Archive for the ‘Introduction’ Category

Intro

Dirty theory is theory mixed up with accounts of experiences or – at least – mixed up with real-life story-telling. Not every theory is rooted in experience. Many pieces of theorizing are theoretical inbreed. They are rooted in pieces of theorizing, in reading other theorists. inbreeding is what most philosophers do today. They write texts about texts about texts and lose touch with the reality that the first text originated in (and which the first writer had probably already eliminated). If philosophy has a poor reputation with the larger public, it’s exactly because of this tendency. If you haven’t read all the texts about which the text you are reading is, you don’t see why what the 13th theorist says is relevant. Maybe you don’t even understand. It’s not always your fault.

I’m thinking about renaming my blog.

The idea has been spinning around in my head for a few days. This usually precedes a blog post. I’ve got an idea I’d like to develop. I try not to forget about it. It then comes back to me all the time until I open my laptop and start writing (sometimes in online, sometimes in offline mode, this time in quick press).

Dirty vs. Pure Theory

Now, to get it out of my head: here’s the pitch of “Dirty Theory”. I love theory, that’s for sure. I think theorizing and reading theory are pleasures in themselves. And grasping conceptual differences makes your experience richer: where you saw one, you’ll see two if you found a new distinction.
For me theorizing is about creating, introducing or modifying concepts, but I think I mentioned that before.
I oppose Dirty Theory to Pure Theory.

I think I knew about this difference long before, I even wrote about it (all my quotes are excerpts I used in my Master Thesis about fragmented, Discontinuous Thinking and Writing, Aphorisms, Maximes). But it’s my last blog post that made me realize that Dirty Theory was really what I wanted to produce. In that post, I only slightly camouflaged the occasion of the distinction between memories as experience and as stories, ie. my having met an ex-girlfriend I was very much in love with 10 years ago for the first time after 8 years.

N.B. One of the reasons of doing theory of art and art-criticism where works and pictures play an essential role is that I wanted to get out of producing texts about texts about texts… . This is probably also one of the reasons why I co-founded a start-up.

So is pure theory always theory-based theory? No. You can write an original piece of pure theory that’s not dependent upon another piece of theory. It’s pure theory if you don’t account for the real-world experience from which it arouse. Pure theory is theory where the theorist only makes theoretical statements, sometimes complimenting them with invented examples.

Purity is gradual. Something can be more or less pure. If you use real examples remote from your own experience – like when you quote historical examples – is less pure than only using invented examples, like most analytical philosophers. If you don’t use any examples in theorizing, you practice totally pure theory. If you only talk about experiences and only hint at some concept, you are usually not doing theory at all. In fact, most of our stories (whoever the teller) include some theorizing, i.e. abstraction, conceptualization, generalization.

Examples

In terms of concision, the minimal form of pure theory is what the French call “La Maxime”. Something like the following is a typical Maxime:

« Comme c’est le caractère des grands esprits de faire entendre en peu de paroles beaucoup de choses, les petits esprits au contraire ont le don de beaucoup parler, et de ne rien dire. »

As it is proper of great minds to let you understand a lot with few words, small minds have the gift of talking a lot and to say very little. (La Rochefoucauld, François de : Maximes et Réflexions diverses, Gallimard Folio, 2002, Maxime 142)

N.B. This is a meta-maxime, a maxime about maximes.

Notice that La Rochefoucault – who made the expression and the genre popular – isn’t the only one to write Maximes, and that you’ll find Maximes with writers where you didn’t quite expect them, like here:

« On n’est jamais excusable d’être méchant, mais il y a quelque mérite à savoir qu’on l’est ; et le plus irréparable des vices est de faire le mal par bêtise. »

There’s no excuse for being evil, but there’s some merit in knowing that you are, the most uncorrectible vice is to hurt by sillyness.

This was written by Baudelaire (Baudelaire, Charles : « La fausse monnaie », Le spleen de Paris, XXVIII, Mille et une nuits, Paris, 2000, 58), who is not usually a pure theorist in any sense. In most of his texts, the proportion of story-telling (accounts of personal experience) is extremely high.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, like Robert Musil, was critical of maxims (his “aphorism” is my “maxime”), but he himself wasn’t usually much better than the Karl Kraus he criticizes. Like most philosophers , he was somehow (strangely) trapped with the idea that his ideas had to be formulated in the most general and abstract form to be worth of reading.

