Bauman and Weil on the present and the future

I found a couple of quotes this evening, and was amused by their juxtaposition.

“In what we do we hardly ever start from a clean slate. The site on which we build is always cluttered: the past lingers in the same ‘present’ in which the future tries to take root.” – Zygmunt Bauman
(via The Sociological Imagination on Facebook)

“The future is made of the same stuff as the present” – Simone Weil
quoted on the Transhumanism website

I have transcribed the full Bauman quote here (found on Google Books – Living on Borrowed Time, 2010):

“In what we do (both in personal life and in history) we hardly ever start from a clean slate. The site on which we build is always cluttered: the past lingers in the same ‘present’ in which the future tries (sometimes by design, but mostly stealthily or surreptitiously) to take root. All continuity is stuffed with discontinuities; no discontinuity (‘rupture’, U-turn, ‘new beginning’) is free from residues and relics of the staus quo ante.
Adorno rightly warned that in trying to make our theoretical models consistent, harmonious, eindeutig, ‘pure’ and logically elegant (as we tend to do, and can’t help doing, whenever we theorize), we advertently impute to reality more rationality than it possesses and could possibly acquire. All theoretical models are for that reason utopias (not necessarily in the sense of ‘a good society’ but certainly in that other sense of the word – of ‘nowhere places’. Our theoretical models can breathe and move freely only in the habitat of academic offices, seminar rooms and scholarly symposiums – and rest only when ossified in their printed or video records. On the other hand, the messiness of our reports, offensive and offending as it is to a logic-loving mind, sometimes results from disorderly, sloppy thinking – but more often than not from a sober and faithful reproduction of the messiness of the reported objects.”

Lovely stuff. I was reminded on John Law’s book After Method which of course draws on ANT and anthropology to explore the messiness of research and of the realities that it aims to capture.

I found this quite reassuring, as my thinking is all over the place at the minute, but I hope that the main reason for this is because the stuff I’m trying to get my head round is so complicated!

Anyway, what do I take from the Weil and Bauman quotes? At least a couple of things:

a) any solution to our problems has to start with where we are at now, not some wished-for alternative universe scenario;
b) the whole enchilada is not going to change overnight;
c) no matter what happens ecologically and economically, we will still be trying to solve similar kinds of problems within similar kinds of worlds for the foreseeable future.


4 thoughts on “Bauman and Weil on the present and the future

  1. your couple of things fit well with an approach known as ‘the solution focus’. (SF)as opposed to the problem focus.

    google the phrase, there’s tons of stuff on line from lots of folk. the ideas were very succesfully popularised by two chums of mine, mark mckergow and paul jackson. the underpinning comes from steve de shayzer, insoo kim berg milton erikson and such, bateson also.

    I sometimes prefer the phrase ‘solution-seeking’ because solutions is such a clapped out meme. everybody (from BT to your window cleaner) claims to be focussing on solutions. window cleaners become purveyors of glazing clarity solutions.

    your couple of things are big part of the starting point of most SF related work.

    (and I would counsel against using sociology and philosophy as a way into dealing with complexity, btw. sociologists love analysing problems rather than dealing with them)

    the concept of the ‘future perfect’ is a big part of the SF toolkit. this picks up your point a.

    we invite the ‘problem-holder’ to imagine IN DETAIL the preferred future, not to dwell in the dream, but to then ask, crucially, is any of that happening, in a tiny way, already. the what is already HAPPENING is the point, not the imagined future, yet without the imagined future we could not focus on the desirable change that is already occurring.

    a quick cliched example: a man is always rowing with his wife. ”she never listens“.
    he desires a future in which his wife listens to him (don’t we all)
    the therapist (SF was from therapy roots, now widely applied in organisations) might ask: “can you think of any occasion when she did listen?”

