warner - PUELICS AND COUNTERPUBLICS performance a wlfich...

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Unformatted text preview: PUELICS AND COUNTERPUBLICS performance a wlfich it atte w V ough address.50 circulate and it must attern 7. A public is poetic world making. There is no speech or performance addressed to a public that does not try to specify in advance, in countless highly condensed ways, the lifeworld of its circulation: not just through its discursive claims — of the kind that can be said to be oriented to understand- ing—but through the pragmatics of its speech genres, idioms, stylistic markers, address, temporality, mise-en-scéne, citational field, interlocutory protocols, lexicon, and so on. Its circulatory fate is the realization of that world. Public discourse says not only “Let a public exist" but “Let it have this character, speak this way, see the world in this way." It then goes in search of confirmation that such a public exists, with greater or lesser success—success being further attempts to cite, circulate, and realize the world understanding it articulates. Run it up the flagpole and see who salutes. Put on a show and see who shows up. This performative dimension of public discourse, however, is routinely misrecognized. Public speech lies under the necessity of addressing its public as already existing real persons. It cannot work by frankly declaring its subjunctive-creative project. Its suc- cess depends on the recognition of participants and their further circulatory activity, and people do not commonly recognize them- selves as virtual projections. They recognize themselves only as being already the persons they are addressed as being and as al- ready belonging to the world that is condensed in their discourse. The poetic function of public discourse is misrecognized for a second reason as well, noted above in another context: in the dominant tradition of the public sphere, address to a public is ide- 114. PUBLICS AND COUNTERPUBL‘CS ologized as rational-critical dialogue. The circulatiOn of public discourse is consistently imagined, both in folk theory and in sophisticated political philosophy, as dialogue or discussion anibng already co-present interlocutors —as within Mr. Spectator’s club. The prevailing image is something like parliamentary forensics. I have already noted that this folk theory enables the constitutive circularity of publics to disappear from consciOusness, because publics are thought to be real persons in dyadic author/ reader interactions rather than multigeneric circulation. I have also noted that the same ideologization enables the idea that publics can have volitional agency: they exist to deliberate and then decide. Here the point is that the perception of public discourse as conversa- tion obscures the importance of the poetic functions of both lan- guage and corporeal expressivity in giving a particular shape to publics. The public is thought to exist empirically and to reguir_e_ persuasion rather than poesis. Public circulation is understood as“ 0- —~......~... ..-......-.__.... . ..._._.....— rational discussion writ large. This constitutive misrecognition of publics relies on a particu- lar language ideology. Discourse is understood tobgp‘rgpgsitign; ally summarizable; the poetigpr textual guahties oflajny utterance y_._...- are disregarded in favor of sense. Acts of readin , too, are und_e‘r:“ w_,_____ ‘M_-_._._.__.. WWW..- Eel-dd to be replicable 311d grimy-mil So are opinions, which is why private—fead‘ingseems to be directly connected to the sovereign power of public opinion. just as sense can be propositionally sum- marized, opinions can be held, transferred, restated indefinitely. (The essential role played by this kind of transposition in the mod- ern social imaginary might help to explain why modern philoso- phy has been obsessed with referential semantics and fixity.) Other as ects of discourse, including affect and expressiyityharefiot thought to be fungib e in t —e—same way. Doubtlcss the develop- -_....—...... m N_«, ._ ..- .c ment of such a language ideology helped to enable the confiden_ce iii{REMsnirfarpasiie-eircalamfstEangcrs are less “m ____M x15 Q ' PUBLICS AND COUNTERPUBL’CS PUBLICS AND COUNTERPUBLICS . x if“ . (l ‘ j._ 05‘“ _'\sh‘ange if you can trust them to read as you read or if the sense of This assumption gains force from the postulated relation between "Jyoti ‘ . avg)“. "what they say can be fully abstracted from the way they say it. public opinion and the state. ich; I “ibis, . ,‘ I also suspect that the development of the social imaginary of supergijjng bgth executive and legislative power, conf6353n 133‘“ ~_ publics, as a relation among strangers projected from private Fo—fintless acts of opining the unity—of'pphliopiniohtthosekcts 21.x ‘0‘“ h 5: readings of circulating texts, has exerted for the past three cen- have both-a 5651-14565 661i:éi‘lg‘gafiffifi‘igEQEYJlfigEfljfim turies a powerful gravity on the conception of the human, elevat- ing what are understood to be the faculties of the private reader as the essential (rational-critical) faculties of man. flyquknowand .. are intimately associated strangeLs‘ to whomygualgdjrectly and legitimation. Wthe public, however. is also ideological. It de- , pends on the stylization of the reading act as transparent and l, replicable; it depends on an arbitrary social closure (through lan- \ related only through the means of reading, _9piningl_a‘r_gui_ng,iand witnessing, then it might seem natural that other faculti‘esrrecede sameness atthgigghgiia’éis'Sifiggijfiggigmg. The mod- 'eTii hierarchy of faculties and its imagination of the social are mutually implying. The highly conventional understanding of readerly activity, moreover, has now been institutionalized. The critical discourse of the public corresponds as sovereign to the superintending power of the state. So the dimensions of language singled out in the ideology of rational-critical discussion acquire prestige and power. Publics more overtly oriented in their self- upderstandings to the poetic-expressive dimensions of laflguage, including artistic publics and many counterpublics',“ lack the pow? er to transpose themselves to, the generality of the, Along the entire chain of equations in the public sphere — from local acts of reading or scenes of speech to a general horizon of public opin- ion and its critical opposition to state power— the pragmatics of public discourse must be systematically blocked from view. Publics have acquired their importance to modern life because ..