Masks: How Emperors Are Clothed

William Ramp

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“It is important to address right now the present political disaster in the United States (as others must also do in Britain, and Poland, and Hungary, and Russia, and many other nations) as an emergency. But to do so effectively over the longer term (if we still have one) will mean trying to understand the array of conditions that gave us Trump and Pence without immediately privileging our favorite explanations, and also directly challenging the machinery they are putting together to destroy and clear off what is left both of the liberal order and of humane sociability (which are not always the same thing). It is important to unmask the fact-free, vengeful and fear-based agendas at work in the incoming Trump administration. But let’s not personalize that fight to the extent that we no longer see that Trump himself, for all the dangers posed by his personality, emotional reactions, and beliefs, is both a political agent and also a political effect, and is so in two different ways.”—William Ramp

Small Things Recollected

By William Ramp

Trump Halloween mask.

Trump Halloween mask.

William Ramp

LETHBRIDGE Alberta, Canada—(Weekly Hubris)—December 2016—The word mask descends from the old French masque, signifying a covering for the face. Masque also entered English as the name for a particular kind of courtly entertainment involving elaborate stage settings, pantomimes, singing, dancing and acting.

Further back, mask has an interesting, if confusing lineage through words standing, variously, for specter, nightmare, ridicule, darkness or blackening. There is, then, something both sinister and comedic in the history of the term, as there is in the image of the clown: a minor panic on social media in the run-up to Halloween 2016 and the US election focused on frightening clown figures appearing randomly at night.

Sketch of a Tudor-era masque performance.

Sketch of a Tudor-era masque performance.

Another English word, though unrelated in origin to mask, is tightly connected in its own historical lineage to the meaning of masks and the act of masking: the term person.

The Latin word persona meant a face covering that actors wore to signify their place and role in a play. Later, in old French and in English, the terms personne and person came to mean, theologically, one of the three distinct figures in the divine nature of God, and in a legal or philosophical sense, an individuated human being as distinct from a thing.

In this latter meaning, one can already spot a modern sense of person: a legal status accorded to individual human beings (and in certain jurisdictions, corporations) as bearers of rights and possessors of agency.

Russian icon of the Old Testament Trinity, by Andrey Rublev, between 1408 and 1425.

Russian icon of the Old Testament Trinity, by Andrey Rublev, between 1408 and 1425.

A derivative term, personality, as Raymond Williams notes, designated the state of being of an individual person, and then in modern times a way of being human that was particular to individuals or types of individuals. Personality, Williams tells us, has become a feature of modern possessive individualism: each of us, as individual persons, possesses a personality, and each of us has the right to express or hide it, modify it, improve it, or use it as a selling point for our labor power or our attractiveness to others.

The old sense of a cover or a mask still haunts contemporary definitions of personhood, personality, and character. An individual person is conceived of as having rights to privacy as part of the right to private property. As a possession of the individuated self, personality can be willfully hidden or displayed. There are things which are my personal business and not yours; as a person, I have a right also to protect and (as the presently-popular term would have it) “curate” both my interior life and the exterior face I show to the world—with, of course, certain legal restrictions relating to fraud.

Thus, in modern usage, one’s face and body become surfaces of expression, potentially expressive of truth or of falsity. A false face is a kind of mask, expressing an acted identity but hiding a contradictory motivation or moral orientation. When a self-presentation is identified as a mask, it can be read symptomatically, even taken to express (to “betray”) precisely what it is deemed to be hiding.

Self-presentation: Christopher Michel—The bon vivant.

Self-presentation: Christopher Michel—The bon vivant.

But beyond individual symptomatology, is there a general sort of person that our faces, clothing or demeanor are commonly taken to communicate in mainstream North American culture?

Here’s one candidate: the rational agent of classical liberalism, now in modern guise as, say, a star student, winning entrepreneur, savvy consumer, or libertarian Republican. But superadded to this is another figure: the emotionally-expressive, unique individual, marked by depth of feeling, sensitivity, or a certain, precious je ne sais quoi. It was bequeathed to us by 19th-century romanticism, though already prefigured in Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith proposed that to be human was to possess an individual agency, both rational and self-interested, as had Hobbes a century before, but also to be motivated by sympathy, a sociable fellow-feeling.

