Waiting for Foucault, Still by Marshall Sahlins

Posted: March 8, 2010 in Book Notes
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  • Materialism must be a form of idealism, since it’s wrong—too.
  • In any case, it is obvious that identity is a relative construction, based on a selective valuation of similarities and differences.
  • In speaking of culture as a superorganic order, in which individuals counted for next to nothing, A.L. Kroeber liked to use the metaphor of a coral reef: a vast edifice built by tiny microorganisms each of which, acting simply according to its own nature, secretes an imperceptible addition to this structure whose scale and organization by far transcends it.
  • The punishment was the crime. By disobeying God to satisfy his own desires, by putting this love of self before the love of Him alone that could suffice, man was condemned to become the slave of insatiable bodily desires: a limited and ignorant creature abandoned in an intractable and merely material world to labor, to suffer, and then to die. Made up of “thorns and thistles,” resistant to our efforts, the world, said Augustine, “does not make good what it promises: it is a liar and deceiveth.” The deception consists in the impossibility of assuaging our libidinous desires for earthly goods, for domination and for carnal pleasures. So man is fated “to pursue one thing after another, and nothing remains permanently with him…his needs are so multiplied that he cannot find the one thing needful, a simple and unchanging nature.”
  • In a famous essay setting out the field, Lionel Robbins explicitly recognized that the genesis of Economics was the economics of Genesis. “We have been turned out of Paradise,” he wrote, “we have neither eternal life nor unlimited means of satisfaction” — instead, a life of scarcity, wherein to choose one good thing is to deprive oneself of another. The real reason Economics is dismal is that it is the science of the post-lapsarian condition.
  • As Cassierer says in another context, “an awareness of a difference is an awareness of a connection.”
  • The Chinese Restaurant Syndrome – Why are well-meaning Westerners so concerned that the opening of a Colonel Sanders in Beijing means the end of Chinese culture? A fatal Americanization. Yet we have had Chinese restaurants in America for over a century, and it hasn’t made us Chinese. On the contrary, we obliged the Chinese to invent chop suey. What could be more American than that? French fries?
  • Opposites are things alike in all significant respects but one.
  • And there is always within each of us something that fights something else. – Foucault
  • Fifth law of civilization: Failing corporate executives and politicians always resign to spend more time with their families.
  • The person using the pronoun “I” thereby constitutes space, time and objects (reference) from his or her point of view—egotism, or even the will to power.
  • Developing countries, with American help, never develop.
  • Economic development is properly defined as the material enrichment of the people’s way of life.
  • Hegemony is supposed to determine not only what one thinks but also what one cannot think.
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