When years ago I wrote about Muriel I argued that the letter was from Ernest. Thinking about it now, after having watched the film for a second time, I believe the letter could actually be Ernest’s; the unexploded bomb buried in the past even more devastating than Hélène could ever have imagined - it was Ernest who loved her; and his love was hidden by a sleight of hand. Of course this doesn't affect my conclusion; indeed, if anything, it strengthens my argument. The bomb goes off, and the fictions tumble down like buildings broken in the Blitz.
“I’ve always refused the word ‘memory’ apropos my work”, Alain Resnais insisted time and again to interviewers in the 1960s. “I’d use the word “imagination.” His statement must have struck contemporary critics as perverse, or perhaps just pedantic, because the association of Resnais and memory still forms an entry in any New Revised Dictionary of Received Ideas that sees fit to include him (see also, Time, though in that case as well Resnais maintains that he’s concerned less with time than consciousness).
The difference is largely one of emphasis. Recent research in neuroscience maintains that any specific memory moves further and further from its source stimuli each time it’s called upon, the grit of the original experience accumulating smoother layers with each circulation, gradually rounding into the pearl of the story. It’s a conclusion that Marcel Proust, whom Resnais cites as a primary influence, had reached long before. The monumental conjunction of tea and madeleine stands at the opening of his investigation into lost time precisely because it allowed him to momentarily bypass conscious recollection, opening an unguarded back door onto the past by way of the body’s own unthinking memory and indiscriminate grouping of associations: this taste, that place, that time. (Everything is Just Like You. From Eureka! The Masters of Cinema Series)
Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad of impressions - trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old; the moment of importance came not here but there. (Virginia Woolf, quoted by Ruth Scurr; TLS 22&29/08/2014)
Minim is not so confident of his rules of judgement as not very eagerly to catch new light from the name of the author. He is commonly so prudent as to spare those whom he cannot resist, unless, as will sometimes happen, he finds the public combined against them. But a fresh pretender to fame he is strongly inclined to censure, till his own honour requires that he commend him. Till he knows the success of a composition, he intrenches himself in general terms; there are some new thoughts and beautiful passages, but there is likewise much which he would have advised the author to expunge. He has several favourite epithets, of which he has never settled the meaning, but which are very commodiously applied to books which he has not read, or cannot understand. One is manly, another is dry, another stiff, and another flimsy; sometimes he discovers delicacy of style, and sometimes meets with strange expressions. (Samuel Johnson, How to Become a Critic (2), in The Major Works)
Boulogne, a city largely obliterated by air raids during World War II, stands as memory’s objective correlative: the original object has been destroyed, what stands now are attempts at reconstruction and the assertion of the new on spaces still saturated with association for surviving inhabitants…
Contemporary locations are themselves situated uneasily in time, as in the restaurant staffed by waitresses in “regional costume”, standing at an awkward juncture from their surroundings as a bit of local color crudely grafted onto the “modern”. The clearest example is Hélène’s apartment-cum-antique-boutique, cluttered with objects from disparate periods with no attempt whatsoever at creating an overarching context. The apartment becomes a spatial representation of the film’s characters, as well as a model of the city itself: each object torn from its roots and bearing nothing more definite than an indistinct aura of age and history, set down as if at random next to other objects and competing claims.
It keeps opening even in its closing moments, as a woman, presumably the frequently referenced Simone, walks through the deserted apartment, and the camera departs from the fixed positions it has held throughout the film to wander with her, past the table cluttered with mute remnants of the climactic gathering we’d witnessed earlier, tracing a clear path through rooms whose exact relations had previously been obscured. None of it communicates anything to the late arrival beyond the simple fact that people were here and now they are gone.
…Muriel is cluttered with emblems of itself and its operations. In fact, absolutely everything in the film comes to stand as a potential emblem, and Muriel forever runs the risk of seeming utterly overdetermined, an airless and rather literary conceit in which themes and images are forever reflecting back to a central premise. What saves the film from this and sets up its unique tension is its parallel urge to dispersal and expansion – an apparently insatiable and obviously impossible desire to include more and more detail, to record every nook and vantage of the city and to represent the full continuum of the lives of its characters through seemingly random selection, including a fair proportion of the apparently unmarked and “in-between” moments of daily life.
So omnivorous and self-aware is the film’s guiding consciousness that one can also find emblems of both these contracting/expanding tendencies embedded within.
The first shows the city as a circle, centred on a bright steel knob, denoting probably “You are here”, always a helpful reminder, and an apt image of the film as closed and centred system.
