Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

The Little Picture

Sinthome over at Larval Subjects has been posting a series of reflections on the relationship between Lacan and Deleuze & Guattari – revisiting what were apparently some of the foundational irritations that led to the creation of Larval Subjects. The most recent post also gestures toward some of the issues Sinthome and I have been discussing over the past several months, and includes a particularly interesting set of quotations from Deleuze and Guattari, revolving around the issue of the ways in which “overarching” social structures that are often conceptualised as being “macrological” in character can equally be conceptualised as “micrological” – as structures of family life and everyday interaction. Sinthome then suggests that this simultaneously macrological and micrological character of social structuration raises some potentially interesting questions for how we should understand the emergence of critical sensibilities, and how we should conceptualise potentials for structural transformation.

My schedule is unfortunately awful at the moment, and so I won’t be able to take up these issues substantively – most likely for several weeks. But the basic issue of pointing to the ways in which social structures permeate micrological contexts is one that has interested me for quite some time. When I used to teach on Marx, in a period in which my students were likely already to be familiar with a form of Marxism that focussed on macrosociological conceptions of structural constraints (essentially confusing finance capital with social structure, but no point in diving into minutiae…), I used to collect stories of micrological examples of forms of perception and thought that I could use to demonstrate that the reproduction of a social structure (the “cause” of a social structure, in some sense) could operate on a very wide range of scales, effected through institutions and practices one wouldn’t necessarily consider if social structure were being conceptualised as an intrinsically and exclusively macrological entity. One of my favourite stories was something that I witnessed one day when I was walking home from teaching. I found myself at a streetlight behind a precocious kindergartner and his mum, who seemed to be returning home from what had apparently been some kind of event led by a local historian at the child’s school.

Flushed with excitement, the young boy recounted the event, and then breathlessly declared: “When I grow up, I want to be a historian!”

A long paused received this statement and, while the boy looked up curious, waiting for his mum’s response, one could almost hear the mother calculating furiously in her head – the costs of university tuition, balanced against the probability of future employment and income in such a field… No: things didn’t look good… Eventually, the mother guardedly offered, “You know, when you grow up… You want to get a job you can enjoy. A job that is meaningful and that you like to do. That’s really important. But… You know… You also want to make money…”

I found this wickedly delightful – could one find a more concise lesson in the difference between use value and exchange value? And yet this lesson was taught on the street corner in a mundane domestic interaction far removed from the sorts of settings social theorists often consider, when talking about the reproduction of social structure… How many other such interactions must be taking place, in how many other street corners, shops, kitchens and schools, refracting and reproducing a quite abstract structure of perception and thought?

The passages Sinthome quotes from Deleuze and Guattari seem informed by a similar appreciation for micrological reproduction of social structures as mediated by the family – a process in which socialisation means something more than just the rearing of a child in the context of the intimate dynamics of the household, but is also a process of socialisation into a much broader context. Sinthome then asks what implications this form of socialisation within the household might have, for the ways in which we come to be affectively attached to, or repelled by, dimensions of our broader social context. Excellent questions – I’d very much like to take them up in relation to some aspects of Adorno’s writings on similar issues, but at the moment I sadly don’t have the time. I do, though, expect these and related questions will recur as the discussion moves along… For the moment, I’ll just point folks over to the Larval Subjects post, which also leads on to some interesting discussion in the commentary, spiraling out in a wide range of directions from the concerns of the original post.

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