This is a fascinating exchange, recorded in Dublin a few months ago, between Jeffrey Alexander and Maeve Cooke on the relationship between, and their their perspectives and positions on, the ‘civil society’ (sociology) and the ‘good society’ (philosophy). It can be viewed as a conversation between their respective books on these topics – Cooke’s Re-Presenting The Good Society (2005) and Alexander’s The Civil Sphere (2006). I have read the former some years ago and found it excellent. I was particularly interested in the central deployment of imagination and affect in her arguments there. I have not yet read Alexander’s book, which is 800 pages long, but have plans to. The UCD blurb is below:
Professor Jeffrey Alexander (Department of Sociology, Yale University) and Professor Maeve Cooke (UCD School of Philosophy, University College Dublin) discuss: “Is Civil Society the Good Society?” at a special workshop in Dublin, Ireland (06 Sept 2013).
Professor Alexander, who is the Lillian Chavenson Saden Professor of Sociology at Yale University, was in Ireland to receive an honorary doctorate from University College Dublin in recognition of his “considerable contribution to sociology”.
“Jeffrey Alexander is one of the leading figures if not the intellectual voice of modern cultural sociology. His many books, most outstanding perhaps The Civil Sphere (Oxford University Press 2006), The Performance of Politics (Oxford University Press 2011) and his studies on cultural trauma such as Remembering the Holocaust (Oxford 2009), are milestones in the field”, said Dr Andreas Hess, UCD School of Sociology, who read the official citation at the conferring ceremony in University College Dublin.
“In contrast to other attempts such as the sociology of culture or cultural studies, the focus is not only on the arts, theatre, music, modern media and so forth but Alexander’s cultural sociology combines the aspirations of classic sociology of a Max Weber or Emile Durkheim with some of the new insights from linguistics, social anthropology, and the philosophy of language and applies these to a wide range of social phenomena.”
“In his opus magnum The Civil Sphere and in the follow-up study The Performance of Politics Alexander tries to apply cultural sociology to modern civil society and its politics. They are attempts to understand the complex relations and interactions between established institutions and the more flexible or elastic civil sphere in which public opinion is being formed and in which various conceptualisations of justice are discussed and begin to take shape. As Alexander shows convincingly in the case of Obama’s first presidential campaign, the civil sphere is also the place where the open democratic struggle for symbolic representation and meaning takes place − with outcomes that are not always predictable,” continued Dr Hess.
This new and exciting journal has issued a call for papers. First issue will be out in 2014.
Call for Papers
The European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology
Official Journal of the European Sociological Association
The study of culture is the fastest growing area in both European and North American sociology. After years of mild neglect, political sociology is also re-establishing itself as a central plank of the discipline. The European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology aims to be a forum not so much for these fields of study considered separately, as for any work that explores the relationship between culture and politics through a sound sociological lens. The journal takes an ecumenical view of ‘culture’: it welcomes articles that address the political setting, resonance or use of any of the arts (literature, art, music etc.), but it is also open to work that construes political phenomena in terms of a more philosophical or anthropological understanding of culture, where culture refers to the most general problem of meaning-formation. As for work that lies between these poles, it might address the relationship between politics and religion in all its forms, political symbolism past and present, styles of political leadership, political communication, the culture of political parties and movements, cultural policy, artists as political agents, and many other related areas. The journal is not committed to any particular methodological approach, nor will it restrict itself to European authors or material with a European focus. It will carry articles with an historical as well as a topical flavour. The journal aims to have a robust book reviews section, and while the language of reviews will be English, we wish to promote reviews of and review articles about significant new work written in other languages. The journal’s most general aim is to foster and perhaps rekindle the sort of intellectual sensibility that was once a staple of the sociological tradition.
Editor in Chief:
Charles Turner (University of Warwick; UK, D.C.S.Turner@warwick.ac.uk )
Ricca Edmondson (National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland; firstname.lastname@example.org)
Paul du Gay (University of Copenhagen, Denmark; email@example.com)
Eeva Luhtakallio (University of Helsinki, Finland; firstname.lastname@example.org)
Beatriz Padilla (University of Minho, Portugal; email@example.com)
Erle Rikmann (University of Tallinn, Estonia; firstname.lastname@example.org)
Zeynep Talay (email@example.com)
(Haraway appears about 10 mins in)
‘As the IHR’s 2013 Distinguished Lecturer, Donna Haraway, Distinguished Professor Emerita of the History of Consciousness Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz and author of “Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: the Reinvention of Nature,” calls upon her audience to work, play and think in terms of multispecies cosmopolitics, a new approach to recuperating the Terrapolis on which we live.