In the 19th century, this general capacity to be in affective sympathy with others was transformed into something less a matter of common sympathy than a marker of uniqueness: deep feeling-states that marked (often tragically) particular individuals. The poet and revolutionary, Byron, was a sort of transitional figure from one to the other. Many a 19th-century novel, good and bad, promoted a form of it in colorful representations of individual character.

Theodoros Vryzakis, Byron at Missolonghi.

Theodoros Vryzakis, Byron at Missolonghi.

From this dual figure descend modern, Western notions of the human person as both a legal/philosophical category (possessor of rights and agency) and as a substantive entity, having emotional depth and particularity. As an autonomous agent, one can act to open those depths to others, or keep them masked from others. Here, then, personhood meets the modern self.

Like person, the term self has gained weight and depth in its journey to the present. Its earliest traces are said to be in an Indo-European suffixed root of the third person pronoun, se, still with us in the Latin idiom, per se, meaning, roughly, “in itself.” So, the linguistic origins of self imply little more than a reflexive turn without content; a doubling back for emphasis, or to stress the individuated existence of some entity.

A move toward a more substantial meaning appears in various medieval Germanic-language derivatives signifying something like “one’s own person.” Self still has that reflexive meaning, but now with the added cultural cachet of uniqueness and inner depth. In contemporary usage, that depth is often associated with notions of truth. And that truth in turn has become associated, like personality, with ideas of possession and expression, masking and revealing: hiding or showing the essence of one’s True Self.

Sociologists have, with only modest success, fought against this essentialist notion of self, mostly taking their lead from the 19th-century psychologist/philosophers Charles Horton Cooley and George Herbert Mead.

Cooley characterized the self as a sort of looking-glass: to be a self is to be reflexively conscious; to be able to see ourselves as others see us. Mead took up the same idea, making a tripartite distinction (shades of the Trinity of divine persons?) between I, Me (or myself) and Others. The self is not a thing, Mead argued, but a situational process in which these three are brought actively into relational being. “I” perceive “me” (as others see me) through others’ responses to my presence and actions. (Note how this definition of self harks back to the content-free reflexive turn of se.)

What gives the self its substance, Cooley and Mead said, was its particular situatedness (and our capacity to link situations to construct a biographical sense). The self is thus an internalized social process; a conversation rooted in particular contexts. It is also an affective process. Self-consciousness is not merely a matter of cognition but also of feeling. And while feeling is rooted in individuated psychological traits, it is also communicative: selfhood is a dynamic process which makes feeling something social, shared, collective.

But as I know ruefully from teaching Individual & Society courses, many North Americans commonly assume that “the” self is substantial as an entity and an essence; a deep well of unique resources, troubles, and capacities that we own, or own up to (e.g., “own your shit” as an admonition to be responsible for your actions and emotional expression). These constitute an essential, inner, or “true” self; the one we either express honestly, hold in reserve, or cloak in an outer self-presentation embodying varying degrees of unconscious or calculated falsity. But trouble accompanies this certainty: help in finding our true selves has become an industry.

This essentialist notion of selfhood is also found in political discourse. Karl Marx used it ironically to shred the faux-heroism of Napoleon III; representing him as lacking either personal or political essence; merely a manager of forces beyond his ken. The fate of his Idée Napoleonienne, Marx said, demonstrated how history repeated itself, first as (the uncle’s) tragedy, then as (the nephew’s) farce.

Napoleon III’s symbolic presence was a poor reflection of his predecessor’s glory; a reference without substance. Politically, the emperor survived by taking from various Peters to pay Pauls-of-the-moment, trimming his sails (to mix metaphors) accordingly. His one accomplishment of major substance, beyond an ambitious rebuilding of Paris, was to force a shotgun marriage between an idealized peasantry (who provided much of his cannon-fodder) and the tinsel of Empire. His frantic effort to keep his beflagged ship of state afloat through decrees, jailings, extortion, and cronyism anticipated by several decades the rise and fall of 20th-century fascist and Right-wing populist regimes.

