coromandal


an arrangement that isolates

Related image

photo: Douglas Adesco

Family values derive logically from the Industrial Revolution which own values were to procure labour, with transportation to the place of work, with domestic arrangements (and the assumption of the nurture that may give). That may be the only concession to the pre revolution world social networks and entanglements: a dim, all but extinguished sign of what may have existed as a rich set of social realities.

The nuclear family is a recent invention. As an arrangement that, ideally, isolates a man, woman, and a few children within a single, economically autonomous domestic unit, with only casual or symbolic ties to friends and extended family, it does not seem to predate the Industrial Revolution and the rapid urbanization that followed it. Indeed, the expectation that everyone should find a place in such an arrangement appears to be Fordist in origin: the same vision of the future that caused us to believe that everyone might have a place in a system of production, might commute to it in an automobile, and might return home at the end of the day to a freestanding domicile with a family inside.

Working Arrangement, Justin E. H. Smith, Lapham’s Quarterly



a man can’t be a whole society
May 21, 2014, 7:04 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

Steve Giovinco, On the Edge of

We don’t want to go home for Christmas because of the discomfort and fights and recriminations. There’s something wrong with the family and we’d rather be alone. But at the same time we’re lonely and need people to be with.

Anyway, not everyone doesn’t go home for the holidays; some people like their families. I wonder what is the difference between those who get along and those who don’t? It could be fundamentalism – families that are too perfect, led by charismatic or autocratic fathers (or mothers, or siblings), who push the air out, make a hermeticism that is too pure. Children and relations who need less purity – the chance to act out, to be imaginative, to rock the boat, let go the party line – eventually just stay away.

Airlessness may affect every family, but moreso the nuclear family – as the chance to challenge lousy authority increases as the power of a single family head is diluted by more and more aunts and uncles and cousins and sibs. Love is not a closed system, it is ecumenical.

Here is Vonegut’s case for extended arrangements. He says, a man can’t be a whole society to a woman, and they fall apart. A woman needs more, and so do we. This is from Vonegut’s famous commencement address.

No matter what age any of us is now, we are going to be bored and lonely during what remains of our lives.

We are so lonely because we don’t have enough friends and relatives. Human beings are supposed to live in stable, like-minded, extended families of fifty people or more.

Your class spokesperson mourned the collapse of the institution of marriage in this country. Marriage is collapsing because our families are too small. A man cannot be a whole society to a woman, and a woman cannot be a whole society to a man. We try, but it is scarcely surprising that so many of us go to pieces.

So I recommend that everybody here join all sorts of organizations, no matter how ridiculous, simply to get more people in his or her life. It does not matter much if all the other members are morons. Quantities of relatives of any sort are what we need.

Kurt Vonegut



contemplating the order of things

There is life and good life. ‘Life’ is infrastructural and sustaining (concerned with labour and reproduction); and ‘good life’ is flourishing – the pursuit of justice, the common good, political and moral order. Good life needs life to support it, but to merely live life and to fail to make life good is … not human, says Aristotle via Charles Taylor below.

But consider now the balance or lack thereof of what we think and talk about in our world today. Infrastructural ‘life’ talk and energy (labour and reproduction) nearly eclipses ‘good life’ discourse. The economy, your job, family dominate while … well, when is the last time you heard anyone bring up the common good? Are we living sub human lives?

Some Aristotle via Charles Taylor:

‘Ordinary life’ is a term of art I introduce to designate those aspects of human life concerned with production and reproduction, that is, labour, the making of the things needed for life, and our life as sexual beings, including marriage and the family. When Aristotle spoke of the ends of political association being “life and the good life” (zen kai euzen), this was the range of things he wanted to encompass in the first of these terms; basically they englobe what we need to do to continue and renew life.

For Aristotle the maintenance of these activities was to be distinguished from the pursuit of the good life. They are, of course, necessary to the good life, but they play an infrastructural role in relation to it. You can’t pursue the good life without pursuing life. But an existence dedicated to this latter goal alone is not a fully human one…. The proper life for humans builds on this infrastructure a series of activities which are concerned with the good life: men deliberate about moral excellence, they contemplate the order of things; of supreme importance for politics, they deliberate together about the common good, and decide how to shape and apply the laws.

Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self, pp. 211-12, from Andrew Taggart blog post Sustaining Life is not the Good Life



is love an elitist guild?
September 11, 2011, 7:38 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

I recommend Alain de Botton’s twitter page.  Each tweet is pregnant with insight that no doubt comes from years of reading and writing books, particularly on philosophy and society. I’ve assembled some here in no particular order on the theme of family.  Apparently, he’s in the thick of one, and reflecting deeply, which is good news for us.  His ideas tend to upset the apple cart of standard beliefs about relationships and love.

Here’s my take on some of the ideas:  Love is work, it may not look like it to the casual observer, but relationships that look stable have been worked on.  Living in a family is like living in a fish bowl: all foibles on display and assessed.  Our children reflect our worst qualities and embarrass us.  To love, you have to understand how difficult it was to have been loved by your parent.  Real love may come to very few of us.  Love loves beauty and degradation, which confuses us. Love isn’t guaranteed, it’s hard work and often ugly.

Continue reading



a more passionate world
January 21, 2011, 2:12 am
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , , ,

On one of the sides in the great culture wars there is a strong and growing distrust of the city and its institutions.  And a rosy yearning for the – maybe slightly apocryphal – values of church, family, farm, field and personal struggle.

I recently had a rather bleak back and forth in a comments thread in an online newspaper – our own little culture battle.  The article was about how family can nurture civility – the context being the attempted assassination of a US Congresswoman.  My comment disputed the idea that the nuclear family can be a centrally placed and adequately supportive  institution in a large and complex modern state like ours.  Society has broad needs that can’t be met by the usually narrow self interest of the family unit.  I received a return blast of aggressive family values reactions:  to be expected in 21st century America.

One responder claimed that family is natural and all other institutions – the law, the state, the church, school – unnatural and man-made.  He said that all institutions derive from family and that to believe in other institutions is to be ‘academic’ which is bad, apparently.  He was aggressively challenged, mostly by one other writer, and they battled it out for two or three passes.

It was almost breathtaking to watch his retrenchment from an initial broad vision of the relationship between family and our society to a narrow rumination on whether or not a married man with kids had enough personal resources to merely survive.  Nuclear is too small, he decided and his fall back view was ‘groups as small as a dozen families.’  ‘Efficient hunting with found weapons requires several men,’ he advised.  In a few hundred words, the measure of a good life dropped from really living to scraping by.

Continue reading



not having a career
October 22, 2010, 3:12 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

Here’s a description of a fulfilling work (and living) from someone who made self aware and intelligent decisions early in life and went on to reap the benefits:  focus on life (rather than just career); match what’s out there with what’s in you; surround yourself with family and pleasure, and friends, colleagues, acquaintances; pursue work that includes challenge, pacing, intellectual engagement and a worthy goal.  It’s a still point idea in a landscape of ideas that is trecherous, acquisitive and maybe a little hollow.

By now I was beginning to formulate what exactly I wanted from life. Not from a job or even a career. But from life itself. And I discovered that the ingredients actually lay all around. They just needed to be combined in the right formula to meet my own temperament and abilities. They are not obscure and elusive. They are the very things most of us want: a happy family life focused around good relationships; congenial surroundings both at home and at work, that make life pleasant. I am not talking some ambitious make-over nonsense here. Think instead of being able to watch a particular tree round the seasons, coming into bud, flowering, turning to golden leaf and then fronting the winter with stark, dramatic branches. That seems to be a good ambition to have. Then there are friendships; bosom pals for intimacies and advice; working colleagues for sustaining each other with laughter and encouragement; acquaintances met at odd moments, introduced by others, casual encountered at the school gate. All these friendships settle and regroup over the years, some coming to the fore, others lapsing with time. Yes, the encouragement of friendship seems a worthwhile way of spending time. Finally there is the work itself. My own needs are for a variety of tasks within and possibly at the limit of my capabilities, periods of heavy effort interspersed with more reflective times; intellectual engagement with ideas, and a sense of something worthwhile being achieved.

On Not Having A Career, BY JOAN BAKEWELL, the Idler



mystical unicorn child
May 23, 2010, 6:00 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

Guess which culture insisted a young or newly widowed woman be quickly married again:  the turn of the century Roman state, or the contemporary fledgling group called Christian?  And, of course, the corollary question Is implied:  which left her alone?  Today we automatically assume Christian because our own Christian groups are conservative and fetishize marriage and family.  But the correct answer is the Roman state which put a much higher value on family for many reasons, I’m sure not the least of which was control.  The early Christians, however, saw a single woman as being primarily related to God, and her other relationships as distantly secondary.

