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Re: [xmca] Kaustuv Roy and the Social Mediation of Despair

Well, of course, there are big differences between Jewish humor and Chinese; we Jews don't usually have quite so many pigs running around in our jokes. Yet it seems to me that the reversible figures of hope and grounds of despair are quite similar.
Spinoza says somewhere that the only way to overcome a negative emotion is through a stronger, positive one. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to have defined very clearly how to tell a negative emotion from a positive one.
Worse, he doesn't really bother to tell us how to tell a stronger emotion from a weaker one, except for the test of Buridan's ass: when you are stuck between two emotions which impell you in opposite directions, the one which makes you act is the stronger one.
It seems to me that a lot of Vygotsky's writing on both ethics are esthetics have, at bottom, an interesting paradox: an emotion which is actually quite weak on an individual level (say, the desire to draw a picture, something quite easily forgotten in everyday activity, or the desire to quite smoking) becomes enormously powerful on a social level.
But the opposite seems equally true; an emotion that is overwhelming on an individual level simply disappears when it is framed as a social one. It seems to me that it's for this reason that we no longer read the "novels of conscience" that were such a big deal in the mid nineteenth century. 
(A brilliant Oxford graduate begins to doubt the truth of the thirty nine articles of the Anglican church, he is forced to give up his living, he becomes a non-conformist minister to the poor, he falls in love with a working class girl, dies of consumption....see what I mean? It's hard to even think of ONE! But "Nemesis of Faith", and "Robert Elsmere" were as famous in their time as Antonio Salieri's music was in his....)
Since the nineteenth century (at least), art has really been struggling with the terrible idea that so bothered Sartre: that we humans are not works of art, that we are ends and not means, that without God, man's existence precedes any functional purpose the non-existent God might have had in mind, and man is condemned ("dao mei") to be free, where "free" is one of those words that means both itself and its opposite, both randomness and pointlessness and deliberateness and pointed volition.
(Chinese women have menstrual periods, they use "dao mei" as a euphemism; it means pre-damnation in the old Protestant sense of predestination, and therefore LACK of choice, LACK of free will, determinism in a very direct and non-Spinozan sense, irrational biological determinism.)
For Jews, and for Chinese people, the metaphysical double meaning of the word "free" is hard to understand. There are too many other people around to worry about stuff like that, and anyway, everybody knows that what "free" really means: Lucky you, you don't pay this time. 
David Kill-hogg
Seoul National University of Education
--- On Sat, 1/22/11, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:

From: mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Kaustuv Roy and the Social Mediation of Despair
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Saturday, January 22, 2011, 8:55 AM

Thanks David & David-- For pointing out Roy's work and the additional
comments. It would be great if some of our Russian colleagues could chip in
with apposite examples of Russian "anekdoti" which provide interesting
variations on the themes you illustrated DKe.

On Fri, Jan 21, 2011 at 4:10 PM, David Kellogg <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com>wrote:

> First of all, let me wholeheartedly endorse Kaustuv Roy's book, and also
> his paintings, and also his new project for a community art centre. Roy is a
> pluralist in the very best sense; not the common po-mod variety who builds
> pluralism on a general lack of seriousness, or the practical sort who is a
> jack of all trades, but rather a deeply critical pluralist who sees all
> paradigms as partial and no paradigm as perfect, and derives from precisely
> this source the need for social mediation with everything.
> Including emotion! If you look at his paintings you can see that almost all
> of them have some kind of ideational foreground embedded in an affective
> background. I was pleasantly surprised at the optimism of the paintings,
> since as David Kirshner remarks his book is a deeply pessimistic one. I am
> sure that Roy's new teaching assignment agrees with him, and as Jesus Christ
> says somewhere, it is better to be loved than tenured.
> And, secondly, for something (not) completely different. I'm in China, in
> my wife's hometown of Xi'an, and it's the dead of winter. The streets are
> dusty, people are cold and hungry, it is almost time for Spring Festival,
> and fabulous amounts of money are sloshing around, directly over our heads
> and just out of reach.
> Just as there is a distinctively Jewish kind of humor, there is a
> distinctively Chinese sort. In fact, I think the two are consanguinous,
> although probably not on speaking terms. Here's an example, which my
> sister-in-law told me the other day.
> "A farmer had two pigs. The little pig complained about the food and the
> accomodation, but the big pig told him that he was being ungrateful. "We
> have enough to eat and a warm place to sleep, we can shit anywhere we like.
> All we have to do is to show our gratitude by eating and sleeping and
> shitting as gratefully as we can." So the little pig and slept and shat as
> much as a pig could, and when it came time to choose a pig for Spring
> Festival slaughter, the little pig was not so little any more. As the farmer
> took the pig for his table, the big pig told him that he was lucky; he,
> the big pig, had lived there for many years and he never got invited to the
> Spring Festival feast even once...."
> As you can see, there are some common elements with Jewish humor: the
> expectation of disaster and the social mediation of despair. There are also
> some different elements, though: the self-serving nature of gratitude
> and also of injunctions to be grateful, and above all the rather un-Jewish
> critique of a concept I can only call "dao mei".
> "Dao mei" means that you are damned. Your evil fate is preordained, and any
> attempt to resist it will simply make your ignominious failure and immanent
> collapse longer, more complicated, and still more undignified. It's a very
> Chinese idea, as well as a Jewish one of course. But in some ways the
> CRITIQUE of "dao mei" is even more Chinese.
> Here's another example:
> "A pig farmer tried to save money by raising his own corn. He bought some
> fertilizer to help it grow, but it was fake, so the crop died. In despair,
> he bought insecticide to poison himself and his whole family at a farewell
> banquet, but it was fake so everybody survived. His son was so overjoyed at
> the failure of the suicide attempt that he bought Chinese liquor to
> celebrate. It was fake, so everybody died."
> On the face of it, this is a perfect example of "dao mei". But when you
> really look at it, you will see that it is just like the first joke: the
> choices you make do matter, but the problem is that you don't have quite
> enough information by yourself to make them properly. The social mediation
> of despair is your only hope, but it is also an endless mine of new despair.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
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