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The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork

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The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

andlt;Pandgt;Since the middle of the eighteenth century, political thinkers of all kinds--radical and reactionary, professional and amateur--have been complaining about andquot;bureaucracy.andquot; But what, exactly, are they complaining about?andlt;/Pandgt;andlt;Pandgt;In andlt;Iandgt;The Demon of Writingandlt;/Iandgt;, Ben Kafka offers a critical history and theory of one of the most ubiquitous, least understood forms of media: paperwork. States rely on records to tax and spend, protect and serve, discipline and punish. But time and again, this paperwork proves to be unreliable. Examining episodes that range from the story of a clerk who lost his job and then his mind in the French Revolution to an account of Roland Barthes's brief stint as a university administrator, Kafka reveals the powers, the failures, and even the pleasures of paperwork. Many of its complexities, he argues, have been obscured by the comic-paranoid style that characterizes much of our criticism of bureaucracy. Kafka proposes a new theory of what Karl Marx called the andquot;bureaucratic medium.andquot; Moving from Marx to Freud, he argues that this theory of paperwork must include both a theory of praxis and of parapraxis.andlt;/Pandgt;

Review:

"'The demon of writing is waging war against us; we are unable to govern', said the French orator Saint-Just, in reference to a tidal wave of government paperwork. The felicitously named Kafka sees our experience of paperwork as contradictory, perceived sometimes as the exacting tool of faceless bureaucracies and at others as a congeries of misunderstandings, miscalculations, and misdirections (the dimpled chads of 2000's Florida voting ballots, for example). This in turn reflects an inconsistency in our views about the workings of government: 'We have been unable to reconcile our theories of the state's power with our experience of its failure,' and so we blame the failures on bureaucrats and paperwork. Kafka traces the rise of a 'new ethos of paperwork' to the upheavals of the French Revolution in his first two chapters; the latter chapters investigate the origins of the word 'bureaucracy' and outline a theory of 'the psychic life of paperwork,' which (Kafka argues) is prey to the same 'unconscious forces' that drive other acts of speech and writing. Partly survey of the materials and processes of paperwork, partly theoretical meditation on the symbolic functions of paperwork, and partly intellectual history (unsettling anecdotes about various bureaucratic failures abound), Kafka's book is a keen, vivacious examination of the frustrating 'unpredictability' of paperwork as a cultural institution. Photos & illus. (Nov.) The Annotated Brothers Grimm: The Bicentennial Edition Edited and trans. from the German by Maria Tatar Norton, (552p) ISBN 978-0-393-08886-1 The 200th anniversary of the publication of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm's Children's Stories and Household Tales is the occasion for Tatar, a Harvard professor and leading fairytale scholar, to expand her annotated translation of selected tales (initially published in 2004). Adding only six new stories to the previous edition, readers won't find much new reading material here, but illustrations and expanded annotations enrich the text. Divided into 'The Tales' (for children) and 'Tales for Adults,' there's fodder for burgeoning bookworms, nostalgic grown-ups, and serious academics. Beloved classics like 'Rumpelstiltskin,' 'Hansel and Gretel,' and 'Rapunzel' occupy the first section, whereas lesser-known tales like the grisly 'How Children Played Butcher with Each Other' and the anti-Semitic 'The Jew in the Brambles' are appropriately sequestered in the second. But despite the separation, Tatar is consistent in her scholarly examination of each story — in illuminating introductions and annotations, she is equally comfortable calling up the German philosopher Walter Benjamin, imagining how audiences might respond to particular passages, and providing cross-references to other stories. This rich and valuable edition brilliantly showcases the brothers' storytelling acumen, and reinforces their tales as timeless for both children and for scholars. Illus. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Synopsis:

Since the middle of the eighteenth century, political thinkers of all kinds--radical and reactionary, professional and amateur--have been complaining about "bureaucracy." But what, exactly, are they complaining about?

In The Demon of Writing, Ben Kafka offers a critical history and theory of one of the most ubiquitous, least understood forms of media: paperwork. States rely on records to tax and spend, protect and serve, discipline and punish. But time and again, this paperwork proves to be unreliable. Examining episodes that range from the story of a clerk who lost his job and then his mind in the French Revolution to an account of Roland Barthes's brief stint as a university administrator, Kafka reveals the powers, the failures, and even the pleasures of paperwork. Many of its complexities, he argues, have been obscured by the comic-paranoid style that characterizes much of our criticism of bureaucracy. Kafka proposes a new theory of what Karl Marx called the "bureaucratic medium." Moving from Marx to Freud, he argues that this theory of paperwork must include both a theory of praxis and of parapraxis.