In the second a stranger (to the city, to the film) enters to ask an inhabitant for directions to the city centre. Why this is it, she replies, surprised, and the man looks around as if disbelieving, or perhaps in the act of recategorising the environment. The branching structures of Muriel continually suggest that any image might function as secret centre, a fulcrum at once “here” and “nowhere”.
But the criticism which is based upon the ‘doctrines of Aristotle, of Goethe, and of Coleridge’, especially when practised in the columns of a newspaper, is apt to have the opposite effect. It is apt to be sweeping and sterile. The laws of art can be stated in a little essay only in so compressed a form that unless we are prepared to think them out for ourselves, and apply them to the poem or novel in question, they remain barren, and we accept them without thinking. (Books and Portraits)
…the film may be the fullest realisation of Resnais’ stated interest in filming the operations of consciousness itself. Muriel is a brain, and its “narrator” is a realised, though covert fiction.
Since I’ve made a similar claim of Jacques Rivette’s Out 1… it was reassuring to come across the following remarks by Rivette from a 1963 Cahiers du cinema roundtable discussion of Muriel.
“From the moment of the opening shots what you are given is just clues, every shot is a clue – in other words, it’s both the imprint left by an action and what the action entails, its mystery. The motive of the investigation or investigations is never revealed, any more than the end of the film provides solutions, or at least a resolution. Each shot is a clue exposed, but for its own sake. And it is the actual accumulation of these clues, the momentum they generate, which is absorbed into the dynamic structure and roundabout movement of the film, or rather which creates it.”
This suggests to me that Rivette sees Muriel as a film in the process of investigating itself, and that each step of the investigation expands outward to include more leads, more data, rather than spiralling down toward a single crime and culprit in orthodox Holmes-style.
Blanks and gaps: to read is to fill them on the evidence of conflicting and ambiguous clues. Once the technical discovery - or rediscovery - is made, it is not a long step to the narrative which at least tries, as in Robbe-Grillet, to be nearly all gap. All markers of temporality, character, closure, and so forth, are subject to a confusion thought to be beneficent, and the authority to interpret is transferred to the reader. (Frank Kermode, Essays on Fiction 1971-82)
But if this Muriel-mind has no master, does not stand in direct relation to the consciousness of any particular character, it does have a representative in the fiction: Bernard, a character whose abrupt, bird-like movements and unpredictable alterations of attention mirror its own. Bernard stays on the sidelines of the intersecting romantic triangles of the film, in each of which Hélène stands as common denominator, but he includes some of that material, along with much seemingly random data drawn from the streets of the city, in his own sprawling cinematic investigation. More than one writer on the film has referred to Bernard as an aspiring documentary filmmaker, but the character says quite explicitly that he isn’t making a movie, he’s “collecting evidence”.
This is precisely Muriel’s mode of operation. The material itself, the people, places, and incidents recorded, are rigorously external – no figure holds a dominant position, and the film maintains a strict and continuous (if fragmented and elliptical) chronology when it comes to narrative events.
…hysterical elaboration of the orthodox practice of starting on a detail and then cutting or pulling back to reveal a long shot of the scene…
The dispersal of attention, the desire to include more and more of the world and its transient textures in the film, merges with the strong pull toward a thematic centre to produce a sense of generalised and free-floating paranoia. Every shot, every detail, is both suggestive of overarching meaning and yet grounded and specific enough to suggest that these are indeed pieces pulled from life. The anxiety of the form lies precisely in this magnetic push-pull: if the source of paranoia could ever be placed, it would evaporate into genre. Here it’s a continual spur toward interpretation aligned with an uncertainty that any underlying structure of meaning could ever prove sturdy enough to bear the weight of detail.
If Muriel is an investigation, what is its object? It would seem to align somewhat with Bernard’s project, especially since they both designate the same absent centre in the name “Muriel”. But from what we can tell… Bernard’s inquiry is centred on Algeria, and in particular on a single war crime: the rape and apparent murder of an Algerian girl who may or may not have been named Muriel. Why does Boulogne figure in his ongoing inquiry? We can only speculate: perhaps he films café patrons, shop windows, the sliding building that recurs throughout Muriel as a minor motif to indicate that these signs of consumer comfort are historically predicated on the “not-here” of a colonial economy, on blood and exploitation.
Bernard… is certainly interested in Alphonse himself, but mainly, it would seem, as a representative sample of the hypocrisy, dishonesty, racism, and bad conscience of the nation itself.
