[-empyre-] All Systems Go

Michael Angelo Tata, PhD mtata at ipublishingllc.com
Tue Apr 28 16:49:58 EST 2009

Thanks for introducing the possibility of “little stories” (petits histories) and their relation to the system/s of systems theory (Luhmann—also Maturana and Varela).  “We assume there are systems” is a far cry from “The world is all that is the case” (Wittgenstein/Tractatus) and even carries Heidegger to a new level.  Rather than “There is Being” or Time or Da-sein, it becomes, “We assume that there is Being,” or Time, or Da-sein: but maybe our assumptions are wrong, or in need of modification, or based on trompe l’oeil.  
Furthermore, a system is organized in such a fashion that the foundation/Grund is not quite what we think it might be: how we ground a network or even autopoietic entity like an archaebacterium sucking Hydrogen Sulfide from an ocean vent is not the way we ground philosophy proper, or the way be lay a foundation to Mar-a-Lago.  When a system is a network, for example, there is a webbiness transcending the simple grounding of the algorithm.  We are absorbed by this network in novel ways (think: Videodrome), and may even choose to enter it at points of our own selection (something beyond the “flexibility” of flexible accumulation—more than designing our own Capital One card, as the TV spot urges me to do ever so sweetly and gently, with the suppressed urgency of the advertised commodity).   
Whether or not we believe Lyotard, there is an effusion of little stories that is even more “effuse” with the advent of phenomena like ’zines, blogs, vlogs, and other little parcels of the personal, the everyday, that which we memorialize, however trivial it might be.  Whether we link these fragments together into some kind of larger tale about their fragmentedness or leave them to float and waft on trajectories of their own design is up for grabs, and an epochal question.  
Many of our fellow panelists care abut the chance of change or revolution, leading me to wonder about the political import of fragmentation-as-fragmentation.  Marking our entry, as you phrase it, is a productive place to start—and given that we star in a society encouraging us to tell our little stories at every turn and in every medium (if we are fortunate enough, they enter into the Reality TV mechanism and make us that new type of celebrity most lucidly described by Omarosa in her TV interviews, and to some degree in her book The Bitch Switch), it seems that there is no end to this obscene profusion, an arabesque proliferation of non-banal banalities and grotesque sportive of the exotic and the bizarre.  As Foucault says, the hero of a disciplinary society is not the epic stud, but Judge Schreber, whose Memoirs of My Mental Illness is the little story that sets the standard for modern subjectivity and what we expect of it.    
On a note that will carry us in a different direction, there is Barthes’ Systeme de la Mode, which is rigorous in its own way, and which describes our own narratives and marking via the event of fashion (the garment I wear versus the garment I see in a magazine: event ruptures structure).  I am not sure how to place Barthes’ systematicity with regard to Luhmann’s, but what I am suggesting is an examination of systems of consumption as these define subjectivity in their own right (here, the sumptuary).        

