langmut and the culture of expediency

struggling in the tension between indoctrinated speed for excellence and my home-brewed impatience i read the lines of paul stoller, as usually creating a healing space for confused mid-weeks:

“Perhaps it is old fashioned of me to suggest a slower more thorough journey toward excellence in a time when the expedient solution or the expedient path is frowned upon. Is it so terrible when it takes years for a person to master a skill and apply it skillfully. Among the Songhay people of Niger, specialists must apprentice many years to master their skill. My teacher of things Songhay, Adamu Jenitongo studied healing for 40 years before he began to practice his skills. The slow movment ha snot yet reached government or the academy. In my discipline of anthropology, for example, it is expedient to latch on to the moment’s theory or the subject of contemporary interest. This tendency sometimes means that we shut our eyes to the partially known past and ignore the future. In the slower environment, mastery of any skill takes time and the master’s greatest charged is to pass his or her knowledge to the next generation.

What mastery do we have today in our culture of expedience? If the response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is indicative, we have very little mastery at all. The wholesale ignorance of Islam suggest a lack of willingness to confront complex ideas and practices. These tendencies rise to the surface in an ongoing culture of expediency. And I’m afraid that our fast and furious pace will lead us a graduate social decline if not an unexpected crash.”

(excerpt from The Culture of Expedience)

conceptualizing an afternoon that took the topic of ‘waiting’ serious as a cultural practice we have lost skills in; a close one commented on the duration of the workshop – ‘don’t you think three hours is too long? who has time for that?‘ her question was reasonable and justified – in the lives we agree on living we run from one encounter to the other & find being overworked attractive, as it suggests success and multi-sided capacities.

i believe the question that stoller puts is very worthwhile: what mastery do we have in our culture of expediency? what do we really know by heart? by heart. we struggle with a mastery of the heart, as we live lives of affairs, of jumping from here to there and facing challenges on the run, like a bad coffee to go, just because it keeps your hand busy. i study the work of my man and am amazed by his patience to listen to one sequence of notes for a felt century, over and over again. i see the hastiness with which we cling onto and give up on dreams, and i feel a sadness that must transfer itself into activism. i feel how the grip of expediency is strong and appealing; how i incorporate aspects of the fast-forward aesthetics, the project-related biographies we lead and consider fashionable, and how only resilience can cure, i assume.

considering langmut as a strategy for maieutics of what is there inside of us, or what could be there if we allowed ourselves to listen for the right moment (i once attended a course given by tim hagemann who changed my reading of rhetorics as a whole – from my perception of it as an ignorant and elitist subject to a holistic, philosophical realm of beauty – and that of slowness and patience) is nothing less than an, even if small, act of simmering resistance against the superficiality disguised as speed and alleged complexity.

this does not equal laziness, in fact it is the opposite. agreeing with a superficial ‘culture of expediency’ shows a severe form of idleness, the laziness of the heart. the ‘too’ dominates our discourses – too complex, too edgy, too this and that. for what again? the question, in anthropology as in everyday life remains: how can we transform ourselves and our societies from outposts of pushing and reinforcing the frontiers of expediency to unruly spaces of commitment?


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