We can at least distinguish four species, and several sub-species of buyers. I’ll focus on the four main species: the common buyer, the nostalgic buyer, the expert buyer and the creative buyer. Although there are some individuals that exemplify all and only traits of their species, most of them display traits of different species and can shift from one to the other, even on the same visit. Different types of buyers can like the same item for different reasons, which implies that there are some objects that appeal to all categories. These should turn out to be the top-sellers at flea markets if my little theory is correct. A seller at a flea market will be much more successful if (s)he knows these categories of buyers and adapts his or her sales pitch.

Different species of buyers are naturally attracted to items of different kinds. As for characterizing items, there seem to be three main characteristics: age, originality, usefulness. We could ad beauty here, but this would get us right away into hell’s kitchen. But let’s say that the beauty (or aesthetic value) is mainly a value for the creative buyer and that for a decorative item, beauty will be part of what makes it useful.

Usefulness and originality are both relative (as is age, but to a much lesser degree). As for now, originality of an item can be defined in terms of the probability of finding a similar or identical object at the same or another flee-market. Originality is thus gradual.

To keep it simple, I define usefulness in terms of frequency of use once acquired. This definition has the virtue of relying on facts rather than value. But it cannot account for some objects that we would call tremendously useful in common speech, like a suction cup used in cleaning sinks, but that we don’t use frequently. Frequency of use is relative (to other objects) and objective, even though the decision for buying an item or not really depends on expected usefulness, which is subjective. This concept is tightly linked to the common buyer.

The common buyer just looks for a simple object to be used like another object of the same kind which (s)he could buy in a store, and the main value of getting it at a flea market will be that it’s cheaper than at the store. The common buyer will likely prefer an item that seems better suited to execute the task (s)he buys it for. Everything else being equal, (s)he will usually prefer a newer item.

There are some sellers who specialize on this species or aspect of buyer personalities. They sell cheap, out-of-the-factory items for everyday use, like toothbrushes, spoons, nails, clothing, etc.

The nostalgic as well as the creative buyers tend to ignore these sellers or even despise them (they usually also tend to display a very different habitus). The behavior of the nostalgic and the creative buyers are similar and they are often interested in the same items, but, again, for different reasons.

The nostalgic buyer can be either a collector or else a romantic. This definition is sketchy, because the nostalgic buyer is just as complex as nostalgia. (S)he finds those items most interesting which remind him or her of a preferred period of time. (S)he will thus be buy those (old) items which represent her favored period.

The expert buyer isn’t emotionally implicated in buying. (S)he buys the items whose price doesn’t reflect their market value. (S)he will either keep them and wait that their price further raises or resell them soon at another place, where (s)he gets the market value for it. (S)he is really a trader at the flea market who buys an object because (s)he thinks that it’s a good deal.

There are now specific high-brow flea markets, like Les Puces du Design in Paris, where expert buyers resell items they got at standard flea markets, often for triple the price they bought them for. People who buy there usually have more money and are willing to pay the premium for someone else having done the sorting at a more standard flea market, where most objects are without interest, and only few actually have high market and aesthetic values.

In many cases, the nostalgic buyer will be ashamed of his or her nostalgia and will pretend to buy for the same reason the expert buyer buys, especially when questioned about a specific item which appealed to him or her because of personal fancy. However, (s)he will only rarely resell an item and the people in his or her environment will end up understanding that (s)he really buys for emotional rather than commercial reasons. If they are nice, they’ll let them go on pretending that they are actually expert buyers.

The creative buyer is probably the most intriguing and complex species. A creative buyer can buy things that nearly nobody else even finds worth looking at. And (s)he’ll be all the happier if they don’t. What makes him or her feel good is that they see something nobody else does. The creative buyer will pull a half hidden item from below a heap of stuff and shout out: “This is fantastic!” or scroll through hundreds of pictures because there might be one (s)he likes.

There are at least two subspecies: the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and the artist.

The DIY likes to restore items, (s)he like the smell of glue, the sound of drilling, and the feeling of polished wood. (S)he will be happy to acquire an item, simply because (s)he likes to restore it, erasing the traces of its use, and making it look fresh. If (s)he is on the internet, (s)he’ll probably love etsy. (S)he doesn’t necessarily like the old to have the patina of the old. (S)he buys an object because of the potential (s)he sees in it.