- ~..- » r --»— _-..... ..-..._.. guage, idiolect, genre, medium, and address) to contain its poten- tially infinite extension; it depends on institutionalized forms of power to realize the agency attributed to the public; and it de- pends on a hierarchy of faculties that allows some activities to count as public or general and others to be merely personal, pri- vate, or particular. Somepublics, for these reasons, are mor_e likely than others to stand in for the public, to frame their address 3-._4—. ...._ asthevuriivErsal di‘s’eus‘siozi‘bf thgpiepplelf ” 'BTI: whafififié'fifiiflié‘ihat make no attempt to present them- selves this way? There are as many shades of difference among publics as there are in modes of address, style, and spaces of circu- lation. Many might be thought of as subpublics, or’spccialized publics, focused on particular interests, professions, or locales. The public of Field &_Stream, for example, does not take itself to be the national people or humanity in general; the magazine ad- dresses only those with an interest in hunting and fishing, who in varying degrees participate in a (male) subculture of hunters and fishermen. Yet nothing in the mode of address or in the projected horizon of this subculture requires its participants to cease for a . of theease of hose transpositions upward to the level of the state. 0‘: '5‘": u w J-i i‘. Orice'the background assumptions of public opinion are in place, {guy'qu O l“ allpublics are part offlie Though essentially imaginary .qmgmh ziiilunprojections from local exchanges or acts of reading and therefore .3 infinite in number, they are often thought of as a unitary space. moment to think of themselves as members of the general public; indeed, they might well consider themselves its most representa- tive members. W 116 117 PUBLICS AND COUNTERPUBLICS cannot so easily suppress from consciousness their own creative- expressive function. How, then, will they imagine their agency? Can a public of She-Ramps romp? It is in fact Egvssible to imaginemtuhat almost any characteriza- tion of discursive acts might be attributeddto' a public. A queer public mightb—e.one that throws shade, finances, disses, acts up, carries on, longs, fantasizes, throws fits, mourns, “reads.” To take neédldinhabit-a—culture with a diffe ent language ideology, a dif—; such attributions of public agency_seriously, however, we would 5.. ferent so_cial imaginary. Itfii's—‘di-ffi—cul‘twto—say what such a world would be like. It might need to be one with a different role for state-based thinking, because it might be only through its imagi- nary coupling with the state that a public acts. This is one of the things that happens when alternative publics are said to be social movements: they acquire agency in relation to the state. They ‘elnthe‘lfihe temporavlififobf—po‘litE—fan adapt themselves to the performatives of rational-critical discourse. For many counter- publics, to do so is to cede tlggiginalhopeofltransfimningflot -... “was—“.mm ._.—-- .cd... . just po iCy but the spaceo—fpubliclife itself. “*5 - . .—.,.,_._—a...__.._ a... 124 CHAPTER THREE Styles of Intellectual Publics In the opening scene of George Orwell's 1984, thehorror of totalitarianism is driven home to the reader by — of all things— the experience of writer's block. The main character, Winston Smith, has just sat down under the glare of the all-seeing tele- screen, intending to begin a diary. He falters. A tremor goes “through his bowels.” He feels helpless. “For whom, it suddenly occurred to him to wonder, was he writing this diary?” Winston’s choice of genre, the diary, is perversely apt to illus- trate the problem of audience. Perversely. because the addressee of a diary is that unique individual about whom most is known and whose sympathetic response can be taken for granted: one- self. How could anyone, even in themost ruthlessly totalitarian regime, lack an audience for a diary? But even in a diary, one never writes simply to oneself in the present. At the very least, one addresses one’s retrospective reading at same point in the. future. One therefore addresses oneself as a partial stranger. one who will have forgotten or will have been caught up in adifferept phase of life and will have become, by consequence, different; And thus oneself comes to stand for posterity, and fog- a posterity partly brought into being by this act of writing. It might be that a diary is addressed to others entitely. to 125 PUBLICS AND COUNTERPUBLICS unborn posterity, and this in fact is how Winston mentally an- swers his question: “For the future, for the unborn." But this, too, he finds unsatisfying: For the first time the magnitude of what he had undertaken came home to him. How could you communicate with the future? It was of its nature impossible. Either the future would resemble the pre- sent in which case it would not listen to him, or it would be different from it, and his predicament would be meaningless. For some time he sat gazing stupidly at the paper. The telescreen had changed over to strident military music. It was curious that he seemed not merely to have lost the power of expressing himself, but even to have forgotten what it was that he had originally intended to say.l Writing in this scene comes to seem impossible because the diary can have no concretely imagined public, present or future. The totalitarian state, with its godlike control of media, has eliminated the civil-society context without which neither public nor private life can have its modern meaning. The diarist’s blockage illustrates the lack of both. WinstOn has no privacy because he is visible to the watching telescreen, and when he puts his notebook away in a drawer, he knows it is useless to hide it. But he is also deprived of publicness. That means not only an audience to write for in the present but, more telling, the sense of a future that might be capa- ble of comprehension, but different. “Either the future would resemble the present in which case it would not listen to him, or it would be different from it, and his predicament would be meaningless.” Whathe requires is a near future, linked to by} chain of continuous transformation. Even a diary, the most private ._.