He wrote some maxims like this one:

„Laß Dich nicht von dem Beispiel anderen führen, sondern von der Natur“ (Vermischte Bemerkungen, 53)

Don’t let yourself be guided by the example of others, but by nature. (Wittgenstein, Ludwig : Mixed Remarks/Vermischte Bemerkungen, 53, all translations are mine)

Now look how different the following remark ends:

“Es ist für unsere Betrachtung wichtig, daß es Menschen gibt, von denen jemand fühlt, er werde nie wissen, was in ihnen vorgeht. Er werde sie nie verstehen. (Engländerinnen für Europäer.)”

“It’s important for our investigations that there are people of whom someone feels that he’ll never know what’s happening in them. He will never understand them. (English women for Europeans).” (Wittgenstein, Ludwig : Mixed Remarks/Vermischte Bemerkungen, 88)

This (very touching remark) is a minimal example of dirty theory for me. But this is Wittgenstein writing for himself. The Mixed Remarks have been published after Wittgenstein’s death. Looking at the works he actually published or prepared for publication, I’m positive that Wittgenstein would have eliminated the parenthesis had he wanted to publish this maxime (which is, once more, a meta-maxime, where he gives himself indications about the mindset that should guide his writing). Why the parenthesis? Well, I think Wittgenstein wanted to make sure he’d be able to go back to the occasion of his thought to check if the general principle he had extracted had been correct or if there would be alternative principles, maybe also to be able to develop an ambivalent statement in the right direction. I use this kind of notes myself.

There are writers that tend to be dirty theorists, others that don’t. Botho Strauss and Baudelaire are very dirty theorists, Paul Valéry and Marcel Proust are rather dirty theorists (but not always), Karl Kraus is a pure theorist in his aphorisms, a dirty theorist in his essays… . Wittgenstein? Even though he criticizes the aphoristic form, he is as pure a theorist as you can get (in his published works). Most of the Tractatus could be called a caricature of Pure Theory.

Why write Dirty rather than Pure Theory?

Now, what’s the point of Dirty Theory? Well, I think one of the main points is the one Kant (rather a pure theorist most of the times, but not always) famously made: Concepts without observations are empty.

This is not what Kant meant it to be, but it could be a principle for writing. Use observation and not only concept. Why? Because it will clarify your concept. It will show where it can be applied. And what observation could be better than the observation which gave you the idea of the concept?

Well, actually it seems like a fictive one  – from which all the contingent aspects of reality and the private implications have been removed -could be better. This is how most theorists (implicitly) answer this question. But there is something hypocritical to making up examples instead of just using the experience where your thought originated, and something doubtful too. In Musil’s Man without Qualities, this is one of the topics. I also tend to think that there’s a richness in your initial experience which the concept doesn’t necessarily account for entirely.

Like Musil, I also feel like it was somehow unethical to pretend that theory adopts the point of view from nowhere. And it’s much less fun. Obviously, for theory inbreed the question doesn’t really arise. But theory inbreed is not what I’m interested in.

As what I want to practice is Dirty Theory, well, I believe that renaming this blog is quite appropriate.

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Disclusure: I’m German. While I like to be sophisticated in many respects, there are some where I’m pretty simple. Sex is one of them, food’s another. Now, I know what you’ll say: “Sure. You looove it simple. Like everyone who tries to be sophisticated.” Check out Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt’s Twitter Profile Pic, as an example.

But that’s not what I mean. I’m really simple. I don’t wear my business shirt and a tie under my loincloth. Actually, I don’t wear a loincloth at all, but an I ❤ New York T-Shirt. But I’m getting off track.

What I want to talk about is how to handle your culinary needs as a German eater in Paris.

Don’t get me wrong, I love foie gras and magret de canard, I eat my steak saignant, my canard rosé, I know where I get the best steak tartare, I’m an amateur of Ile Flottante, I can tell apart Crème Caramel and Crème Brûlé (well, okay, I don’t need bread when I eat pasta – mais passons). But sometimes I need some Sauerkraut, Rotkraut mit Kartoffelpuree, Bretzeln (that’s the REAL plural of one Bretzel), Saussages, Schwäbischer Kartoffelsalat, Maultaschen, Schupfnudeln (or Buabaspitzla for amateurs), not to forget my love for Spätzle (Discloser 2: I’m Swabian), etc. to be happy.

