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Showing posts from January, 2011

18th Century Regimen and the History of Secrecy

Two things I have been working on recently have both reminded me what an important category 'habit' was in the eighteenth century. Because of the empiricist core of the leading British psychology (more accurately and less anachronistically, a mix of philosophy, physiology and the 'science' of human nature), human consciousness was frequently considered as a construction of sense impressions, akin to an elaborate wax tablet scored with a certain calligraphy of experience. Since the order and quality of these impressions and their various modulations and modifications as they traversed the mind determined character and identity, the 'habitual' was crucial. The repetition of experiences and acts ensured weaker connections between impressions became stronger ones, with phenomena as diverse as moral dispositions or a sense of causality being secured by the so-called association of ideas.
This created a tendency in eighteenth-century 'practices' of the self …

Community and Narrative: Jim Crace's The Gift of Stones

Just finished another Jim Crace novel called The Gift of Stones. It's an interesting little book about a young boy in a village of stoneworkers, or knappers, who loses his arm in a raid of horsemen. Unable to join the craft economy he becomes, instead a storyteller.
By counterposing labour in a symbolically pure form - the working of obsidian and flint - to imagination, the novel quite transparently reflects on the relationship between work and storytelling. A recurrent motif, evoked by the storyteller from the spaces outside the village, is that 'the sea viewed from the clifftop is a world that's upside down. Its gulls have backs. You're looking down on wind' (p.43)* I like this: I think it captures the social truth of the aesthetic: that art is a kind of camera obscura, an image that is both free and conditioned. It reminded me of Adorno, when he says of artworks in Aesthetic Theory that 'each and every one of their elements binds them to that [empirical real…