9. Thinking Flat Out: Back to Bateson
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n i n e Thinking Flat Out: Back to Bateson Back to Bateson Nowadays, we would characterize ‘‘Marcel’s’’ grand revelation in Time Regained , the culminating volume of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past—a discovered conjunction between two landscapes, moods, and mini-climates, if you will, which the narrator had always considered mutually distinct—as a feedback loop on a very high plane of computer design. This is not the place for an exhaustive review of the geological rift articulating the landscapes of the Île de France around Illiers, the basis for the imaginary Combray in Proust’s biography. For ‘‘Marcel,’’ even during his youthful wanderings, the terrain is forever divided between the Guermantes way, with its tranquil riverscape redolent of one of Monet’s Water Lilies, and its more wooded and pastoral Méséglise counterpart, in which he will experience his shocking sexual initiation at Montjouvain. In terms of a geographical ontology established from the outset of the mega-novel and lasting until its very end, ne’er shall the divergent routes meet. 244 ................. 17885$ $CH9 10-20-10 14:50:00 PS Back to Bateson 245 In an odd but nonetheless compelling way, we owe a significant share of the tropes and scenarios by which we can articulate and conceptualize the continuity between the Guermantes and Méséglise ways to studies conducted over many years and in a bewilderingly wide range of fields by Gregory Bateson. Whether we understand these pathways (or loops) as symmetrical and complementary in relation to one another or perhaps, respectively , as analog and digital, their relations and interconnections were charted out and placed in the dense overlay of their logical, anthropological, genetic, psychoanalytical, and cybernetic contexts by this highly improvisational social scientist. Bateson’s retrospective Steps to an Ecology of Mind is a veritable sourcebook if not Bible for twenty-first-century thought. In tribute to his anthropological formation, Bateson always regarded the interactions among people, animals, plants, and the various artifacts resulting from these interchanges from the perspective of the communications and exchange of information that they involve. As Proust teaches us (and as Derrida and Deleuze/Guattari reinforce, by means of radically different terminologies), paths tend to join up, even after spectacular digressions. Through the inborn perversity of our wiring, whether we attribute it to neurological architectures or the imponderables of the Freudian archive, nothing gets lost: submerged, blurred, arbitrarily crossed with other data stores and value systems, perhaps, but not lost. I want to recall here a moment from my own intellectual formation, before a delirious and empowering excursus into French philosophy and criticism, and into the foundational texts, from a range of discourses, for which these schools rendered sorely needed elucidation and radical updating, when the possibilities of theorization itself were for me associated with the social sciences as they were then practiced in North America. Such names as Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, and Claude LéviStrauss first became known to me less in the literary classroom than in the context of coursework I did at Brandeis in the late 1960s in sociology and social psychology. (The exception to this rule was the then-unattributed exposure and access to the writings of Martin Heidegger I gained under the aegis of Allan Grossman’s eccentric but compelling poetics.) Social science, as it was practiced in those days, still allowed itself to be informed, at least to some degree, by anecdote and other sources indicative of data’s nonobjectivity , by avowed observer bias, and, by implication, the limited point of view inherent in all acts of interpretation. The confusion between different frames of observation and interpretation was on the verge of becoming an ................. 17885$ $CH9 10-20-10 14:50:00 PS 246 Thinking Flat Out explicit, discipline-wide project. Even the inchoate thrust of flow itself had left its mark on the diversity of social scientific thinking. The classrooms I visited under the tutelage of such humanistic social scientists as Gordon Fellman and Jerome Boime were cartographic studios as much as they were ports to specific bodies of methodology and erudition. As ateliers of learning, these classrooms placed study in a more collective and indeed public sphere than did my graduate studies, with their professional emphasis. The product of a semester’s reading and discussion was a map or flowchart of the interactions and influences between such newly acquired intellectual resources as Marx, Freud, Weber, Simmel, Arendt, and Löwith. In certain...

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