    Those of us that tried to tackle complexity (my book ‘Navigating Complexity: the essential guide to complexity theory in business and management’ – look it up ) using complexity science were trying to find the simple approach to the complicated.

    when I discovered SF I seized upon it as a universal acid* for deranged complicatedness.

    (*Dennett’s term for Darwinist thinking)

    hope this is of interest.




    Interpretation and Overinterpretation (Tanner Lectures in Human Values)
    By: Umberto Eco Stefan Collini(Editor) Jonathan Culler(Contributor) Richard Rorty(Contributor) Christine Brooke-Rose(Contributor)

    The limits of interpretation–what a text can actually be said to mean–are of double interest to a semiotician whose own novels’ intriguing complexity has provoked his readers into intense speculation as to their meaning. Eco’s illuminating and frequently hilarious discussion ranges from Dante to The Name of the Rose, Foucault’s Pendulum, to Chomsky and Derrida, and bears all the hallmarks of his inimitable personal style. Three of the world’s leading figures in philosophy, literary theory and criticism take up the challenge of entering into debate with Eco on the question of interpretation. Richard Rorty, Jonathan Culler and Christine Brooke-Rose each add a distinctive perspective on this contentious topic, contributing to a unique exchange of ideas among some of the foremost and most exciting theorists in the field.

    and my favourite Ecowarrior!


  3. Dear Arthur

    Thank you for your comments. It is quite rude of me not to have replied before now, but the last few weeks have been just very busy and this blog is hardly a priority!

    Anyway, yes I have heard of Solutions Focus and it makes a lot of sense to me (and yes I have read your book too!) (and Dennett’s book DDI, several times and in detail :-) !) I need to apply the SF approach to myself a lot more often, or even better I need to find a mentor to help me envision my near future. Laura Walsh has a knack of this – she would be a good mentor for anyone I guess.

    My dear mother, Creationist that she is, bought me DDI when I was doing my A-levels, I think she assumed it was some kind of rebuttal of evolution.

    Thanks for the Eco debate recommendation (which for some reason got caught in the WordPress spam filter) – interpretation of texts is not a keen interest of mine, though I should probably gen up a bit on it. Recently looking at some of John Law’s writing, he takes Latour’s Actor-Network Theory ideas and re-casts them as “Material Semiotics”, something you can also find in Dennett (where he is most similar to Rorty) in the indeterminacy of translation, e.g. in Dennett’s discussions of reverse engineering where we don’t need to work out the Real Intention of the Designer (or Author), but can deal with Purpose as a function of function, if you see what I mean. What something is ‘for’ is what it is good for.

    I am sure I will continue to use philosophy and maybe even some sociology, but I note your words in any case!!


  4. hi FB

    it was remiss of me to not enquotify “The limits of interpretation–what a text can//most exciting theorists in the field.” being as how it was wholly lifted from the review.

    And thank you again for reading my book.

    I’m getting used to long delays in blog commentry and reply – I imagine whales feel like this when they talk across the Pacific. It’s always interesting to read your reply, then go ‘what the f**k is he on about?’ then have to re-read what I said, then realise that I also have to re-read what you said that I was commenting on in the first place, then go ‘what the f**k was I on about?’ then cobble together something that looks a bit interesting. Also you might notice that I’m letting slip the surly bondage trousers of academe a bit, because, unlike you, I don’t have to talk academic. I’m also lifting my kimono a little to reveal some of my dubious sources, like Herbert, and come to think of it, Herbert Simon.

    If you want dodgy trans-post-man-pat-human get a load of this:

    I particularily enjoyed chortling along with this:

    Postgenderism: Beyond the gender binary

    and this:

    All Together Now: An argument for animal uplift. published in a journal, so it must be scien

    As I have inescapably demonstrated, there is gold to be mined from good science fiction. I would also contend that there is pyrites to be mined from poor science fiction.

    Are our taxes paying for this stuff?

    Not a dig at you – you are skating gracefully on the thin ice….so far…. was that a creak?


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