Monthly Archives: September 2011
[Edit: Draper's point has been disputed by Mike Ely: see his comments below.]
Given the concern with changing conditions in rural society in much of this issue (as represented by the work of Amin and William Hinton) we thought that readers would be interested in the origin of a misunderstanding that surrounds Marx’s thoughts on rural life. One often hears the criticism that Marxism was from the beginning an extreme modernizing philosophy that looked with complete disdain on rural existence. Did not Marx himself in The Communist Manifesto, it is frequently asked, refer to “the idiocy of rural life”? Here a misconception has arisen through the mistranslation of a single word in the authorized English translation of the Manifesto. This issue is addressed in Hal Draper’s definitive, though little known work, The Adventures of the Communist Manifesto (Berkeley: Center for Socialist History, 1998)an expanded version of his earlier work, The Annotated Communist Manifesto. Draper’s Adventures includes a new English translation of the Manifesto, together with paragraph-by-paragraph annotations, and the most detailed history currently available of the various editions of the Manifesto in major European languages.
In Draper’s translation the phrase “the idiocy of rural life” in paragraph 28 of the Manifesto is replaced with “the isolation of rural life.” His explanation for this correction is worth quoting at length:
IDIOCY OF RURAL LIFE. This oft-quoted A.ET. [authorized English translation] expression is a mistranslation. The German word Idiotismus did not, and does not, mean “idiocy” (Idiotie); it usually means idiom, like its French cognate idiotisme. But here [in paragraph 28 of The Communist Manifesto] it means neither. In the nineteenth century, German still retained the original Greek meaning of forms based on the word idiotes: a private person, withdrawn from public (communal) concerns, apolitical in the original sense of isolation from the larger community. In the Manifesto, it was being used by a scholar who had recently written his doctoral dissertation on Greek philosophy and liked to read Aeschylus in the original. (For a more detailed account of the philological background and evidence, see [Hal Draper], KMTR [Karl Marxs Theory of Revolution, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1978] 2:344f.) What the rural population had to be saved from, then, was the privatized apartness of a life-style isolated from the larger society: the classic stasis of peasant life. To inject the English idiocy into this thought is to muddle everything. The original Greek meaning (which in the 19th century was still alive in German alongside the idiom meaning) had been lost in English centuries ago. Moore [the translator of the authorized English translation] was probably not aware of this problem; Engels had probably known it forty years before. He was certainly familiar with the thought behind it: in his Condition of the Working Class in England (1845), he had written about the rural weavers as a class “which had remained sunk in apathetic indifference to the universal interests of mankind.” (MECW [Marx and Engels, Collected Works] 4:309.) In 1873 he made exactly the Manifesto’s point without using the word “idiocy”: the abolition of the town-country antithesis “will be able to deliver the rural population from the isolation and stupor in which it has vegetated almost unchanged for thousands of years” (Housing Question, Pt. III, Chapter 3).
Marx’s criticism of the isolation of rural life then had to do with the antithesis of town and country under capitalism as expressed throughout his work. See also John Bellamy Foster, Marx’s Ecology (New York: Monthly Review Press), pp. 137-38.
This is fascinating. This point serves as an excellent support of Exchange Value‘s essay regarding misquotations of Marx by prominent business magazines in order to make him seem like he celebrates the bourgeoisie. As well, this quotation is apparently “often used by Greens to mischaracterize [Marx & Engels] as relentless modernizers.” Retranslating the sentence gives it an intriguingly collectivist resonance, and I urge Marxists and non-Marxists alike to readjust their conceptions of Marx accordingly.
Chaos and instability, concepts only beginning to acquire formal definitions, were not the same at all. A chaotic system could be stable if its particular brand of irregularity persisted in the face of small disturbances. [Edward] Lorenz’s system was an example…. The chaos Lorenz discovered, with all its unpredictability, was as stable as a marble in a bowl. You could add noise to this system, jiggle it, stir it up, interfere with its motion, and then when everything settled down, the transients dying away like echoes in a canyon, the system would return to the same peculiar pattern of irregularity as before. It was locally unpredictable, globally stable. Real dynamical systems played by a more complicated set of rules than anyone had imagined. The example described in the letter from Smale’s colleague was another simple system, discovered more than a generation earlier and all but forgotten. As it happened, it was a pendulum in disguise: an oscillating electronic circuit. It was nonlinear and it was periodically forced, just like a child on a swing.