In her essay on Mother’s day quoted below, Anne Lamott describes elements of the blood ties fetish prevalent in conservative life.  The qualities she describes are vicious:  selfish, judging, alienating.  The worst is the belief that people without children can’t love or know love; that they are somehow less human.  And she doesn’t stop there.  She describes parents who dehumanize their kids, like a remodeled room in the house, and how if you do this you destroy them.

So if children aren’t toys nor agents of personal fulfillment, what are they?  What if parenting is principally about bringing children out the door and properly introducing them to the world?  They aren’t schooled in the spare room or the basement; it’s not our knowledge only that will help them, but other, different knowledge too.  They are fully ours and fully the world’s.

From the essay Why I Hate Mother’s Day:

Don’t get me wrong: There were times I could have literally died of love for my son, and I’ve felt stoned on his rich, desperate love for me. But I bristle at the whispered lie that you can know this level of love and self-sacrifice only if you are a parent. We talk about “loving one’s child” as if a child were a mystical unicorn. Ninety-eight percent of American parents secretly feel that if you have not had and raised a child, your capacity for love is somehow diminished. Ninety-eight percent of American parents secretly believe that non-parents cannot possibly know what it is to love unconditionally, to be selfless, to put yourself at risk for the gravest loss. But in my experience, it’s parents who are prone to exhibit terrible self-satisfaction and selfishness, who can raise children as adjuncts, like rooms added on in a remodel. Their children’s value and achievements in the world are reflected glory, necessary for these parents’ self-esteem, and sometimes, for the family’s survival. This is how children’s souls are destroyed.

Anne LamottWhy I Hate Mother’s Day



the two in between
March 7, 2010, 12:48 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , ,

In a town in south Spain life remains good in spite of high unemployment.  How do they maintain their high standard of living?  With a blend of support from black market, family, and government.  Us capitalists have come to believe there is only one way of supporting yourself:  get a job or start a business.  It’s a good way and it works for a huge majority of people.  It’s an idea that allowed the middle class to flower.  But as an idea, it does tend away from plural thinking and toward orthodoxy.  Can’t the idea of working or owning coexist with other ways of living and supporting yourself and people?  Shouldn’t there at least be the willingness to listen to other ideas about how to live?

I feel like we are in the age of the Market, and that we aren’t doing so well, and that we need to blend our faith in this high religion with other ideas that are ecumenical, nimble, open, in order to make things better for more people.  People don’t like change; they go completely cold if change involves challenging orthodoxies like the market.  But change is good, and now may be the best chance we have to take a close look at what’s behind all the gold, and raiment, and smoke.

Joblessness has climbed to 19 percent in Spain, the highest in the euro zone, after the collapse of a housing bubble. But here in Cádiz, it is at a staggering 29 percent — and has been in double digits for decades.

Elsewhere in Europe, such high numbers would lead to deep social unrest. Not so in Cádiz. Here, as across the Mediterranean, life remains puzzlingly comfortable behind the dramatic figures, thanks to a complex safety net in which the underground economy, family support and government subsidies ensure a relatively high quality of life.

“This is a place where you can live well, even when unemployed,” said Pilar Castiñeira, 30, as she attended a performance of carnival skits in a downtown theater. “Life is four days long,” she added, recounting a Spanish saying. “On one you’re born, on another you die, and in the two in between, you have to have fun.”

Persistent Unemployment, Without Lingering Pain, by Rachel Donadio, The New York Times



starbucks-a-go-go
May 14, 2008, 12:06 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , ,


Here’s some light reading on one of my favorite pursuits.  I suppose you thought that cup of brown you slurp every morning is little more than the buzz you get.  Or, for the hardcore drinker, the chemical you need to keep from slumping over your desk after lunch.  How naïve!  Mental slavery!  As we will see, its much more than that.

Here, there are two arguments — imagine arguing over coffee!  One is that capitalism-pushers and puritans propagandized the use of coffee to wire us up.  The other is that the coffee house is the glorious space that is left after the entanglements of family, society and government are cleared out of the room.

