“It is a Funny Thing…”

picasso-stein“It is a funny thing about addresses where you live. When you live there you know it so well that it is like an identity, a thing that is so much a thing that it could not ever be any other thing and then you live somewhere else and years later, the address that was so much an address that it was like your name and you said it as if it was not an address but something that was living and then years after you do not know what the address was and when you say it it is not a name anymore but something you cannot remember. That is what makes your identity not a thing that exists but something you do or do not remember.”

Gertrude Stein in Gertrude Stein, Everybody’s
Autobiography
(Random House [1937])

No There There

hand printSometime ago I realized that there was important theoretical work signaled by gerunds—verbs that masquerade as nouns; for instance, as I once phrased it, the advantage for a social theorist of the concept “social formation,” as opposed to, say, “social forces,” “society,” “group” or even “institution,” was that it “nicely represents not only the ongoing work of bringing an imagined social group into existence but also the sleight of hand in making it appear always to have existed.” So “social formation” could name a thing, of course, prefaced by an indefinite article, for example, but, simultaneously, it can also name the ongoing process whereby the supposed thing comes into being, repeatedly and continually. Singing a national anthem is therefore an event in the day and life of members of a social formation, yes, but at the same time it is a socially formative act, i.e., a repetitive act constitutive of the formation of a particular, shared idea of citizenship—one element of a never ending process of identifications we might awkwardly term citizenizing. Continue reading “No There There”