Ramblings. I’m reading some more Michel Foucault, The Order of Things. Some pretty neat stuff, much more intelligible (maybe the translation?) than the collection of essays I have. Still pretty tough going, and I’m still not sure I’m picking up everything, or even a greater part of what I’m reading.
This is what I think I know: Underneath what we think of as separate disciplines are underlying themes, currents, impulses, paradigms, what have you. Using biology, economics, and language as examples, Foucault illustrates two different periods, Classicism and something that covers the period of the Renaissance, but that he doesn’t clearly name. In the Classicist period, people believe that the world was created by God. Thus, once there was a perfect language (the language of Eden) capable of naming things as they really are. After the whole tower of Babel incident, this language no longer existed, but because the Jews were God’s chosen people, Hebrew was considered the most perfect of languages. Underlying the disciplines of the day was the idea that every existence had a perfect name, and could be addressed by a language of symbols, analogies, and correspondences. For example, texts on “snakes” included not only biological information, but all the legends about snakes, what other authors had to say about snakes, etc. Since God existed outside time, everything that existed had already existed since eternity: the task of the educated was only to assemble what was known into a more perfect knowledge.
In the Renaissance period, the world was not necessarily created by God, or at least not predetermined by God. No perfect language existed. Instead of being a realm of symbols interpreting what was perfect, language became a system of analysis and taxonomy. All elements had to be reduced, analyzed, and organized, even in language itself: grammar was invented, where previously only logic had existed. The sciences as we knew them blossomed, because people searched for elements to fit the empty gaps in their grids of information.
Now, this may be something that’s revealed for certain at the end of the book, but the idea that I’m picking up here and there is that we’re in an entirely new area now…I think I agree. Self-referential language, modernism and post- in art and literature, relativity and beyond in physics, computer programming, fascination with psychology, and the like make me think that we’re no longer in an era that must organize and systemize everything into separate compartments, but sometimes destroys barriers and makes connections beyond what’s apparently true.
I’m trying to work this into the Grey Hill stuff. Working on the background stuff for the second day, I’m finding that I know very little about how all this magic works that’s so integral to the plot, and the idea of using typical ritual, symbolic, sympathetic, naming magic just turns me off. “As above, so below” really doesn’t do it for me anymore, and neither does four directions, four elements, four Goddesses, four yadda yadda yadda. Magic is starting to look more like a programming language combined with acupuncture and drugs — shamanism?_– than it is typical ritual magic.
What’s running through my head is the idea that people find serial killers fascinating now, where they wouldn’t have in Classical or Renaissance times. Why? What interest us? It seems like we have this idea that there are layers to a serial killer: the view that the public sees as a normal human being, Joe Schmoe; the killer aspect; and the wounded or sick person underneath the killer, the motivating factor. What motivates a serial killer, other than biological imbalances? Why, the things that happened to him during his childhood, of course. We believe that the things that affect a person in childhood influence that person throughout life–your formative years are important. Sometimes the smallest incidents change the course of a person’s life. OK. Now take the idea of string theory (what little I know of it…yet another research topic, I guess): any two particles that come in contact with each other have an affect on each other, regardless of space and possibly even regardless of time. Is it any coincedence that alternative medicine, usually something that looks ridiculous to someone with a strict system of organization, like homeopathy or acupuncture, has become viable now? Or that economics now uses nonlinear equations to help predict changes in the market, rather than a strict system of supply and demand? For me, what makes the most sense is the language metaphor: in the classical period, language was referential; in the Renaissance period (well, up to about the 1850’s or so, more than just the Renaissance) language was descriptive and analytical; in the modern period, language is influential.
Modern language is meant to sway us: look at literature. The earliest novels were meant to sway opinion. Even “naturalistic” novels described social ills. Even the most harmless entertainment now is meant to give us a certain perspective–ask anyone who hates what fantasy novels has done to their kids’ lives (or role-playing games, for that matter). In science, we know the effect of the observer on the observed. In biology, we change the genetic code of creatures on purpose. Language is meant to transform, change, reprogram.
Hm de hm. Hwo to work that as a system of magic…?
The Foucault that can be named is not the true Foucault.