4.28.2006

Second Point on Crowley's Text

I am re-slogging through the invention section of the book, and I'm trying to locate the moments where Dr. Crowley locates important moments of habitus formation. I like the way she tries to construct a coherence between written, spoken, performed, and lived expression (the two-part definition of Hall's articulation--utterances and connectivity [like an articulated bus]--creates a nice unity). Reading an article on eco-fashion in Wired magazine brings up some of the difficult layering that contemporary rhetoric has a hard time addressing (I think because of our continued emphasis on the one-at-a-time-ness of linear argumentation). To wit:
*snip*
We had a hard time explaining why people bought hybrids," Kurani says. If consumers calculated the cost of the car and how much gas money a newfangled engine would save, the numbers wouldn't add up. But few actually did the math - and those who did didn't care. "We have yet to find anyone for whom saving money was the most important factor."

Instead, as Kurani (an engineer) and his partners (an anthropologist and a PhD student) interviewed hybrid owners, they discovered that the cars were "symbols of identity." Buying a Prius or Honda Civic hybrid was less about careful economic reasoning than about self-expression and self-understanding. "People construct their identities as a narrative. The project of our lives is to tell a more interesting story about ourselves," says Kurani. "In large part that's what we see happening with hybrids."
* end snip*

*disclosure*Sport and I own a Honda Civic Hybrid*/disclosure*. The first premise is that "few actually did the math - and those who did, didn't care," may well be true for those interviewed (we did the math, and we definitely cared), but the contrarian or disinterested (read: liberal) stance that the writer (and presumably the researchers) take(s) towards hybrid owners reveals an interestedness in finding an archetypical or mythologic behavior in the objectified "other" of what the sub-head describes as "today's eco-radicals." There is a distinct separation of "self-expression" and "economic reasoning" in the second paragraph. This "self-expression and self-understanding" then gets comfortably elided with "identities as narrative." So far, not a huge problem from one of the ostensible objects (that is, me). Later on, though, the division becomes an unbridgable chasm--as in, "Limousine Liberals." Funny thing happens in these paragraphs that happens in nearly every narrative. The othering erases the relational quality to language (Derrida's observations in action). So, the fact that I actually ended up paying less for the car has been effectively erased (the "ojective economic" analysis measures cars for only about 80,000 miles [a ridiculously short lifespan for a Honda] and elides the differences between the conspicuously alternate Prius and the almost-identical Civic Hybrid).

While there are some generalizable propositions to this article ("people tell stories about their identity"; "cars are incredibly expressive"), these qualities are particularized to specific groups for the purpose of creating the very moral heirarchy the article accuses its objects of creating ("silly liberal elites"). Lest the reader think I am defending the straw liberal elites, this parallel argument is being used to bring down potential Presidential candidate George Allen ("did you know he drove around in a car with a Confederate Flag???" kinds of blog entries, stories, etc.). These careless (or, more accurately, carefully unfair) textual, visual, audio, and multi-medic elisions are what drive readers. Create a tension (the world is too complicated) and appear to resolve it ("save us from terrorists and liberals" and "Christian fundies are crazy").

These moves that end up re-creating (and reinforcing) particular habitus heirarchies and arrays travel through texts, through environments, and even through neurochemical and neuroelectrical fields. I can see the heirarchizing and erasure on the page, and I understand the sorts of terministic screens that people use to construct, select, and deflect particular aspects of their perception (and Dr. Crowley covers this nicely). Still, I am looking for more theories of ritual to help explain some of the habitus that still seems murky, submerged, and unparticular.

2 comments:

Lance said...

These moves . . . travel through texts, through environments, and even through neurochemical and neuroelectrical fields.

Well put. I especially like the acknowledgement that our experiences literally affect how our bodies/brains process information (and, therefore, how we react to said information). I think you could add "practices" to the list of things through which these moves travel, too.

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