Sunday, September 25, 2011

Institutional Structure

In my last post, I made the conventional mistake of talking about "institutional structure". Properly speaking, there are no institutional structures, nor social structures either. Only the material world has structure, and it is by mistaking certain material arrangements (like prison cells and lecture theaters) for "social" orders that we can come to believe that the "social world" exists as a structured entity.

Social life (which is not in the world, but in history) has texture, not structure. It has a surface you can feel.

My Position

If intuition is the immediacy of knowledge in thought, then institution is the immediacy of power in feeling. I'm increasingly committing myself to the radical idea that this undermines the legitimacy of social science. We cannot reach an understanding of social institutions through scientific inquiry; there cannot be a "philosophy of power" (a philosophical ethics). We can only hope for greater precision in our obedience (and perhaps our disobedience), and the only way to improve our precision is through poetry and politics. Philosophy and science are simply misapplied when applied to society.

Institutions determine how we feel immediately in a situation. Let us take the banal example: a man's experience of a beautiful woman. Even her beauty (his experience of her beauty) is already conditional on institutions that imbue her features (and not the features of some "plainer" woman) with a very real power. He is "taken" with her (just as philosophers might speak of objects as "given" to us under certain conditions). But consider now the possibility that the year is 1953 and he is black and she is white. Or he is 50 and she is 16. Or consider the difference between his experience of her beauty as a married man and as a single man. All of these differences are felt, and are conditional on the institutional structure of the society in which he lives. We can imagine a society in which color does not "enter into it", and a society in which age differences (and age as such), has a very different effect on our "feelings". It is poetry and politics, not philosophy and science, it is practice not theory, that helps us deal with the exigencies of our "moral sentiments".

The man's experience of this woman's beauty, then, must be extricated from the policies that immediately impinge upon his life. This extrication (a kind of liberation) is effected by poetry. (Lately, I've been reading WCW's Paterson, which is an excellent example of what I'm talking about here.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Getting My Own Drift

The great thing about the pangrammatical homologies (or supplements, as I'm now calling them) is that they force insights upon us we might not otherwise have. The connection between obedience and understanding, for example, was almost startling. By the time I arrived at drift as a supplement for rules I had forgotten that I began with intuition as the supplement for institution. This means that just as "the rules that govern society" are institutions, intuitions are "the drift that questions materiality". The latter is not as obviously true as the former. But if I'm right it is just as correct. Intuition calls materiality into question just as surely as institutions steer society. Just exactly what that means, I'll have to think on a little more.

Update (09/01/2020): see the update to the previous post. It may be more accurate to oppose rules and waves, leading us to imagine experience as rules adrift on waves. There are obviously some neat (easy?) connections here to the "duality" cultivated by physicists: intuitions are waves that challenge our materiality.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Drift

I think I have my answer to the riddle I posed in this post. What is to materiality as rules are to society? The answer is, in one sense, drives—tendencies, inclinations, urges. But we need something less anthropomorphic, something less animated, if we are not to beg the question. I've settled on the general notion of drift, which is, of course, sometimes expressed in our drive towards something.

Keeping in mind that we began with a search for a supplement for the "rules that govern society" and got as far as "_______ that question materiality", it might be useful to imagine a paradigm case of drift: the sand in the desert. The materiality of a dune is forever and immediately in question, and this is because the sand drifts. Life itself, the way the human body, for example, continually questions its own materiality, emerges from this underlying drift of matter.

Update (09/01/2020): There's probably something to be learned from the comparative etymology of "rule" and "wave". The first means "to move in a straight line", the second, "to move to and fro".

Friday, September 09, 2011

Perhaps this blog...

...will be understood only by those who have themselves already thought the thoughts which are expressed in it—or similar thoughts. It is therefore not a news blog. Its object would be attained if it afforded pleasure to one who read it with understanding.

(cf., of course...)

