Sunday, June 23, 2019

Grant McCracken is a research affiliate with the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT who has consulted widely in the corporate world, including the Coca-Cola Company, IKEA, Ford, Kraft, Kodak, and Kimberly Clark. He is a Futures of Entertainment Fellow and a member of the IBM Social Networking Advisory Board. 

He is author of the forthcoming book Culturematicfrom Harvard Business Review Press. Previously, he authored the 2009 book Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation, the 2008 book Transformations: Identity Construction in Contemporary Culture,the 2006 book Flock and Flow: Predicting and Managing Change in a Dynamic Marketplace, the 2005 book Culture and Consumption II: Markets, Meaning, and Brand Management, the 1997 book Plenitude: Culture by Commotion, the 1996 book Big Hair: A Journey into the Transformation of Self, the 1990 book Culture and Consumption: New Approaches to the Symbolic Character of Consumer Goods and Activities, and the 1988 book The Long Interview. For the Convergence Culture Consortium, he wrote "Assumption Hunters: A New Corporation in the Throes of Structural Change". 

Grant has been the director of the Institute of Contemporary Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School, a visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge, and an adjunct professor at McGill University. He holds a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Chicago.
The central thing to understand about all of this is that once again art as craft has been separated from meaning, while the statements of academics are granted the authority of truths. But this time the false dichotomy of aestheticized politics and politicized aesthetics, central to Modernism since Benjamin –a distinction would have made Baudelaire  howl– has become a unified positivist theory of capitalism.  If the study of communication is akin to botany, or since this is MIT, akin to physics, it makes sense this is where Chomsky's rationalist formalism reaches its nadir, in the same place where 'theory' is now the theory of advertising as taught in business schools. An outsider might notice that MIT linguistics is akin to Chicago economics, but technocracy knows no subtexts.
This is the crude positivism that allows the crossover from Marxism to marketing. The shallowness is the same, and the pedantry, as mode or form, becomes more  important than the subject matter. It's easy to say that Analytical Marxism has the same relation to Marx as the debates of scholastic theologians had to the teachings of Jesus, but both exist at the end of a tradition, and traditions can be full or empty, thick or thin, can function as part of a debate in the wider world, or decay into arguments among specialists and pedants. This is something else: a scholastic philosophy of market practice, a high theory of the practice of the low, the theology of confidence tricksterism, not as trade school in comic theater but within the scholastic tradition of the search for truth. In the logic of modern philosophy, and theory, Episteme undermines and supplants Techne and then replaces it with an enlightened Praxis. That's been bad enough. In America, following Tocqueville's description of the focus on the practical, every craft must have its own theology, so even Cornell University now offers degrees in "Hospitality Science", while not yet at least going beyond offering an MFA in creative writing. Some programs now offer PhDs.

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I've linked to it recently, but my history with McCracken begins here. I should probably reuse some of the writing from 2006.

I've been coy about it if that's the best word but all the footnoted posts recently, different fonts etc., have been cut and pasted from my continuing disaster. It's spinning out of control but I'm enjoying the ride.

Saturday, June 22, 2019


My transcription of the first minutes.
What we're gonna talk about today is culture, which is a kind of dark matter for the commercial world, not so much for the creative world, but it's exactly that thing, that interface between the creative community, the cultural creatives as we now talk about them. And the world of commerce and the world of business and the world of some part of marketing doesn't really get the cultural proposition... The world has just got steadily more more complicated right? It changes almost almost as you look at... Joseph Schumpeter is one of the great kind of economists here to glimpse the fact that capitalism was a creative destructive force in the world... He had no idea what the world is going to look like. He was active about 80 years ago. We could you know bring him back to life and prop him up he would be astonished by just how destructive, how creative, capitalism has become.

