Tag: poetics

THE HAUNTING OF SOCIAL THINGS

A doubting sociologist

The poem below was originally meant to be in Sociology: The Basics. The publishers’ thought it too long; and I thougt it not good enough. So it was cut. But here it is for fun!  

If we had a keen vision of all that is ordinary in human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow or the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which is the other side of silence                  George Eliot.

 For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully and hidden lives, and rest in unvisited tombs.             Closing lines of George Elliot’s Middlemarch

 Men make their own history, but not under circumstances of their own choosing….Marx.

We live the social electric-
The air we breathe is social.
The tiny things and the major things.
The social haunting of life in vast time and space.

The social is natural and the natural is social.
We do things together, drenched with people,
attuned to others: there is always the other.
And the haunting of social things.

We make social life stuffed full of the possible
yet we dwell in our habits, the patterns and structures,
the predictable positions we trap ourselves in.
The prisons that engulf us, a daily haunting.
Pounding patterns of structure and wobbly worlds of meaning.
We are prisoners, puppets, and people. Always fragile.
World making actions, and resistance, rebellion-
in worlds not of our making that haunt till we die.

Ubiquitous differences, divisions,dominations: the inhumanities of people.
A haunting ‘matrix of inequalities’: generations at war,
gendered classed races, sexy nations disabled.
And the troubled pathways of excluding and exploiting, dehumanizing and disempowering.

At the brink of a change- a world seething with gushing movements.
Pasts, presents and futures collide in the moment.
Where did it come from and where is it headed?
Cyber capitalisms in global ferment haunting the world.

Standing amazed at this chaos and complexity
of the humanly produced social world;
and its joys and its sufferings,
we critique it and we celebrate these hauntings.

Yet the dreadful dullness of professional knowledge.
its earnest desire for respectability and order
Abstractions to kill you. Standards to die for.
A dark cloak thrown over the mind.

We need ‘the tricks of the trade’ : practical questions with practical answers.
Rich descriptions and explanations of dense social life.
An intimate familiarity through all the senses.
Explore and respect the empirical world. And look for it hauntings.

We dwell in social tensions, conflicts and contradiction.
Observing tensions, thinking tensions,
struggling the tension on opposing paths,
The hard trick of dealing with them in our lives.

The vast multiplicities of social life: Contested. Contingent. Creative.
And thriving. Progressing. Regressing. Sometimes surviving.
Incorrigibly plural. Intransigently vast.
The complex tales how we order our past.

And the blindness of human beings?
The taken for granted need not be taken for granted
Doubting the familiar
Living with radical doubt.

All we know is incomplete, provisional and open,
partial, perspectival. Necessarily provisional.
Reality is inexhaustible, too complex and dense to be fully comprehended
No finality.  Or closure.

The dream of a better world haunts sociology.
Empowering lives and imagining utopias.
More justice in each generation?
A flourishing life for all?

Finding you: being personal, being  political.
Passionate knowledge? A garden to cultivate.
A quiet catharsis of comprehension.
Haunted by doubt, love and hope.

No One is Alone

I saw Side by Side with Sondheim in 1976 at the Wyndham’s Theatre in London in 1976, and became a Sondheim fan. Oddly I had already seen Company (at Her Majesty’s) and A Little Night Music (at the Adelphi), but this compilation revue finally hit me. Sondheim was a complex tunesmith and  a marvellous lyricist. Hot on the heels of this came Sweeney Todd and Merrily We Roll Along (which is coming back to London this Christmas).  Here is one of my all time favourite songs –  and one that has shaped my oddball sociology. It is from Into the  Woods.

You move just a finger,
Say the slightest word,
Something’s bound to linger,
Be heard.
No one acts alone.
Careful, no one is alone.

See Bernadette Peters sing it: You Tube

Sondheim: One of my musical heroes

Sondheim: One of my musical heroes

This is one of my favourite poems: I only encountered it a couple of years ago

Primo Levi

To My Friends by Primo Levi

Dear friends, and here I say friends
in the broad sense of the word:
Wife, sister, associates, relatives,
Schoolmates of both sexes,
People seen only once
Or frequented all my life;
Provided that between us, for at least a moment,
A line has been stretched,
A well-defined bond.
I speak for you, companions of a crowded
Road, not without its difficulties,
And for you too, who have lost
Soul, courage, the desire to live;
Or no one, or someone, or perhaps only one person, or you
Who are reading me: remember the time
Before the wax hardened,
When everyone was like a seal.
Each of us bears the imprint
Of a friend met along the way;
In each the trace of each.
For good or evil
In wisdom or in folly
Everyone stamped by everyone.
Now that the time crowds in
And the undertakings are finished,
To all of you the humble wish
That autumn will be long and mild.

