Saturday, October 30, 2010

Seminar 2011

Here is the initial course description for my spring 2011 graduate seminar (these things have to be submitted early in the fall, while the course is still in development).
Gift Game Economy Strategy
The title refers to a set of theoretical operations whose convergence is tracked and tested in this seminar.  The methodological frame is heuretics (the logic of invention), and one of the purposes of the seminar is to gain some experience with “invention” as an orientation applicable to any area of the discipline. The semester project is generated by extracting from “the logic of the gift” a principle of “strategy,” to function as an alternative to the strategy of game theory informing American policy during the Cold War. Our interest is not only in political or policy strategy but in “strategy” as an attitude or orientation within any problem field. The heuretic goal is to articulate and test a strategy (a game?) of “gift.” A particular benefit of grounding our experiment in the logic of the gift is that acquaintance with this account of pre-capitalist economy reduces some of the mystery surrounding the most original thinkers of French poststructuralism (for example, Bataille, Derrida, Baudrillard, among others). Readings may include the following: Alan D. Schrift, Ed., The Logic of the Gift:  Toward an Ethic of Generosity; William Poundstone, Prisoner’s Dilemma: John Von Neumann, Game Theory, and the Puzzle of the Bomb; Richard A. Lanham, On the Economics of Attention:  Style and Substance in the Age of Information; Sun Tzu, The Art of War. The semester experiment is composed as a blog.  
The original plan has been modified, to clarify and simplify the heuretic CATTt generator.
Prisoner's Dilemma remains the Contrast.  Baudrillard is now Theory, specifically Fatal Strategies, in part because Baudrillard represents one major option coming out of Gift theory.  The fact that he couches his approach as "strategy," is useful, but more important is his appropriation of 'pataphysics as the basis for the strategy.  Analogy is a book on 'pataphysics by Christian Bok (replacing Lanham's useful but tamer framing of dadaism as a brand strategy in an attention economy -- an insight that can be covered in lecture).  This set-up means that the seminar continues to explore Routine, taking up where last year's experiment left off.  The immediate pivot is the pun (noted by Bok):  Ubu is a slapstick comedian (pataud physique) of unhealthy obesity (pateux physique)...  Target remains public policy formation (EmerAgency consulting), but the texts relevant to Target and tale are undecided at this moment.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


The case of Anna O. is considered to be the founding case of psychoanalysis by Freud himself, even though she was Josef Breuer's patient.  Breuer treated Anna O. for hysterical symptoms in 1880-81, using hypnosis among the techniques for overcoming the symptoms.  The procedure included Anna telling stories related to the causes of her illness, which had the effect of draining off the accumulated energies and relieving (temporarily) the symptoms (she favored the basic form of folk or fairy tales).  The point of special interest is in the following comment in Breuer's case history.  "She aptly described this procedure, speaking seriously, as a talking cure, while she referred to it jokingly as chimney-sweeping.  She knew that after she had given utterance to her hallucinations she would lose all her obstinacy and what she described as her energy." A note in the text states that the italicized words are in English in the original.  The significance of this usage is modified by the fact that, although Anna's native language was German, during significant periods of her illness she only was able to speak in English.  She was fluent in several more languages, including French and Italian.

The point for now concerns this "joking" reference to "chimney-sweeping."  That it is "joking" indicates Anna's familiarity with the French meaning.  Anna's treatment was occuring contemporaneously with the beginnings of the avant-garde movement just developing in bohemian Paris (Montmartre).  The counter-culture attitude and related parodic productions of the cabaret settings were labelled with this term, fumiste, fumisme.  In French, besides the literal "chimney-sweep," the term's connotations include "joker" and "charlatan."  It names an attitude of "disdain expressed through aggressive hoax," the culminating prototype of which is Duchamp's anonymous submission to an art exhibition of "Fountain" (the upside-down urinal).  Retrospective analysis of the era established the connection between psychoanalytic and experimental modernism, of course.  The specific convergence is between dreamwork as conductive logic and collage "bachelor machine" poetics, a convergence made explicit and systematic in Surrealism. 

That the term "chimney-sweep" appears in the semantic domains of these two institutional settings is suggestive in several ways.  One entailment is that the Parisian vanguard in its parodic assaults on the established conventions of art is a kind of "talking cure" for a paralyzed civilization.  The existence of the shared term implies that such transversals lend themselves to database searches using conductive criteria.  Fumisme was not just for artists, but names an attitude generally available in the period.