Lachlan Ross will be conducting a 6-week short course in the Garage. The course will run on Thursday nights from 6:30-8:00pm. First class is on Thursday the 22nd of August. This Thursday!
All welcome, if you’re interested please email us at garageblackboardlectures[at]gmail[dot]com so we can confirm numbers, and so we can send you more info.
Details of the course below:
Modernity and the Birth of the Individual
Modernity and the Birth of the Individual is a class about the differences between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, community/traditional society and civil society/modernity.
Teacher: Lachlan Ross
Qualifications: MA in Social Theory Completed, PhD, in progress …
Outline of the course:
1) Simmel v. FoucaultSimmel: Proposition …
Traditional society is a place of unfreedom, where human beings are locked into rigid roles and social relationships. In communities, it can be said there are no true individuals, no freedom of thought, no ‘social mobility’. The monetization of Europe in the 15th Century initiated a time of freedom, internality, of fluid social bonds, of individuality, freedom of thought, and also freedom of movement.
In traditional societies, there is greater freedom, because domination is imprecise. Human beings do not exist for the sovereign, as long as they work, pay tax, and do not transgress the law. Communities have some freedom to determine the contents of their collective existence. Also, because the sovereign says ‘no’, because there are taboos, there are definite places to strike. Communities who are unhappy with the sovereign are able to arm themselves and attack a real site of power. In modernity, power moves from the centre outward, flooding the whole body of society. Disciplinary techniques of power now put every human being under the microscope, and spread out from armies and prisons into schools, workplaces and hospitals. Nobody is invisible to power. For every visible element of societal freedom, there is a dark countermeasure, making human beings docile, impotent, productive, and without targets to attack, should they become unhappy. In short, for Simmel, the trajectory from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft is one from unfreedom to freedom. For Foucault, the reverse is true.2) Weber v. Adorno
This is a similar argument.
Weber: Proposition …
Prior to the ‘discovery’ of the Instrumentally Rational type of social action (which is tied in the main to the new logic of 12 Century proto-capitalists), human beings had no hope of being free. Weber is a Marxist in this sense, in that he believes that tradition = unfreedom. At every point of time, an empty horizon must be before one, not a set of automatic traditions, if one is to be free. Unlike Marx, Weber says: Instrumental Reason (one can read ‘technology’ here, until we have the time to flesh the concept out), although it gives us a hope of being free, probably won’t lead to freedom. The problem with rational means is that they become autonomous, solid, and unyielding (they get grotesque ideas of their own, Marx might say, and begin to take on forms that may exist at a great distance from their origins). They become an Iron Cage that we become trapped in, whether they are good for us or not (they forget that they were means, and we do too, and that each specific institution or technology was initiated by a specific human being to perform some specific task, some task to further some specific human interest). We now look upon bureaucracy and progress as natural laws, that human beings could not stand in the way of (if they wanted too). Weber understands that the rational can become irrational if it becomes traditional. Read Weber’s ‘Types of Social Action’ in the Reader if this is unclear.
It is not the case that Instrumental Rationality gives us a chance of being free that will probably not eventuate, due to the wont of Instrumentally Rational means to solidify into autonomous ends, to slip beyond our control. Adorno says, rather: Instrumentally Rational means must solidify into autonomous ends—any attempt at ‘world mastery’ must lead to the mastery of us by the means we create to master it—and it is foolish to even toy with the idea that we can make rationality ‘instrumentally’ rational, and use it for our own ends. For Adorno, basically, we have no hope, except to destroy the system and escape from it completely. There is no freedom in modernity. Adorno’s most interesting argument, which we will discuss, is that there is more potential for freedom in totalitarianism than in ‘democratic modernity’. Adorno’s culture industry and Foucault’s absence of the sovereign who says no have exciting resonances, as do, of course, Simmel’s and Weber’s theories of human cultural inventions that develop independent logics.Finally: 3)
Nietzsche v. Castoriadis
This is the strangest argument of the course. It is, basically that for Nietzsche (and Simmel takes this from him) the human being of modernity is nothing like the human being of pre-modernity. They are different animals, who have not been ‘trained’, or ‘civilised’, but have been turned into a qualitatively different thing altogether. Castoriadis counters that human beings are always the same, ontologically speaking, but create vastly different worlds and identities depending upon whether there is a space for their innate creative capacity to be operative or not.