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From Benjamin, ‘Convolute N’, The Arcades Project.
Marx lays bare the causal connection between economy and culture. For us, what matters is the thread of expression. It is not the economic origins of culture that will be presented, but the expression of the economy in its culture. At issue, in other words, is the attempt to grasp an economic process as perceptible Ur-phenomenon, from out of which proceed all manifestations of life in the arcades (and, accordingly, in the nineteenth century).
From Benjamin, The Author as Producer.
Before I ask: how does a literary work stand in relation to the relationships of production of a period, I would like to ask: how does it stand in them? This question aims directly at the function that the work has within the literary relationships of production of a period.
Guerilla knitting has hit Hunstanton in the period running up to the Diamond Jubilee. With red, white and blue being a prominent colour scheme, as can be see in the following two photos (the first is the Princess Theatre, while the tree is outside Cafe Blah Blahh).
Also known as ‘yarn bombing’ and ‘graffiti knitting’, this colourful form of knit-one-purl-one activism has become popular in the last decade.
The following images were taken at the entrance to the Princess Theatre:
Here is another seaside resort hit with knitting fever: Contemplating Change
Hunstanton’s Historic Buildings
During the wintry months, any visitor not wishing to brave the blustery beaches of Hunstanton with it’s freezing winds, might like to take a walk around some of the town’s notable historical buildings. This blog highlights some of those known in the town, three of which display Civic Society coloured plaques. For those of you not familiar with the area, please note the honey-coloured bricks that many of the buildings are made of. It is a sandstone known locally as Carrstone.
According to Jim Whelam, writing in the Hunstanton Newsletter:
The establishment of a convalescent home at Hunstanton was first suggested in 1869 in Ely Cathedral, so that sick and poor people from Ely could recover their health with the assistance of sea air . . . The Prince and Princess of Wales agreed to officially open the home on Easter Monday, 14th April 1879. As soon as the date was known, all the villages between Sandringham and Hunstanton began making preparations on a grand scale to honour the visit. During the Easter weekend the weather was foul with keen east winds, rain and snow. The day of the visit commenced with a dull leaden sky, no apparent sign of an improvement, and not even the numerous decorations could make Hunstanton look anything less than miserable. However by noon the clouds lifted and the sun shone, crowds gathered, the railway brought in 3,000 visitors and thousands of others entered by road.
Now a block of flats, the building appears on google searches mostly under property sales. Jim Whelam’s account in the local newsletter is really interesting and can be read here: The Royal Opening of Hunstanton Convalescent Home
Old Police Station
This old police station is great. It just looks like a ‘regular’ terraced house. However from 1875 to 1954 it was Hunstanton’s police station. I wonder if the three cells were in the basement. One can only assume that crime was a relatively minor issue in Britain until the mid 50s, as the current police station, on the main road, is pretty big in comparison.
Children’s Recovery Home
Health for the Victorians was a major concern, some would say even an obsession, and the seaside was a perfect place for convalescing. This, once, children’s recovery home is now the council offices for the town. Now that our children are not dying of diphtheria, tuberculosis and typhus these old Victorian buildings are put to other uses. I don’t have the mortality figures handy for Hunstanton, but in Leeds in 1867 most people who died were 4 years old and under, and in one book I have – To Prove I’m Not Forgot – Living and Dying in a Victorian City by Sylvia M. Barnard – the under one’s were classed separately, because their chances of living beyond one year old was so slim.
This is the old vicarage and is located in Northgate, at the town end of the street. Again, it is now apartments and it is difficult to find information on online it other than that on estate agents sites. However, I have included another photo of the building (below). This type of architectural detail is very popular in Hunstanton, and manifests in various forms on a number of buildings.
Often this, kind of, inlay appears in a square shape, which produces a tiling effect. I really like it and I wonder if it is a common style from that period that was produced mostly in this area, or whether it is more generic.
My little psychogeographico-historical trip around Hunstanton was interesting. The more time I spend in the town looking at the architecture and soaking up the ambience, the more I get in touch with its aesthetic, which feels like it is very particular to the area.
For information on my other work, please go to: particulations
“The dream is not a privilege bestowed by genius. The non-sensical is the most commonly shared thing there is.”
Emmanuel Lévinas and Didier Maleuvre, ‘Transcending Words: Concerning Word-Erasing’, Yale French Studies, 81 (1992)
Talking to people as a means of investigation is more problematic than most assume.
Three, related, concerns have directed us away from the standard and seemingly straight forward route of ‘talking to people’ as a means of studying life in society. Firstly, What do we do to people when we ask them questions or talk with them? Secondly, where do their discourses (their opinions or answers) come from? Finally, what is really being tested when we ask question. We have already made clear our fear that involvement in the creation of our own materials of study is an epistemological weakness and needs to be avoided but as talking is foundational to so much analysis of life in society our concerns with it as a research tool need additional clarification. So let us treat these concerns in reverse order..
What is really being tested?
Throughout Distinction Bourdieu is quite clear that questions (here for opinion polls and social surveys) test the competence of the interviewee to answer the question posed and not what they know or think (cf Bourdieu 2004: 417-426). Those competencies derive from the individuals educational-capital, the extent of cultural-capital in their composition of capital, and their over-all extent of capital and it is these that govern if and how people respond to questions. Bourdieu shows that questions test a persons sense of competence to answer and so unless we are seeking to examine such competencies we should not ask people questions.