___.4-. of all forms, requires this hope as its condition of possibility. Finally, at the end of the scene, Winston arrives at a resolution: 126 STYLES OF INTELLECTUAL PUELICS He was a lonely ghost uttering a truth that nobody would ever hear. But so long as he uttered it, in some obscure way the continuity was not broken. It was not by making yourself heard but by staying sane that you carried on the human heritage. He went back to the table, dipped his pen, and wrote: 721 the future or to the past, to a time when thought isfree, when men are difllzrentfiam one another and do not live alone.2 The public sphere here becomes purely imaginary; or, we might say, internalized as humanity. In order to write even a diary, Winston must imagine the ability to address partial strangers — men who are different and do not live alone. When he turns this ability into an internal freedom, able to dispense with the need to be heard, he begins to speak directly to humanity —in an effect that could aptly be called lyric, since Winston addresses humanity only in the absence of any actual context of address. Isn’t the imaginary character of such a general address neces- sarily its weakness? The diary has no place to go except into the hands of the police. Its address can only be internal projection. It- has no readers, no scene of circulation. It stands for the pure wish . that such a scene exist, that it might be oriented -'- as in fact it can- not be — to a horizon of difference. Its rhetorical addressee is only a placeholder for others and merely marking the idea of a sanity that could be confirmed through the exchange of perspectives. , That this image of writing should be the ghost of freedom makes it a striking image of a frustration that I think is widely felt. Orwell presents it only as a dystopia of totalitarianism. The ex- treme conditions of the novel would be hard to realize outside the most frozen gulag; 1984 is therefore easier to read as fire negatiié image against which liberal societyf defines itself than as a plaug ible critique of existing alternatives. Orwell’s dystopia stirs i'ea ' ers because the frustration it asks them to imagine is c'ornmofl 127 PUBLiCS AND COUNTERPUBLICS enough not just behind the old Iron Curtain but here in the land of freedom, under civil-society conditions, whenever the available genres and publics of possible address do not readily lend them- selves to a world-making project. Anyone who wants to transform the conditions of publicness, or through publicness transform the possible orientationsjto life, is in a position resembling Orwell's diarist; . . For whom does one write or speak? Where is one’s public? These questions can never be answered in advance, since lan- guage addressed to a public must circulate among strangers; nei- ther can they be dismissed, though the answers necessarily remain mostly implicit. One does not stand nakedly to address humanity. Every entry assumes an already recognizable form, a discussion already under way, a discourse already in circulation, a medium, a genre, a style, and, for what counts as politics in modernity, a public to be addressed. People often say, when they are dissatis- fied with extant publics, that they write only for themselves; at best, this can be only a lazy, shorthand expression, even for diarists. Elegy sentence ispopulated with the voices of others, living and deadind is carried to whatever destination it has not by the force of intention or address but by the channels laid down in discourse; These requirements often have a politics of their own, and it may well be that their limitations are not to be easily overcome by strong will, broad mind, earnest heart, or ironic reflection. To speak in a certain way is to be typed as a speaker. To publish in a certain venue is to orient oneself to its circulation, as a fate. It might very well be that extant forms and venues will accom- modate many political aims. But what if they do not? What if one hopes to transform the possible contexts of speech? Sipce such a hope is likely, by its very nature, to be less than fully articulate, I suspect it is more common than anyone imagines. One cannot conjure a public into being by force of will. The desirevto have. .. ..- - "v 128 STYLES OF INTELLECTUAL PUBLICS a,_different._92lalis.3_mere accomryodatingaddrgsseeatlmrefoxe confrqgt§_gn_§_ withwtlic;_circularity~ inherent in all jgniflics:w public only by virtue of be langgagenaddresses a public as a social entity, but that entityexim ins address-alt55°25.imiiahleihamhe world to which one belongs, the scene of one's activity, will be >‘_,_., . ._‘. _....t-..._.- _..__.4 -a determined §E.i¢§.$l§9.l?9ifi'3y_th2 intone adaiéeesiitil’ri‘:n§siee 'ri'itjiftherefore, an extraordinary burden of world making comes tilfiome above all by style. Recent interest in the idea of the public intellectual suggests, I think, just such a blocked wish, a desire to transform the available contexts of speech and indeed of publicness. So does the ongoing preoccupation, voiced by journalists and academics, with the style of left academic theory. When people complain, as many do, that intellectuals are not writing clearly enough, their yardstick of good style often turns out to be not just grammatical or aesthetic but political. After all, they do not want elegance of any vari- ety. They do not wish that academics should write beautifully in the mode of, say, Ronald Firbank or Friedrich Nietzsche. The incomparable prose style of Michel Foucault — densel§ suggestive, both technical and poetic—far from being their ideal of rigorous style, is more likely to serve as an example of writing that is too difficult to be effective. They want language that will bring a cer- tain public into being, and they have an idea of what style will work. The question of style, at any rate, entails a worry about the nature and duties of the intellectual. The connection is made explicit by many critics of left aca- demics in the humanities, including Pollitt, Martha Nussbaum, Russell Jacoby, and james Miller. .gpaque writing is saidwby these writers to indicate contempt for those whom one ight persuade in»... .._,. .