About the Author

Ben Kafka is an Assistant Professor of Media History and Theory at New York University and a candidate at the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research (IPTAR), a component society of the International Psychoanalytical Association. He works with adult and adolescent patients through the IPTAR Clinical Center and the NYC Free Clinic.

Product Details

ISBN:
9781935408260
Subtitle:
Powers and Failures of Paperwork
Author:
Kafka, Ben
Publisher:
Zone Books
Location:
Cambridge
Subject:
Sociology-Media
Copyright:
Series:
The Demon of Writing
Publication Date:
20121102
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
from 17
Language:
English
Illustrations:
9 band#38;w illus.
Pages:
208
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in

Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Politics » General
History and Social Science » Sociology » Media
History and Social Science » Western Civilization » General
History and Social Science » World History » General
Young Adult » General

The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork New Hardcover
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Product details 208 pages Zone Books (NY) - English 9781935408260 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "'The demon of writing is waging war against us; we are unable to govern', said the French orator Saint-Just, in reference to a tidal wave of government paperwork. The felicitously named Kafka sees our experience of paperwork as contradictory, perceived sometimes as the exacting tool of faceless bureaucracies and at others as a congeries of misunderstandings, miscalculations, and misdirections (the dimpled chads of 2000's Florida voting ballots, for example). This in turn reflects an inconsistency in our views about the workings of government: 'We have been unable to reconcile our theories of the state's power with our experience of its failure,' and so we blame the failures on bureaucrats and paperwork. Kafka traces the rise of a 'new ethos of paperwork' to the upheavals of the French Revolution in his first two chapters; the latter chapters investigate the origins of the word 'bureaucracy' and outline a theory of 'the psychic life of paperwork,' which (Kafka argues) is prey to the same 'unconscious forces' that drive other acts of speech and writing. Partly survey of the materials and processes of paperwork, partly theoretical meditation on the symbolic functions of paperwork, and partly intellectual history (unsettling anecdotes about various bureaucratic failures abound), Kafka's book is a keen, vivacious examination of the frustrating 'unpredictability' of paperwork as a cultural institution. Photos & illus. (Nov.) The Annotated Brothers Grimm: The Bicentennial Edition Edited and trans. from the German by Maria Tatar Norton, (552p) ISBN 978-0-393-08886-1 The 200th anniversary of the publication of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm's Children's Stories and Household Tales is the occasion for Tatar, a Harvard professor and leading fairytale scholar, to expand her annotated translation of selected tales (initially published in 2004). Adding only six new stories to the previous edition, readers won't find much new reading material here, but illustrations and expanded annotations enrich the text. Divided into 'The Tales' (for children) and 'Tales for Adults,' there's fodder for burgeoning bookworms, nostalgic grown-ups, and serious academics. Beloved classics like 'Rumpelstiltskin,' 'Hansel and Gretel,' and 'Rapunzel' occupy the first section, whereas lesser-known tales like the grisly 'How Children Played Butcher with Each Other' and the anti-Semitic 'The Jew in the Brambles' are appropriately sequestered in the second. But despite the separation, Tatar is consistent in her scholarly examination of each story — in illuminating introductions and annotations, she is equally comfortable calling up the German philosopher Walter Benjamin, imagining how audiences might respond to particular passages, and providing cross-references to other stories. This rich and valuable edition brilliantly showcases the brothers' storytelling acumen, and reinforces their tales as timeless for both children and for scholars. Illus. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Synopsis" by , Since the middle of the eighteenth century, political thinkers of all kinds--radical and reactionary, professional and amateur--have been complaining about "bureaucracy." But what, exactly, are they complaining about?

In The Demon of Writing, Ben Kafka offers a critical history and theory of one of the most ubiquitous, least understood forms of media: paperwork. States rely on records to tax and spend, protect and serve, discipline and punish. But time and again, this paperwork proves to be unreliable. Examining episodes that range from the story of a clerk who lost his job and then his mind in the French Revolution to an account of Roland Barthes's brief stint as a university administrator, Kafka reveals the powers, the failures, and even the pleasures of paperwork. Many of its complexities, he argues, have been obscured by the comic-paranoid style that characterizes much of our criticism of bureaucracy. Kafka proposes a new theory of what Karl Marx called the "bureaucratic medium." Moving from Marx to Freud, he argues that this theory of paperwork must include both a theory of praxis and of parapraxis.

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