The same is true of Alvin Toffler right? This is the guy who talked about Future Shock, the sheer force of the world the speed of the world how difficult that is how new that is as a structural feature of our world, and I think he too would look at the speed at which we're moving now and go oh my god. Clayton Christensen of course has this has blessed us with this notion of disruption, given us this idea that disruption is built into the playbook of capitalism. So capitalism is now eating itself in some sense, right? The takeaway here for this little section is the sudden, the difficult truth that capitalism is complicated and turbulent... And the good news here is that the people in this room can help a corporation live in a world like this. 
So strategy is struggle, right? Strategy was the the traditional way with which the corporations said OK what's out there? And how do we make ready for what's out there.... Peter Schwartz, this is the guy who was at Shell, and created the Global Business Network and his notion is that organizations exist in a state of perpetual surprise... You just wake up one day and you go oh my god my business model just got ripped out from under me what now? This is our own Michael Rayner. He was the co-author for the Disruption book written by Clayton Christensen. And he works here in Toronto I think at DeLoitte. But he wrote a book The Strategy Paradox in which he said strategy is dead. It doesn't work. We can't use it the way we used to. That's how difficult the world has become. And this of course is Nassim Talib, the guy who talked about black swans. And for me black swans is another language for disruptions right stuff can happen a Black swan is something out there on the horizon that you can't anticipate you can think as hard as you want about the future but you can't anticipate this black swan until it's upon you until it's sweeps into the marketplace, rips your business model out from under you.

Monday, June 10, 2019

the rediscovery of experience, followed the loss of it, etc. 

Panofsky, again and again, and Auerbach.
When an acquaintance greets me on the street by lifting his hat, what I see from a formal point of view is nothing but the change of certain details within a configuration forming part of the general pattern of color, lines and volumes which constitutes my world of vision. When I identify, as I automatically do, this configuration as an object (gentleman), and the change of detail as an event (hatlifting), I have already overstepped the limits of purely formal perception and entered a first sphere of subject matter or meaning. The meaning thus perceived is of an elementary and easily understandable nature. and we shall call it the factual meaning; it is apprehended by simply identifying certain visible forms with certain objects known to me from practical experience and by identifying the change in their relations with certain action or events

Now the objects and events thus identified will naturally produce a certain reaction within myself. From the way my acquaintance performs his action I may be able to sense whether he is in a good or bad humor and whether his feelings towards me are indifferent, friendly or hostile. These psychological nuances will invest the gestures of my acquaintance with a further meaning which we shall call expressional. It differs from the factual one in that it is apprehended, not by simple identification, but by "empathy". To understand it, I need a certain sensitivity, but this sensitivity is still part of my practical experience that is, of my everyday familiarity with objects and events. Therefore both the factual and the expressional meaning may be classified together: they constitute the class of primary or natural meanings.
LRB   Stefan Collini reviews Marina Warner on  Ian Watt LRB
He liked to quote Erich Auerbach’s assertion that in reading literature we need an ‘empirical confidence in our spontaneous faculty for understanding others on the basis of our own experience’.
Auerbach  Literary Language and Its Public in Late Latin Antiquity and in the Middle Ages
First there is Vico's theory of historical knowledge. It developed out of his polemic against Descartes' geometrical method and is grounded in the principle that we can only know what we ourselves have made. The history of mankind, or the “world of the nations” (in contrast to the world of nature, which God created), was made by men themselves; accordingly, men themselves can know it. Even the earlier and most remote forms of human thought and action must be present in the potentialities (Vico’s term is modificazioni) of our own human mind, and this is what enables us to understand those early forms. With his theory Vico tried to provide an epistemological foundation for his vision of the beginnings of culture, of the genesis of the first social forms, and of the poetic, ritualistic origins of human thought and expression. Vico’s was probably the first systematic attempt at a theory of historical knowledge. and it offers a clear statement, if not a logical justification, of an important and inescapable fact, namely, that we judge historical phenomena and all human affairs, whether of a private, economic, or political nature, according to our own experience, that we try, in other words, “to find their principles within the modification of our own human mind." Since Vico’s time, it is true, far more rigorous methods of observing and recording human behavior have been devised; but they have neither shaken nor supplanted our empirical confidence in our spontaneous faculty for understanding others on the basis of our own experience (actually this faculty has been very much enriched by the findings of modern science). Indeed, strict scientific methods are not applicable to historical phenomena or to any other phenomena that cannot be subjected to the special conditions required by scientific experimentation. Thus the investigation of historical processes in the broadest sense (we shall presently discuss the scope of the term “historical” as used in the present context) still depends very largely on the investigator’s judgment, that is, on his faculty for “rediscovering” them in his own mind. Historical research, indeed, has an exact side, which perhaps should be termed learned rather than scientific, namely the techniques of finding, transmitting, interpreting (in the more elementary sense), and comparing documents. But where selection, interpretation (in the higher, more general sense), and classification enter into the picture, the historian’s activity is far more comparable to an art than to a modern science. It is an art that works with scholarly material.
Leibniz and Vico.

This is fun