Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How paperwork validates power

“Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty. I see a glass that's twice as big as it needs to be.”
― George Carlin
“When you’re a historian, you really oughtn’t to be knocking on the doors of power; your job is to keep the powerful gawake at night.”
~Simon Schama
Society has the right to ask all public agents to give an accounting of their administration? Governmental accountability was henceforth to be “recognized as an inalienable, individual right [and was to become] the foundation of representative government.”
From a lesser-known early work of Marx concerning a dispute between the Prussian tax authorities and winemakers of the Mosel region—a dispute that was to generate innumerable notes, dossiers, and reports, but no just resolution of the winemakers’ claims—Kafka educes a theory of the praxis of paperwork. Here, we have Karl Marx as media theorist, propounding a conception of paperwork as “a refractive medium [in which] power and knowledge inevitably change their speed and shape when they enter it.” In its unpredictability, paperwork “accelerates and decelerates power [and] syncopates its rhythms, disrupts its cycles, which is why paperwork always seems to be either overdue or underdone.” How paperwork validates power—and obscures meaning
“There are in fact no masses; there are only ways of seeing people as masses.” A science of ourselves. In 1930s Britain, amateur anthropologists researched “beards, armpits, and eyebrows” and the “shouts and gestures of motorists” A science of ourselves
Some poems were like drawings, he used to say, gesturing with a quick downward zigzagging stroke of the pen, and some were like paintings. You were lucky if the poem came quickly, all in one piece. He would often quote Frost, from “The Figure a Poem Makes”: “like a piece of ice from the Cold River on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.”
We are all storytellers and story-attentive beings. Otherwise we would never be loved or have a country or a religion. How to be a Witness and To Write