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Rules

This post at Organizations and Markets suggests a pangrammatical supplement. Here's the relevant part

In The Institutional Revolution, Douglas W. Allen offers a thought-provoking account of another, quieter revolution that took place at the end of the eighteenth century and allowed for the full exploitation of the many new technological innovations. Fundamental to this shift were dramatic changes in institutions, or the rules that govern society, which reflected significant improvements in the ability to measure performance—whether of government officials, laborers, or naval officers—thereby reducing the role of nature and the hazards of variance in daily affairs.

The phrase that got me thinking was "institutions, or the rules that govern society". The supplement of institution is intuition. The supplement of society is materiality (the social is to power as the material is to knowledge). So intuitions are the rules that govern materiality. But "govern" actually has its own supplement, namely, "inquire" (inquiry is to science as governance is to politics). This raises a grammatical issue.

We can't just say that intuitions are the rules that inquire materiality. We could perhaps say that they are the rules that question materiality. And now we're really getting somewhere. I've never really thought about whether "rule" has a pangrammatical supplement, but it probably does. What is to knowledge as rules are to power? We have constructed a pretty solid hint for ourselves: whatever they are, they will "question materiality" just as institutions "govern society". Also, they must be "the media of immediacy". Intuition, as Kant explained, is that through which knowledge is given to us immediately. Institutions, accordingly, are that through which power is taken from us immediately. That's the sense in which institutions are "rules".

Another clue is that, sometime around the end of the eighteenth century (around the time of Kant!), a "dramatic change" took place in these ________s that question materiality. And these changes meanwhile, should amount to improvements that "reduced the role of culture" (the pangrammatical supplement of nature) in daily affairs. Context suggests that it would be the daily affairs of scientists ("academic inquirers" rather than "government officials", etc.) that were thus transformed, which seems entirely plausible (i.e., that there was such change in our intuitions at about that time). The question remains: what supplements our "rules" in this way?

I'll leave this as a riddle. (To which I don't yet know the answer.)

Saturday, September 03, 2011

A Narrow Conception of Rhyme

Cached poetry is a verse form that typically refers to a concept of unattainable love. Because of the structure of Italian, the rhyme scheme is like Wordsworth's "Nuns Fret Not at the Coolest Office in the World".

You might imagine a giant shoe, like the one from the old Mother Goose nursery rhyme, but to say you're an inventor sounds like a narrow concept, as if you quickly viewed only the third methodological option

to increase intensity of instruction: narrow the skill set being taught. For example, in order to learn the concept of rhyme, children cross national words (neologisms), clanging speech, meaningless rhymes. The DSM-III-R has carried on this trend toward

an able muse. The resulting poem, however, bears little resemblance to any traditional conception of a sonnet besides being “a narrow but resonant chamber”, and it is “narrow” both visually and aurally, like a padded cell. Furthermore, the turn is not emphasized by a distinct change

of mind. But this is both too wide and too narrow. A child reciting by pure rote a nursery rhyme, or the multiplication-table, is going through a sort of "mini unit" or "center", being introduced to (or reviewing) the concept of rhyming.

Hopefully, the student will use logic to narrow the range of belonging, conveyed through the representations of this "fellow in the grass" or "a word dropped careless on the page" or "Early Childhood".

In November, he wrote Thomas Moore. "All convulsions end with me in rhymes written before the book's conception, in their expressions of sadness." This is a testament to Byron's abilities within the narrow compass of form.

"A Narrow Conception of Rhyme"

Google returns no results for that phrase. Great title for a book. Or maybe a great name for a rap group?

Thursday, September 01, 2011


I think that's it. In my last post I was trying to find the pangrammatical supplement for "movement" as in "movement of the heart". It is, I think, steadiness. So to complete those sentences I left blanks in:

The philosopher is not concerned with the movement of the heart but with the steadiness of the mind.

Just as emotions emerge from love's basic movement, so concepts emerge from the basic steadiness of wisdom.

Love is the movement of the heart by which people become themselves. Wisdom is the steadiness of the mind in which things are what they are.

Update (19.05.13): I like "stillness" better now. Wisdom is the stillness of the mind, just as love is the movement of the heart.