Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The End of Theory (as the Goal of its Beginning)

In my second year of college likely in winter (though seasons held little relevance in my basement apartment with its single subterranean window funneling indirect light) I sat at my study table in my bedroom. The memory now is void of my initial purposes. I remember simply looking forward when out of the corner of my eye I saw something fall. Perhaps it was something hanging on the wall or leaning somewhere on my desk. Nothing immediately perceptible caused that object to fall. In my mind it just fell. The only sense I could make of it at the time was the phrase, "everything is moving". This was long before I understood the significance of movement in the work of theory and philosophy.

Of course from an atomic level this statement makes perfect sense as even a dead or inanimate object continues to "move". Orthodox theology (as well as deists I suppose) also has had no difficulty in its positing of an Unmoved Mover who has set the world in motion. I am encountering more and more discussion around the question of movement and source, particularly in terms of the theoretical explanation of or impact on society. How has change happened and how can change happen. Hollywood has resolved this in much the same manner that most theoretical or religious thought has. The change comes from the miraculous "outside" source or from some hitherto unknown "inside" source. Appealing to any "outside" source remains highly prone to suspicion. What good is rigorous critique if the impassible "outside" knocks our house of cards down with a single stroke.
Very well, let's remain on the inside. I am tempted to ask where the currency and origins of the immanent sources being applied to are from in posts at Rough Theory and Now-Times but that tends to lead towards an impasse. I suppose it can remain un-addressed in many contexts. I proceed with some hesitation given a recent comment NP made on her own post. I am not an expert in their field of study but I enter in as someone concerned with the questions being asked and a belief that truly inter-disciplinary discussion (as should reflect the best of blogging) would be helpful.
What troubles me in their posts is the notion that substantive social change, transformation (group or individual), can come as the reslut of public awareness or the formation of "critical thinking". These are not insignificant pursuits, do not get me wrong (why else am I carrying the illusion that someone may be reading this). I am also not reaching for the miraculous "outside" though I also have no essential problem with it. And I can most certainly sympathize with talk about a "moral, first person reflection" if I understand that correctly. And while I am qualifying myself here I should also mention that I can recognize that "change" certainly occurs through the process I just criticized. However, I would be careful before I viewed these changes as being qualitatively different than a recent advertisement I saw. Turn your change into cash. It was pasted on a machine in which you dumped your spare change in a grate in order to receive your money back in higher denominations (at a cost of course). The end result is positive but not substantively different in the larger play of relations.

I am moving towards the position that theory and moral formation is only as good as it postures the individual towards what I can only describe at this point as death. As I observed in my early college days their is movement to be observed and engaged but our participation in it remains elusive to much theoretical grasping. Stay tuned for more on "death" (see Ralph Stanley on IndieVision for now).

1 comment:

N. Pepperell said...

And one more quick comment, before I have to run away. On this:

What troubles me in their posts is the notion that substantive social change, transformation (group or individual), can come as the reslut of public awareness or the formation of "critical thinking".

You're not alone in making this comment about my work (there was a large cross-blog discussion a couple of months back in which I was trying to clarify points related to this issue), and it might apply to some sorts of theoretical work, but: I'm not actually trying to theorise the importance of some specific kind of thinking to the realisation of transformation. I do, though, use some phrases that often get interpreted this way, so the confusion will be caused by my own terminology.

Explaining what I am trying to do, instead, is probably a bit too complicated for a comment. And of course I wouldn't argue that public or individual awareness is irrelevant to transformation. But I'm not actually trying to talk about the issue of raising public awareness or getting people to engage in some particular kind of personal reflection, in the theoretical writings I'm putting up at the moment.

Again, apologies for the truncation - the conversation around this has obviously been trickling around in bursts and ebbs for some months now, so it's complex to condense - and I haven't had a calm period to digest all the insights from that broader discussion, to figure out how I might be able to express them concisely... It's always a bit annoying to have someone say they're not doing something, without specifying what they are doing instead - not least because we can all be confused about what we are doing, and so we may not be the best sources for our own denials... ;-) Just very limited time at the moment - hopefully more adequate opportunities will present in the future...