In the mid-nineteenth century the bourgeoisie were apparent everywhere. You met them in theatres and restaurants, in churches and clubs, on beaches and river boats, in woods and parks, often walking arm in arm, dressed in respectable outfits and crowned by ridiculous hats. They sent their children to reputable schools, took respectable vacations, and worked in clean but arduous jobs. They owned property, both fixed and portable, and looked aghast at the radicals and socialists who threatened to take it away. They believed in marriage and the family, in decency, domesticity, and deference to the law. They stare at us now from picture postcards with eyes that are both proud and shy, upholding the moral order even while paddling in the sea. We glimpse their world in the stuffy interiors of Vuillard, in the fêtes galantes of Renoir, in the picnic scenes of Seurat, and it is a safe and domesticated world, and also a world tinged by romantic sadness.
In the eyes of their intellectual observers, however, the bourgeoisie were symbolic and exotic creatures, the subject of elaborate theories and fairy tales. Marx invented a world-historical role for them, Flaubert set out to disconcert them, and Matthew Arnold denounced them as the "Philistine class." They were the perfect foil for wit, exuberance, and iconoclasm, and for a hundred years following The Communist Manifesto of 1848 they filled an evident dramatic need. For the bohemian artist the bourgeoisie were visible, shockable, and obviously bad. They justified art as no class before had justified it, by being the defenseless target of abuse and satire.
For the last 50 years, however, the bourgeoisie have been slipping quietly away. Those who seem to fit the bill from the property-owning point of view don't always dress as they should or uphold the right kind of domestic values. Church attendance has fallen off, along with visits to theatre and restaurant. Parks and beaches are populated by people who show no respect for bourgeois dress or bourgeois manners, and the idea that there are bourgeois values, connected to marriage, home, and family, has only a scant chance of survival in a world where more and more people see marriage as a burden, children a bore, and property not for sharing. (Roger Scruton, Shocking the Bourgeoisie)
Système de la Mode constitutes the summit of Barthesian semio-technics. No book of his is so patently the work of the dutiful structuralist, the painstaking scrutiniser of a corpus, the slave to an abstruse taxonomic terminology. Here is the semiocrat - a technician of semiology fully besotted by the scientistic mirage… (From Prague to Paris: A Critique of Structuralist and Post-Structuralist Thought)
But Barthes also refuses to countenance any assumption that ‘objective’ inner meaning are present in the texts themselves, waiting to be discovered, deciphered or unveiled by us. The metaphor for fallacious inner signification comes from Barthes himself: ‘If until now we have regarded the text as a species of fruit with a kernel (an apricot, for example) the flesh being the form and the stone the content, it would be better to see it as an onion, a construction of layers (or levels, or systems) whose body contains finally no heart, no kernel, no secret, no irreducible principle, nothing except the infinity of its envelopes which envelop nothing other than the unity of its own surfaces.’
The first impressive use of the onion metaphor in post-war thought was, I think, made by the late Hannah Arendt, who in her celebrated work The Origins of Totalitarianism described totalitarian regimes as Stalinist police states where real power dwells in the heart of the bureaucratic onion, in the KGB rather than in the outer, visible surface of the state. Barthes does it the other way round: he makes the onion into the symbol of a centreless structure. Ironically, a metaphor devised to grasp the quintessence of oppression became an emblem of the liberation of the signifier. (Merquior)
Around the world, universities no longer match the old image of unworldly tutors, sitting in common rooms and engaging in intellectual chit-chat over glasses of sherry. Instead, modern universities are businesses with constant competition between institutions, between disciplines and between individuals. In common with managers working in other industries, university managers today see it as their job to extract ever great productivity from the employees of the institutions which they manage (and to remove insufficiently productive elements from their workforce). Given that universities are being run-on ‘business lines’, it is little wonder that some observers have described higher education today as ‘academic capitalism’, with university managers acting like venture capitalists. (Learn to Write Badly; How to Succeed in the Social Sciences)lxii
One reason why Barthes gave up the Formalist attempt to establish a narrative langue of which every récit is a parole was precisely his fear that success in that operation would revive the old organicist myth of a structure peculiar to a particular work. Thus the work he wanted to open up would close up again, again possess a signified secret. Such closure he would condemn as ideological, the consequence of false assumptions, occidental and endoxal, about the nature of signs. Our business as moderns is to read in order to maximise plurality, not in order to understand secrets. (Frank Kermode, Essays in Fiction)
For Hélène, like other adult survivors of the war, Boulogne sits uneasily under a fading superimposition of the vanished city. Yet the glossy surfaces of the new are inhospitable to ghosts. In an environment in which things can no longer function as hard evidence of the past, having perished under the bombs or become incommunicable through lack of context, she is forced to verify her memories through the most slippery of means: the recollections of other people. And here we see most clearly why Resnais insisted on the importance of “imagination” over “memory”. The tragedy of the film is that everyone in it walks around encased in their own “sheet of the past”, to use Deleuze’s phrase, and points of contact are few and dubious. Hélène’s own tragedy is to look for verification in Alphonse, a man purely dedicated to self-serving fictions, a veritable sponge of stories - invented, lived, overheard, it doesn’t matter, all are equal.