-...._.... —. r. ._......_. _ .A..___..._..,, and thus to result in a hollow substitute for pelitific’al engagement, .nw‘w-«W -~ A no matterrho-wrradic-al the claims of the writing. Pollitt, for one, has argued that when intellectuals write for themselves, the result 129 PUBLICS AND COUNTERPUBLICS is “a pseudo-politics, in which everything is claimed in the name of revolution and democracy and equality and anti-authoritarian- ism, and nothing is risked, nothing, except maybe a bit of harm- less cross-dressing, is even expected to happen outside the class- room.” Pollitt's principal target here is Judith Butler; hence the reference to cross-dressing— though anyone who takes cross- dressing as a metaphor for harmless and risk-free entertainment has never done much drag in public. For the record, I think there is a significant element of truth in Pollitt's argument, and I’ll come back to it; for the moment, I am concerned to show how the issue is distorted when it is taken to be one of clarity. 7 .HWW-__H"‘_~ The possibility 1 would like to raise here is that those who write opaquelethlleory might Erflflfeelwthaitheyare in a_ .-~w«_~—-—' osition analo ous to Orwell’s diarist’s: writin to a ublicthat P g IL does ngt yet exist, and findingEh§§._their.language-cancirculate only in channels hostile to it, they write_in_a manner designed to 156 ‘a 'fila'éeifélaer‘fof ublic, Ammmwlugmn of how, b what rhetoric one mi ht bin at ublic intolaeing when extant modes of address and intelligibilityjgig—themselves -...._-,....___._._......._ ...~~_...._._..._..—. . -‘J.>-. .» - n . ....,_ ,, to be a problem. A small irony of the recent polemics is that Orwell himself has often been cited as the example of writing that is, as all writing should be in the view of some critics, oriented to the largest pos- sible audience. In a recent essay in Lingua Franco, James Miller approvingly echoes Pollitt’s attack and points out that it has be- come common among critics who share this view to cite Orwell as a model. Orwell, as they understand him, represents the idea . that the writer is obliged to write with the greatest possible trans- parency, coming as close as possible to an address to all persons. Style, in this arggrnent, is seen as determiningfihesizepfltheaudi- epce, which in turn is seen as determining the poten_t_ie_i_l~pglit_ic3l result. Orwell illustrates not only the principle of a clear style but 130 STYLES 0F INTELLECTUAL PUBLICS the entire chain of reasoning that leads from style to political engagement. “That he was staggeringly successful in reaching the largest possible public, in a way that very few twentieth-century writers have been," Miller writes, is indicated by the “simple” fact that he “has sold, between Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty—Four, more than 40 million books in sixty languages which is, according to John Rodden, ‘more than any pair of books by a serious or pop- ular postwar author.”'3 (You can almost hear the Berlin Wall being brought down, like the walls of Jericho, by the chirping of the cash registers at Barnes 8: Noble.) Docs Orwell really stand for the idea that accessible style leads to mass markets and therefore to effective politics? He himself emphasizes, in “Politics and the English Language,” that his ideal of clarity in thought “is not concerned-with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial.” I have my doubts about his definition of precision: “What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about.” It is possible to describe the phenomenon that gives force to this idea without the intentionalist semantics to which Orwell here falls prey. Yet he is making a point about the difficulty of precision and not, as is generally implied in current polemic, about the need for a populist idiom in search of a numerically extensive audience.‘ The image of forty million copies of Orwell's books. lighting up the UPC scanners of the free world certainly contrasts oddly with Orwell’s own image of Winston’s diary, hidden in}; drawer, with a speck of dust carefully placed on top so that it be pos- sible to tell when the police have read it. “It was not by making yourself heard but by staying sane that you carried on the human heritage.” Somehow Orwell has come to stand for the opposite of this sentiment — that carrying on the human heritage requires that one be heard by as many people as possible. 131 PUBLICS AND COUNTERPUELICS We might also read the diary scene, and its intense melan- - choly, as an unrecognized allegory of the displacement of the writer by the technologies of the mass. There is something un- mistakably nostalgic in Winston’s fetishization of the cream laid paper, the nib of the pen, writing by hand — a fetishism echoed in that placement of the piece of dust on the cover and by the mate- riality of every piece of writing described for the remainder of the novel. This is not the image of Writing that Orwell’s current ad- vocates have in mind; its desperate fetishism suggests that Orwell himself worries about the estrangement of mass publics, which appear in the novel in drag as totalitarianism. In response to the polemic against the style of left academic theory, Judith Butler has frequently invoked Theodor Adorno's Minima Moralia—a much more explicit commentary on the es- trangement of mass publics. Her appeal to Adorno is the basis for the conceit of Miller's Lingua Franco essay, which discusses the debate over clarity in left academic theory by comparing Orwell and Adorno, contemporaries who, in Miller's view, represent anti- thetical understandings of the politics of style. Adorno, however, fares no better in this exchange of polemics than does Orwell. Butler cites Adorno to theeffect that common senseuisnan. ~._ -...... -ap . unfefiiable standard for intellectual writing, The apparentnc‘larity of common sense is corruptwith ideology and can only be coun- tered by defamiliarization Vinrthoughtfifafidlanguage. Thetafisk of the intellectual'is to disclose all the forms of distortion, error, and domination "t‘hia‘t‘thé’B‘éérI version of cdrfiriibn'éériéefas'éliépbinfébut, views that now strike us as have'often been graced with such immediate compre- hension that they hardly needed to be stated at all. The rightness of slavery and the subordination of women are only the most politically salient among many other gruesome examples. Com- mon sense is often enough unjust. Language thaga‘keswgsgutside 132 STYLES OF INTELLECTUAL PUBLICS the usual frame of reference, teachi_ng us tosee or think in new ways, can‘be a necessary means to a more just world. And go the .1. .....i .. degree that our commonsense p_ercep_ti—onsucontain distortion, just.Sagiiiilfihésfiétt.