We Need Some Economics of Pomo
| Nicolai Foss |
I am re-reading Tyler Cowen’s excellent What Price Fame? for the second time. I continue to be amazed by the number of bright ideas that this slim volume is packed with. Among the many observations of the ways that celebrities and critics can game their mutual relations is this one:
Some performers manipulate the style of their product to shift the incentives of critics to pay attention … Unclear authors, at least if they have substance and depth, receive more attention from critics and require more textual exegesis. Individual critics can establish their own reputations by studying such a writer and by promoting one interpretation of that writer’s work over another. These same critics will support the inclusion of the writer in the canon to promote the importance of their own criticism … In the economics literature, enormous attention is devoted to the vagaries of John Maynard Keynes’ General Theory. The monetary writings of Milton Friedman or Irving Fisher, far clearer and not inferior as practical guides to monetary policy, do not receive equal attention from historians of thought (p.34-5).
Perhaps this observation may help us to account for the increasing prominence of pomo ideas in management (economics seems so far to have stayed almost immune to this disease).
Many management scholars, particularly in Europe, endorse the thought of Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze and others. They argue that the thoughts of these philosophers have profound implications for management studies. Here is a paper that argues that Deleuze’s work holds important implications for understanding firefighting.
I have never been really able to make sense of the summaries I have been given of the thoughts of recent French philosophers, with the thought of Foucault as a partial exception (although I think he is dead wrong). I will not automatically dismiss a field because of its seemingly garbled terminology. However, what is one to do with a passage such as this from Gilles Deleuze, the allegedly most “radical” of the bunch:
There is a book from which one can learn many things, entitled Sexual Life in Ancient China …. This book shows clearly that manuals of love and manuals of military strategy are indiscernible, and that new strategic and military statements are produced at the same time as new amorous statements. That’s curious. I ask myself: OK, how can we extract ourselves, at the same time, from a structuralist vision that seeks correspondences, analogies and homologies, and from a Marxist vision that seeks determinants. I indeed see one possible hypothesis, but it’s so confused … It’ perfect. It would consist in saying: at a given moment, for reasons that, of course, must still be determined, it is as if social space were covered by what we would have to call an abstract machine. We would have to give a name to this non-qualified abstract machine, a name that would mark its absence of qualification, so that everything would be clear. We could call it — at the same time, this abstract machine, at a give moment, will break with the abstract machine of the preceding epochs — in other words, it will always be at the cutting edge … thus it would receive the name machinic point.
And so it continues. (From www.webdeleuze.com.)
Deleuze, I am being told, is hip. He is strong in the humanities. His interpreters are legion. Why, I ask myself, can many people read and endorse what my gut feeling tells me is simply pretentious mumbo-jumbo? We need some economic reasoning to reveal the rationality behind this.