It was said at the time that Napoleon III resembled an onion in personality. One peeled back the layers only to find more layers. The particular falsity of his self-presentation was that it promised much and hid little. The farcical nature of his rule recalled theater for some: he was, it was whispered, not much more than his image. The fable of the emperor with no clothes seemed to fit him well.

Jean Hyppolite Flandrin, Napoleon III in 1863.

Jean Hyppolite Flandrin, Napoleon III in 1863.

Much of the criticism applied to President-Elect Donald Trump by his opponents today is similar. He is, it’s commonly claimed, a narcissist: self-regarding but without substance; nothing to him but show, and he was shown up in his first post-election meeting with Obama. He is a Wizard of Oz gone bad; a true believer in his own chimerical and contradictory spectacle. He is presentation without expression; a flash and bang with no substance . . . but soon to be in possession of the nuclear codes.

By contrast, criticism of Hillary Clinton did tend to assume more substance to her persona. Her polished presence was said to hide a scheming, ruthless, duplicitous plotter. Many did take her for a cipher, but many more identified her as a willing agent of dark forces: the machinations of Wall Street or the Democratic establishment, or of a cabal of power-hungry climate scientists. Clinton’s presented self, then, was taken to be a cloak for a real personality and real motives.

Disgraced politicians are well-nigh universally pulled through these same wringers: their venality taken to be their true selfhood revealed; their prior image (and often, even their subsequent contrition) a false and revealing theatrics. Barack Obama, in the waning days of his presidency, was subject to an opposite but equivalent process by his liberal-Left supporters, characterized as a man true to himself and transparent in his self-presentation. Ironically, regardless of his personal qualities or character, this reverence constructs him in terms of a collectively-desired image: a hunger for the persona of the selfless Hero or the genuine Man of Feeling. Ironically, photos of Obama in tears were parsed on the Left as signs of his genuineness; on the Right as signs of his psychopathology.

Obama in tears.

Obama in tears.

The criteria by which the truth and falsity of the self are determined are generated in everyday life as well as on extraordinary political occasions. Here’s a personal example.

When I was in high school, I found myself briefly on the periphery of a group of evangelical Christians but close enough to be invited to a number of functions and a weekend retreat. Eventually, I distanced myself, less out of ideological disagreement than personal discomfort. I found myself evading questions aimed at determining my spiritual status: whether or not I had found Jesus and or given my life to him. Truth be told, it would have been difficult for me to answer in the affirmative. The prospect was not attractive: my adolescent self was fragile, and I had a fear that in giving it away, it might be irreparably damaged in transit.

I had begun to notice a particular kind of expression on the faces of my interlocutors: a mix of kindliness, knowingness, pity, and skepticism. I came to interpret these as meaning that my evasions were revealing rather than covering me. I was, I imagined, being seen-through as one of the Lost Sheep who hadn’t yet recognized the full import of my status. In attempting to mask anything that would encourage such an interpretation, I came to fear that my performance was displaying precisely the kind of Truth about myself that I was trying to hide. Jesus had not yet broken through my barriers; I was not yet prepared to let him (or his agents) see my soul naked.

Strangely enough, I encountered the same facial expressions from non-Christians many times in the following decades. There was a meditation group in which I had a sudden panic attack. A Tai Chi group in which I stumbled through exercises in a way that demonstrated how out of touch I was with my body. The depression self-help group in which it was suggested that I fled to intellectualization. The yoga group. Even the student Trotskyist circle in which it was hinted that my acquaintance with Marx was perhaps a front behind which I still clutched at remnant bourgeois values, hesitating to give myself wholeheartedly to The Cause.

When 1970’s pop singer Dan Hill sang “sometimes when we touch/the honesty’s too much,” I cringed, less out of aesthetic horror than self-protection. One or two women with whom I had self-revelatory discussions spoke to me sorrowfully about my walls, and a myriad of ways in which I hid my heart behind “theory.”

