“a forbidden conversation”

This is how Enoch Page framed the course, Anthropology of Consciousness. His critique of academia is based upon a combination of personal experience and a theorizing informed by Gregory Bateson. I haven’t read any Bateson, but his name has been mentioned occasionally in COM, and now I know I need to read him.

The quotes here are from “notes” that Enoch has written and read to us. Some of them are Bateson’s own words (I think) and other’s are either Enoch’s paraphrasing or his own contributions. The gist of the argument vs conventional academia (which I believe characterizes most of the approach in our COM dept) is an overemphasis on “purposive conscious activity.” As I understood it, its the reduction of knowledge to only what we consciously intend and conceptualize; leaving out anything unintended or otherwise out of consciousness. Taking only the overtly conscious into account “lacks systemic wisdom” and means that whatever action taken on solely “purposively conscious” bases will “always require a remedy.” In other words, the results of action that doesn’t acknowledge or take into account the presence/infuence of non-rational, non-purposive, non-conscious factors will always be flawed.
The problem is “what would entail a rigorous study of unconsciousness without psychologizing it?” Page argues we need to study the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity, not just assume we’ve somehow transcended Cartesian dualism (which he asserts is the foundation of societal pathology in the U.S.). He wasn’t familiar with Michael Billig, who I think does provide a way to study unconsciousness through the mechanism of dialogic repression.
What’s forbidden about this conversation? I’m not sure exactly which aspect(s) Page would privilege, but I’d wager two specifics: “the unconscious” as a topic of intellectual inquiry, and notions of collectivity applied to the unconscious. Page mentions Jung’s theorizing about a collective unconsciousness (which he has some problems with) and also discourse among people who meditate about a collective consciousness. Page refers back to Durkheim’s neglected work, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (original translation 1912) and a notion of “collective representation.” This was the first step (so says Page) toward getting the first glimpse into master narratives, such as “sacred national fictions” (Robert Bella).
What’s distinctive about the collective representation of Durkheim is that it goes beyond ideology (exemplified by Althusser) and incorporates perceptual patterning. Perhaps the “ideal type” (I’m reaching) is “collective effervescence.” Page says Durkheim meant something more than the “communitas” of Victor Turner, because he thinks Durkheim was referring to a “level of emotional intensity and shared intensity” that exceeds the “I know everybody” of community. Eduardo offered “levitas” as an opposition. 🙂
Anyway a search for collective effervescence leads to some interesting pdf’s, and this book review. The summary of the first chapter of Sacred Revolutions: Durkheim and the College of Sociology captures the points of main interest to me.

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