Conversations with Peers: Birth in Dialogue

So much of my communication takes place in dialogue. I find it quite difficult to even think outside of dialogue. In fact, dialogue seems to me to be the very soul of thought.

Much of my professional life is spent in dialogue and collaboration with peers, and much of my intellectual life is as well. Dialogue and collaboration are the necessary conditions for me to both want to and to be able to communicate. I also want to find a way to share my thoughts with others outside of my peer groups. And here I am at something of a difficulty. I don’t expect that others will have the time, the inclination, or even the familiarity with the subjects or the language that I am concerned with. More difficulties arise from the fact that I value and use a certain amount of compression in my communications. Compressed statements are difficult and somewhat dangerous; they are also necessary. Compressed statements, the art of making them and the art of reading or listening to them, requires much of both reader and writer. Care. Respect. A concern for truth and life.

I am in dialogue with people whose persons and work I respect very much. One person in particular who I am in the midst of a conversation with. His name is Keith Hart and he is an economic anthropologist who is actively present on the interwebs.  I have been conversing with him on nettime. Keith, is doing some very important work, work that is producing some durable and extensible thought on political economy. I think it might be timely for me to post my latest response to one of his always interesting comments. In my response I select a very interesting and compressed sentence from Keith that I think is a very durable formulation that preserves the poles of a necessary tension in economics, in society. Both poles are necessary and there is a necessary tension between them; the tension, however, is very difficult to work with. There is a temptation, in confronting any “siege of contraries”, to collapse the poles, to choose one are another at the cost of diminishing the opposing pole. If you are impatient or you lack the time, you may profitably skip ahead to Keith’s sentence below. Keith’s sentence is durable precisely because it manages to compress a full enough accounting of necessary tension into one simple sentence that can be remembered, held in the hand, turned over in the mind.

Herewith, the meat of my response to Keith’s response :

I need durable, succinct, and extensible ways to think about the social. I need to preserve the tensions between the classical poles. I especially like the way that you have condensed Mauss below to one very rich paragraph.  And I love this sentence: “To be human we must be concerned with our individual self-preservation and we must learn to belong to each other in society.”  That seems to me durable, succinct, and rich. To belong to each other in society.

I also very much like this: “There is no point therefore in socialists demonizing markets. We have to bring out the humanity in them that is obscured, marginalized and repressed by bourgeois institutions.”

I agree wholeheartedly with that statement. It is very difficult to get a clear view of just what the hell is going on. One way of starting to talk about it might be:

A very real social infrastructure is obscured by a dominant religion that sees entrepeneurialism and free enterprise in rent seeking and bureaucratic stagnation. Perhaps during the naive phase of capitalism, such secular prayer was merely sentimental and not so obviously hypocritical and false. Schumpy and others put a fork in naive capitalism in the early 20th. Without a respect for the history of markets, my previous statements would not make sense. On the one, official hand, we have an increasingly farcical secular prayer that celebrates a reality that is no longer there.

On another hand, we have resistance to the prevailing symbols of authority and to the dominant secular religion. The reality underneath and behind the secular religion is also obscured by analysis that takes the idealizations of the sales effort for the real thing or the thing itself. I’m thinking of David Harvey here as one of the best who still falls for the idealizations of secular prayer. However, due to the scarcity of my capacity, I do not at this moment have a specific example from his texts. One simple thought experiment would be to just call to mind where most critical commentary on markets gets the basis for its critique from: mostly from the business booster press or from the think tanks of the institutions of secular prayer.

Contempt for the study of the oligopoly as it really is, and laziness or blindness seems to mar so much commentary. We get the idealizations of the sales effort and we get denunciations of those idealizations as if they were true. But rarely do we get an honest or thorough look at what the hell is really going on. I’m no exception to that rule, given the scarcity of my time and my capacity both; I often rely on caricature and secular prayer as if it were truth. However, I am catching myself and calling myself to account as much as I can.

I find your work helpful and useful. A path to genuine understanding starts with respect, and for me the path involves quite a bit of struggle to find the time, the space, and the capacity to understand. I’m also grateful for these interchanges on this little forum that a couple of people named nettime a few years ago.

I’m not on facebook because I do not have the time and because I’m already overwhelmed as it is. I’d be sorely lacking in humility and in generosity of spirit if I imagined what that experience is like for any user. I navigate nettime for example in my own way; I must and do grant the respect to other people that they navigate the tensions of communication in their own rich ways. Schumpy comments somewhere in his overwhelming econ analysis on the need that thinkers have to reduce their interlocutors to caricature. I only ask, “How rich is the caricature, how much does it at least grant respect to the worthy aspects of an opposing view?”

I respect the machinery of secular prayer. I don’t have sufficient time to read all the propaganda and caricature. I’m rather looking for the durable and the truthful. I try to see across the impressive caesuras that might otherwise blind me. The frames are there: nettime, facebook, wild internet, twitter. But what of the durable (the aphorisms, the thought experiments, parables, essays, poesy) formulations that might allow access to truth? They are there as well, and they are so much more important and more enduring. A thing of beauty is a joy forever.


About Ed Phillips

Rigor in whimsy
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