To Choose or Embrace

by johnmccreery

Grant McCracken writes,

Accident might be the enemy of individualism.  If we are forsaking choice, we are forsaking the very apparatus we use to craft the self.  No?  Clearly, accident is better than ennui but I can’t help wondering whether it isn’t also the end of empire, a certain cultural regime that is.  If we cease making choices might we not begin to grow ever more faint, ever more Cheshire.   What happens to our individualism without choice?

Or maybe, and this is the more interesting anthropological possibility, we are finding new ways to invent the self.  It’s less about the choice we control and more about the accident we embrace.  And that would be really interesting.

What do you think?

13 Comments to “To Choose or Embrace”

  1. As a huge fan of the happy accident, when I was reading the first paragraph I was all set to object with what Grant then said in the second paragraph. The first paragraph comes out of the modern mythos of the sovereign (masculine) individual, the Randian superman striding through life making bold decisions and shaping the world in his image. The second finds us produced by and embedded in historical/ ecological assemblages that we neither decide nor control, but within which we may nevertheless make a variety of important tactical maneuvers. My only disagreement would be with his proposal that this is a new way to invent the self; I’d say this is the way it’s always done, just in a different contrast space.

    John, which of the two images do you think better fits your ‘Surfer Dude’ Sasaki?

  2. I am, of course, inclined to see the second paragraph as closer to the Surfer Dude model. That said, I can also wonder what happens if Surfer Dude decides to do something else: take a nap and work on his tan or go fishing, for example. Or heads for the mountains instead of the beach.

  3. choice is an accident we embrace…

  4. Suppose we apply the “embrace heuristic” to the search for Kajiadelakis from the preceding post. “Serendipity counts” to be sure, but there remains the choosing of some paths and the ignoring of others. It’s a quest for a foreordained end, a pilgrimage to reclaim a revered and lost past. But what if “Kajiadelakis” becomes the name for the embraced accident? Then maybe every word we encounter might actually be concealing the encrypted name of Kajiadelakis; every path we choose leads to Kajiadelakis; every path is Kajiedelakis.

  5. John, I love that idea. Just turned in grades after reading ~1500 pages of my students’ Kajiadelakis over the past week; I’ll have more to say once my brain reterritorializes.

  6. Drew, I love your “choice is an accident we embrace.” As I consider the odd inflections that make up the critical path of my life, it feels so very right.

  7. Thanks John.

    Choice is only ever part of an environment that we have *not* chosen. We can adapt aspects of that environment, attempt to change it, move from one to another, but never master it. So choice v accident is not an adequate shematic here.

    I wonder if the question behind Grant’s post is not choice but imitation. The child is to imitate the parent, the restaurant patron imitates the previous one, and so on. Imitation as way of navigating an environment – which just so happens to include certain theatres of choice.

  8. er… that should be schematic. Though, I do like the sound of she-matic!

  9. Wow, that’s great. What would the she-matic do? Is it a dating service, a surgical aid, or?

  10. OK, back to John’s point about Kajiadelakis as the name for the embraced accident –

    I call that ‘life’, but then I’m not teleologically religious. So again I love the idea of the happy accident, including the happy accident of having ‘Kajiadelakis’ available as a name for it.

    But I’m not sure every road can lead to Kajiadelakis if we want Kajiadelakis to mean anything in particular (Tim wanted it to mean a specific distant relative). If the quest is anything like Slothrop’s for the Schwarzgerät or Oedipa Maas’ for the Tristero, it may well be that everything is encoded for the MacGuffin without assembling into any kind of coherent or satisfying resolution (the answer is 42); Kajiadelakis is everywhere and everything = God is everywhere and everything, thanks but that’s no help.

    On the other hand if I get to start looking for one Kajiadelakis and end up (so to speak) with an entirely different Kajiadelakis, I could still count this an existential victory. Perhaps then we would call the process of questing Kajiadelakis, not any of its particular steps or outcomes?

  11. Drew, I like your point about imitation. I wonder what you’d think of G.H. Mead’s objection that in the formation of selves we very quickly distinguish ourselves from the Other (the image is not the original) and position ourselves in relation to a larger field of possible interactions. His example is games – everyone doesn’t play shortstop, there also need to be pitchers and outfielders and hitters and so on. Therefore the formation of self is about relational differentiation, not (except most primitively) imitation. So as a restaurant patron the first thing I need to get is that I don’t get to go in the kitchen like the cooks and waiters do, etc., which may indeed involve imitating other patrons; but then I may have the opportunity to distinguish myself from them by tipping better or being more demanding or ordering more knowledgeably, etc.

    These positioning distinctions look a lot like choices, but their availability and functionality is conditioned by the games (baseball, restaurant) in which they’re played. Is this at all germane to your point?

  12. Yes, not everyone plays shortstop. But I was getting at the temporal dimension. The other players would be analogous to others in the restaurant at the same time, as you point out. What I’m getting at is tradition. And there was always a shortstop before me – an other who is also the same, a tradition of shortstops – otherwise, how would I know that I’m playing shortstop?

    And, in a way, a certain number of factors (which I do not choose), will make the choice for me as to whether or not I end up a shortstop or a pitcher or a hitter. Only then may I make a choice to continue as a shortstop, or bugger off and learn cricket.

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