways of conceptualising the fact that there are two sexes. These differing conceptions affect the apparent essentiality of there being two sexes. One idea of the sexes has the sexes limited to two sexes: essentially two sexes, as operative in the process of the reproduction of life. But conversely it's possible to conceive the sexes as categories containing no internal factor limiting their proliferation, thereby allowing us to conceive a third sex, a fourth sex, and so on. The two sexes can either be strictly a binary pair or the only extant survivors of a larger set, of which the other members are absent. We don't require differences in fact for this discrepancy to operate, but only in degree of abstraction, assuming essential always some abstraction.

The Female Brain insists its types or species: the supposed "male" and "female" brain, function as a binary pair in the same way as do the sexes, considered as part of the process of reproduction. But these types aren't, in fact, consistant with sexual difference: rather the typology borrows the attribution of an essential binarity from the concept of the two sexes. So, at first glance, the "male" and "female" brain appear as a necessarily binary pair, rather than two arbitrary designations from a limitless set of arbitrary designations. (In this respect Brizenden is more convincing than Jung).

But this also alerts us that The Female Brain is an aesthetic work and not a scientific work. It's really inviting the reader to identify with one type of brain against the other. The designations "male" and "female" brain aren't really credible in relation to an outside world; in terms of evolution, for instance, but only in relation to each other. They are characters in a kind of novel. They're described in a static way and motion is given to the whole thing by the reader questioning the validity of the structure, alternately seduced and repulsed by this description.

This is a caste system. From identifying (himself or presumably) herself with one of the types described by The Female Brain, provisionally and tentatively, the reader is prompted into (what used to be called) "profound meditations" on the possible "divine government of the world." The Female Brain reproduces the affectivity of religious explanations of society, where social institutions are imagined as inevitable, onerous, arbitrary: a strange mixture of necessity a contingency such as is found in de Quincey's ideas about the Hindu system:

"even Englishmen, though not bred in any knowledge of such institutions, cannot but shudder at the mystic sublimity of castes that have flowed apart, and refused to mix, through such immemorial tracts of time"

(this pleasure in anachronism is inherent in all religion)

The Female Brain is an introduction to archaic thinking, though it apparently belongs to a different genre. In some ways it's a counterpart to the recent practice of remodelling the entrances to old buildings in the style of airport architecture (e.g. the National Gallery, London).

It's worth considering Jung's typology alongside Brizenden's because while their respective typologies work in the same way, the "types" they describe are different. The system works independantly of its content.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Creative Taxonomy


A Christian told me that God loves taxonomy. It's a necessary practice, of course, for concretely living in the world. But more often, I think, where taxonomies proliferate, seperated from actual practice, yet inviting this solicitude, they constitute an ersatz science, and an impediment to science. They represent a mannerist, or purely ornamental kind of science.

The simplest form of ornamental taxonomy has one distinction and two species, so this is what I'll consider here, though multipart taxonomies work in exactly the same way. In advertising, the elaboration of a multi-part taxonomy can sometimes be used as a hook, for instance in ads for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The most influential recent example of a two part ornamental taxonomy is probably The Female Brain, a fake psychology book. Another example can be found in C G Jung's late essay Approaching the Unconscious. Here Jung explains the distinction between "thinking" and "feeling" types of people:

"I had always been impressed by the fact that there are a surprising number of individuals who never use their minds if they can avoid it, and an equal number who do use their minds, but in an amazingly stupid way. I was also surprised to find many intelligent and wide-awake people who lived (as far as one could make out) as if they had never learned to use their sense organs. They did not see the things before their eyes, hear the words sounding in their ears, or notice the things they touched or tasted. Some lived without being aware of the state of their own bodies.

There are others who seemed to live in a most curious condition of consciousness, as if the state they had arrived at today were final, with no possibility of change, or as if the world and the psyche were static and would remain so forever. They seemed devoid of all imagination, and they entirely and exclusively depended on their sense-perception. Chances and possibilities did not exist in their world, and in "today" there was no real "tomorrow". The future was just the repetition of the past.