For me, the most moving moment in this film occurs in the final scene between Hélène and Bernard. His love for his step-mother has to now only emerged in guarded and prickly form, but spontaneously he offers the rarest gift to be found in Muriel - a shared memory, the night she came to him during the bombing. The details don’t exactly match: Bernard remembers snow falling on his crib, Hélène says no, no, it was rain. He doesn’t agree and he doesn't argue, he simply lets the matter stand, willing to let their imaginations touch for just that instant.
In the time of senile modernisms, neo-formalist trends in criticism espoused versions of modernist doxa and took over a large part of the academic study of literature (now the habitat of ninety per cent of literary criticism) by institutionalising teaching as research based on the massive employment of ready-made methods… Prolonged exposure to literature proper dwindles, whereas literary theory and critical methodology are swallowed up by the ton. This grotesque predicament is aggravated by the fact that most students in today’s mass universities do not seem to bring to higher learning a decent literary culture acquired before their graduate years, as was still the case with the tiny bands of literature students when the subject was trusted to philology-trained dons who knew little or no literary theory but a lot about poems, novels, plays and essays. (J.G. Merquior, From Paris to Prague; A Critique of Structuralist and Post-Structuralist Thought. Emphasis in the original.)
Here I am reminded of a lucid observation made by Barthes some years ago, before he developed his later method of analysis. ‘A work of literature,’ he said then, ‘or at least of the kind that is normally considered by the critics (and this itself may be a possible definition of “good” literature) is neither ever quite meaningless (mysterious or “inspired”) nor ever quite clear; it is, so to speak, suspended meaning; it offers itself to the reader as a declared system of significance, but as a signified object it eludes his grasp. This kind of dis-appointment or de-ception… inherent in the meaning explains how it is that a work of literature has such power to ask questions of the world… without, however, supplying any answers.’ Here we have the nub of the matter. Barthes’s insight owes something to the nouveau roman; a consciousness that deception (in the French sense, ‘disappointment’) was an inherent property of narratives made Robbe-Grillet design his novels to demonstrate it, and the necessity of déception to the modern novel is an important theme of Pour un nouveau roman. Robbe-Grillet himself allowed that what he was doing was revolutionary only if one made the mistake of assuming that the ‘rules’ of the novel were established in Balzac’s day. Barthes’s developing mystique of écriture led him beyond the position; in 1963 he still, I think, had it right.
*See the references to Bourdieu in my The Temperate Zone.
[It is] no longer a finished corpus of writing, some content enclosed in a book or its margins, but a differential network, a fabric of traces, referring endlessly to something other than itself, to other differential traces. (from J.G. Merquior)
xii. If here and there some interpretations are strained, especially as he sticks to narrow psychoanalytic keys, there is no gainsaying that by and large On Racine is a masterpiece of intelligent criticism, doubtless the fruit of Barthes’s long familiarity…with drama and, more specifically, with classical tragedy… [It] signalled a genuine breakthrough in our understanding of the underlying mechanisms in the plays of France’s greatest poet….René Matignon… said that it did for Racine what Malraux’s Ministry of Culture was doing for the historical monuments of Paris’s architecture: a ‘ravalement’, the cleaning of surfaces that restore the beauty of the stone work of Notre Dame or the Louvre. And so it did. (J.G. Merquior)
But being only a quotation it makes the different thoughts appear too much isolated; for in the context Velchaninov, as he broods over the blood-stained razor, passes over his involved and crowded train of thought without a single hitch, just, in fact, as we ourselves are conscious of thinking when some startling fact has dropped into the pool of our consciousness. From the crowd of objects pressing upon our attention we elect now this one, now that one, weaving them inconsequently into our thought; the associations of a word perhaps make another loop in the line, from which we spring back again to a different section of our main thought, and the whole process seems both inevitable and perfectly lucid. But if we try to construct our mental processes later, we find that the links between one thought and another are submerged. The chain is sunk out of sight and only the leading points emerge to mark the course. Alone among writers Dostoevsky has the power of reconstructing these most swift and complicated states of mind, of re-thinking the whole train of thought in all its speed, now as it flashed into light, now as it lapses into darkness; for he is able to follow not only the vivid streak of achieved thought but to suggest the dim and populous underworld of the mind’s consciousness where desires and impulses are moving blindly beneath the sod. Just as we awaken ourselves from a trance of this kind by striking a chair or a table to assure ourselves of an external reality, so Dostoevsky suddenly makes us behold, for an instant, the face of his hero, or some object in the room. (Virginia Woolf, Books and Portraits)