The artist likes to feel that (s)he sees something in the item that most other people don’t see. (S)he might for example buy an old projector in cheap plastic that runs with old batteries or a host of family photos. It might neither be cheap, nor useful nor remind him or her of a favorite moment in history. It’s just that “(s)he somehow likes it”, finds it “weird” or original or that (s)he thinks: I might use this for a project some day (either as a ready-made or else to integrate it into a work). For him or her, buying an object is like for an artist to make a ready-made in the most basic sense: she or he declares it to have value – even if their museum is just their apartment.  To make things clear: (S)he doesn’t actually have to make a living on being an artist. (S)he may “only” be an artist in his or her way of looking at the world of things. (S)he will take things made for one purpose and assign them another.(S)he buys an object because of what she (s)he sees into it.

Here are a couple of things I bought at the flea market. I let you figure out for yourself who in me bought each of these items. Would be happy if you shared some thoughts (and pictures) of your favourite flea market acquisitions.

 

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Media Markt is an electronics superstore that must have killed more than one small shop that sold TVs, HiFi, Computers, etc. Now they are fighting a bigger opponent: a media, the Internet. Can they win?

MediaMarkt was launched in Germany in 1979, and according to Wikipedia there are now 235 stores in Germany, followed by over 60 stores in Italy and over 40 in Poland. This makes it Europe’s largest retailer for consumer electronics. I know Media Markt since I was a kid, because their ads appeared nearly weekly in the local newspapers my parents read. They’d usually be on several pages and would show crazy looking people. Their slogan was “Ich bin doch nicht blöd!” – which means something like  “Cause I’m not stupid!”. While there are now stores in 16 countries, it is clear that Germany has remained the main market. This is where the interesting part starts: As opposed to other electronics stores, who developped their web-presence, Media Markt still focusses on in-store sales.

Their main communications tools are posters and generous newspaper inlays with often more than 6 pages. Earlier this year, Media Markt launched at least one campaign where they guaranteed to offer a price below anything a « serious webstore » would offer. It turned out that they weren’t always able or willing to keep the promise, doing some damage to their brand-image.

But now, they went a step further. Perceiving the World Wide Web as a serious threat, they launched a new campaign all over Germany where they clearly defy the Internet. I learned about it – how else? – when I saw a prospectus at my dad’s house this Thursday. (this is a dad, by the way, who always argues with his girlfriend about going to Media Markt – which is his preference – or ordering over the Internet – her favourite method – which in turn shows that Media Markt is right to argue.).

The theme of the new campaign that is still running wild is “The new Media Markt Price”. The campaign attracts attention by caricaturing short term offers with a graphical layout that features sentences like “Bring your mum and get 20% off”, “The Nirvana of Price. Pay now for delivery in your next life” or “Cutting down the price. Shave your beard and get 50% off”, etc. Both style and content work very well together and are reasonably funny. A little arrow tells you to turn the page for a way out of the price jungle.

You turn the page and as opposed to the crowded first page, you’ll face a very clear, simple layout. This is what the philosopher Monroe Beardsley calls “Fusion”: form and what you want to express are the same. They say their price is clear. They make the page look clear. Media Markt tells you that the store managers will check online offers by major providers on a daily basis and adapt the price. Supposedly this means the end of  complicated and weird short term offers. The campaign is formally  interesting. It’s unfolds like a narrative. It starts with a (caricature) description of the current state of affairs. There are tons of strange short term offers that make people run to stores. Then it offers a solution: “Das Ende des Preis Irrsinns” (The End of the crazy prices). Then it develops different aspects of the solution: ethical (save  jobs of the department store workers), practical (don’t loose time looking for offers), hedonistic (do other things with the time you save), qualitative (make sure you don’t buy a fake). This is advertisement as an argument. Just the way it used to be in the olden days.

In the print version and on some of the posters (but not in the pdf download of the prospectus) you can read:

“Dear Internet: If you want to copy our price, please also copy our 14,694 employees.”

The prospectus shows a supposed webstore where you wouldn’t want to buy, suggests that items you order on the Internet may just as well be imitations, and says: Because their are nice things than to look for the best price online, offering a typology of web-price-hunters.