It was just a vacuum tube, really, investigated in the twenties by a Dutch electrical engineer named Balthasar van der Pol. A modern physics student would explore the behavior of such an oscillator by looking at the line traced on the screen of an oscilloscope. Van der Pol did not have an oscilloscope, so he had to monitor his circuit by listening to changing tones in a telephone handset. He was pleased to discover regularities in the behavior as he changed the current that fed it. The tone would leap from frequency to frequency as if climbing a staircase, leaving one frequency and then locking solidly onto the next. Yet once in a while van der Pol noted something strange. The behavior sounded irregular, in a way that he could not explain. Under the circumstances he was not worried. “Often an irregular noise is heard in the telephone receivers before the frequency jumps to the next lower value,” he wrote in a letter to Nature. “However, this is a subsidiary phenomenon.” He was one of many scientists who got a glimpse of chaos but had no language to understand it. For people trying to build vacuum tubes, the frequency-locking was important. But for people trying to understand the nature of complexity, the truly interesting behavior would turn out to be the “irregular noise” created by the conflicting pulls of a higher and lower frequency.
~Gleick, J. Chaos: Making A New Science, pg. 48-9.
My question: what if van der Pol could not have noticed the patterns he did if he had simply used a graph? What if the structures of music (e.g. chord progressions, key, octaves) can allow insight into patterns that cannot be fully conveyed via visual media, i.e. graphs?
There is a flash game which is quite pertinent to this context here. Though I normally frown upon such frivolous things, this one is quite simple, yet allows for a great amount of creativity. I highly recommend it to all. If Noam Chomsky could develop syntax out of a little grammar game he would play between sessions of ‘serious’ linguistic work, so, perhaps, one might be able to gradually come up with some practical application for a plaything like this…
Intellectuals’ seemingly inherent attraction to games is something that I still don’t understand, but it is nevertheless quite fascinating, not to mention (potentially) useful, as is the case here.
The UWO Political Science department will be hosting its annual Nietzsche Workshop on October 1. Its theme will be Nietzsche, Ecology, & Technology, and its guest speakers will include Horst Hutter, Arthur Kroker, Scott Bakker, and Ed Keller. It will take place from 1:30 to 6:00pm, followed by an hour-long reception upstairs. See here for further details.
Because seating is limited, those attending will have to register beforehand by contacting email@example.com. They need your name and your academic affiliation. For those wishing to (re)read any of his texts beforehand, Librivox has an excellent selection of free Nietzsche audiobooks available for download.
The following video may serve as an optimal advertisement for the workshop:
In other news, the Theory Centre has shanghaied me into getting an academia.edu profile here. I’m completely flattered. I’ve posted my Canada-India Trade Manual there, which I’m still quite satisfied with, and I remain convinced that a knowledge of India (which is projected to become a world superpower by 2050) is pertinent for all social theorists.
Intriguingly, scientists at CERN working with neutrinos have discovered that they travel faster than light. If this is true, then the majority of contemporary physics, which presupposes that the speed of light is the upper limit of speed in the universe, will have to be re-evaluated. Thus we’ll have the opportunity to witness the philosophy of science in action. Imre Lakatos would no doubt be exhilarated at the prospect.
Look here for the article by Popular Science, and here for an interview with one of the researchers. Check out the comments section in the former for an idea of the theoretical debate still surrounding the issue.
[Edit (09/25): See here as well.]
The tragic predicament of such intellectuals [as Lacan] is that, driven by terrifying feelings of emotional emptiness and insecurity, they mistakenly conclude that intellectual truths can be an adequate substitute for emotional warmth. Convinced that difficult or abstract intellectual formulations can alone fill the void they feel within them, they develop a voracious appetite for such formulations, anorexically judging their goodness by the degree of difficulty or abstraction they possess. Believing that what they have devoured is intrinsically nourishing and failing to grasp the poverty of the diet they have adopted through their own self-denying ordinances, they now feel impelled to share their ‘truths’ with others. Indeed they are driven by their own generosity to do so. Like a starving man who compels others to eat the diet of stones he believes has saved him, they give abundantly of their poverty out of a genuine conviction that they are enriching others. Because their own most generous impulses have become inextricably entwined with their impulse to self-denial they are unable to discriminate between generosity and cruelty and unable to understand that by compulsively sharing with others (or compelling others to share) their own chosen form of intellectual or spiritual wealth they are merely disseminating their poverty.