értsiwgénisasesé‘mcult, even..(t.°_ many) unclear. This is a forceful argument, though one might object that the need for unfamiliar thought is notthe sameas needfor unfax milliaijanggégg. There is a long tradition of argument for both. Dissent from the pressure of unexamined common sense is a car- dinal principle of the Enlightenment. For most Enlightenment intellectuals, the idea was to create a new, more reflectiVe—and therefore more just — common sense. And at least since Romanti- cism, there has also been a long history of skepticism about the possibility of pure and universal clarity, given the arduousness of the vision called for, or about the idea that reflection alone will produce insight. Indeed, Butler did not need to appeal to so suspiciously for- eign an authority as the Frankfurt School on this point; a very similar argument lies at the core of Ainerican Transcendentalism. Henry David Thoreau, who is taken some quarters to be nearly a byword for epigrammatic clarity, fhad nothing but scorn for common sense and the journalistic dgjmand that one write for it. “It is a ridiculous demand which Engknd and America make, that you shall speak so that they can understand you,” he writes at the end of Walden. “Why level downward to our dullest perception always, and praise that as common sense? The commonest sense is the sense of men asleep, which they express by snoring.” Thoreau had his own reasons for distrusting common sense and its clarity. The commonsensical legitimacy of slavery was one. He also thought that true perceptions must be poetic, transformative, even transgressive; any true thought must wake you out of com- mon sense. This he took to be a demand on style as well as thought. 133 PUBLICS AND COUNTERPUBLICS Thinkers who aspire to expand the realm of the thinkable can 'hardly e expected to avoiieéperiments of usage. His call for defamiliarizing language contains both a classic Enlightenment wish (since “men asleep" need to be awakened from the sleep of common sense) and a more Romantic conviction that the result could never look like simple clear reasoning, which would address the rational faculties only. Hence the need for literary language: Adorno distrusts common canons of clarity for reasons that encompass Thoreau’s but go further on the strength of a different kind of argument. “A writer will find that the more precisely, con- scientiously, appropriately—he expresses himself," writes Adorno, -Mw-fimw “the more 0 scure e i erary result is thought, whereas a logse and irresponsible formulation is at once rewarded with certain .,.__.-._._--.._._.....,._..._.. Ha...‘ .. -_..... ..i.....;.. -a..-. .M.m_. ,,,_ A Enderstandiiig” Adorno did not think this was necessarily or always true; it is true under the conditions of mass culture and an idealization of common sense that is based in commodity culture. “Shoddiness that drifts with the flow of familiar speech is taken as a sign of relevance and contact: people know what they want because they know what other people want.”6 In other words, they embrace the idiom that in its social currency promises them the widest possible belonging. Commodity culture intensifies this desire and distorts it. The producers of mass culture, for obvious w- a“... A“... .—.~-.—..—.- w .. reasons of self-interest, take care to make their commodities in- telligible to als_wi_c_leoa‘market as thicfitmsfiaftfi' picture, but not what concerns Adorno most. He does not just criticize mass culture as cynical manipulation. He sees the way the expansiveness of mass circulation affects and distortsuadesire for social membershipgon the part of‘r’eaders; and he thinks this is the root of the problem of style. The—Wide circulation ofglangu‘agefi mass culture is perceivedindit'reaslurEd vars—a duality of styleby who “Yiddifio is describing the manifestation, in matters of style, of 134 STYLES OF INTELLECTUAL PUBLICS one of the most pervasive and troubling effects in mass society: the die‘rfo'menon of normali-aatTd‘n, Ideas of the good —and, in this caserthe Beautiful as well— are distorted in ways that escape nearly W everyone's attenflanJ’bEaHse they have been silent y a luste to - NW.--“ ..._.._~..._... conform to an image“ of the mass. igggdflykfliMiflle. . -. -...._.._. . _._..._ -... ..._._.- . .. ¢—_-4—_.- w..-m..._— Evaluation depends on distribution; the wider it circulates, the better it must be. The false aesthetic of transparency, in other words, has a powerful social effect. One resultis that it will natu- '.._._.., rally privilege the majority/fiver less familiar views. Equally impor— _._.».._._.. .._.... tant to Adorno is that it will distort the judgment 0 the majority ij‘stlfLPrecisely‘grua mflogity. The tastes and ideas that become those of the majority do so because people need to believe that their tastes and ideas will be widely shared.'The result is a kind of . m invisible_power for dominant norms, even thou h the co le who make these ncmdizingjudgmentsnfltastedo so not to exercise ‘ -,._--.