After centuries of genocides, environmental destruction and its unevenly distributed suffering, and rampant killing of species, as well as individuals, Haraway suggests that humans turn to SF – string figures, science fiction, speculative fabulation, speculative feminism – as mechanisms for envisioning the future.
Working homing pigeons provide guidance for SF thinking, especially as seen through the methodologies and theories of practicing zoo-ethno-graphers. Their investigations of multispecies attachment, detachment, inter- and intra- patience, and inter- and intra- action bring together the social sciences, humanities, arts, and biological and physical sciences and offer crucial tools and knowledge(s). However, these investigations also reveal stunning human ignorance(s) about how to inhabit the world with other animals, rather than to observe and control them’.
A very quick post, following some prodding from Mark Murphy of the ever-excellent Social Theory Applied blog, but one with an oblique relationship with social theory as such. The New England poet Charles Olson, a key member of the Black Mountain School of American Poetry, was also one of the most philosophical poets of his generation. In particular, Olson’s poetry is heavily influenced by the process metaphysics of A.N.Whitehead. Olson made his debt to Whitehead explicit, referring to him often as ‘my cosmologist’ and his poetry can be read as a dialogue with, and cannot be properly understood without reference to, Whitehead.
Olsen, as you can hear the clip above where he recites ‘Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld]‘, developed a distinctive style of poetry influenced by this ontology, which he called ‘open’ or ‘projective verse’. In an essay in which he outlines this innovative approach to poetry called Projective Verse (pdf) he writes that:
A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it (he will have some several causations), by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader. Okay. Then the poem itself must, at all points, be a high energy construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge. So: how is the poet to accomplish same energy, how is he, what is the process by which a poet gets in, at all points energy at least the equivalent of the energy which propelled him in the first place, yet an energy which is peculiar to verse alone and which will be, obviously, also different from the energy which the reader, because he is the third term, will take away?
The answer is breath. Or at least, ear and breath in dynamic relationship. Form for Olson is ‘never more than an extension of content’ and the process is:
how the principle can be made so to shape the energies that the form is accomplished. And I think it can be boiled down to one statement…ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION. It means exactly what it says, is a matter of, at all points (even, I should say, of our management of daily reality as of the daily work) get on with it, keep moving, keep in, speed, the nerves, their speed, the perceptions, theirs, the acts, the split second acts, the whole business, keep it moving as fast as you can, citizen. And if you also set up as a poet, USE USE USE the process at all points, in any given poem always, always one perception must must must MOVE, INSTANTER, ON ANOTHER.
Ear and breath, the acquisitions of the former and the pressure of the latter:
the HEAD, by way of the EAR, to the SYLLABLE
the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the LINE
Thus, the poem is ‘organic’, it grows, from the inside out. It is, fundamentally, like nature, processual.
In the clip below, where Olson discusses this way or method, he invokes his ‘great master, and the companion of my poems, Mr. Whitehead, who called his cosmology the philosophy of organism’. The overlap with and influence of Whitehead is clear. These are reinforced when he turns to ‘objectism’, a position opposed to both objectivism and subjectivism:
What seems to me a more valid formulation for present use is “objectism,” a word to be taken to stand for the kind of relation of man to experience which a poet might state as the necessity of a line or a work to be as wood is, to be as clean as wood is as it issues from the hand of nature, to be as shaped as wood can be when a man has had his hand to it. Objectism is the getting rid of the lyrical interference of the individual as ego, of the “subject” and his soul, that peculiar presumption by which western man has interposed himself between what he is as a creature of nature (with certain instructions to carry out) and those other creations of nature which we may, with no derogation, call objects. For a man is himself an object, whatever he may take to be his advantages, the more likely to recognize himself as such the greater his advantages, particularly at that moment that he achieves an humilitas sufficient to make him of use.
This is an Object Oriented Ontological Poetry in all but name (on which, see Morton (2012)pdf), as well as a process poetry.
The clip, and the one after it, are of a short documentary featuring Olson from 1966. In the first one, he reads ‘Maximus to Gloucester’ again. In the second he reads The Librarian.
There is lots more to be said – the connections between the poet and the philosopher have been subject to a number of analyses, such as Blaser (1986), and more recently Bram (2004) - and I haven’t even mentioned Olson’s Maximus Poems, but for now, I leave Olson speak for himself. Another interesting ‘poet of process’ is A.R.Amons, but I may return to him at another time.
What the post is intended to provoke is an exploration of the link between philosophy and art, between poetry and theory. What Olson does is theory as poetry, which is, to me, an interesting approach.