Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Goffman (and Greenstreet) on Institutions

I had occasion to dip into Erving Goffman's Asylums today. Here's the first sentence of the first essay.

Social establishments—institutions in the everyday sense of that term—are places such as rooms, suites of rooms, buildings or plants in which activity of a particular kind regularly goes on. (15)

I will be using this in my work on "composure" as a counterpoint to Kantian intuitions.

In whatever manner and by whatever means a mode of knowledge may relate to objects, intuition is that through which it is in immediate relation to them, and to which all thought as a means is directed. (KRV A19/B33).

Intuitions and institutions together are the media of immediacy.

What I like about Goffman's definition of institutions ("in the everday sense") is its concreteness. It's tangibility. We can heighten it by imagining what Kate Greenstreet would do with it:

I think of places
(rooms, suites of rooms, buildings
or plants)
where things regularly go on

Wittgenstein suggested that our belief in the "intangibility" of mental states stems from our "refus[al] to count what is tangible about our state as part of the specific state which we are postulating" (PI§608). In this spirit, I think it is important to approach our institutions through the rooms and suites of rooms in which things happen. Marriage is an institution and the home (the house or houses) is its place. Money is an institution and the bank its tangible place. There are places that put us "in immediate relation" to our activities.


Kirby Olson said...

Does flarf have a place, or an institution?

Is it possibly the asylum, or is it the art gallery?

Thomas said...

Just as there can be no philosophy without knowledge and no knowledge without intuition, there can be no poetry without power and no power without institutions.

So, yes, Flarf, if it is indeed poetry, has a place, an institutional setting. But the genius (and fragility) of Flarf is that it only just very barely acknowledges this institutionalization, this setting into place.

Institutional action is robustly ethical (using that adjective purely descriptively). Flarf merely has a certain "ethical stickiness" (Kasey's phrase).

Kirby Olson said...

Kasey and yourself and a few others inside Flarf have institutional settings (in universities). Is it a university movement, like Language? do you have to be hyper-educated, to get it?

Could it ever be something that the garbage-man would read while doing his runs, in between dumpsters?

That is to say, a non-university trained reader -- could such a person "get" Flarf, or does it have to be within universities, and especially the staff, that Flarf can be grokked, and granted placehood.

I can't imagine anyone reading a Flarf poem among the bra racks at Macy's.

Thomas said...

I think I've explained this before but I am neither "inside Flarf" nor an academic. I have an adminstrative position at a business school.

Flarf, like many other kinds of literature, may be mainly for educated people. Different amusements appeal to different intellects.

Education often confuses people, i.e., the educated are often confused. Or confused in particular ways, let us say. Poetry is one way they can find some emotional precision.

Kirby Olson said...

There was a long argument (well over a hundred posts) at Tim Yu's blog a few years ago, on the Flarf topic. At that point it was the only Flarf poem I had read. I worked out a lot of my positions on the Flarf poem during that debate, which was rather thrilling since so many people were in on it. Many people read it through a PC lens, and were offended, but there were also some intelligent people that responded in more surprising ways:

I think that this link gathers a lot of the flarf fluff. You might enjoy it. It was a fairly high-level debate, with a lot of interesting ideas. I didn't want to redo them here.

I like arguing, especially when there's dozens in a dither. It can be fun.

that argument was a regular train wreck and there was lots of rubber necking.