Wednesday, July 27, 2005

"To paraphrase Plato answering Protagoras: why is the individual the measure of all things, rather than the pig on which he has feasted?"

"Within the mass, one runs across, bumps into and brushes against others; interaction is established, crystallizations and groups form ... [T]hese tactile relationships, through successive sedimentations, create a special ambience - what I have called a diffuse union ... Although it should be the height of banality to say so, there is no harm in repeating that the originality of the sociological procedure lies in the fact that it is based on the materiality of the being-together. God (and theology), the Mind (and philosophy), the individual (and economics) step aside for this regrouping. Man is never considered in isolation... Thus, in order to seize the shared sentiments and experiences at work in the various social situations and attitudes of today, it is a good idea to take a different tack: the aesthetic angle seems to me the least bad. By aesthetics, I mean the etymological sense of the word, as the common faculty of feeling, of experiencing ... I spoke earlier of the 'materiality' of the being-together; the oscillating mass-tribe is its illustration. It is possible to imagine, instead of a subject-actor, being confronted with interlocking objects; like a nest of Russian dolls, the large object-mass conceals smaller object-groups which are diffracted to infinity..."

-- Michel Maffesoli, The Time of the Tribes, pp. 73-75


A group is more than 'an assemblage of individuals' (cf. Halbwachs) - it is about shared affect and feeling, transcending individualism and allowing us to see ourselves in others. The aesthetic is collectivity; the ethic is reciprocity.

"[W]hat is the ground or condition of collective life (zussamensein)? Sometimes the idea is expressed as a strict morality taking the form of an overarching, universal and rigid category, a logic of duty which privileges puritanism, planning, productivity. At other times, on the contrary, the idea embraces sensitivity, communication and collective motion, and is then more relative and dependent upon the groups (or tribes) that it structures: this then is an ethic, an ethos which comes from below...

Collectivities form according to circumstances or desires ... But the value, the taste, the admiration, the 'hobby' which is held in common and which cements the collectivity constitute ethical vectors. To be more precise, I would specify the ethical as a morality 'with neither obligation nor sanction', with no obligation other than coming together and being a member of a collective body, with no sanction other than being excluded should the interest (inter-esse) which brought me into the group come to an end. This is precisely the ethics of the aesthetics: experiencing something together is a factor of socialization ... It is an ethic in the strong sense of the term: which is to say something which leads me to recognize myself in something which is exterior to me. The exterior something may be another self like me, it may be another as Other, it may be an object... In a ceaseless movement of actions and retrospective effects, I recognize a sign by recognizing it with others, and so I recognize what unites me to others."

-- Michel Maffesoli, The Ethic of Aesthetics, Theory, Culture & Society Vol 8 (1991), pp. 7-20.


But where is accountability located?

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