DRE (HUM303/ HUM415)

NOTE: Though what’s below is addressed most immediately to HUM 303 students, I think students of HUM 415 will get something out of it as well.

This week we need to cover as best we can the readings to date– which are really intended as preparation for our study of the primary texts (the novels) and the genre of adventure fiction as a whole. Last class we took a look at Williams’s “Dominant, Residual, and Emergent” (DRE). As I stated on Thursday, the main focus of this short but dense chapter is the question of periodization. Specifically, what is a period and how do we periodize? Williams cautions us against simply culling a few of the “leading” features of a cultural epoch because to do so flattens history out. In his considered opinion, the only way to capture the complexity of a given period is by relating two other categories of socio-cultural production and practice (we could call them “domains”): the residual and the emergent. At any given moment in history different values or formations will characterize the social and cultural landscape. At times, these other categories– residual + emergent– will be antagonistic to the cultural dominant.

The weight of Williams’s attention, then, lies upon what he calls “the whole cultural process.” As distinct from the merely archaic, the “actively residual” contradicts or complicates the dominant. One of the examples Williams offers in this regard is religion. In a very meaningful way, some of the values of Xianity are in direct opposition to the ideologies (and practices) of consumer capitalism. Not simply that old money-changers-in-the-temple story, but, say, the value of collectivity, of social sodality. On the other hand, has there ever been a politician or a rap star who hasn’t invoked god from the podium? (“I want to thank god, and my mom, and Viacom, and Mrs. Martinez from PS 138 who told me to dream big and love everybody.”) Religion seems here to possess a double function: 1) as a set of moral standards by which to assess (or refuse!) our contemporary social formation and 2) as a kind “official morality” stripped of its authenticity and radical potential.

The emergent signifies “the new”: a very familiar category given that MODERNITY (that capacious, intellectually quite sexy concept that recent scholarship, is actively revising to short-circuit our tendency to equate it with the geo-political fantasy of “the West” and the notion of what WEB DuBois termed “capital ‘P’ Progress”) is predicated on novelty, the sort of ceaseless social ferment that Marx captured over 150 years ago with the phrase “all that is solid melts into air.”

Significantly, DRE are relational terms; what a period “means” hinges upon their relative position to one another rather than some flatly asserted positive content.

Just as important,

no mode of production and therefore no dominant social order and therefore no dominant culture ever in reality includes or exhausts all human practice, human energy, and human intention…. [M]odes of domination… select from and… exclude the full range of human practice [and in doing so] what the dominant has effectively seized is… the ruling definition of the social.

Note the emphasis on power and lived experience in the quote above. Williams wants to quicken our apprehension of the cultural and the social. Put another way, we live in a fully reified (“thing-ified”) world where process and thought and affect are treated like dead objects. This condition is the blighted harvest of a soci0-economic order which, in the words of Oscar Wilde, knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Capitalism itself construct subjects who prize mobility, multiplicity, and novelty even as they behave as though they and their world were inert. For reasons such as this, Williams is intrigued by the subversive potential of the residual and the emergent.