An Anthropological Trompe L'Oeil for a Common World

An Anthropological Trompe L'Oeil for a Common World: An Essay on the Economy of Knowledge

Alberto Corsín Jiménez
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 192
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qcnv4
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  • Book Info
    An Anthropological Trompe L'Oeil for a Common World
    Book Description:

    Our political age is characterized by forms of description as 'big' as the world itself: talk of 'public knowledge' and 'public goods,' 'the commons' or 'global justice' create an exigency for modes of governance that leave little room for smallness itself. Rather than question the politics of adjudication between the big and the small, this book inquires instead into the cultural epistemology fueling the aggrandizement and miniaturization of description itself. Incorporating analytical frameworks from science studies, ethnography, and political and economic theory, this book charts an itinerary for an internal anthropology of theorizing. It suggests that many of the effects that social theory uses today to produce insights are the legacy of baroque epistemological tricks. In particular, the book undertakes its own trompe l'oeil as it places description at perpendicular angles to emerging forms of global public knowledge. The aesthetic 'trap' of the trompe l'oeil aims to capture knowledge, for only when knowledge is captured can it be properly released.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-912-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. Zoom In
    (pp. 1-2)

    When Robert Hooke in 1665 famously used his microscope to observe the detailed qualities of a fly’s eye or a plant cell, he also noted how the optical mediation of lenses ‘might be of very good use to convey secretIntelligencewithout any danger ofDiscovery’ (Hooke 1665: 3). One could trade in state secrets, he insinuated, by exchanging miniaturized diplomatic correspondence. One could make knowledge disappear in size (disappear from view) and yet retain the full scale of its power. Knowledge could travel without leaving visible traces behind.

    Hooke’s wonder at the consequences of optical miniaturization captures well the...

  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-30)

    On 12 May 2010, an exhibition titledThe Potosí Principle: How Shall We Sing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land?opened at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, Spain’s national museum for contemporary art, home to artworks such as Picasso’sGuernica or Dali’s Girl in the Window.The exhibition was curated by international contemporary artists Alice Creischer and Andreas Siekmann, and the art and cultural critic Max Hinderer (Creischer, Hinderer and Siekmann 2010). In the words of the curators,Potosí principleaimed at offering ‘a critical re-reading of the dynamics of global capitalism from the...

  7. Part I. Trompe l’Oeil

    • 1 Surviving Comparison
      (pp. 33-48)

      All political thought evinces an aesthetic of sorts. Dioptric anamorphosis, for instance, was the ‘science of miracles’ through which Hobbes imagined his Leviathan. Exemplifying the optical wizardry of seventeenth-century clerical mathematicians, a dioptric anamorphic device used a mirror or lens to refract an image that had deliberately been distorted and exaggerated back into what a human eye would consider a natural or normal perspective. Many such artefacts played with pictures of the faces of monarchs or aristocrats. Here the viewer would be presented with a panel made up of a multiplicity of images, often emblems representing the patriarch’s genealogical ancestors...

    • 2 The Strabismic Eye
      (pp. 49-65)

      Of course the importance of proportionality for architectural, and indeed socio-spatial reflection in the Euro-American tradition at large, has long been a matter of perspective – of optics.

      For years the origins of perspective in the fifteenth century were traced back to the renaissance of classical proportionality. As Martin Jay has observed, ‘Growing out of the late medieval fascination with the metaphysical implications of light – light as divineluxrather than perceivedlumen– linear perspective came to symbolize a harmony between the mathematical regularities in optics and God’s will.’ Pictorial and aesthetic preoccupations shifted from a religious interest in objects to...

    • 3 Reversibility/Proportionality
      (pp. 66-81)

      Sometime in 1600 Michalengelo Merisi (Caravaggio) painted his Narcissus. The story ofNarcissus,it is well known, was of great interest to painters, for it provided a myth of origins for the invention of painting: ‘I used to tell my friends’, noted Leon Alberti in his foundational treatiseOn Painting,‘that the inventor of painting, according to the poets, was Narcissus, who was turned into a flower; for, as painting is the flower of all the arts, so the tale of Narcissus fits our purpose perfectly’ (Alberti 1991 [1435]: 61).

      Some recent radiographic research on the composition of Caravaggio’sNarcissus...

    • Zoom Out
      (pp. 82-84)

      InHatred of Democracy, Jacques Ranciére noted that

      The distribution of knowledges is only socially efficacious to the extent that it is also a (re)distribution of positions. To gauge the relation between the two distributions, one must therefore have an additional science… political science. […] But this science will always be missing the very thing that is necessary for settling the excess constitutive of politics: the determination of the just proportion between inequality and equality. […] But there is no science of the just measure between equality and inequality… The republic aims at being the government of democratic equality by...

  8. Part II. Common World

    • 4 The Political/Phantasmagoria
      (pp. 87-106)

      In a number of places today, the productivity of knowledge is manifesting itself as a source of commensality, especially in the way in which the capacity to produce more knowledge and make it available is taken as an index of social wealth and abundance (Benkler 2006), as if indeed knowledge were a sociological object per se. The relational economy of knowledge at work in, say, ‘commons-based systems of peer production’ (Benkler and Nissenbaum 2006) produces geometrical superpositions not unlike those Serres described for the classical period, where knowledge, sociality and politics converge in a sociological commons. Take, for instance, Google’s...

    • 5 Predation/Production
      (pp. 107-126)

      Imagine an Amerindian hunter. On a hunting trip he falls sick and returns to the base camp, unable to carry out his hunt. He and his kin start worrying that the original hunting excursion has resulted in a reversed predation: the hunter has been captured by the animals (say, peccaries) he originally set out to kill. As days pass, his condition worsens. His body is in pain, and the spirits of the peccaries haunt him. In a reversed hunt invisible to human eyes, the peccaries prey upon the body of the hunter, tearing it apart, eating his flesh. By feasting...

    • 6 Exteriority/Interiority
      (pp. 127-148)

      Walter Lippmann’s famous critique of ‘the public’ as a proxy for democratic accountability (Lippmann 1993 [1925]) makes for uncanny reading in these times of overabundant knowledge. Lippmann’s uneasiness with the public derived from his view that democratic robustness was ultimately an ‘unattainable ideal’, especially if constructed around the ‘ideal of the sovereign and omnipotent citizen’ (11). For Lippmann, the idea of democracy could not be made to stand on the notion of an absolute and transparent command of all possible knowledge on the part of the citizenry. Therein lay the ‘mystical fallacy of democracy’, because an average citizen ‘cannot know...

    • Conclusion: At Perpendicular Angles
      (pp. 149-154)

      The ‘socialness’ of knowledge is of course in many respects a tautological question. As the outcome of particular social relations and energies, knowledge is nothing if not a social project. There is no knowledge that is not always and everywhere social. However, the fact that at some level we can see a point to the question – that it becomes meaningful as an issue of magnitude, in that one may speak of certain modes of producing knowledge as ‘more’ social than others, and therefore speak of the social/knowledge relation as a relation of sizes or proportions – is, I have tried to...

  9. REFERENCES
    (pp. 155-168)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 169-184)