In/Articulate Thoughts

For the benefit of those who weren’t at Regenia Gagnier’s seminar, I’d like to start by returning briefly to a topic that I raised there concerning historical models and articulation.  My main question, which Profs. Gagnier and Clayton excellently responded to, was about the relationship between present-day scientific models and their ability to either “prove” or adequately model inarticulate Victorian speculations on social theory.  The consensus response (as I understand it) was that these models provide a useful analogy between present-day postgenomic investigations and Victorian social theory whose similarities and differences can at one and the same time demonstrate intellectual discourses alien or incoherent to twenty-first century thought and point out the limitations within twenty-first century though itself.  And while I find this compelling, it seems to me that most of our discussion revolved around the similarities between these two distinct moments of thought, the way in which one discourse may efficaciously articulate the paradoxes, contradictions, or incoherences of another discourse as, ultimately, intelligible.  In contrast, I would like to put some pressure on the disarticulations that this analogous model both covers up and creates, not least because I think that a foundational aspect of Prof. Gagnier’s project is just such a disarticulation of stable concepts.  The most obvious instance of this disarticulation within Individualism and Globalization is Prof. Gagnier’s studied complication of the terms “we” and “I.”  For Prof. Gagnier, the main concern is to explain away a strain of social theory that is highly paradoxical by today’s standards, one that treats the individual and the community not as antinomies but as symbiotic.  In the process, Prof. Gagnier manages to disarticulate any coherent sense of what exactly the “I” is and does: it is not a mental substance that could be opposed to the body, nor is it a body that is independent of the various networks within which it is entangled, nor is it an overdetermined compound of those networks themselves.  It is, rather, all and none of these, a complex negotiation of produced individualities within constraining environments that are asymmetrical in nature.  The only way that I could think of the “I” in this respect was via recourse to analogical thinking once again: just as the brain operates as a sort of network, so too does the human body act as a network (of organs) and within larger socio-cultural-biological networks (whose interactions themselves form a kind of meta-network).  I hope it will be clear that, although I have a “sense” of what the “I” is, it is a highly disarticulated one (and productively so at that).  The same could be said about the networks that Prof. Gagnier deals with: though “we” (if I can still unproblematically use that word) can see how these networks enter into a dialectical relation with the “I,” the stability of these networks is somewhat de-systematized.  That is, while capitalism certainly produces a given network that the “I” finds his/herself within, the simultaneous immersion of the “I” within other networks (scientific, technological, etc.), as well as the analogous (again!) position that the “I” inhabits within these networks, prevents capitalism from becoming a “total,” “closed” network, if only because of the difference in scale between these various networks. (Which, as I said earlier, creates a kind of meta-network at the site of the “I” within and between these networks.)

This, then, brings me to the inarticulacies that can also be found within Victorian social, psychological, and scientific theory.  If the most obvious benefit of Prof. Gagnier’s work is its ability to synthesize a huge number of discrepant discourses with the help of an abundantly useful metaphor, to provide, as it were, the fundamental trope pinning them all together, it seems to me that a complementary way to look at these same discourses would be to note how they resist metaphorization into a single unitary discourse of networks.  What tropes, metaphors, assumptions, ideological investments, etc., etc., would outright resist this seamless articulation into a single discourse?  I’m thinking here specifically of Prof. Gagnier’s comparison between capitalism as a threatening de-individuating system and a science that makes a virtue out of this de-individuation.  If both of these discourses present a de-individuated “I” embedded within a plural network (the “we”), equally striking is the foundational opposition between capitalist self-interest and scientific objectivity.  Is, then, the disarticulateness between these two networks constitutive of their functioning as such?  Can science function as objective if it is articulated within the network of wants that is capitalism?  Can capitalism function as an ideological index of individualist prosperity/happiness if it is articulated within objective lens of science?  These appear to me to be the larger stakes of Prof. Gagnier’s work: that we gain something productive by articulating these networks together, that the disarticulations that characterized them within the Victorian period were the ideological premises upon which inequality could occur, just as today the stable articulations of “I” and “we” serve to buttress (neo)liberal notions of personhood.

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~ by matteatough on March 27, 2009.

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