A journalist, above most other men, ought to be acquainted with the lower orders of mankind, that he may be able to judge what will be plain and what will be obscure; what will require a comment, and what will be apprehended without explanation. He is to consider himself not as writing to students or statesmen alone, but to women, shopkeepers, and artisans, who have little time to bestow upon mental attainments, but desire, upon easy terms, to know how the world goes; who rises, and who falls; who triumphs, and who is defeated. (Of the Duty of a Journalist, in The Major Works)
The British, and especially the English, middle class developed towards the end of the 19th century a power which even the most refined of contemplative religions have never matched – the power to spend a lifetime doing absolutely nothing, while remaining kindly, civil, relaxed and serene. This ability, exercised during the first half of this century while the inheritances amassed by more restless forebears slowly dwindled, is now, I think, extinct. My own grandfather, a talented young doctor, rose from his breakfast table after reading the letter informing him that he had come into an adequate competence, unscrewed the brass plate on his door and placed it silently in the dustbin. The rest of his life was spent fishing in well-chosen but not glamorous lochs and rivers or going for walks. He died in his late nineties exactly at the moment when his inheritance, by contemporary standards very large, ran out. I never knew a more good-natured, shrewd or patient man. (Neal Ascherson, reviewing Richard Cobb’s Still Life)
…he expresses his thought in terms of actual and particular situations. He says ‘a buffalo charges’, ‘a tree falls’, ‘termites are not making their seasonal flight when they are expected to do’, and so on. Herein he is stating empirically ascertained facts. But he also says ‘a buffalo charged and wounded so-and-so’, ‘a tree fell on so-and-so and killed him’, ‘my termites refuse to make their flight in numbers worth collecting but other people are collecting theirs all right’, and so on. He tells you these things are due to witchcraft, saying in each instance, ‘So-and-so has been bewitched.’ The facts do not explain themselves or only partly explain themselves. They can only be explained fully if one takes witchcraft into consideration…. [Although: since the] Azande recognise plurality of causes, and it is the social situation that indicates the relevant one, we can understand why the doctrine of witchcraft is not used to explain every failure and misfortune. (Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Azande)
The stories themselves, in their inconclusiveness and intimacy, appear to be the result of a chance meeting on a lonely road. Fate has sent these travellers across our path; whoever they may be, it is natural to stop and talk, and as they will never come our way again it is possible to say all kinds of things that we do not say to friends. The English reader may have had something of the same experience when isolated on board ship on a sea voyage. From the surrounding emptiness, from the knowledge that they will soon be over, those meetings have an intensity, as if shaped by the hand of an artist, which long preserves their significance in memory.
Yet to such readers stories are second nature; they can ‘forget’ they’re reading a story, or anyway be unwilling to disinhabit it, put it down. It is hardly a figure of speech to say that they live in its world; if they ignore inconvenient clues, conflicts of interpretative possibilities, problematical verticals of interpretation which are not identifiable as the familiar ones of character, setting, cause, and so forth, so they do, and so we do, in the daily acts of life… (Essays in Fiction)
We are not so purblind as to suppose that a man because his name is Smith and he lives at Liverpool is therefore ‘real’. We know indeed that this reality is a chameleon quality, the fantastic becoming as we grow used to it often the closest to the truth, the sober the furthest from it, and nothing proving a writer’s greatness more than his capacity to consolidate his scene by the use of what, until he touched them, seemed wisps of cloud and threads of gossamer. Our contention merely is that there is a station, somewhere in mid-air, whence Smith and Liverpool can be seen to the best advantage; that the great artist is the man who knows where to place himself above the shifting scenery; that while he never loses sight of Liverpool he never sees it in the wrong perspective. The Elizabethans bore us, then, because their Smiths are all changed to dukes, their Liverpools to fabulous islands and palaces in Genoa. Instead of keeping a proper poise above life they soar miles into the empyrean, where nothing is visible for long hours at a time but clouds at their revelry, and a cloud landscape is not ultimately satisfactory to human eyes. The Elizabethans bore us because they suffocate our imaginations rather than set them to work. (The Common Reader 1)
[And his] tendency to treat all concepts of collectivities or large social aggregates as convenient labels for tendencies of action. Wherever possible, he avoided nouns, and hence the ‘fallacy of misplaced concreteness’ (Whitehead), by using verbs or ‘active nouns,’ though there is no English equivalent for the latter. (Reinhard Bendix).