 I must say that I’m impressed. This is a store, a company, overtly fighting a medium. I don’t know any other examples of this, but I would be interested to learn.

 It’s as if Sony had fought the CD Player, because they were selling Walkmen. Or as if Grundig had fought the DVD, because they were selling VHS. Actually, it’s more than that (and a bit different). It’s MediaMarkt fighting the new media.

 “HardDisk recording kills DVD recorders kills Mini-DV kills VHS kills Super8 …” That’s the way things go. Now here’s a megastore that has a new enemy: a media. And maybe MediaMarkt’s ad campaign even has lateral benefits for other stores that they compete with.

 “Video killed the radio star…”? Well, no, it didn’t. Sometimes new and old co-exist, because they offer something different. Media Markt tries to show that they can do all the internet can, which is, basically, offering a better price. But that they also employ many people,  make sure the quality is good, etc. Do I think they’ll succeed? Maybe. In any case it’s a strong statement that makes people think about something they usually take for granted. I’m not sure that it will help, but the initiative seems mind-blowing to me. Here’s the link to their campaign page online.


Here’s one of the – arguably less efficient – videos of the campaign:

 

Posted: July 9, 2011 in Theorizing, Uncategorized

Why I stopped writing by hand

Posted: April 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

I used to carry a notebook with me when I was at high-school. It used to be important what it looked like. It used to be from Clairefontaine, a traditional French brand. About 5 years ago, I stopped, only occasionally going back to it. Having moved to France, there was no more point in buying Clairefontaine any more. I now bought Muji, because Muji is like no brand. Why do I feel the urge to tell you what brands my notebooks where and are? Because there is some nostalgia involved. And some vanity. And some Superstition. I used to be proud and happy to use a Clairefontaine notebook while I was living in Germany. There was only one shop in my town that sold them.
France had been the country where I had discovered art. Using Clairefontaine, my own writing was affiliated with France and its culture. The famous books by Moleskine are riding on the nostalgia/superstition/affiliation wave very explicitly (I have a hunch there might always be a bit of superstition in nostalgia). And the reason why I never got one – apart from the exaggerated price – is because I want my writing to be mine, personal, actual. It is bad taste to make some things explicit. Informing potential customers that Hemingway used your notebooks is bad taste. Either the books have intrinsic value, or they don’t. Telling me that Hemingway used them is trying to artificially bestow a spirit on them. It’s, basically, for people that don’t have any imagination.
As for me, I eventually stopped writing by hand altogether because I had notebooks. Notebooks full of notes that I never used, never even looked at again. Notes that were virtually there, but practically lost. I have so many ideas, that I couldn’t see myself taking time to copy notes from my notebooks to rework them, make sense of them, develop the thoughts I planted in them.
When I found out that there was a folda

ble real-size keyboard and a Word to Go application, I started using a Palm Handheld, the cheapest Palm on the market at the time, a Palm Zire 21. I still believe that Palm missed a tremendous marketing opportunity with students. A Palm could have been what the Asus EEE PC became, the first netbook on the m

arket. They could have marketed their product to students all over the world, who wanted to have their classnotes in digital form, but found their notebooks to heavy to carry. But crowdsourcing, intelligent or other, and corporate co-creation portals didn’t exist yet – at least Palm didn’t have one – and so I couldn’t tell Palm about my idea.

In any case, the Palm would synchronize with my computer and I wouldn’t loose any of my notes any more. Did I look at the notes I had made on  the go more frequently? No. But I felt that I could. I felt that they weren’t lost in some book. I felt that with a few clicks, what I had written could circulate, be shared with anyone anywhere in the world and be published. Writing something searchable and transmittable made it worth the while to write at all. Any thought written on my Palm could enter circulation by a simple click. My feeling has hardly changed since then. I feel that to simply exist now, writing has to exist in digital form.
The only thing I use paper notebooks for is to make lists, to jot down one sentence ideas – and even these I prefer to mail to myself with my smartphone whenever possible. But reordering your thoughts by reordering the concepts you work with like what you see on the photo I took when writing an article about documents, still isn’t very easy digitally, even with mindmapping applications. But that’s just a practical frontier.

