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Surveying Is Its Own Punishment - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
cbertsch
cbertsch
Surveying Is Its Own Punishment
A good friend of mine posted an entry today that gave me a lot of food for thought, both about the work that I do and the way I would go about situating myself within it. Composing a "checklist" for her demographic, with an "amused nod" to sociologist Pierre Bourdieu," she constructs a picture with the sheen of objectivity:
1. Female
2. Middle-aged (40-56)
3. Highly/Over educated
4. Problem spouse
5. Employed outside private sector
6. Also writer/poet/artist/photographer
7. Red wine
8. Yoga
9. Yoshimatsu
10. First child after 32
11. Trader Joe's, duh
12. Therapy of one kind or another
13. Own pack of tarot cards
14. And/or I Ching and know how to use them
15. I'm getting bored of this but there's lots more.
This list reminds me of passages in Georges Perec's wonderful first novel Things, which dates from the same survey-obsessed French 1960s as the data Bourdieu analyzes in his landmark book Distinction. It also brings to mind the minimalism of some of my favorite American writing of that period, from Joan Didion to Donald Barthelme.

The difference between that era and this one turns on the way in which such lists are evaluated. Back then, some sort of legitimation, whether corporate, scholarly or literary, was usually required for lists to reach a public. With the rise of internet culture, however, the need for a stamp of approval is diminished and the number of ways of getting one, however minor, have greatly increased. This was true five years ago, when I wrote a piece for Bad Subjects about the way companies like Amazon.com were deploying user-generated lists. And it's even more true today.

For all that, though, I do think there's a difference between the sort of list my friend produced and the majority of the ones you find on the internet. She manages to convey sincerity and irony at the same time, which is another way of saying that the construction of her list seems to be shaped by considerations of form as much as content. That I can perceive that, though, may indicate the degree to which I fall on the same side of the divide she implicitly articulates between her demographic and younger ones to whom most of the items on her list would inspire confusion or, worse, ridicule. I have the tools, in other words, to understand what an "amused nod to Bourdieu" is and, what is more, to place both the list and its construction in a historical context.

The problem I confront, however, is that this capacity does nothing to give me legitimation where it counts. Being able to read a list for more than what it lists is not a skill that brings rewards in my sphere of interaction. It's the sort of thing I might want to list if following in my friend's footsteps -- an exercise I plan to undertake over the next week -- but the decision to do so would only contribute to the impression that I wanted to refine the sense of ironic detachment pervading my list-making. But what if the most sincere -- and significant -- thing I can declare about myself is that I'm incapable of not seeing myself seeing?

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_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: January 28th, 2008 05:29 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I can declare about myself is that I'm incapable of not seeing myself seeing?

I think worse would be not seeing yourself seeing yourself as non-unique. How can such lists not be a yawn? Can there really be so little else to do in a day that even 5 minutes be spent on listing how you are exactly like 1 billion other people on the planet. Or, is the appeal in listing how you are not like the other few billion? Curious thing, perspective. Seems like the time would be better spent cooking! Or, making out! (but, I'm on a cooking and making out kick, and never make make such static lists about something as dynamic as living, so what do I know? But! Cooking! And making out!)

(And, I should add, as you probably know, if lists serve some system then well and good! But, usually they don't. Usually they are emotional/intellectual jack off. Which is also well and good, but only if you are aware of your hand enough to spit on it first.)
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: January 28th, 2008 05:31 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Because sometimes it is better to addendum than edit:

and, I *do* understand your point but, really, I'm all about the cooking and making out. And writing tankas for the love of all the gods. I need be knocked upon the head by something sensible, soon. I also need get to sleep!
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: January 28th, 2008 12:29 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: Because sometimes it is better to addendum than edit:

I'm ambivalent about list-making of this sort, as my subject header suggests. At the same time, though, I don't see, in light of your comment, how making lists about oneself is all that different than participating in memes that generate a profile of oneself. Perhaps the latter are more easily revealed to produce non-unique results?