The most popular arts these days are those which provide the most direct access to their experiences. The question of the relative value of the experiences doesn’t seem to be raised: it is as if what people want of any experience is chiefly its immediacy, and would settle for experiences which have that quality and nothing much else. (Denis Donoghue, The Arts Without Mystery)
[Derrida’s] followers do tend to say the same thing about everything they choose to discuss - that those texts are ‘always already’ self-subverted, that they contain, in some occulted form, that which violates their ostensible meaning… (Essays on Fiction)
xli. A text, he argues, is not to be referred to a structural model, but understood as a series of invitations to the reader to structurate it. It is a network of significations, of signifiants lacking transcendant signifiés, and a reader can enter it anywhere. He must produce, not consume it; he must as it were write it; and in so far as it avoids external reference it may be called scriptible. Classic texts he calls lisible; they lack the plurality of the scriptible, possessing meaning which can only be ideological, and in some respects, such as story, possessing also a directionality that must be avoided by the scriptible. In other words, the lisible has local and provincial restrictions, the scriptible (of which no example is available) has not. (Frank Kermode, Essays in Fiction)
The “savage” thinks rationally as we do in comparable situations, that is, he uses the rule-of-thumb logic that suffices for everyday use…. The net result of Lévy-Bruhl’s discussions… is to bring home once more the importance of social tradition in moulding individual responses to experience and to stress the overwhelming significance of irrational factors not in primitive, but in human thought. (Robert Lowie, The History of Ethnological Theory)
It’s a very chilling thought because the only thing the Islamists like about modernity is modern weapons. And they’re going to get better and better at that. They’re also gaining on us demographically at a huge rate. A quarter of humanity now and by 2025 they’ll be a third. Italy’s down to 1.1 child per woman. We’re just going to be outnumbered.
What can we do to raise the price of them doing this? There’s a definite urge – don’t you have it? – to say, ‘The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.’ What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation – further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan... Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children.
They hate us for letting our children have sex and take drugs – well, they’ve got to stop their children killing people. It’s a huge dereliction on their part. I suppose they justify it on the grounds that they have suffered from state terrorism in the past, but I don’t think that’s wholly irrational. It’s their own past they’re pissed off about; their great decline. It’s also masculinity, isn’t it?
“In short,” writes Malinowski “underlying all these ideas was the assumption that in primitive societies the individual is completely dominated by the group - the horde, the clan or the tribe - that he obeys the commands of his community, its traditions, its public opinion, its decrees with a slavish, fascinated, passive obedience.” Malinowski has no difficulty in showing that all this is nonsense…. (Evans-Pritchard, A History of Anthropological Thought)
‘There are,’ writes Dr L.G. Brown…, ‘a great many carriers of mental ill-health in society. These individuals are not insane or likely to be. Frequently they are persons holding important positions and places of advantage in society. Because of their position they can play with the self-respect of their subordinates. They help to create psychopathic personalities, problem individuals, persons with feelings of insecurity, attitudes of self-pity, fears, doubts, obsessions, delusions, and serious compensatory distortions. These include parents, teachers, executives, ministers, lawyers, doctors, statesmen, relatives, social workers, nursemaids, and a whole host of others in positions of authority.’