A few days ago, I talked to a friend who told me last year she had had a handwritten correspondence with a man she was in love with and who had a girlfriend. They had written pages and pages, some of her letters were 15 pages long. I was very impressed by this story. I felt like my friend had just revealed me that she was of a different species, I understood that she inhabited a different world than me. Even as gestures, penpals don’t exist in my world any more. My sole use of letters has become administrative. If I’m in love with a girl and she’s not in my town I try to catch up with her on skype – or wait for her to connect to facebook. Does this seem prosaic? It probably is. But I would find sending letters too nostalgic, and, therefore, somehow ridiculous.
I understood that for my friend and her man, it had been a way to show to each other that they inhabited the same world, a different world, beyond the world they shared with their official boy-friend/girl-friend and with most other people, people like me.
The fact that they wrote to each other, and the fact the letters were lost forever when his girlfriend eventually discovered and burned them all, ads to the appeal of their correspondence. Imagine they had written emails to each other. Do you really think the girl would have gotten any satisfaction out of the operation: “search XYZ/select all/delete”? I don’t think so. She probably wouldn’t even have done it.
Literature, Nelson Goodman says, is allographic art, it can be reproduced, it’s not about unicity or about the touch of the brush. Painting is autographic. And so is epistolary writing. There’s a deep valley separating handwritten and computer-written text. But more than the fact that the paper on which a letter is written has actually been touched by the person who wrote it, it’s the fact that a letter is unique, that it can’t be shared easily, which makes it special – and annoys me.

So, most of my posts are theory-leaden and complicated, right? Here’s a light one for a change. It’s notorious that Google is faster predicting breakouts of flu than the US Centres for Disease Control. How do they do it? Quite simply: they analyze what people search for. And by the way, they make the results available for anyone to look at. I’ve always been wondering what else you could understand by looking at what people search for. Google let’s you do so. And because Google is basically the window to the internet for most people, what people search for on Google should be very insightful. If you can read the results. Which is hard. Once it a while I play around with their “Insights for Search” trying to find something significant. I prepared a little parcours for you. It takes you from Solutions over Sex to Climate Change. Go ahead!

Google Insights for Search: Regional Search for “Solutions”

So India is looking for solutions. Right. But, given that the number one associated search terms are “Software Solutions”, “IT Solutions” and “Business Solutions”, India doesn’t seem to bad off. And while the US are looking for “Network Solutions”, “Business Solutions”, “Global Solutions” and “Health Solutions” (in this order), South Africa is also into IT. For the other African countries the Statistics aren’t precisely rich, as there is only one city in each of them that seems to have sufficient internet access to figure in Google’s region list (which is also a result of the search, somehow ). Well, now the real question is: who’s looking for…Problems?

Google Insights for Search: Regional Search for “Problems”

For Lesotho and all the other countries of this list, the situation is not different than for the aforementioned African ones. Each of these countries is basically one city for Google. And there are no country-specific associated search terms. On a global level, the list of the kinds of problems that people try to solve on the internet speaks for itself… .

Google Insights for Search: Global Top Searches Related to “Problems”

So, basically you are using what exactly to solve the problems you have with your computer? Oh! A computer. Sure.

Now, how the search term number one (at least it used to be when the internet started to become (in)famous, basically when I was a kid. I know you’ve been waiting. So here it goes: Sex: Yeah, not only Sex, but even better:

Google Insights for Search: Regional Interest for “Free Sex”

Not really what you’d expect here. Well, my hypothesis is that in the US, the world’s biggest porn market, people have had the internet long enough to be more precise about their interests. Much more precise…

I’d only like to mention that this doesn’t reflect interest in free sex in a country, but interest in the results for “free sex” online of those with internet access.

Comparison of Searches for “Free Sex” (blue) and “Problems” (red)

Or more generally speaking:

Comparison of Searches for “Sex” (blue) and “Problems” (red)

Well, I couldn’t say that this comes as much of a surprise…

But let’s get serious again:

Google Insights for Search: Regional Interest for “Climate Change”

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest for the issue in what is called the “developed” countries. After all, there are more important things, like … iphone problems. Or maybe I’m doing the ESDW (English Speaking Developed World) wrong? Maybe the reason why the U.S. has a hard time signing protocols is just because – while they can well understand “CHANGE!” – they still don’t really know what that weird foreign word “climate” means! On the following chart, “What is Climate” a top related search for “Climate Change”, Australia comes forth, and the US sixth, closely followed by New Zealand, the UK, and … Canada. Wonder if this is an inverted scheme of the success of their education systems… .

