John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Sat, 4 Nov 1995 10:50:22 +0900 writes,

>>Both the assumption of the late Capitalist argument and the
millenialist argument is that this "everything old is new again"-
reinvention of the wheel is new again)phenomon is a product of the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It has intensified to some degree
since 1945 because of the explosion of information as well as modern
conceptions of plagiarism and orginal thought which color the
phenomenon. I think you will find that the temptation to ignore one's
elders has crept up before the rise of capitalism much less Late Captialism.
Property relationships both private and corporate begin long before
capitalism anyway. I think you are using an argument that is slightly
forced, Capitalism certainly has shaped the thinking process of the
modern world, but it certainly is not the only influence.<<

Touche' You are entirely right about my abuse of the notion "Late Capitalism."

The impulse to ignore one's elders is, of course, very old indeed. One
could, I suspect, trace its roots to the start of sexual reproduction and the
constant generation of novel gene combinations and observe its effects in
the behavioral flexibility that has made homo sapiens the most adaptable
of organisms. One of the virtues of allowing a bit of biology into one's
anthropology is the recognition that the argument that forgetting clears a
space for new generations and continuing improvement is the cultural
analog of biological arguments for the adaptational virtues of death.

The issue is how to judge the relative weight of the impulse to forget as
opposed to the strength of systemic feedbacks that stimulate or inhibit its
realization. How this judgment might be made would be an interesting
point to discuss.

Forgetting as a way of restructuring the present is, of course, not at all
peculiar to late or any other form of capitalism. One anthropological
observation that has stuck with me all these years is the tendency of
genealogies to reflect current property claims--a genealogy serving more as
a mythical charter than a chronicle of facts.

But another memory that has stuck with me all these years was the
observation made by a teacher of a course in French Enlightenment
literature circa 1964 (the teacher's name is, alas, forgotten, and better
historians than I am should chime in and correct the facts). What I
remember him saying is that in reading the great enlightenment authors,
Voltaire, Diderot, etc., we frequently find whole passages from other
authors reproduced with no acknowledgment whatsover. The point is not
that several great writers were plagiarists, but that plagiarism was a
concept foreign to them. Naively assuming that all were involved in a
shared project of advancing knowledge, they simply picked up and reused
whatever formulation seemed best to them at the time they were writing.

What an oddly attractive idea.


John McCreery