Wednesday, August 11, 2010

note taking
Posted elsewhere in response to a post and a comment. The reference to the "egalitarian ideology' of US students is just sad.
Michael E. Smith: The problem is with U.S. students who are used to an egalitarian ideology and want to be pals with the Mexican workers. So they use the familiar terms of address in Spanaish (tu), which makes the workers think that either the students are being overly familiar (with attractive US female students and young male workers this can lead to various awkward encounters), or else that the students are being hierarchical and dominant (since the familar form is also used by people in a dominant position to show their superiority over people in a lower position).

Anyway, I’ve figured out a lot of this kind of thing over the years, but I have never seen any papers or written discussions that might help orient unsophisticated US students to the social realities of life and work in Mexico the social realities of life and work in Mexico.


As opposed to the realities of class relations everywhere.

I've been a construction worker with a crew of immigrants, the white guy among latinos. I've worked as a carpenter/supervisor with an assistant, a 21 year old street kid from the Caribbean, and gang member. We negotiated a friendship based on the knowledge that we both had responsibilities to higher-ups, but also that I had advantages due to education, technical ability and race. But he came to understand that I would not knowingly take advantage of my position. I didn't proclaim that, I only tried to demonstrate it. I would very specifically not render him invisible in the presence of others, coworkers, my "equals", clients etc. who would otherwise be happy to ignore him. I told him if he ever caught me locking him out in that way, he should make that clear to me in no uncertain terms; but not for both our sakes when clients were around. I taught him skills, he told me stories.

I know a couple, heirs to a large fortune, who'd lived the bohemian life in their 20's. In their mid 30's they decided to go back to their roots, and bought a sprawling apartment in midtown and hired a staff of servants. 6 months later they fired them all and hired a new set. They learned the hard way: your servants can't be your friends. Your friends become offended when you ask them to clean your bathroom.

On Zuckerberg-
His fondness for the Potlatch as he imagines it ties into the new billionaire class's even newer fondness for gift-giving. First power comes from taking, then from giving away. It's always annoyed me that only conservatives and not liberals were bothered by George Soros, whose intelligence is that of the speculative sociopath, now buying adoration where where he once bought fear. For what it's worth, I've known people who worked with him, and also servants.

"It can actually be tremendously rewarding to buy a honkin’ big piece of meat from someone who you will never meet again, take it back to your hotel room, and eat the entire thing by yourself, completely alone."

That strikes me both as a perfect description of the model -as opposed to the reality- of American ritualized exchange (and all exchange: from academia to wall street is ritual exchange) and therefore as a reaction -a reflex- against imagined collectivism. That is it's part of the American frontier now suburban imagination of individualism. I realize the language included irony but maybe not enough to cover the depth of the root.

And all of this ties into Kerim's "research bleg" for discussions of collaboration vs ethnography, which I would call needs to be seen as less a dichotomy than an ongoing responsibility. Hence my suggestion that he look up Joe McGinniss and Janet Malcolm. Should intellectuals, taking that title as seriously as it's often imagined, give first loyalty to ritual exchange among their own kind -class, race, profession (the academy-JSTOR)- or should they feel obliged more than others to balance and ironize their native relations with an equally strong set of relations with, students, cab drivers, dish washers, the women who clean up the faculty lounge, as well as in some fields officially designated "informants"?

Thomas Strong: “That strikes me both as a perfect description of the model -as opposed to the reality- of American ritualized exchange (and all exchange: from academia to wall street is ritual exchange) and therefore as a reaction -a reflex- against imagined collectivism.”…

Maybe though it’s a fantasy that animates all cultural systems. I’m probably with Levi-Strauss here: ‘eating by oneself’ (or not) is a problem at the cusp of what it means to be ‘social’. I’m probably also, however, with Sartre, and whatever it was he said about ‘l’enfer’…


If hell is other people, then language is hell.

When I first heard the terms "emics" and "etics" I thought of poemics [sic] and poetics, of poets and critics. Sartre was a critic [who wrote plays]. For better or worse -and even if I’m a bad one- I’m a poet. My question as always is this: what are the po-emics of criticism? What were they in Elizabethan England, inter-war and post-war France? And what are they now in the US?
The reference to demonstration and proclamation above is important since the academy is based on shared assumptions, and though demonstration is primary to all communication it's elided in a social world centered around the discussion of abstraction. In the larger world, in interaction among groups, there's less assumption because less trust. My relations with my assistant were openly political, I couldn't take for granted that he would see me as I saw myself and I couldn't take for granted that his perceptions would be mistaken.

We interact by judging and being judged. Communication is layered, in text and subtext, word and gesture. Others' judgments of ourselves are the equal of our own, and when we die they're more than that. The ideology, or again poemics, of Smith's students wasn't egalitarian it was self-absorbed. Though the people I argue with refuse to recognize subtext in their own actions, they operate by them -acting on reflex- just as much as the people they're paid to study.

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