__.._.s WHEN“... “a--. a. power (they are not, in other words, simply wielding the tyranny of the m3j91ity).hut_simply to Adorno implies, with pathos, that people rely on expressions that are precertified for them as common currency out of a kind of defensiveness; they are alienated from the labor of judgment. “Only what they do not need first to understand, they consider understandable; only the word coined by commerce, and really alienated, touches them as familiar.”7 Now, it does not follow that writing, in order to be valid, must be incomprehensible. Butler, in her op-ed piece in the New York Times, comes close to this implication because she stresses the need for defamiliarization.a And Miller embraces it outright: “Q.E.D.: The most radical critic of alienation will be the most exquisitely aloof thinker, incomprehensible and unpopular by de- sign, as if enraptured by his unswerving address to an ideal audi- ence of one: a God who may not exist.” The picture of an Adorno addressing “an ideal audience of one: a God who may not exist" bears a strong resemblance to the predicament of Orwell’s diarist. ‘35 PUBLICS AND COUNTERFUBLlCS Yet here Miller shows himself hasty to score points against Adomo. This position is incoherent except as caricature. You cannot be incomprehensible by design, especially if your audience is your- self. You also cannot be cynically strategic and yet also “enrap- tured" by an unswerving address. . ‘ Adorno does not prescribe incomprehensibility or unpopular- ity. He prescribes: careful, rigorous, precise expression, whether the result is a popular idiom or not - as, for that matter, Orwell does in “Politics and the English Language.” In order to present willful incomprehensibility as anyone's considered program, Miller has to present that person as nearly insane. He describes Adorno as "the most exquisitely aloof thinker”; elsewhere, "indistinguishable from a Prussian autocrat,” expressing “nothing but contempt,” a mandarin, a foreign and inscrutable nerdi10 Miller does not scruple to produce a personal pathology as the not-so-hidden meaning of Adorno’s thought: "Minima Moralia,” he writes, in an attempt to sound sympathetic, is “the effort of a sensitive introvert.”” One of the most amusing moments in Adorno’s writing, by the Way, is an episode in his autobiographical essay about the years he spent in a research project on the medium of radio in Newark, New jersey, just after. he fled Nazi Germany. One day he was met by a young American researcher who asked him, in what Adorno calls “a completely charming way,” “Dr. Adorno, are you an intro- vert or an extrovert?” He does not tell us his response. Perhaps he was too dumbfounded to make one. When he told this story later. however, it was to illustrate the spread of reified thinking.12 Miller, no doubt unaware of this ironic echo, needs to render Adorno an irrational introvert in orderfio arrive at the question announced by the title of his essay: “Is Bad Writing Necessary?” The question is a false one, an example of polemic rather than real deliberation. To answer the question in the affirmative — bad writing is necessary — entails a contradiction in terms. Any way of 136 STYLES OF INTELLECTUAL PUBLICS writing that could be said to fit necessity cannot be called simply bad. Having posed the issue this way, Miller is able to ensnare the victim in a paradox: “Does this mean that Adorno’s and Butler’s most challenging ideas, precisely because of their relative popu- larity among a not-insignificant number of left-leaning intellectu- als, have lost their antithetical use value and, by the infernal logic of exchange, been alienated and perhaps even dialectically trans- formed —turned into something hackneyed and predictable? If one accepts Adorno’s position in Minima Moralia. there is no escaping the conclusion.”'3 Actually, this conclusion is very easy to escape. Adorno does not infer alienation directly from the number of comprehending readers. l-Ie equates alienation with an imitative style of mass comprehension that defensively resists the unpredictability of thought. Numbers of readers are not the issue. The manner of reading is —though Adorno believes that the problem with the currently dominant manner of reading is that its imagination of value is controlled by people's tacit calculations about the num- bers of readers with whom they will be in alignment. So no mat- ter how many people read and comprehend his writing, that in itself tells us nothing about its social meaning. Only when the extensiveness of the reading audience is taken into normative consideration in advance by that very reading audience do we have the phenomenon he describes. ,7 I have taken a detour through this episode in Anglo-American polemics partly because it shows how primitive our thiiinking about publics is. The assumption seems to berthahtacleai‘l style -.._-_.-...._ 5.0.“-.. ‘ M V ,>___ 4.....- results in _a_ popular audience and that__political engagemeere- fluires having the most‘extensgiiejudiemmpossible.-1'his.view.is,. assumedrather_th_an_reaspned, which is why anyone who diasents £er it can only be heard as proposing inanities: that bad Writing is necessary; that incomprehensibility should be cultivated: that 137 VCmanw >20 OOCZfimmfiCerUW wwnnnr W: 02—2. 8 Va #5::an 3&9: 5:: 73¢ do 255:8. 5 2:22am 25553.. 023: BE >mo§o 8d Emma no 985 are 33335: as" 233‘ om 3% 3.0932 Kama :55on 9.. Sum. mam" 7%:on 02.8: "Eu—G "Eu mm m moon "Edna 2::on >mo§o "EEG : mm m gm gum. so com»: 3 seam—mum 38:02:5— Soln €72.23 :8 m5? vomn w E23» 3530: waning 575 BE scavgmlbammmiam 93 m £2... mafia 33:3 5 m wow—:3 mnnzmdnn 3; 9033.6 5 mmwanqg woman“: admmmmansn. mo moan? ornamer mm 9mm 23‘ 0*. 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H» mm m: <94. :8: 3 mnmdn 9% 350 E2: 0m flaws: Sagan Emmi cm moon. 96: vozmnmzv. dannmmmnw. mg Wm EEQLJ. m «3.25 m: #8:. 9. m: magma 333%. m9. mammamrwluim 8580: 33% Ho gown—Pm. \ 3&0an singm on man: mqouumw mm 8 3255 "r: $035551»? 