At first these two images appear to cancel each other out:  one occupies the world of desk-slavery and high! profit! margins! and the other slums it with really smart guys with white beards who can’t dress themselves.  But coffee probably does both things:  is the soma drug of choice for the prevailing system of work-gluttony (must work! more work!) and the catalyzer for speaking freely in a smoky room.

Historians of stimulants have tried to invest coffee with characteristics that would explain its agreeability to the bourgeoisie. Coffee does not contain alcohol and can easily be promoted as its antidote, as a means to maintain energetic sobriety and keep working, a disposition in line with the ascetic ethos of the agents of early capitalism.  There is no shortage of advertising material from the period to support such a view. Drawing on puritan coffee propaganda, the historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch asserts that, with coffee, rationalism entered the physiology of man.  Its somatic effects associate it with the exhortation to constant alertness and activity.  However, to Habermas, the chemical constituents and invigorating effect of coffee do not play any overt role in the constitution of the public sphere. As a thinker with Marxist allegiances, he avoids the fetishism that seems to inhere in the genre of commodity histories, in which objects of consumption take on unexpected powers and become protagonists in adventurous narratives.  Yet no Marxist would believe that social relations can be neatly disentangled from commodity capitalism. According to Habermas, bourgeois individuals are able to enter into novel kinds of relationships with one another in the coffeehouse because the links between family, civil society, and the state are restructured under capitalist conditions.

~Coffee and Civilization, Scott Horton, Harpers Magazine, 2007



safe at home
May 10, 2008, 6:32 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , ,

(haris panidis | saeco etienne coffee maker | electra coffee machine)

In this piece, the middle class, after having been harangued by Luther for their pursuit of comfort and sensuality, turn to the drawing room and its rituals of pleasure-without-risk, including the drinking of coffee.  It is at home where risk is erased.  The theorist Schmitt criticizes the middleclass for leaving broader social life and retreating into family life.  This life turned inward may be comfortable, but is marked by fear of the world outside and aversion to conflict.  In it, mother’s tut-tutting isn’t merely corrective; it’s sinister.

“In a note in his acrimonious postwar glossary, the legal and political theorist Carl Schmitt captures the stale atmosphere of the bourgeois interior, and points to coffee as a symbol of the desire to enjoy undisturbed security within the confines of the household:

“French: sécurité; German (until now): Gemütlichkeit. That is the internalized – or interiorized – but at the same time secularized assurance of divine grace, the end of fear and trembling at a nice cup of coffee and a pipe stuffed with spicy tobacco. It is the reappearance of well-concealed sensual enjoyment, after Luther and the Moravians raged against security as the actual form of sensuality.”

In Schmitt’s view, the typical bourgeois philistine, unmistakably portrayed in his entry, is not so much ascetically opposed to pleasure as he is wary of pleasure that cannot be enjoyed securely – that is – without worry. Coffee, in combination with tobacco, stands for intoxication without risk; it is a stimulant that does not dangerously loosen the subject’s self-possession. It signifies a furtive bliss distinguished from the ecstatic, which implies a movement transcending the bounded ego lodged in the safety of plush comfort.Yet the note contains a more far-reaching critique. Schmitt contends that the comfortable life in the bourgeois interior, despite its mundane and modest quality, seduces men into a sinful attachment to worldly enjoyment. The sinfulness resides in the pursuit of security: the will to achieve a state of complete safety in the shielded salon betrays a blasphemous belief in the possibility of a man-made utopia.

Schmitt’s diary entry might come across as a peculiar expression of a severe Christian ethos, but he joins a long line of critics of the bourgeoisie, who fault it for its incapacity to appreciate a community that extends beyond the realm of the family. The bourgeois individual typically believes that his real life plays out in the private sphere, and perceives the outside world as a foreign and dangerous territory. To the extent that the bourgeoisie does act politically, however, it continues to be guided by the desire for security nurtured in the home, and its ambition is to turn the world into a calm interior. To the bourgeoisie, conflict rudely disturbs the continual traffic of discourse – it should simply not take place. At this point, the bourgeois host’s call for the re-establishment of placid conversation – Nur immer gemütlich! or “Temper! Temper!” – sounds increasingly sinister.”

No Coffee by Jakob Norberg from Eurozine