I love Weissbeer to be brewed according to the Deutsche Reinheitsgebot, and usually call it Weizenbier, no sugar or conservatives or artificial colors add. I like my beer to come from Germany and not only alluding to my country (Bavaria) while actually being Dutch or pretending to be German while being who-knows-from-where and containing who-knows-what (Edelweiss, and Bavaria, by the way). I like beer to contain nothing but Hop, Malt, Water. There’s not much, but beer is one thing I’m chauvinistic about. It’s just, if concepts can have sex, they also can have nationality and, hell, beer is a German concept. Btw. I’m waiting for Heineken to publish a statics of how many people think it’s a German beer. Ever asked yourself why Dutch breweries give it a German name whenever they launch a new beer?

So for those who share a few of these passions and who also share my beautiful fate of living in Paris, they’ll know the trouble of importations. And I thought I’d share some of my insights with them (in English, because I still hope to convince one or the other non-german of the value of German food – Oh yes, I have a mission!).

So where to start? Sauerkraut. Who-knows-why, but the French call it choucroûte. The thing is “sauer” means “sour” in German and “chou” doesn’t. My hypothesis is that that’s why the French (even those from Strasbourg) didn’t figure out that Sauerkraut had to be sour not to taste lame. I haven’t been able to find any French brand of Sauerkraut that was actually making a sour kraut (I’m still looking, so feel free to comment here – as on anything else I’m saying or seeking, feel free to comment in German or French). In case of despair, you can buy a French sourkraut and cook it in the juice you get out of your glass of sour cornichons. I had to do it. It works okay.

The other option is this place. Well, I’m positive that there are some people who will love me for this recommendation. It’s a small shop held by a French dude, who’s a bit annoying, but who sells about everything from Germany, and sells it for high, but not undecent prices (he drives his transporter to Germany once a week and gets stuff – so you can also order). He’s got Tannenzäpfle beer, Erdinger Alkoholfrei, Becks Gold, Weihenstephaner, and everything else that it’s impossible to understand how the French can live without.

You need to go to the market behind la mairie du 10ième to get all this. And while you’re in the corner you might also go to Schmid Traiteur, 76 Boulevard de Strasbourg, to get some Bretzels. But they are not the best I know. At least they are not as dry as the American Bretzels and you can stuff butter in  (how the Alsaciens could have imported Brezeln without importing the concept of Butterbrezel is one of the great enigma of history)

Apart from that, I just discovered Bretzels can also be found here and are supposed to be amazing.

But going to the Dixième Arrondissement each time you have an urgent need for German food might be difficult. So here’s where to get stuff more easily:

Lidl. Is a German supermarket chain that pushed its way into France and is “Lidelizing Paris”, i.e. you can now find empty cheap cans of Lidl beer everywhere. Diese Bierdosen sind ein Stück Heimat, das mich an meine Schulzeit erinnert und auf das ich gerne verzichtet hätte. What CAN you do? But guess what! The Lidl beer is German beer, brewed as it should be. And it’s pretty good. Same for the beer “premier prix” at Franprix, which comes from Rheinland, Königswinter or Siegburg or so. Lidl is also one of the few places where you find decent sausages, real Wiener Würstchen. The problem with the average French sausage made for cooking it yourself (not the dry ones, they are amazing, as good as it gets in terms of sausage culture!), is that it’s uniform, it tastes the same from the surface right to the core, and that’s like…nothing.  The Wiener is, well, “cracky”. Another decdent beer is the Mosel Beer at Franprix – I like it alcohol-free too. But I think it’s of American origin.

As for Spätzle, I’ve found some of the best Spätzle I ever tasted ever, here in Paris, at Monoprix. They are fresh, which means that they are kept refrigerated, and they are often gone, because, apparently, I’m not the only one who knows about them. The funny thing is: they come from Trochtelfingen, a small village about 10 km from where I grew up, they are called Zahner Traiteur Gourmet Eierspätzle, Alb Gold just bought the company and I hope they’ll push some more of their products into Monoprix soon.

Oh and while you are at Monoprix get some cans of Paulaner Weissbier.

Oh yes! They do have it.

I also know there is a German Bar in Paris. It’s called Café Titon and is in rue … Titon. The legend goes that they have Currywurst. But I never managed to get in. For the worldcup-matches it was too crowded and in August it was closed for renovation.