30: 29.5 u: rm 5mm“ 0:0 mm? 58 "mm $55 Bflmfio pm £5an 0*. "wmdmwmamdnwfmwfimm bonwmfi mwoca 0039? wanton—no. 23$ 0m Sun—Fm. 9. Bomhmmoa VEHB. r0 60:98 5 9m ommmnaésmwm 2.9:. mag inanimmmmnflmwlsm 8:55: 33% :. : mom” 8 93. firm: may; 3‘ 9a 1338? om. wnmmmamn $385.8 1 Erma. m9. EL PUBLICS AND COUNTERPUBLICS example, it is axiomatic that complexity is to be valued over simplicity—then the arguments of Pollitt and others have some force: the political benefits that flow from this strategy of resis- tance do so only within the restricted zone of academic culture. Defamiliarization for whom? Might it not be the case that what might have been defamiliar- izing has become, for many in the academy, all too familiar? Many people outside the academy are defensive about using their judg- ment in the face(of difficulty; might it not also be true that many inside it are defensive about giving up the display of difficulty‘in the surface of writing? There would be nothing surprising in this. Style performs membership. Academics belong to a functionally segregated social sphere, and in the humanities especially that sphere is increasingly marginal, often jeopardized. People use style to distinguish themselves from the mass and its normalized version of clarity. Often, those who do so—especially graduate students, whose role is not institutionally secured—are also try- ing to mark their own somewhat tenuous membership in a fragile but desperately needed subculture. These social dimensions of style are probably more important to the making of any public than either clarity or defamiliarization considered in the abstract. At stake in the dispute is not just a difference of views about style but different contexts for writing, different ways of imagin- ing a public. The issues are obscured rather than clarified when- ever we assume that a public intellectual is one who writes for large numbers, that an untroubling and familiar idiom is essential to political engagement, that meaningful political work is neces- sarily performed within the headline temporality of what cur- rently counts as politics, or that political position taking is the only way of being creatively related to a public. What disappears in‘this view of the politics of prose is the mediation of publics; genres; modes of address; the circulation of cultural forms; ways 14.2 STYLES OF iNTELLECTUAL PUBLICS of reading, including affect; and the social imaginaries that are the background of literate practice. So we are back where we began: How could one bring a dif- ferent public into being, transforming the conditions of speech? The question is blunted by the very ideology that drives much of the talk about public intellectuals in the first place: the domi- nant ideology of the public sphere, dating at least from the early eighteenth century, according to which the public sphere is simply people making public use of their reason. Citizens. in this com- monsense view, form opinions in dialogue with each other, and that is where public opinion comes from. Any address to a public tends to be understood as imitating face-to-face argumentative dialogue or, rather, an idealized version of such dialogue. Public opinion is thought to arise out of a continuum of contexts ranging from common conversation to PTA meetings to parliamentary forensics, op-ed pieces, or critical essays, and at each step the rules of discourse are the same. One proceeds by airing different views in the interest of understanding, making assumptions explicit, and then reaching some decision. The public sphere is critical discus- sion writ large. A vibrant scene of public-spirited discussion is the motor of democratic culture. One of the basic points of this book is that publics do not in fact work that way. But if you believe that they do, that there is a continuum from rational dialogue upward to the realm of pub- lic opinion, then it might seem obvious that intellectuals are uniquely positioned to address publics publicly. Critical argument is the intellectuals’ métier. If public discourse is to be reasonable. who should be better fitted to lead it than intellectuals? If they fail to do so, the thinking goes, then the failure must lie at their own door. 1 For many people, “public intellectual” has come to mean‘a quasi-journalistic pundit with a mass following. Older conceptions 143 PUBLICS AND COUNTERFUBLICS — such as that of the intellectual as the conscience of the age, adhering to conviction or historical memory whether anyone lis- tens or not, keeping alive an alternative that may be reanimated in some distant future—have faded into the background. Contem— porary culture regards any thought of a distant future as archaic. given the contracted span of futurity in the headline temporality of politics, which increasingly dominates all thought, we think in horizontal terms: public intellectuals are those who seek socially expansive audiences. ‘ Under the sway of such thinking, one could easily ignore the difference between intellectuals as a class and citizens as a general category. Both use critical reason and articulate considered argu- ments. Intellectuals are simply those equipped to do this in the greatest degree. John Guillory aptly writes that the idea of an engaged intellectual can be seen as “nostalgia for the very public sphere that functioned historically in the absence of a socially identified group of ‘intellectuals.’ '5 The wish for public intellectu- als leads people to speak as though there were a moral imperative to clarity, and a moral imperative to political position taking as well. To the extent that these are moral requirements, they can hardly be expected to result in such a specialized status as the public intellectual. If one were really to argue that everyone should write clearly and that everyone should take political posi- ti0ns publicly, one would be arguing in effect against the idea of a public intellectual as a special role. More to the point, this ideology misrecognizes the fundamen- tal innovation of the public as a cultural form. The Public sphere ' n91 gagged .a_w_ide§ {slag_cpfture of‘rational—di‘scussion. It‘ required the category of a public—an imaginary func- tion that allows temporally indexed circulation among strangers to be captured as a social entity and addressed impersonally. Suc-~ cess in this game is not "a" matter of havingbettermargumenkts. or 14-4- STYLES OF INTELLECTUAL PUBLICS n 'I rgore complex positions. It is a matter of uptake, citation; and ..--W.-t..........-_e..-.. _. ...-...._...._.__....___...~_ ._..__...._s.._‘s—,-_.__.. recharacterizatigr}. lttakgpwlace ngtjnclgselywargueglgssa ~slrfhlit“ in an informal, intertextual, and multigeneric field. There-fie no ‘ reasonwiyllffifiéllCGti-lalflhglil2.