Saturday, 13 October 2007

Always historicise!

The enjoinder ‘always historicise’ is the one most conspicuously missed by so much contemporary Theory. This means, for sure, asking things like ‘does the ‘Symbolic Order’ really mean the same thing in pre-literate largely oral cultures (there is always this language of the Symbolic fixing, mortifying etc, which may be in some ways print-culture specific). But the imperative is also about the very emergence of the concepts – what has happened such that the Symbolic can become visible? What allows it to be an object of reflection for us? The birth of the concept as symptom, as indexical of a shift on another level. This level, visible through its symptoms = history.

To be serious about theoretical reflection is to be ready to engage in a tremendous labour of detail, the sifting through all kinds of cultural and historical minutiae. With a microscope and telescope at once, maintain perpetual vigilance against the self-evidence of the contemporary moment. Dig into its contingency. What is unserious is to wonder around wide-eyed in the bazaar of the present pointing to endless examples of one’s pet concepts – ooh look, another instance of the Big Other! These New Concepts that can never drink their fill of examples!!

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