a writer's journal - politics, music, american culture, esoteric aspects of life, and stories

Saturday

Bureacracy, plutocracy, hegemony, and pointlessness

I took a course once in something called "Philosophy of History", and found it pretty inadequate - first of all, we didn't read any Hegel (where the phrase comes from), not to mention Nietzche or Freud, and we read maybe 10 pages of Marx.  I was hoping for a little Rorty and Baudrillard, too.  After a fleeting preliminary section on issues of historiographical praxis (how is truth arrived at among historians, etc. - I found this a good start), the meat of the course was devoted to questions of determinism and the will.  Though I had little interest in this - it's something I'd largely worked out my own beliefs on, and they are now well calcified: I am a determinist through and through - it was at least stimulating to tackle an issue that engages both types of 20th century philosophers, analytic and continental; so you look at it either as a quirky offshoot of philosophy of science (how can we predict history? an analytic question) or a semi-pragmatic-looking application of metaphysics (is the possible discontinuity between the hypothetical free will and the natural causes which affect its decisionmaking the only way out of reductionism, or are there other ways out of a deterministic world? a very nebulous line of inquiry into near-mystical solutions)

I would've been perfectly content to spend a semester looking at issues of historiographical praxis, preferably in a classroom of 50% history majors, 25% philosophy majors, 25% others.  There's plenty that's quite fascinating in a timeless way, like the almost literary question of how much emphasis on great figures is appropriate to history-telling; and there's the current crop of issues, which deal with the new interconnectedness of knowledge, post-colonialist relativism, the need to grapple with the idea that certain conspiracy theories such as the Kennedy assassination will never be resolved, etc.

But there is still plenty to look at from a phenomological point of view, too.  To my mind, the idea that each little corner of human endeavor such as war, sex, chemistry or hairdressing needs its own philosophical exegesis is a natural aftereffect of each little corner having its own history.  The basic idea here is that every historian of hairdressing has a philosophical outlook on it, which is implicit in his approach to the subject (e.g. hair is essentially a mode of expression, or perhaps hair-cutting is a form of domestication and civilizing).  The problem is that those historians who produce the best history sometimes have questionable philosophy underpinning their work, skewing their conclusions.  Therefore, you need a second layer of theory to sift through the historical work in order to even it out, separate what is known and agreed on by all from what is conjectural.

I felt for a long time in the English major ghetto that a pleasant revolution might be enacted by swapping roles, literally, with the history department.  All the English majors could spend a year reading nonfiction of various types, mainly political and social histories, and dealing with these texts in an "English majory" way.  Looking at the narrative structure and so forth.  Figuring out what makes a popular history better than an unpopular one - such an important issue.  The historians, for their part, might try to clean up the messiness of English lit. theory, try to map it out better - when symbolism was happening in France, influenced in part by factors x, y & z in world history, what was happening in the Middle East, Asia, Latin America?  What are the connections?  You can't do this in English lit because you have to focus so narrowly in subject: historians are good at focusing narrowly on any axis (time, subject, nation, etc.).

Of course, the main problem with this random thoughtlet is that it would be impossible for anything so free-form and experimental to happen at a university, because it's a giant bureacracy.  There's a very narrow view of what kinds of history writing and lit crit research are worthwhile, enforced by the nature of the educational system, everybody knows this.  And in the end most people feel it doesn't matter - who cares that the best historians succeed in part because they are smooth and interesting word-wielders?  Who cares that English lit is quite simply a formless morass of talk, without any pretense to organization?  It doesn't affect the price of gas or how people vote or anything, does it?

I'm going somewhere with this, incidentally.  It's just a metaphor, really, for what I think is the major challenge facing the human race right now.  In order to see things my way, you have to search for the unifying principle that explains that stultifying bureacracy, and the attendant corrosive plutocracy; you need to connect that with the hegemony of the system, its monopolistic control of thought and option; and how that relates to the purpose of it all, or lack thereof.

That's what I'm searching for, that unifying principle.  I'm going to write about this all next week.  I think this idea has legs.
Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?