Cooking and making out are definitely more "Zen", given the degree to which they involve focusing on the now. But there is fun to be had in list-making, too, particularly when practiced with a healthy dose of irony. One of the reasons I'm going to be making a list or two about myself is that I feel the need to find more matches, with more overlap, in the realm of "friends" and, with luck, friends. Although I hardly regard myself as unique, I seem to have a hard time finding folks who share many of my interests. And, yes, I recognize that the phrase "my interests," despite its practical utility, is not at all "Zen."
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: January 28th, 2008 03:11 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: Because sometimes it is better to addendum than edit:

Memes results usually come with pictures, that's how it's different!

I was so drunk and cheery last night, that I don't actually even remember what I wrote in my comments exactly and I'm sure it would scald my eyes right out of my head to re-read them now that I'm sober, so! I won't!

We are, by the way, going out for more beers and dancing tonight if you want to join us.

cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: January 28th, 2008 03:27 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: Because sometimes it is better to addendum than edit:

I'm supposed to go out tonight to see a friend, so I could well be free for a bit. What time? Where?

And, while I often find your prose scalding, I thought your comments in this case were apt. Lists are interesting at times, but way overdone.
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: January 28th, 2008 07:38 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: Because sometimes it is better to addendum than edit:

We'll be going to Asylum, probably around 9, until around whenever; babysitter is scheduled until 2ish, but we've not been staying out so late lately (except for at the salty dawg, where somehow one always ends up shutting it down, no matter what one initially intends).
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: January 28th, 2008 08:17 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: Because sometimes it is better to addendum than edit:

Ahh, the Salty Dawg. . .

I'll try to swing by Asylum between 10pm and 12n.

_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: January 28th, 2008 08:29 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: Because sometimes it is better to addendum than edit:

Great! I might be wearing an Epic 70's wig tonight!
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: January 28th, 2008 08:32 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: Because sometimes it is better to addendum than edit:

12m, I meant. Wigs are good!
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: January 28th, 2008 08:35 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: Because sometimes it is better to addendum than edit:

Wigs are full of awesome! Or, they can be, depending on the head they are filled with! ;)
From: e4q Date: January 28th, 2008 05:54 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
i love georges perec. in the usual style of mistranslation species of spaces works better in french, since the literally translated word becomes wrong in english because it is too much about animals and plants, whereas in french it is more general like 'categories' or 'types'. less annoying than 'the savage mind' which is downright pejorative in english, and means 'wild' in french.
that said, once in the book it is perfectly possible to be just immersed. it has been a while since i read it but seem to remember a passage where he lists 'things i can see from my bed' which is a tender idea.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: January 28th, 2008 12:32 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I'm going to read Life: A User's Manual soon. He's such a great writer to think about.

Great point about the dangers of direct translation. I've been revisiting The Savage Mind and keep thinking that the English title contradicts everything Levi-Strauss is trying to do.
From: e4q Date: January 28th, 2008 12:41 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
i know! doesn't it. you would think someone would have caught on by now and adjusted it, even if it would make for a cataloguing nightmare.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: January 28th, 2008 03:28 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
That's why they haven't changed it, I'm sure.
From: e4q Date: January 28th, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

THEM

but how typical of THEM. THEY would do that.
bah.
_luaineach From: _luaineach Date: January 28th, 2008 08:29 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Do you know who, on LJ, I think you would enjoy reading? thiel

Edited at 2008-01-28 11:30 pm (UTC)
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: January 28th, 2008 08:35 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Wow. You're not kidding. I really need to get out more in cyberspace. So many things worth checking out. Thanks for the tip.
From: e4q Date: January 29th, 2008 08:11 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
oh really oh really? i will looky.
katieengl From: katieengl Date: January 28th, 2008 11:52 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
in one of the soc classes im taking this semester people were asked to list the attributes of themselves and over 90% of the class listed their gender in the first three. Funny your friend is with us on that!
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: January 28th, 2008 12:34 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Now that is the sort of statistic worth studying. The first question on many surveys asks the same thing, of course.
From: babyiwasshot Date: January 28th, 2008 08:21 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Surveys, IQ tests: most instruments for gathering social data are pretty tenuous.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: January 28th, 2008 08:30 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
And that's why people hold on to their purported objectivity with so much tenacity.
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