The thread that connected all of these experiences was the general sense I shared with my interlocutors that being in touch with one’s true self was a good thing; that a sign of that connection was transparency, and that my masks paradoxically both covered a personal truth and gave it away to those able to read a visage, tics, speech, or gestures symptomatically. I was participating in, reproducing and being formed by a culture of the self.

Especially on social media, identity-possibilities blossom and multiply in the present age. But there has also been a kind of reactive panic against such multiplicity. I have read many a student essay on social media usage asserting that positive online self-presentations both disguise and perpetuate the actual sadness and loneliness of their creators; ironically, I read similar articles on social media. Others highlight the dangers of an online presence: surveillance, identity theft, “bombardment” by messages that undermine our autonomy and critical thought without our awareness. In both instances, it is assumed that a transparently true self is communicative and connective, but also necessarily autonomous and bounded. One’s true self is a possession to be protected against shadowy forces that mean it ill. Even for some of my sociology students, one of these forces is deemed to be “society” itself: a force that bears down on us, tells us what to do, turns us into sheep. I don’t wish to seem (ha!) superior here. I too have to fight to retain a language in which to consider other possibilities.

The recent US election showed this unease at work. To his supporters, Donald Trump says what “ordinary” (coded as “genuine”) people feel; those who don’t adopt a smooth veneer; who don’t hold back. His self-presentation is seen as honest, compared to the prevarications of machine politicians. To his detractors, Trump the politician is a populist mask hiding venal self-interest, contempt for his own followers, and an animus of hatred and fear. Or he is seen as ALL mask; nothing more than a series of masks-of-the-moment, covering nothing, or perhaps, covering Putin. But regardless of interpretation, there remains a shared obsession with the Truth of Trump, and an allergy to manufactured political personae. I think it’s no accident that so many memes and stories critical of Trump play on hiddenness and revelation to present him as bald or naked, or refer to the visible size of his fingers to speculate on the size of his invisible private parts; a play most vividly expressed in the anarchist group INDECLINE’s public placement of five naked Trump statues in five major American cities.

And Bernie Sanders? The use of the nickname says it all: to HIS supporters, some of whom migrated to Trump, he was the epigone of honest transparency. His policies were backed by the capital of his obvious empathy. He was a man of logic and feeling. A bird landed on his podium, like the dove that revealed the Messiah as he emerged from baptism in the Jordan.

In these various responses to contemporary politics, there is not only a yearning for transparent, authentic identity, but also a revolt against contradiction: between political messaging and political realities, and between motive and performance. The true self, good or bad, is taken to be the seat of motivation, and motivation to be about feeling or desire. Self-expression should not dissemble about these. When political expression becomes artifice, the public is about to be screwed. So the popular narrative goes.

The problem is that the personalized moral contradictions people tend to focus on in electoral politics are largely symbolic. Displays of political personae are the complex products of many factors: institutional, cultural, communicative. Personal psychology and morality are only tiny pieces of the puzzle. Further, psychology and morality aren’t simply matters of personal character. They are cultural. They are socially produced. The poet Philip Larkin’s memorable line, “they fuck you up, your mom and dad,” captures only one dimension of the complex processes by which the truths of the self are produced, broken and reassembled early in life.

We think we have control of our selves; we are encouraged to take responsibility for them. But that belief is but one consequence of the possessive individualism imported from English political philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment into the heart of North American culture; the beating heart of left and right, liberalism and conservatism; the heart of our affirmations of a right to consume ourselves to death, to jeer and trample the weak in the name of self-sovereignty, but also at the heart of our celebration and promotion of inner integrity, strength, resilience, goodness, psychological health, and political bravery.

Possessive individualism constructs us, all and each of us, as living, walking contradictions.

Lived contradiction is uncomfortable. Therefore, we seek exemplary narratives and ideals, in film, on television and social media, in politics or in religion, to resolve contradictions. Or we seek diversion, say for example, in sex or intimate relationships. These, too, are riven by paradox, because they do not exist outside of culture, or economics, or the politics of class, gender or race. But these are difficult to understand from inside. Thus, so often, we look to externalize the things that madden us; to place them on symbolic figures of heroism, or blame.