Here an important cooking advice for cooking Sauerkraut:

Cook it for 10-20 minutes (according to the indications on the bag or can) with water (use some vegetable- or meat-cube to give it more taste), then take the water out and pour the Sauerkraut into a frying pan, where you’ve already prepared and fryied some onions. They don’t say it on the package, but it’s very important: you have to fry Sauerkraut to make it real tasty and mixing the Sauerkraut with onions is another important thing to do. Then you serve it with potatoes, which you can also fry in the same pan (but obviously you have to cook them before, and fry them before you put in the Sauerkraut, or else they’ll attract the water of the kraut and get soaky.

Serve it with the better kind of the French sausage if you don’t have Bratwurst. The smoked sausage (Saucisse Fumée à cuire) that’s refrigerated at Franprix is pretty good to go with it.

Enjoy!

A little update:

Things have moved a little on the German food front since I first wrote this post. There are mainly two updates : there now is a small chain of German snack bars. It’s called “Le Stube” (http://www.lestube.fr/). And there are Spätzle in the amazing Reflets de France brand at  Carrefour, which curates great regional specialites from France (Spätzle are obviously from “Alsace” for them) and at Leader Price  which recently created a brand competing with Reflets de France (couldn’t find any Spätzle at my local Franprix so far). They are not in the “Rayon Frais”, but in the past section as they are dry. They are both very good and only cost around 1 Euro. Oh, and at Dia (yes, at Dia) there is both a good variety of “Wiener Würstchen” and a very tasty Schwarzwälder Schinken (Jambon cru de la Forêt Noire). As Schwarzwald is a Domain d’Origine Protégé, the Schinken really comes from the Black Forest.

…is itself a Small Concept.

For the French Philosophers Deleuze and Guattari, philosophy is about creating new concepts. And even though I’ve been trained in another tradition (philosophy today is a lot about traditions), I never found a more appealing off-the-shelf definition of philosophical activity.

As opposed to most Philosophers (with a big P) I’ve always felt uncomfortable theorizing big concepts (like The Will, Freedom, God, The Mind, Good and Evil, Art, Beauty). I never got anything satisfactory out of it. So at one point I realized that what I liked to think about were concepts like pictures (which is probably medium-big) or the fleemarket (small)… . The trouble is … most of my conceptualizations start with observation, they are about the things I encounter in the world. And events always distract me when I try to think. So, to do this fundametal trait justice, I added it in the title even though it makes the phrase less catchy.

Now, this is not a philosophy blog (I hope to keep it casual) & I started it because I love to think and theorize and because the other places where I occasionally write only allow me to cover a limited array of my interests (mainly art and innovation/business/the WEB). While this blog is necessarily going to be about what I find interesting, it’s not egocentric. I’d like to say that it’s … about the my world.

Theorizing is one of the things that make me trip. Now what’s theorizing for me? Theorizing has to do with seeing communalities and differences between phenoma. Some things look similar to most people, but once you get close enough, you discover their differences. Other things look very different, but share a common structure below their surface (this is probably one of the main ideas of “structuralism”). I also like to link things that seem disconnected.

On the level of experiences (living is a lot about experiences for me), this activity is enriching. If you see differences (two or more) where you used to see one, this makes your experience of the same thing richer. And one of the subtitles that I thought of for this blog was “I’ll teach you differences”. I liked it because one of the thinkers I feel at home with is Ludwig Wittgenstein and because he considered using this phrase as the motto of his Philosophical Investigations. Obviously I didn’t take it because it sounds a bit arrogant (and I suspect that’s why Wittgenstein prefered to use “Überhaupt hat der Fortschritt das an sich, dass er viel grösser ausschaut als er wirklich ist” (Nestroy) instead – “And by the way, progress has this specificity to always look bigger than it really is” (Nestroy). But the fact that I considered it as a motto for my blog and that I have been thinking about it for many years still shows something.

“Breaking Theory” is a title that still surprises me. I had never used or read the expression until 10 minutes before it became the name of this blog – which makes it very different from the other concepts and potential titles and subtitles I evoke above.

While it is risky to pick such a title, it might also be beneficial because I don’t have any clear understanding and preconceptions of what it might mean. I like it because it evokes fragments and aphorisms, my favourite forms of theorizing and because I believe in the power of discontinuity.