Inspirations : A Poetic for Paul


Many people have inspired me over my  life. They have fired my imagination, given me a passion, shaped me  a little. So this is the first of a series of little reflections on people I like, love or admire.

Today it is the turn of PAUL ROCK. He was my PhD supervisor at the London School of Economics way back in 1968-1973. He introduced me to some long time heroes: John Dewey, William James and George Herbert Mead and the whole pragmatist gang. He also introduced me to  the work of Herbert Blumer. Together they  shaped me into a symbolic interactionist and this is a theory I still much admire!  More on all these things later.

This little poem was presented at Paul’s retirement. I was not very well on the day; but it has since been published. There is an an explantory blurb at the start;


Being largely the words of Paul Rock, and a few of his older intellectual companions, played back to him on the occasion of his retirement on July 3rd 2008, and presented by Ken Plummer.

 I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big success.
I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual,
 creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets,
 or like the capillary oozing of water,
which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of pride. 

— William James

The Real Thing is Human Life.
Damn great Empires! Including that of the Absolute.
Give me individuals and their spheres of activity.
The real world is the experience of actual men and women,
and not abbreviated and shorthand descriptions of it.
Incorrigibly plural.

We live in the minds of others, without knowing it.
Society can be grasped only in the imagination.
An essence of society is unascertainable.
And a thousand different futures might have stemmed
from every single moment of my past.
Some modest generalisation of the social forms may be possible.

High Sociology becomes a form of High Mystery,
A latter day hunt for the questing beast. A snark.
Abstruseness? A guarantee of authentic knowledge?
The more opaque and arcane the thought,
The greater the profound and illuminating?
To be literate and thoughtful is to smack of insubstantial and frivolous thought.

 Symbolic interactionism.
An understated sociology, inconspicuous and largely tangential.
Diffused and ill defined, unremarkable projects.
A reasoned rejection of systematisation;
Thought borders on the inexpressible and inexpressed.
It must resist the blandishments of those who would transform it;
those who would synthesise or amend it will do it little kindness.

No statement can ever reflect its infinite possibilities.
All we know is incomplete, provisional and open,
irretrievably partial and perspectival.
Reality is inexhaustible, necessarily provisional,
too complex and dense to be fully comprehended
All he know renders him purblind.
No finality.  Or closure.

Based on extraordinary procedures,
a fondness for the small scale and the immediate.
The practical knowledge of those on the scene
Employed to guide their own actions.
The telling and retelling of narratives
At once personal and communal,
Original and conventional.

The doings of Everyman.
Everything is engaging or can be made so.
There is no social world that will remain boring
after the application of a little curiosity.
Sometimes indescribably fluid and capricious;
A blend of distance and intimacy, analysis and appreciation.

The cultivation of a deliberately constructed vagueness.
A certain aesthetic sensibility.
The musicality of the social world.
A quest for the line of beauty.
No more than a vision of possibilities.

The self is a collective achievement;
It lives in an environment of forms.
An internal intricacy, being made up of ordered stages.
Activity as pregnant with significant knowledge
about the past, present and future.

Deviance: expressive, political, entrepreneurial.
Law : an imperialistic code.
Enforcement:  a type of status passage
Police: inhibitors, transformers, translators, creators.
The news : as perpetual recurrence.

People who pay.
Families bereaved by homicide.
The victims of crime.
Sexual stigma
The survivor quite distraught.
Ambiguous, anomalous……
An apparent collapse of moral order.
The dissolution of ambiguities into fundamental polarities.
A choreography of fusion and fission.

Wisdom is learning what to overlook,
A certain blindness in human beings.
Wherever there is a human being,
there is an opportunity for kindness.
Acknowledge the limited scope of human understanding.
A quiet catharsis of comprehension.


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