Let me be clear: some politicians pose clear dangers to the survival of their nations, and of the world. They wield real power. Their psychologies and their morals (or lack of them) matter. Some of them must now be fought. But they are at once agents and effects of larger, harder-to-grasp, and anonymous forces. It is these we must also have the courage to think about and confront.

But now, I’m about to lose that portion of my readership which is saying with all the force of true belief, “Aha! Yes! The secret forces that the sheeple can’t see!” If you read the above paragraph and immediately thought of a favorite conspiracy, then you, my friend, are part of the problem, not the solution (and I will maintain that stance, no matter how obsessively you message me to convince me of your hidden truths).

Yes, humans have the capacity to conspire, and yes they exercise it. But conspiracy theories tend to assume that the world we live in is darkly but comprehensively meaningful in only one way, and they usually do the same kind of job as condemnations of individuals: they displace collective anxiety or rage on to a symbolic entity (bankers, Jews, “elites,” enablers of “welfare queens,” communists). They are products of social and cultural contradiction, not reliable signposts to it or to its causes. But they answer a deep need—both psychological and social—for relief through displacement, one form of which is scape-goating. Rage energizes that displacement, assuaging pain that cannot easily be diagnosed.

But the strains and contradictions that give rise to troubled people and troubled politics are systemic. They run through social life, and through us as individuals and members of societies. As often as not, they operate blindly. They are, as often as not, seen only retrospectively, as by Paul Klee’s “Angelus Novus,” backing her way into the future, gazing at the past destruction in front of her.

Paul Klee, “Angelus Novus.”

Paul Klee, “Angelus Novus.”

What makes us self-contradictory is not our masking of some inner (or cosmic) truth behind surface pretension, but a myriad of contradictory but interacting desires, actions, social systems, economic and political arrangements, communicative and educational processes, institutions. Plus a cultural imperative to be, and to represent ourselves as being, in the face of all these bewilderments, unitary personalities; persons of integrity. It is easier to blame the difficulty of reconciling ourselves to ourselves on personal falsity than it is to identify the complex systems that produced the difficulty.

To repeat: it is important to address right now the present political disaster in the United States (as others must also do in Britain, and Poland, and Hungary, and Russia, and many other nations) as an emergency. But to do so effectively over the longer term (if we still have one) will mean trying to understand the array of conditions that gave us Trump and Pence without immediately privileging our favorite explanations, and also directly challenging the machinery they are putting together to destroy and clear off what is left both of the liberal order and of humane sociability (which are not always the same thing). It is important to unmask the fact-free, vengeful and fear-based agendas at work in the incoming Trump administration.

But let’s not personalize that fight to the extent that we no longer see that Trump himself, for all the dangers posed by his personality, emotional reactions, and beliefs, is both a political agent and also a political effect, and is so in two different ways. On one hand, his performances build a façade that is an outward sign of whatever machinations, or popular rage, or fear or character flaws, or personality disorder lies behind it. But, on the other, the various critical or laudatory versions of him in circulation also reveal how we, the playgoers at the present political drama, expect his public (or publicized) performances to be elements of a persona. Audiences make actors’ masks meaningful, in part by personalizing both the performative mask and what it stands for, or in front of; a ritual condensation of public issues into stories about persons. News agencies have long known and relied on this predilection.

To imagine that behind Trump’s performances lies a mainly personal truth, good, evil, or pathological, misses other crucial points. It is to ignore the contradictory legacies of globalization over the past 40 years, the anger of the economically-precarious and redundant; the bureaucratic double-binds that cripple humane action; the deep inhumanity of contemporary “care” systems; the narrow, monocultural cornucopia of information offered by commercial media fighting for economic survival; the corporatization of education, and the imposition everywhere of accountability regimes that impose on the many below the consequences of the actions of the few above. It is also to ignore that we live in an era of system breakdown, in which old orders no longer serve but are continually re-patched at greater and greater expense because no alternative to them can or will be imagined. It is, above all, to ignore the looming environmental collapse which our institutional and economic systems are steering straight toward.