Webster, R. “The Cult of Lacan“
[The above is the only thought-provoking paragraph of an otherwise disappointing essay.]
Question: [In his essay "The Tragedy of the Commons," Garrett] Hardin assumes that a commons will inevitably be degraded. Is this so?
Garrett Hardin, in his essay “The Tragedy of the Commons,” offers a brand new metaphor (‘the tragedy’) by which to interpret the politics of allocating natural resources, as well as a useful concept (‘the commons’) to label those resources which resist the delineations of private property. However, Hardin’s conclusions have rarely held in practice, so the task remains to show how subtle methodological biases have caused his conclusions to err. I will argue that Hardin’s argument was based on a misinterpretation of Bentham; that his plea for governments to restrict births was based on holding a variable as a constant; and that the importance of his argument comes from its refutation of the laissez-faire subject.
To concisely summarize Garrett Hardin’s argument, he utilizes an example of shepherds sharing a common grazing field, and shows that if each shepherd follows their own interests by allowing as many of their goats to feed as they can, the pasture will eventually become overgrazed, leading to adverse consequences for all of the shepherds. Hardin uses this example as a metaphor for all environmental resources. He notes various resources which are ‘commons’, i.e. owned by no one and shared by all, and argues that state control is necessary to distribute resources in amounts that are optimal for all while preventing overuse. In particular, he harangues the UN’s “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” for stating that no person or institution has any right to control the size of a family, i.e. to limit the amount of births in order to prevent overpopulation.
In a scintillating bricolage of Žižek, Marx, The Economist, and Bloomberg (the latter two of which he critiques mercilessly), the author of Exchange Value dissects the recent trendiness of quasi-socialist sympathy in prominent business magazines. This excellent blog just started on September 10, as of now having only one post, with more promised in the near future to continue the author’s aforementioned analysis, though in the trend’s more subtle manifestations. Credit to A Grub Street Hack for the link.
On a side note, there seem to be a great deal of very well-done blogs on Tumblr, including Weltende (by a law student cum theoretician), Mattermorphosis (on media & virtual reality), The Last Mutations (a gorgeous microblog by the author of Archive Fire), and The Infinite Conversation, though there are many more to be discovered. I particularly like how Tumblr is so much more amenable to simple posts, e.g. a picture with a short comment, letting the reader use the materials at hand to construct (or at least approximate) for themselves the author’s thought. In Lyotard’s terminology, it tends more toward figure than discourse, the former being a more fluid passage of thought than the rigid conceptual thinking Lyotard feels has striated the space of philosophy throughout its history. An entirely different crowd is attracted to such figural media, and indeed an entirely different intellectual, many of whom, for better or for worse, stray away from academia (even if they are impeccably well-read), not to mention modernist lebensprojekten & the divorce of affect and rigor.
Perhaps in the future, lengthy tomes will be passé, and ‘microtheory‘ (books of maxims & pithy quotations) shall be all the rage. Currently, however, the literati still retain their hegemony in academia, for which they will fight viciously until the last ivory tower intellectual is strangled with the entrails of the last advertiser. (In other words, microtheory, if it ever becomes popular, will always be ‘vulgar’ in comparison with scholarly theory, since the latter is here to stay.) ‘Electric thinking’, as I term McLuhan’s audial-tactile paradigm, is pervading theoretical systems in a seemingly inexorable manner. (I can think of no other explanation for Bourdieu’s popularity; for example, I believe McLuhan specifically uses the word ‘field’ to describe how audial-tactile thinkers perceive the world.) There will always be a place for the intellectual who can navigate at will among paradigms, however. But of course, this is a matter of theoretical praxis; neither can suffice alone.