Monday, September 24, 2012

dissolute

The Dissolute Family, by Jan Steen

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled broadcasting. First though, I have to give an update on my relationship with the new Blogger interface. Tonight, I find that for the first time since using it, there is no error message as I open pages. I have no idea why, but I'm happy to attribute it to some change made by Google after reading my feedback. We can only hope, since they certainly aren't going to tell me.

I was reading an interesting article by Kerry Howley  in Bookforum at the register the other day. It was called "Fifty Shades of Beige" and you can find it in its entirety here . It's one of those things that I can't explain, but though I really have no interest in reading the books, I'm fascinated to read commentary on the phenomenon. For a bookseller, it's always interesting to try to understand why one particular book breaks out like that. Almost always, there are plenty of other books in the same genre, and usually a lot of them are at least as good or better. But this one book for some reason lands in fertile soil at a propitious moment.

Anyway. I liked this article and it brought up an interesting question.

 When the French philosopher Georges Bataille described eroticism as “assenting to life up to the point of death,” he was talking about a moment of freedom from the prison of isolated existence, a moment in which an essentially discontinuous body might experience the kind of continuity with the universe we’ll all presumably find when our lives are over. In the erotic we bump up against the possibility of dissolution; there is a reason we call a certain kind of person “dissolute.” 

Okay, but is this the reason we call a certain kind of person dissolute? That's what I'd like to find out.

***

Well, I'm kind of striking out here. The Online Etymology dictionary tells us that it entered our language in the late 14th century and meant loose, morally or religiously lax. It does of course have a relationship to the word "dissolve", and comes from the Latin dissolutus, "loose, disconnected" and was a figurative use of a more literal word. And in fact, most of the definitions I found searching around on the web use dissolute as the definition for other words--words like profligate, libertine, rakish.

What I still don't know is why looseness and a dissolved state symbolize the state of being outside the bounds of our current morality.

Maybe Kerry Howley has the answer. Certainly it's the most interesting I've come across so far.
 

35 comments:

  1. Love this. One of my favorite poems (of my own, as I have many favorites not by me!!) originated in looking up the word "dissolution" in the dictionary. "Dissolution" is also one of the names for divorce, particularly a "no-fault" divorce (a marriage that just dissolved).

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  2. Is your poem online anywhere, Kathleen?

    I came across a few dissolution of marriage entries in my search. Also the dissolution of chemistry. What I did not find was a solution to my own particular question.

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  3. And Henry's dissolution of the monasteries. But I like plain old dissolute. possibly even more than I like crapulous.

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  4. It looks like I would have had a lot more luck searching around dissoution.

    I am still disappointed. I can't escape the nagging feeling that there is someone out there who knows something.

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  5. Speaking of dissolution, I've always liked dissipated as applied to persons.

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  6. Dissipated is good. I wonder if it entered the metaphorical language at around thes same time as dissolute.

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  7. Yes, these are all metaphors, I suppose, when applied to humans and the supposed dimunition of their powers through overindulgence. One does wonder whether they entered the language around the same time, some period of dount and existential dread -- the Reformation or the Counter-Reformation, perhaps?

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  8. Well, dissolute is late 14th c., so what would that be?

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  9. indeed fascinating...causing me again to run off to the same online dictionary...
    my first thought was how does this relate to ABsolute, which led me to 'solute' which as you know comes from the latin 'solutus' and 'solvere' meaning to cut apart and separate...
    now im lost again...oh yeah dissolute...i cant see how ee-rotic acts separate...i thought they bought people closer...maybe i am missing battaile's point....
    anyway i have got myself stuck in a corner here haha
    as always good posting! :)

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  10. Peter--yikes. This makes a little too much sense.

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  11. Julie, thanks. For anyone reading this far down the thread, Julie's headed off to Japan for an immersion language course and you can check out her journey here.

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  12. Dan, I think Bataille's general idea is that the erotic experience breaks down the ego's boundaries and makes it possible to experience the oceanic whole. Just my interpretation.

    You read my mind about going to the "solute" side of things. More to follow.

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    1. hmm well yu will need to go into ab+solute, ab+solve, solve, solution et al....fascinating bit of detective work ahead

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    2. Probably not going to do anything that comprehensive, but I do want to explore one particular question I have.

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  13. That future post might ponder why solutions has become the de rigeur corporate buzzword for company names in recent years, the same way system(s) was ever-present a few years before that.
    =======================================
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com

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  14. Peter, I cannot fathom the mechinations of corporate speak. Thank god.

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  15. Well, it's not just corporate-speak. My brother owns a maintenance/light-construction company that has "solutions" in its name. A few years earlier, it would have been called XYZ Systems rather than XYZ Solutions. I'm not sure if this sort of thing is mere verbal fashion or whether it represents a shift in the way North Americans think of and relate to businesses.

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  16. Isn't he incorporated? It's just business-speak. No offense to your brother, but it's fashionable, no more, no less.

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  17. Sure, but why do business terms pass in and out of fashion? Or rather, why does one trend rather than another catch on at a given time?

    I'm not the first to notice this, of course. Burton G. Malkiel's classic guide to investing, "A Random Walk on Wall Street," will include hypothetical examples such as Mother's Cookies, which would these days be called Mothertron or even Mothertron Cookietronics.

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  18. No--Mother's Cookies will always trump any other name whatsoever. Well, at least till robots rule the world.

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  19. You mean Mother's™ Cookie Delivery Systems L.L.C., don't you?

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  20. Probably. But it's not what people will call them.

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  21. Going forward, Mother's Cookies will change it name to Mother's Snack-time Solutions to better reflect the reality of its brand.

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  22. At Mother's™, we have A Passion for Cookies.™

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  23. Cookies is going to be trademarked?

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  24. At Mother's™, we have "A Passion for Cookies."™

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    1. i cannot let this wordplay pass by without adding my two cents and taking it to the nth degree with the following 'business model':
      'At Mothers, our core competencies are to proactively deliver real time scalable solutions to snack-time decisioning'
      Yep egregious weasel words still abound :)

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    2. Thanks for reaching out and being part of the conversation.

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    3. Peter, what I hear you saying is that that you'd like to thank Dan for sharing...

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    4. Ah, go crowd-source your cookies.

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    5. They're your cookies and your trademark, in case you were forgetting.

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  25. For anyone reading this far down, I just watched a knockout performance of Salome on PBS, featuring our own San Francisco opera house. If you want instruction on what Bataille meant by the dissolute as it applies to the erotic, well, this is as dissolute as it gets.

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  26. I must need a rest if I can't even think of any more jargon to make fun of.

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