Michael Angelo Tata, PhD  347.776.1931-USA


> Date: Fri, 24 Apr 2009 21:02:52 -0500
> From: jtabbi at gmail.com
> To: empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Meta-
> The transcendence of Meta-Narrative as itself a Meta-Narrative?
> Logically, Michael, that makes sense. I suppose it's a question of
> where one situates oneself. Lyotard, after all, made the absence of
> meta-narratives into a narrative of a new, emergent period, a
> 'post-modern' era defined by the loss of faith in the grand narratives
> of modernity. Freud, Marx, and Durkeim, once so powerful and capable
> of explaining so much, with the passing of time could be seen as
> expressive of the hopes, aspirations, oppressions and (consequent?)
> repressions of a certain /period/. The fact that the old explanations
> failed to convince, or failed to convince in ways that could inspire
> widespread dedication to a cause, was an indication that society had
> reached a different moment. The transformation in sensibiity occurred,
> palpably, whether or not the post-modernists were paradoxical or
> contradictory in how they described the occurrence.
> It does seem to be the case that, by Lyotard's time (1970s, '80s), the
> only narratives to attain an (admittedly restricted) power, were those
> that admitted their own contingency, their dependence on a particular
> subject position, their construction of a situated identity. If there
> were not so many actual 'petit histoires' on offer, in the cultural
> domain, the meta-narrative of postmodernity would not have been
> persuasive (at least, not for as long as it was persuasive).
> (for as long as it has been persuasive?)
> But maybe there's another way to look at this. Michael's observation
> expresses a paradox: the observation of the passing of grand
> narratives is itself a grand narrative. Right. But what if we simply
> recognize the development /as/ a paradox? and then take this paradox
> as a starting point? as a way of legitimating the proliferation of
> mini-narratives? an acknowledgment that our time is derivative, not
> likely to have a dominant narrative of its own any time soon?
> Deflation of grandiosity certainly is the rhetoric of the day. "Yes we
> can" is about as grand as we can hope for, these days. Yes, /we/ can -
> even if Big Government, that mythical grandee, purportedly can't. (Can
> I be forgiven for thinking back with nostalgia to 'nothing to fear
> but fear itself,' a slogan from long before I was born? If the Obama
> team really wants to jump-start the economy, the President's
> speachwriters might consider the power of paradox and the logic of the
> bootstrap.... )
> An admission of paradox (not as a problem in logic but as a starting
> point) is in fact the approach taken by Luhmann, when he inaugurates
> an alternative to the 'petit histoires' of postmodernity, and when he
> attempts to replace talk of "cultures" with descriptions of
> "functional systems." I'm away from my library, but I recall Luhmann's
> opening an early major work, with something like the sentence: "We
> assume there are systems." An essay that I can look up now, online,
> opens with a similar move (the systems theorist was nothing if not
> consistent):
> "No one, I think, will dispute the fact of a global system."
> http://www.generation-online.org/p/fpluhmann2.htm
> I cited that once, in an email conversation with Stefanie Strickland,
> and Stef responded (immediately): '/I/ dispute it!'
> But the point is not, really, whether a global system exists or not.
> There are certainly narratives of globalization that many people
> believe in, or we act as though we do. If people believe in a system,
> a description, or a narrative, then that belief offers a starting
> point, something to build on. (Not a foundation - that only comes
> later, after the system establishes itself, after a sufficient
> investment in the system is established, and belief in the system
> becomes widespread and self-sustaining.)
> "We don't do grand narratives anymore." That's what society tells
> itself nowadays. But this mode of self-understanding doesn't have to
> be a contradiction; it can be a way of seeing the grand
> meta-narratives of the past for what they are, and marking our own
> society as /different/. We don't do foundations or universals, we
> deflate anyone who attempts a grand claim. Or history does the job of
> deflation for us: "Mission accomplished" is unlikely to be remembered,
> even ironically, for long. Maybe 'You're doing a heckuva job,
> Brownie,' will fare better as ecological crises pick up.
> We've gotten over 'grand,' That is what makes our current systems
> powerful and also democratic (so we can tell ourselves). Those small
> acts of resistance cited by Marc Herbst, "the glorious miasma of
> identities [having] the capacity in little and big ways to tilt at
> windmills" - what are these, if not elements in a current
> counter-narrative to those bygone grandies. Instead of revolution
> orchestrated by the state, we have resistance in the everyday,
> unorganized and emergent. These acts of resistance are observable,
> certainly, for those who know where and how to look for them (in
> Ithaca and everywhere, every day). But the notion that these small
> acts can add up to something, that they can effect a change or affect
> a system in beneficial ways - that is a matter of belief, plain and
> simple.
> To observe a system (a former grand narrative), and to use that
> observation as a way of marking our own difference: that is a kind of
> /re-entry/ (another key term in systems theory). Once we can mark our
> difference, the old narratives become no more, or less, grand than the
> stories we tell ourselves about our own place in, solidarity with,
> and/or resistance to, the current world system.
> > On Tue, Apr 21, 2009 at 10:27 PM, Michael Angelo Tata, PhD
> > <mtata at ipublishingllc.com> wrote:
> >> I am reminded of Rorty: contingency and irony as a basis for solidarity.
> >> Despite pomo-ism, have we transcended the meta-N, or is a meta-N of no
> >> meta-N a meta-N after all?
> >>
> >> *******************************************
> >> Michael Angelo Tata, PhD  347.776.1931-USA
> >> http://www.MichaelAngeloTata.com/
> _______________________________________________
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> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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