Brian Holmes on Sat, 18 Aug 2007 13:38:25 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> personal life, impersonal writing

Keith Hart wrote:

> academic work varies in the degree to which personality is excluded
> -- one has only to compare the tradition of the humanities with
> the failed experiment known as social science.

Michael H Goldhaber wrote:

 > In academic
 > publishing outside science, I think the attempt is to use scientific
 > writing as a model if possible, because science has more prestige.

Hello everyone, and thanks to Kimberly and Ben for launching this
intriguing conversation. I have something which relates to it.

As part of my, shall we say personal? attempt to figure out why
American and maybe Western civilization generally has ended up feeling
so much like an immense and unreflective mechanism, and also as part
of conversations that started here on nettime, I have done about
two years of reading on the genesis and development of cybernetics,
both as a successful engineering paradigm and as a failed "social
science" (replaced more recently by so-called "cognitive science"
and by the onrushing cogno-bio-info-nano convergence). One of the
more rewarding parts of this study has been to see how second- and
third-wave cybernetics is so much more fruitful (to me anyway) as a
failure than cognitive science is as a success. Gregory Bateson is one
of the high points here--along with Deleuze & Guattari of course, who
borrowed a lot from Bateson.

In 1968 Bateson convened a week-long seminar, held at Burg Wartenstein
in Austria, whose object was the discovery of an epistempology
adequate to the ecological fullness of mind, as opposed to the
limited consciousness of purpose that informed Norbert Wiener's
version of cybernetics. Bateson's daughter, Mary Catherine,
published a book-length account of the seminar, which contrasts
totally with the classic Macy Conference transcripts of first-order
cybernetics in that it not only describes everything about the
physical presence and emotional tone of the speakers and their
interactions, but also includes a running account of the reflexivity
of the observer/participant/narrator. This was 1968 and much of
the conference was devoted to the ecological disasters then being
discovered as a future possibility, which we now begin encountering as
present reality. But what seems to have disappeared is the incredible
desire to think differently and be differently. Along those lines it's
fabulous to read the passages where Mary Catherine relates her own
internal dialogue about Fred Attneave's conclusions on the population
explosion and the necessity for everyone to stop having children:
"Listening as a woman who had just lost a child, I was surprised at
how much my commitment to reversing the nightmare trends we had spoken
of was built on the imagination of a future child. It is essential
to limit birth rates, but it is also essential, I believe, to the
ethical maturity of every human being to be involved in caring for the
growth of another, an infant, a student, a disciple--one with whom we
identify enough to turn our concern for ourselves into a concern for
an unknown future. We must have as many children as we need to grow
into full human beings, but the day may come when we learn to share
them, giving every adult, whatever his biological choices, a share in
the lives of many children, so that the web of our involvement with
each other is extended into the future."

The book, which is full of passages like that, is called Our Own
Metaphor, and it includes at the end these statements by Mary
Catherine Bateson: "Any kind of a representation within a person
of something outside depends on there being sufficient diversity
within him to reflect the relationships in what he perceives... The
possibility of seeing something, the possibility of talking about
it and probably the possibility of loving, depends in every case on
arriving in yourself at a comparable complexity... We can't relate to
anything unless we can express its complexity through the diversity
that is ourselves."

This was more or less the meaning what she got out of the conference,
which is the idea that "Every person is his own central metaphor."

Which doesn't prevent my metaphor from expanding and transforming in
contact with yours.

all the best, Brian


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