I wish to make this point very clear because we shall not understand Zande magic, and the differences between ritual behaviour and empirical behaviour in the lives of the Azande, unless we realize that its main purpose is to combat other mystical powers rather than to produce changes favourable to man in the objective world. Thus, medicines employed to ensure a fine harvest of eleusine are not so much thought to stimulate the eleusine as to keep witches away from it. The eleusine will be all right if witchcraft can be excluded. (Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande)
Sometimes, though, I get the feeling that Mama can no longer really ‘rest’ at all or concentrate, for example, on serious reading; or that it takes a much longer period of rest to completely relax her nerves and, as it were, to bring her from constant inner vibration into a state of calm…. Such long meetings for the sake of personal interchanges are a strain for me, and, since I hate any nervous fatigue that results in feelings of listlessness or irritability, I too prefer to limit myself a little in some areas - from Mama’s point of view such ‘sparing of oneself’ is actually a lack of interest in other people and a kind of mollycoddling to be extirpated by all means possible. As I have often teasingly said to Mama, if there are two paths to something she will surely consider the more difficult one to be right, on the Christian principle of ‘crucifying the flesh’. (Marianne Weber)
Large organisations in particular have a very specific attraction to those with an unusual need for security and so come to have a disproportionate share, a super-saturation, of the passive, dependent, and submissive. This condition would not be such a threat to the moral and organisational integrity of an enterprise if it were recognized for what it is and its implications understood. But this is rarely the case. (Robert N. McMurry, quoted in The Organization Man).*5
Whence then is the courage of the English vulgar? It proceeds, in my opinion, from that dissolution of dependence which obliges every man to regard his own character. While every man is fed by his own hands, he has no need of any servile arts: he may always have wages for his labour; and is no less necessary to his employer than his employer is to him. While he looks for no protection from others, he is naturally roused to be his own protector; and having nothing to abate his esteem of himself, he consequently aspires to the esteem of others. Thus every man that crowds our streets is a man of honour, disdainful of obligation, impatient of reproach, and desirous of extending his reputation among those of his own rank; and as courage is in most frequent use, the fame of courage is most eagerly pursued. From this neglect of subordination I do not deny that some inconveniences may from time to time proceed: the power of the law does not always sufficiently supply the want of reverence, or maintain the proper distinction between different ranks: but good and evil will grow up in this world together; and they who complain, in peace, of the insolence of the populace, must remember that their insolence in peace is bravery in war. (The Bravery of the English Common Soldiers in The Major Works)
The development of bureaucracy does away with such plutocratic privileges, replacing unpaid, avocational administration by notables with paid, full-time administration by professionals, regardless of their social and economic position. Also, it rejects the “decision-making from case to case” that is typical of non bureaucratic forms of administration. Authority is exercised in accordance with rules, and everyone subject to that authority is legally equal. Connected with these leveling tendencies is a major change in the system of education. Administration by notables usually is administration by amateurs; bureaucracy usually is administration by experts. Equal eligibility for administrative appointments means in fact equal eligibility of all who meet the stipulated educational requirements. Educational diplomas have replaced privilege as the basis of administrative recruitment, just as scientific education and technical expertise have replaced the cultivation of the mind through classical literature and the cultivation of manners through competitive games among social equals. The expert, not the cultivated man, is the educational ideal of a bureaucratic age. (Max Weber: An Intellectual Portrait)
There is a social selection of personalities, discussed by Thurnwald under the caption “Siebung” (sifting) and independently by several British and American authors. The madcap hero of a horde of warriors is the ruffianly bravado of a more staid society; the musing sage of one group is a maladjusted milksop in a mining camp. Indeed, as Seligman remarks, savages invest with prestige persons we should clap into an asylum for the insane. Since this is a general human process, the records of literate peoples might well be scrutinised from this angle. Savage society presents no more striking case than the ascendancy of Samuel Johnson in British life contemporaneously not only with Lessing and Voltaire on the Continent, but with Adam Smith, Hume and Gibbon in Scotland and England. For the British strainer, to use Thurnwald’s analogy, these towering intellects were mere dregs. (Robert Lowie, The History of Ethnological Thought)
Older executives learned better long ago. At a reunion dinner for business-school graduates a vice-president of a large steel company brought up the matter of conformity and, eyeing his table companions, asked if they felt as he did: he was, he said, becoming more of a conformist. There was an explosion of table thumping and head noddings. In the mass confessional that followed, everyone present tried to top the others in describing the extent of his conformity.
There is… one great danger of mass democracy that merits special consideration: the predominance of emotional over rational elements in the process of political decision-making… Weber referred to the ‘politics of the street’ and a ‘syndicalism of immaturity’ as the ultimate extremes of mass democracy. In his judgement, the threat of mob rule was greatest where parliamentary rule is impotent or discredited, where political parties are not strongly organized, where the appeal to fear can be successful because of failure of nerve among the rulers and cowardice of the bourgeoisie, and finally, where in the large cities idlers and coffeehouse intellectuals are permitted to engage in political agitation in the absence of an organized working class. (Reinhard Bendix)
†1 See Alan Macfarlane’s Anthropology, Empire and Modernity and Ernest Gellner’s The Conditions of Liberty; Civil Society and Its Rivals.
†3 See David Marquand’s, The New Reckoning; Capitalism, States and Citizens.
So we move on, sustained by our faith in the station, aware that every step we take thereby allows us to reach a small part of that destination. By its existence the station sustains us, and gives our lives their only meaning. We are glad that in return we have begun to worship the station.