§..§P$§i§ll£Pflsdfl9F¢il git-£51k address in this sense, excgpt where _th_ey i1: p‘ackagecfllhasng 1 rts." Aim— égfiéfi knowléigs. EinsapnimpqrtanLitayannPPhliéijii authority is extgrnal to the discussion. It can be challenged; only -. 0...... _....., _~.—..»-__...-.~--~-- ~.._-... s. A. .-._.....-. - by other experts, not within the discourse of the public itself. The sociologist Nina Eliasoph has recently published a dfim‘bf ing study of contexts of discussion that should challenge anytidea of the public sphere as a continuum of critical opinion making. Eliasoph examined a Wide range of public discussions _;local community groups and found that public-minded discusilJQn is systematically inhibited in almost every context. As converfigfions get closer to public topics, where opinions would have a ‘7 ral relevance and others' views would have to be taken into a a ’ people tend to shut up, deflecting currents of conversation? active volunteers in civic groups construct their volunteeiflhfi so as to avoid risky discussion. They choose topics that allow to avoid dissent. They frame their motives as prepolitical. Jourdalists and officials actively conspire to limit public discussion. diverting it into testimony that can be viewed as private passion rather than opinion or argument. They solicit people to regard their public spirit as good feeling, compassion, volunteerism, or anything else that can be divorced from the conflict of views. journalists report on citizens’ feelings or interests rather than on their arguments, keeping for themselves the role of the uncontested mediators of publicness. They profile those who speak as Moms, acting on be- half of their children, rather than as citizens with general views. Officials who respond to citizen involvement tend to invoke ex- pertise or steer discussion into bureaucratic speech protocols in which their own authority can be performed.” 145 PUBLICS AND COUNTERPUBLICS Interestingly, Eliasoph herself does not question the assump— tion that the continuum of public-minded critical discussion is what the public sphere has been or should be about. Her book is driven by a sense of outrage that actual conversations fail to accord with the ideal. But the ideal of critical discussion was itself never sufficient to bring the public sphere into being. The end- lessly repeated discovery that public politics does not in fact con- form to the idealized self-understanding that makes it work — a discovery made by the Romantics, by Marx, by Lippmann, by Adorno, by Habermas, by Foucault, and de novo by Eliasoph - can never generate enough moral passion to force politics into conformity. The image of discussion writ large is necessary to the public sphere as a self-understanding but not as an empirical reality. That same image, I suspect, fuels the fantasy of the public intellectual as a necessary function for political change, where the intellectual is seen as one especially adept at framing issues for critical discussions and where change results when discussion encompasses the most extensive possible public in its deliberative agency. This CODCCRtigILBf the intellectual's relation19_p_olitics relies pn_a_lauguaggi£ie_glggy in which ideas and expressions are ._.__.,s H_,Hk ..___.- infinitflyrfungible, translatableLrepeatable, summariiable, and restatable. To the extent that this is what public language is sup- posed to be about, attention must be deflected away from the poetics of style, as well as from the pragmatic work of texts in fashioning interactive relations. Publics are conjured into being by characterizing as a social entity (that is, as a public) the world in which discourse circulates; but in the language ideology that enables the public sphere, this poetic or creative function of pub— lic address disappears from view. Rather than help to constitute scenes of circulation through style, intellectuals are supposed to launch transparently framed ideas into the circulation of an indef- 14.6 STYLES OF INTELLECTUAL PUBLICS inite public. Of course, if intellectuals thought of themselvesfias~ involved in world-making projects, it is not clear that intellegtion {523313"'Eé”fi{6£e effective than, say, corfiireally‘expressive perfor-‘l n. u..- - em..- “new i mances. It is not clear that intellectu—aTs would have a naturally' V_A .H__.—~...‘u__ leading role in the process at all. And hence iIEQQEaO—tfisuri prising that the professional class 3f intellectual; should seen-l reluctant to abandgnjreconception-afipublimdjkiqurscswhose inadegufl they continuemtg discolei; The wish for p0pularly read intellectuals responds in part to the extreme segregation of journalistic and intelledtual publics in the United States. They are segregated not just attitude and style but by the material conditions of circulation. Publics do not exist simply along a continuum from narrow to wide or from spe- cialist to general, elite to popular. They differ in the social condi- tions that make them possible and to which they are oriented. The United States is an extreme case. The American strain of anti— intellectualism has made intellectuals feel like exiles fer the past two centuries; small wonder that many should dream of vindicat- ing themselves through fame, the only currency of respect that really spends in America. The intense capitalization of mass cul- ture here means that the media that matter are those whose scale and scarcity of access are most forbidding. Meanwhile, the satura- tion of universities by commercial and state interests makes acade- mic work in some ways less than public, insofar as intellectuals there come to be either marginalized or functionally incorporated into the management culture of expertise. And for the past thirty years or so, trade and academic publishing have been institutional- ized as distinct fields of production to a much greater degree than in any other country, while the decentralization of the American ; university system prevents it from providing the ,coherent plat? form of authority that is to be found in more frankly elite systems such as that of France. 147 ...
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