Google Insights for Search: Regional Interest for “What is Climate”

Okay. That’s enough playing with Google Insights for Search. Now go ahead yourself: http://www.google.com/insights/search – and don’t forget to share your results with me!

Posted: December 9, 2010 in Webtheory
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What I like about Spotify Premium is the fact that you have a mobile version, you can get instant access to basically any song you think of. It was terribly cold in Paris today and suddenly there was this line of a song popping up in my head. This often happens to me, and in many cases the line is such an ironic comment on my current situation that I burst out in laughter. Anyway, so while I took my bike, I heard « All the leaves are brown… » in my head. And searched for it on Spotify.


When I found an album by this name, I remembered the real name of the song I was looking for: « California Dreaming ». The perfect song for a cold winter day, it started playing while – my headphones under my warm Peruvian bonnet – I pushed my bike off to ride home. The song starts « All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray. I go for a walk on a winter’s day. » and it goes on « I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A. ». After the first version of the song had ended, another one started and while I sit and write, I’m still playing versions of the same song. There are many of them, a David Hasselrock version, latin versions, chorus versions, ones with predominantly female or male voices, instrumental ones, versions that start like medieval motets, new age versions, a techno/rap version by Beverly Hills, a slow and soulful piano version by Pat Dinizio, fast running rock versions… . I guess I can now be considered an expert in California Dreaming, but that’s not what I wanted to tell you about.

At about the third version, I first heard the sentence that inspired this post (supposed to be a first one in a series about my favourite lines in pop songs). It says: « If I didn’t tell her, I could leave today. » I had never noticed this line before. Two versions later it came back with a variation that I haven’t heared in any of the other versions. It was a female voice, and instead of « If I didn’t tell him, I could leave today » she sang « If I didn’t have to tell him, I could leave today. » It’s the version by The River City People that you are currently listening to. It intrigued me and I thought about it over dinner. There seems to be something more guilty to her way of putting it. As if she didn’t feel comfortable with the original line. She seems to be saying to herself: « I’d have to tell him. I couldn’t probably just leave. » Strikingly, the chorus is the same as in all other versions: « If I didn’t tell him, I could leave today. ». It nearly seems like it had been a spontaneous variation by the singer. This sentence is pretty much a summary of why I ended up leaving my last girlfriend after six years. I didn’t want to have to tell her – or anyone. My friend Thomas says that my desire for freedom is romantic. And coming from someone who would probably agree with Goethe that « the Romantic is the sick. », this is not a compliment. Thomas thinks that my quest for freedom is bound to end in disappointment. Maybe he’s right. Maybe there are tradeoffs. But as for now, I’m stuck with the belief that there’s at least relative freedom and that you can be more or less free. In the end, the freedom we have in a country like France, essentially depends on how free we are mentally. In my relationship, and given the way I was, having to tell her would have meant that I don’t leave.

The original version of the sentence is actually much bolder: « If I didn’t tell her, I could leave today. » It doesn’t presuppose the obligation to tell. Not telling her becomes a way to leave, today. This version of the song has the libertarian imprint of the hippie age. But what seems like hippie lightness considered in this context, becomes very dark if you transfer the idea to a contemporary couple’s common city life. It’s only in my darkest moments that I actually told myself that going to get cigarettes and not coming back was an issue that would always be there if I wanted to leave (well, if I started smoking before).

In Schubert’s Winterreise there’s another dreamer (there’s definitely something about winter dreaming). After telling us about the flowers he sees on the window, he sings: « Ihr lacht wohl über den Träumer, der Blumen im Winter sah. » (« You are certainly laughing about the dreamer who saw flowers blossom in winter! ») This line first made me realize that there was something ridiculous about the (melancholic) dreamer. But I’m not sure if this is still the same topic…

 —  Posted: November 30, 2010 in Conceptualizing the Ordinary, Lines in Songs
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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.