Various Narcissisms

OK, so the conceit of yesterday’s post — framing my working-through of Bourdieu in the context of my theatre example — was overdone and silly. I’m trying to make this dissertation stuff interesting — really, I am — but I should probably listen to the advice several people have offered: the only people you have to write the dissertation for are the three members of your committee. But isn’t that just a horribly depressing idea? Doesn’t that work against my whole rationale for bringing blogging into the writing classroom in order to make writing matter more? I know the advice is meant to be a relief, a way to deflate a dissertator’s narcissistic and self-important anxiety — but it also makes me say: well then why bother? If I were to use the same logic with my students, I’d tell them: you’re not really learning anything here. You’re just going through the motions for a grade.


In the faint and narcissistic hope that it might be of interest to somebody other than my committee: where Williams traces a classed history of the social trends of ideas in English literature, Bourdieu uses a massive ethnography of French society to compose a general theory of the individual’s relationship to class and culture. According to Bourdieu, taste “functions as a sort of social orientation, a ‘sense of one’s place’, guiding the occupants of a given place in social space towards the social positions adjusted to their properties, and towards the practices or goods which befit the occupants of that position. It implies a practical anticipation of what the social meaning and value of the chosen practice or thing will probably be, given their distribution in social space and the practical knowledge the other agents have of the correspondence between goods and groups” (466-467). Again, class is relational, and performed as an experiential process linking multivariate individual subjectivities to overdetermined objective social structures. In describing the difficulty of defining class, Bourdieu notes “the fuzziness inherent in all practical logics,” but adds, as well, the complicating factor that “people’s image of the classification is a function of their position within it” (473). In that last assertion, we see not only a prefiguring of Linda Brodkey’s remarks on class narcissism (and an echo of Marx’s remark that “men can see nothing around them that is not their own image; every thing speaks to them of themselves”), but also the clearest indication in Bourdieu’s work of a rationale for the movement from a mass definition of class to an individuated definition of class.

Various Narcissisms

One thought on “Various Narcissisms

  • August 10, 2005 at 5:15 pm

    I laughed at your bookending the diss material that way. If it makes it worthwhile in any way to know you did make another human being laugh out loud. (Clever mike, I thought…)

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