The term “class” refers to any group of people [who have the same] typical chance for a supply of goods, external living conditions, and personal life experiences, insofar as this chance is determined by the…power…to dispose of goods or skills for the sake of income in a given economic order… “Class situation” is, in this sense, ultimately “market situation”.
In contrast to the economically determined “class situation” we wish to designate as “status situation” every typical component of the life fate of men that is determined by a specific, positive or negative, social estimation of honor…. In content, status honor is normally expressed by the fact that a specific style of life can be expected from all those who wish to belong to the circle. Linked with this expectation are restrictions on “social” intercourse (that is, intercourse which is not subservient to economic…purposes). These restorations may confine normal marriages within the status circle…
Stratification by status goes hand in hand with a monopolisation of ideal and material goods or opportunities… Besides the specific status honor, which always rests upon distance and exclusiveness, we find all sorts of material monopolies. Such honorific preferences may consist of the privilege of wearing special costumes, of eating special dishes taboo to others, of carrying arms….
The decisive role of a “style of life” in status “honor” means that status groups are the specific bearers of all “conventions”. (from Max Weber: An Intellectual Portrait, by Reinhard Bendix).
…the curriculum he will take is just about as far removed from fundamental education as it is possible to get. Nor is it likely to change for the better in the foreseeable future. There has been much criticism recently of the fact that teachers colleges are far more interested in technique of pedagogy, personality adjustment, audio-visual expertise, and the like than the content of what is supposed to be taught, but the criticism has had little tangible effect. Teachers-college people are baffled and hurt by it, but a fairly exhaustive reading of current literature in the field fails to reveal any disposition to constructive self-criticism on this score. Quite the contrary, some leaders in teacher education have been saying that there is still too much content.
It is now well evident that a large proportion of the younger people who will one day be in charge of our secondary-school system are precisely those with the least aptitude for education of all Americans attending college. (Emphasis in the original)
The shame is to impose words for ideas upon ourselves or others. To imagine that we are going forward when we are only turning round. (Review of Soame Jenyns in Major Works)
This is an age of academic mass publication, and certainly not a time for academic idealists.
…the Government presented by the national press as the Essence of efficacy. (Mythologies)
Hébert, the revolutionary, never began a number of his news-sheet Le Pére Duchêne without introducing a sprinkling of obscenities. These improprieties had no real meaning, but they had significance. In what way? In that they expressed a whole revolutionary situation. Now here is an example of a mode of writing whose function is no longer only communication or expression, but the imposition of something beyond language, which is both History and the stand we take in it.
Those who have been ‘brought out’ bear witness to the transformation. They speak enthusiastically of it, and if their experience had to be summed up in a phrase, it would boil down to one heartfelt note of joy: they weren't introverts after all. (William H. Whyte)
Like most such online relationships, the friendship between the three cyber pals was fragmented and based on a minimal, yet intense, intimacy. They did not know where each other lived; what their socio-economic backgrounds were; or what they looked like… (Misha Glenny, McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime)
Barthes simply injected the high moral pitch of the Sartreanism, originally concerned with subjects and consciousness, into the register of semiotics, the land of signs. The conceptual weaponry changed - but the existentialist pathos is the same.
lxvii. See Proust’s comments on intelligent readers in my Saw Your Site. Liked it. Thought I’d, um…add a comment… Instead… Yes… Exactly.
lxx. The author’s evident conviction of his own innocence, like his earlier belief that he had been discharged from hospital, may be taken as an expression of hope for the future. Meanwhile he continues with his busy round of activities in the Unit of Criminal Psychopathy, constructing his bizarre ‘aircraft’ and tirelessly editing the footnotes with which he has annotated so many of the medical textbooks in the library. As all these books are out-of-date, like the 1972 BP Codex, little harm is done. Most of his complex annotations have been shown to be complete fictions, an endlessly unravelling web of imaginary research work, medical personalities and the convoluted and sometimes tragic interrelationships of their private lives. Occasionally, however, they describe with unusual clarity a sequence of events that might almost have taken place. The patient seems trapped between what his psychiatrists call ‘paradoxical faces’, each image of himself in the mirror reinforcing that in the glass behind him. The separation of the two will only be achieved by the appearance of the as yet incomplete document Notes Towards a Mental Breakdown, of which we possess only an 18-word synopsis and its set of footnotes. It seems possible that although the synopsis conceals a maze of lies and distortions, it is a simple and incontrovertible statement of the truth. (J.G. Ballard, War Fever)