Wednesday, August 31, 2011

RSL, Part I

Part I will be called "Science as Hustle and Bustle", which plays on the title of a seminal work in the STS tradition, namely, Science as Practice and Culture, edited by Andrew Pickering, and published by Chicago University Press in 1992. The idea of science as "hustle and bustle" is an allusion to Heidegger's description of modern science as an "ongoing activity", which he calls Betrieb in German. That word is translated as "hustle" in Being and Time and indicates the danger of letting activity degenerate into "mere busy-ness". Indeed, Betrieb could also be translated as "business" or "enterprise". I unpack this theme in three 5000-word essays.

1. The Scholar Disappears
Here the title is a direct reference to Heidegger's famous essay "The Age of the World Picture", in which he describes what might be called "the modern condition". He uses the phrase to mark the shift away from "scholarship" and towards "research":

The scholar disappears. He is succeeded by the research man who is engaged in research projects. These, rather than the cultivating of erudition, lend to his work its atmosphere of incisiveness. The research man no longer needs a library at home. Moreover, he is constantly on the move. He negotiates at meetings and collects information at congresses. He contracts for commissions with publishers. The latter now determine with him which books must be written. (QT, p. 125)

I think that, today, we all recognize ourselves at least partly in this description. Interestingly, it was written in 1938, and already in 1927 (in Being and Time) Heidegger was talking about an "existential conception" of science as a contrast to the logical or positivist conception. It is that (i.e., the existential) conception that this essay will develop.

2. The Archives of Babel
The 1960s were a pivotal time for our understanding of scientific research and its relation to writing. Most notably, Heidegger's existentialism found a new expression in Foucault's "archaeology", or what is often referred to as his theory of "discourse". At the heart of this theory is something he called "the archive", which resonates nicely with the passage I just quoted from Heidegger above:

[The archive situates] a practice that causes a multiplicity of statements to emerge as so many regular events, as so many things to be dealt with and manipulated. It does not have the weight of tradition; and it does not constitute the library of all libraries, outside time and place; nor is it the welcoming oblivion that opens up to all new speech the operational field of its freedom: between traditions and oblivion, it reveals the rules of a practice that enables statements both to survive and to undergo regular modification. It is the general system of the formation and transformation of statements.(AK, p. 130)

I normally read Foucault's Order of Things and Archaeology of Knowledge as detailed empirical and theoretical elaborations of Heidegger's "The Age of the World Picture". Both thinkers were trying to show how "modern" or "classical" representation was contingent on historical processes, and that history appeared to be moving on. In this essay, I will try to show that the "postmodern condition" is precisely expressed in this image of an "Archive", somewhere between Bolzano's book of "the totality of all human knowledge" and Borges's famous "Library of Babel".

3. A Supplementary Clerk
"It was now a great time for scriveners," writes Melville in his famous story about Bartleby. This essay brings him together with a colleague and near-contemporary, Kierkegaard's Johannes de Silentio. Both were writers who renounced the "system" of writing that gave their work meaning. "Extra-writers" as Kierkegaard puts it. I use these two characters to explore the ennui and ressentiment that too often subtends academic work (note Bartleby's laconic refrain, "I would prefer not to," and Silentio's evocative name). My own experience as a "consultant", always on the margin of the hustle and bustle academic enterprise, has often given me occasion to reflect upon what Derrida called "the dangerous supplement", and Bartleby and Silentio, each in their own way, served as "supplementary clerks" to a world, as Kierkegaard described it, "confused by too much knowledge". His solution has a long tradition: "Socrates, Socrates, Socrates! What the world needs, absorbed as it is in so much learning, is a new Socrates!"

That's it. An overview of part I of Research as a Second Language, the book.

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Presskorn said...

"...and already in 1927 (in Being and Time) Heidegger was talking about an "existential conception" of science as a contrast to the logical or positivist conception."

Interesting, I'm not *that* well-versed in SZ, so you could reference that? Intuitively I thought of §3-4, but I don't really see it there...

Thomas said...

§69 (b)