16 December 1985

Primo Levi was a holocaust and gulag survivor; he wrote the important  If This is a Man (1947); he died, almost certainly suicide, two years after he wrote this poem in 1987.

Imagining Better Worlds For All : Opening Imageries and Poetics

Everard Longland: Butterfies-Escape-The-Web(2011)

Over the coming weeks I am hoping to put together  some short pieces about a better world.

I have for some time been concerned about the failures of the modern world and our endless critique of it.We need some sense of a positive future thinking.

Although I am no simple utopian, I do like the idea of ‘thinking forward’ –  of Dreaming of a Better Social World for All.

Something has gone terribly wrong with our current values of markets and money.

The following captures a little of  what I think. It was presented at my British Sociological Presidential Lecture at the British Museum in October 2011. 

I am against a world riddled with the values of the market place
I need Cosmopolitan Hope – a dreaming forward-
in a world of often unbearable darkness.

I need Wisdom – experience and science ands art-
in a world of chaotic complexity.

I need Empathy- my bridge to the others –
 in a world of monologic terrorism.

I need a Human Flourishing  – a potential developed for all-
in a world of wasted lives.

I need Social Justice for all- a fairness and freedom and equality-
in a world ruled without justice

I need Meliorism – those practical actions
which will make the world a better place.

Above all: recall the golden rule:
Treat others as you would be done by.

And Be kind. Be kind. Be kind.

 

Table: Dreaming of a Better Social World: In Defence of Social Values over Economic and Nationalistic Values  (in process)

Feature of Society and People to be developed Value Literature ‘Enemies’ to question & challenge
Hope; Melioration; Progress Progress; cautious optimism Science Fiction
UtopianismPhilosophers
Despair, nihilism
Role taking, empathy & dialogue Sympathy The Empathic Society; Dialogic ethics, Recognition theory, Monologic Terrorism; lack of empathy; a certain blindness in human beings
Altruism – concern with others Compassion, kindness & care Feminist Care TheoryThe Compassionate Temperament CrueltyViolenceSelfishness
Justice, Democracy and Social Rights Fairness, Freedom, Equality The Philosophies of Justice and Human Rights Authoritarianism; Tyranny of others, Elitism, Scapegoating, Bullying….Slavery, the Unfree, Unjust. Unequal
rights denied
Human Flourishing ‘The Good Life’ & ‘The Virtues’ Human Capability Theory with Rights and Flourishing Neglect, ExploitationDenial of opportunities,Incapacitation. Societies based on economic values centrally.
Cosmopolitanism Acceptance of differences Cosmopolitan theory/ Difference theory NarrownessEthnocentrism
Humanitarianism Societies based on caring for the others The Humanitarian Society Cruel, violent, genocidal societies
Wisdom Experience– both historical and personal;Science – both hard and soft;Imagination – both limited and unlimited Confucius and all the ‘wise thinkers across cultures and throughout history Folly , Stupidity (which is not the same as ignorance); Blind science, blind rationality.

 

Coming Tales

        1. The Hopeful Society
        2. The Empathic Society
        3. The Kind, Compassionate Society
        4. The Just and Rights Society
        5. The Flourishing for all Society
        6. The Wise Society
        7. The Humanitarian Society

Generations

How long is a man’s life finally?

Cyril E Power: Whence and Whither

A thousand days or only one?

One week or a few centuries?

How long does a man’s death last?

And what do we mean when we say, “gone forever”?

-Brian Patten, So Many Different Lengths of Time (2007:154)

If you need cheering up, you can see Brian Patten speak this poem wandering around a graveyard!  Link to Brian Patten here


My most recent work has been concerned with worrying about time and generations. You can find some of this writing  in the Generational section of Selected Articles

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present,
All time is unredeemable.

T.S.Eliot Burnt Norton

CyrilPower (1872-1951) : Whence and Whither

Humanity begins the moment we stop being instinctively selfish and start seeing other points of view”

Akira Kurosawa ( and cited in Mark Cousin’s The Story of Film – a wonderful history of film).

Akira Kurosawa is the wonderful film maker of Roshomon and Seven Samurai, and many others.
Mark Cousins has written a beautiful and accessible history of film in The Story of Film (also a 15 part film .tv programme). 

Quoting Humanisms

Shakespeare- that great old humanist!

Love all. Trust a few.
Do wrong to none.

Shakespeare All’s well that ends well


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