Where do opinions and answers come from?
There is a nexus of thinkers who have pointed towards the social formation of opinions and the kinds of discursive fragments one finds in conversation from a variety of theoretical perspectives.There are two main lines of work: on the process of discourse as action in society and in the field of the common-sense.
If we start with action in society and Herbert Blumer’s symbolic interactionism we can see that Blumer’s criticisms of opinion polling (Blumer 1986) hold good for all question-asking because they focus on the development of opinions in society. For Blumer “the formation of public opinion occurs as a function of society in operation” (Blumer 1986: 199-200) and as an active process in society and not in the individual “it is also very clear that in the process of forming public opinion, individuals are not alike in influence nor are groups that are equal numerically in membership alike in influence.” (Blumer 1986: 200). For Blumer question-asking confronts these unequal processes in society and not the individual interlocutor. This of course is a similar line of thought to Foucualt’s position on the episteme; the discursive regime in society that orders discourse for (or against) individuals (Foucault 2006: xxiii-xxiv. Foucault 1971). Foucault and Blumer force us to recognise that it is to optimistic to accept that people’s opinions are their own. We live in society and the language of that society must be the minimum condition for the development of ideas & concepts. The structures of relations of power in society will structure and effect individuals responses to questions.
The common-sense is a field of knowledge that resides in society and culture and which individuals can mobilse in their own discourses. It is a form of distributed knowledge that we do not control and which, because it seems to exist everywhere, seems neutral and harmless. This is of course not the case and its effects have been worked through by Gramsci (1971), Geetz (1993) and (under the synonym doxa; via Aristotle) by Barthes (1975) and Bourdieu (1977: 159-171). In each case the common-sense (or doxa) has been theorised as a field of social force that individual are enmeshed within (imbricated with) and which is beyond their control. For Gramsci the common-sense’s “most fundamental characteristic is that it is a conception which, even in the brain of one individual, is fragmentary, incoherent and inconsequential, in conformity with the social and cultural position of those masses whose philosophy it is” (Gramsci 1971: 419). The key point being that for Gramsci much of the action of hegemony was directed towards the common-sense and that the force of ideology in capitalism was felt in this very field. That which we encounter when we talk to people or ask them questions may well be the ‘common-sense’ and not the thinking of the person before us (or our questionnaire) and how could we tell? Epistemologically it may be that asking (however obliquely constructed this ‘talking to people’ may be) might be the worst way of finding things out (See also Edwards 1997 p62-76).
What do we do to people when we ask them questions or talk to them in the course of our studies?
In the act of asking people questions or of more obliquely talking to them we establish a relation of subjectification with them. We transform them into subjects of our study. This process of interpellation (Althusser 1971) forces them into a mode of being which is specific to the situation of being asked and divorced from the rest of life (following Benjamin we could say ‘made-auratic’). The direct imposition of the analyst-of-social-life on that very life in society that is trying to be studied will not uncover the traces of life because the analysts involvement has effaced them. We can see similar approaches to the construction of the subject in the work of Butler (1993) and especially in Foucault’s History of Sexuality (vol.1 1998). Foucault insists that “one must not suppose that there exists a certain sphere of” knowledge “that would be the legitimate concern of a free and disinterested scientific inquiry were it not the object of mechanisms of prohibition brought to bear by the economic or ideological requirements of power” and that it is only possible to study something “because relations of power had established it as a possible object” of such study (Foucault 1998: 98).
This combination of issues requires us to acknowledge that we need other modes of exploration of society if we are even going to begin confronting problems caused by that very process of study and investigation.
We, inspired by Benjamin, propose to adopt eavesdropping as a method to see if that helps us avoid these problems.
Louis Althusser (1971). “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)”, in his Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, New Left Books
Barthes, R (1975) The Pleasure of the Text, trans. R Miller, New York, Hill and Wang
Blumer, H (1986), ‘Public Opinion and Public Opinion Polling’, in his Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method, Berkeley, University of California Press
Bourdieu, P (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice. Trans. R. Nice. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press
Bourdieu, P (2004) Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste, trans. Nice R, London, Routledge
Butler, J (1993) Bodies that Matter: On the discursive limits of sex, London, Routledge
Foucault, M (1971) ‘Orders of Discourse’, Social Science Information, Vol. 10, No.2
Foucault, M (1998) History of Sexuality (vol.1), London, Penguin
Foucault, M (2006) The Order of Things: An archaeology of the human sciences, London, Routledge
Gramsci A, (1971) Selections from the Prison Notebooks, Trans. & Ed. Quintin Hoare & Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, London, Lawrence & Wishart Ltd
Geertz, C (1993) ‘Common Sense as a Cultural System’ in his Local Knowledge, London, Fontana
We are trying to ‘walk through’ the traces of the seaside found on the web/net and flickr is an archive we keep returning to. One of our efforts to remove ourselves from the process of constructing the materials we study involves automating our search for material and these two yahoo-pipes are part of that procedure:
We have been working on Benjamin’s method of rummaging through the garbage of life in society and are moving towards ‘eavesdropping’ as an organising metaphor (although this is still an ongoing process). Audrey Sprenger also seems to be taking this path but with sound rather than the images we have, so far, been concerned with as this little snippet of found sound suggest.