All of these are generating enormous social stresses on people ill-equipped to understand or handle them except through displacement and blame. Their collective sense of fatality, and of rage against it, becomes, paradoxically, the political force driving us all ever faster over the final cliff. It’s a force exploited by a communicative capitalism which, according to Jodi Dean, provides a ready-made political “field of response—the circulation of outrage and righteousness, individualized statements of fear and alliance.”

Masks need challenging, not only in electoral politics but also in workplaces and in everyday life. But the better way to do so is to examine and challenge the forces that produce both masks and a fixation on them. Yes, behind Trump are political forces and interests which exploit and benefit from an already-existing, and growing political, social, and economic chaos. Yes, disaster capitalists are poised to do well under the next administration. Yes, angry white male voters put Trump over the top. But all of these are beneficiaries and facilitators, rather than causes, of systems hostile to human flourishing, or of their drawn-out failure. Get rid of Trump, or even specific groups of his supporters, and the circumstances which put him in reach of the presidency will still remain and will produce more Trumps and more supporters. Political rage and misdiagnosis will still exist. Blocking or defeating the destructive elements of the coming political order is only a first, if urgent order of business. Engaging in a politics that is primarily about blame and speculation will stall it there.

The image of Jesus that was proffered to save me from my dissembling so many years ago was itself a mask that expressed and at the same time obscured from critical view the wishes and desires of religious individualism. The Jesus recorded in the gospels spoke tartly of scales falling from eyes. Perhaps today it is those scales that are the most dangerous of masks; perhaps it is the personae of the playgoers rather than the actors that mask our capacity for insight and that merits probing and sustained inquiry. Perhaps we need to question the love of spectacle and take the play into the agora: our streets, workplaces, meeting-places, and homes.

References:

“A derivative term, personality, as Raymond Williams notes . . .” Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (London: Fontana/Croon Helm, 1976)

“. . . modern possessive individualism . . .” See also C. B. Macpherson’s classic The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke (Oxford University Press, 2010)

“. . . the rational agent of classical liberalism, now in modern guise . . .”  William Ramp and Trevor Harrison, “Libertarian Populism, Neoliberal Rationality, and the Mandatory Long-Form Census: Implications for Sociology,” Canadian Journal of Sociology, 37(3) 2012: https://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/CJS/article/viewFile/18222/14325

“. . . Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments.” Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), Part I, Section 1: http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/assets/pdfs/smith1759.pdf

“. . . often associated with notions of truth.” For a critical history of this association, see “Michel Foucault: Free Lectures on Truth, Discourse & the Self (UC Berkeley, 1980-1983)”: http://www.openculture.com/2012/01/michel_foucault_free_lectures.html

“. . . 19th-century psychologist/philosophers Charles Horton Cooley and George Herbert Mead . . . ”

Charles Horton Cooley, Human Nature and the Social Order, Chapter 5: The Social Self: https://brocku.ca/MeadProject/Cooley/Cooley_1902/Cooley_1902f.html; also George Herbert Mead, Mind Self and Society, Section 22 The“I” and the “me”: https://brocku.ca/MeadProject/Mead/pubs2/mindself/Mead_1934_22.html

“These constitute an essential, inner, or ‘true’ self that we express honestly, hold in reserve, or cloak in an outer self-presentation…” The notion that there is a true and a false self does have a respectable academic pedigree in the work of Donald W. Winnicott, who defined the true self in terms of authentic experience. However, this is a rather different notion from the popular-culture version. See D. W. Winnicott, “Ego distortion in terms of true and false self,” in The Maturational Process and the Facilitating Environment: Studies in the Theory of Emotional Development (New York: International Universities Press).

