a triviality perhaps of decisive significance

Tue, 18 Jan 1994 23:18:07 EST

Stalin and Trotsky were relating poorly.]
Last week, Mike Lieber wrote what I took as a good review of a post
about, inter alia, usage of "'experience' in the naive sense." Specifically,
he said, "when you get on a roll, you really ride on slicks." I took this
wording to mean that there was something "spontaneous" about that post.
Which is false, since that was one of the posts which was written out
beforehand on a scratchpad, then edited; I have the first draft right
here. As the intended *effect* was to induce the "experience" of reading
*apparently spontaneously written* text, *whatever might be meant by
experience*, I can add another layer of complexity or contradiction to
this discussion.

In the meantime, we learned that Seeker1 was, in fact, Jewish. Because
he *looked* Jewish; don't ask me. In the same post, he stated rather
truculently, why bother, that he was "deliberately countercultural."
By which, I presume, he meant that he was offering a critique of what
I call Academic High Style prose and other features of the Cognitive
Norm Image (after Hoetink's "Somatic Norm Image"). It is indeed rather
important to do this, but my preferred way of doing it, which I can't
do at the moment, is to exploit the signification system of the readership
to contrive a piece of writing which *seems* to be in no way *Stupid*, yet
which does not correspond to the Cognitive Norm Image, which is the way
that *Smart* people *do* it. (There was an occasion, a year and a half
back, when I switched to Academic High Style, inducing Steve Maack, our
departed budget-cut colleague, to doubt my existence, which proved a
supposition that the *Smart* reader's *experience*, whatever is meant
by that, of *Smartness* being *faked* is a very serious threat; hence
the ensuing thread at that time as to whether I existed or not, which
seemingly went on till the threat was exorcised.)

The "experience" of the *absolute* character of the Cognitive Norm
Image is clearly of central, perhaps irrationally central, importance
to the *cognitive elite*, those who are *Smart* by social construction.
I'll even go so far as to suggest that such importance is at the root
of much of the heated debate on epistemological matters and their
relationship or otherwise to postmodernism. Yet this confidence is
misplaced. One of the hallmarks of the cognitive, in our culture, is
its de-eroticization, for example. Yet, when we turn to Biblical Hebrew
and Aramaic, we find "know" and "knowledge" used for both the cognitive
sense and for the meanings "have sex with" and "sexual intercourse." In
Classical Athens, as in our own civilization, abstract discourse was
conducted in the *symposion*; but the Athenian version denoted a sex-and-
drinking party. The education of the Superior Man, which originally meant
"son of a lord," in the curriculum used by Confucius laid heavy stress on
the martial arts, which in our culture are confined to military academies.
The supernatural is peripheralized here, the Queen of Knowledges there; with
Mizrach and Read in disagreement as to whether the paranormal should be
lumped with it or split.

*Experience* of the absolute character of the cognitive is assumed,
taken for granted, in much the same way as the *experience of experience*
is taken for granted in the culture as a whole. We may take it as a
*starting point* that, whether we are socially constructed Smart or Stupid,
we are *naively experiencing* something about what we are discoursing
about; and that we cannot be so Smart, whether by social construction or
essence, as to root out all the *naive experiencing* we habitually do
and yet *be capable of communicating anything at all*.

*** Is anyone following thus far? ***

This is why the *experience of experience*, in our own culture, is so
slippery, and never more so when we borrow the vocabulary of religion, as
some of us are now doing, or studying it, as others of us are now doing,
which need not be mutually exclusive. Which reminds me, actually, this is
a story I'd wanted to tell before, and I've fooled myself into thinking
that I'd succeeded in making it relevant, of the Divine Light Mission,
which I "studied," together with Ralph Larkin, during 1973-1975: The
Observed were incessantly using recruitment rhetoric such as, "Come
experience this experience that we're all experiencing." We called
our approach "textured analysis," which we'd picked up from ethnomethodology,
and which I frankly cannot explicate any more than I've seen anyone except
Geertz explicate "thick description." We indeed picked it up, like
terminological lint, from a third member of the "research team," himself
an ethnomethodologist: He claimed that ethnomethodologists held that
the *experience of the Observed* must be taken seriously in field work.
But who knows what ethnomethodology, collectively, stood for, with any
certainty. (And where is it now, gone the way of all sociological fads,
I suppose, itself a major research problem rarely undertaken.) Who departed
the "research team" after a heated argument as to whether the weight of
the evidence supported the bias that explained the Observed by recourse
to reductionism, or the bias that repudiated reductionism. Which is rather
to say, *experienced* the repudiation of reductionism, if that is the
correct wording, since reductionism cannot be wholly excluded from the
task of Explaining the Observed if one is attempting to communicate with
another Explainer. Specifically, in writing it up, we held that the
devotees' Direct Experience of God did not explain why the Divine Light
Mission was the way it was. The thrust of the analysis had to do with
the circumstance that the Divine Light Mission was self-consciously
absurd, bizarre, ridiculous; and took this very seriously.

In 1975 I attended a session of the Eastern Sociological Society on
field methods, just sat in the audience, and at the close of the question
period made a crack to the effect that I'd "had a Direct Experience of God,
but it was nothing much." To this day I recall how the face of a young man,
Asst Prof something at the University of Pittsburgh, was frozen with fear;
his jaw fell. This is something one cannot do when in earshot of Explainers.
What I'd alluded to was something this simple and straightforward: Ralph
Larkin had pried out of an expert meditator the details of how one was
*supposed* to *experience* the Primordial Vibration, where said *experience*
was taken for a "Direct Experience of God." Having, with the aid of a little
LSD and the use of the meditation techniques called Knowledge, induced an
"experience" which matched in every detail the advance expectations, I was
satisfied that I'd done it; and one could see how some college student might
find the Primordial Vibration impressive.

Try Explaining that to an Explainer.

Daniel A. Foss