I am trying to give the reader a glimpse of my own first impressions when I began to observe the many people I met. It soon became clear to me, however, that the people who used their minds were those who thought - that is, who applied their intellectual faculty in trying to adapt themselves to people and circumstances. And the equally intelligent people who did not think were those who sought and found their way by feeling

"Feeling is a word that needs some explanation. For instance, one speaks of "feeling" when it is a matter of "sentiment" (corresponding to the French term sentiment). But one also applies the same word to define an opinion; for example, a communication from the White House may begin: "The President feels..." Furthermore, the word may be used to express an intuition: "I had a feeling as if..."

When I use the word "feeling" in contrast to "thinking," I refer to a judgement of value - for instance, agreeable or disagreeable, good or bad, and so on. Feeling according to that definition is not an emotion (which, as the word conveys, is involuntary). Feeling as I mean it is (like thinking) a rational (i.e., ordering) function, whereas intuition is an irrational (i.e., perceiving) function. In so far as intuition is a "hunch," it is not the product of a voluntary act; it is rather an involuntary event, which depends upon different external or internal circumstances instead of an act of judgement. Intuition is more like a sense-perception, which is also an irrational event in so far as it depends esthetically upon objective stimuli, which owe their existence to physical and not to mental causes."

The taxonomy works this way: the auditor is invited to identify with one of the species established; to identify themself as a "thinking" or "feeling" type. Now, belonging to either species identifies one as possessing both the positive and negative attributes pertaining to that species (it's necessary for these attributes to be both positive and negative). The system works where the auditor is seduced enough by the positive things said about them to accord some validity to the negative things. According to the heuristic approach necessary to make the mass media intelligible, negative characterisations of the auditor are always afforded a degree of absolute validity. Also the auditor is most likely ill equipped to theorise an alternative conceptual basis for system laid out.

So, the auditor is offered this role, the role of a "thinking" type, for instance. The auditor is both seduced and repulsed by this designation, but cannot make a judgement on its validity, only partially accept it. But this partial acceptance of the application of a concept in particular, implies the validity of the concept in general. It is accepted that there is a "thinking" type, and so correlatively, a "feeling" type.

(I know this sounds idealist and cruel, but you've got to bear in mind that I'm describing the psychology of the mousetrap not the psychology of the mouse)

The effect of this is to reproduce the field of psychology in a distorted way. The division of humanity into different species, each coherent only with respect to others has the effect of:

1. obfuscating genuinely scientific ideas about human consciousness

2. offering spurious justifications for the political application of division of labour

3. eternalising and mystifying historically conditioned states of human development

4. offering spurious justification for the idea that humanity is comprehended by its philosophers, and by implication that society is comprehended by its owners

"as if the world and the psyche were static and would remain so forever"

(subject to modification, if I can think of any better way to express these ideas)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Free Omar Deghayes

”You must fight this with every ounce of energy you possess,” he said. “Because in the end, you will find that this torture is not about intelligence gathering, or ticking bombs or any other such nonsense. It is a talisman. A talisman of power. A government that can torture and do it with impunity can do anything. No law stands in its way. The very idea of the rule of law crumbles into dust. It means brutal tyranny."


Friday, June 01, 2007

clownfish suit

"With the success of The Passion, Gibson has come as close to trademarking the crucifix itself as one can hope to get just now. Will Icon license crucifixes with James Caviezel dolls on them? And how far will the penumbra of this right to exploit spread - to any bloody Jesus who vaguely resembles James Caviezel (which most do)? As Spielberg managed to prevail in a trademark infringement lawsuit against a theme-park operator who used the word 'Jurassic' in the name of an attraction ('Jurassic Jungle') - drawing a rather elusive remainder of the almost wholly vanished commons into the rule of the master race of corporations - Gibson's film looks like an effort to draw some of the potentially profitable ephemeralities and imagery of Christianity into the portfolio of Icon's assets. The success of the film, whose underlying material is in the vanishing public domain, heralds a flood of copyright infringement lawsuits, for it will not be easy for any future creator of cultural product based on this same source material to avoid all detectable resemblance to the blockbuster. "