“Karl Marx used it ironically to shred the faux-heroism of Napoleon III . . .” Karl Marx, “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/; also Karl Marx, “The Civil War in France”: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1871/civil-war-france/

“. . . chimerical and contradictory spectacle.” Guy Debord’sSociety of the Spectacle seems more and more prescient in light of the Trump campaign. See https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/debord/society.htm

“. . . on the right as signs of his psychopathology.” See, for example, Samantha V. Bush, “Obama cried while announcing new gun control measures but not everyone bought it,” Storify.com: https://storify.com/SamanthaMVB/president-obama-cries-while-announcing-new-gun-con

“When 1970’s pop singer Dan Hill sang ‘sometimes when we touch/the honesty’s too much . . . ”Dan Hill and Barry Mann, “Sometimes When We Touch”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IATz8ZVTALo

“. . . public placement of five naked Trump statues in five major American cities.” Kaitlyn Tiffany and James Bareham, “11 photos of NYC’s naked Trump statue: As much Trump as you can handle,” The Verge, Aug 18, 2016: http://www.theverge.com/2016/8/18/12538672/nude-donald-trump-statues-union-square-los-angeles-indecline

“. . . Philip Larkin’s memorable line, ‘they fuck you up, your mom and dad . . .’ Philip Larkin, “This Be the Verse,” from Collected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2001): https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/48419

“. . . ritual condensation of public issues into stories about persons . . .”  See John Fiske and John Hartley, “Bardic Television,” in Reading Television (London: Methuen, 1978)

“. . . the bureaucratic double-binds that cripple humane action; the deep inhumanity of contemporary “care” systems . . .” See David Graeber, The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy (Melville House, 2016); also Victoria Sweet, God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2013)

“. . . a communicative capitalism which, according to Jodi Dean, provides a readymade political field of response…”  Jodi Dean, “Not Us, Me,” Verso Blog, 26 November, 2016: http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2970-not-us-me

“Engaging in a politics that is primarily about blame and speculation will stall it there.” “Trump,” Stage Life 918, 26 Nov. 2016: http://www.stagelife918.com/blog/trump

Image Credits: 

1.    Trump mask: Bighedz, at http://www.bighedz.com/370-large_default/donald-trump-life-size-celebrity-face-mask.jpg

2.    Sketch of a Tudor mask performance:http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-itDZKNB9m_U/TwMa9HLK5FI/AAAAAAAAAaw/xYvBapTN5cw/s1600/cannibal_masque.jpg

3.    Russian icon of the Old Testament Trinity by Andrey Rublev, between 1408 and 1425: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity#/media/File:Andrej_Rubl%C3%ABv_001.jpg

4.    Self-expression. Christopher Michel—The bon vivant: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Hipsters#/media/File:The_bon_vivant_(15088508430).jpg

5.    TheodorosVryzakis, Byron at Missolonghi: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/George_Gordon_Byron#/media/File:Lord_Byron_at_Missolonghi.jpg

6.    Jean HyppoliteFlandrin, Napoleon III in 1863: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napoleon_III#/media/File:Napoleon_III_Flandrin.jpg

7.    Obama in tears: Image in Jammie Nicholas, “Oh My Dear God—Are You One of Those Single Tear People?”: ( ”: https://www.onlineopen.org/oh-my-dear-god-are-you-one-of-those-single-tear-people

William Ramp

About William Ramp

William Ramp teaches sociology at the University of Lethbridge, in Alberta, Canada. He’s bemused to find himself in his sixth decade, nursing both a long and faulty memory, and age-inappropriate attitudes. He is fortunate to be organized, inspired and kept in line by dear friends and cheerfully-irreverent children. He contends as best he can with a host of garden-variety demons, imagining that some day he will beat them all, but suspecting he really should invite them in for coffee and a chat at fireside. Though trained in academic prose, he’s returning to a love of creative and incidental writing left behind in high school. That love is now his lifeline; a way to retain a footing on new paths and to contribute to uncaged and free-range conversation. His interests tend to be intellectual, but he delights in poring over antique machinery, grafting strange sprigs onto unsuspecting trees, listening to frogs in spring, watching thunderstorms outside and in bare feet, and talking to crows and magpies. He bumbles at night around the porch-lights of culture and ideas, and gravitates to redolent old things left at the curb of modern life. He tries not to let frustration with bad politics and worse news eclipse his sometimes wayward and over-ardent affections for the things of this world. Banner(1) photo used by permission of photographer Penny McCoy: www.pennyphotographics.com; banner(2) photo used by permission of photographer Bradley Rawlings; headshot photo by Louis-Philippe Valiquete, Laboratoire d'études durkheimienne, UQAM.
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