Trains of Thought
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XII. 10/04-13/04/17; faces to spheres

The 6:59 is delayed by ten minutes. A train on the other side of the line will leave first. An announcement is made. A number of people cross over the bridge to the other platform to take the other train. The reaction of those who are left varies. Some have ignored the opportunity to change trains, while others are on edge: to change or not to change? Over the next few minutes two or three suddenly make a decision and rush over, running and breathing audibly as they pass.

The delay was caused by problems with level crossings between Cambridge and Royston says the driver on the intercom. But now we are back to “line speed” and only a few moments behind schedule. For a few moments this holds true, then the train brakes to a crawl before accelerating again.

The fields on the way to London are as green as the fields on the way to Vienna. Again the train brakes. Why can’t the load on the network be balanced more efficiently?

A young woman wearing a high-vis vest is drinking homemade coffee from a bodum coffee mug and reading Intercept: the secret history of computers and spies.

We pass the point where the parallel line branches into ours.

A woman in front of me and opposite the reader with the book on computers and spies paints her face while looking at herself in a small round mirror. The hair on her paint-brush is short and arranged in a circle with a diameter of 3-4 cm. She changes technique and switches to finger painting, using her index finger to smear skin-coloured onto her skin. Then she picks up the brush again and then she uses a round piece of cloth to dab. Next she uses a smaller brush and darker beige paint to work on the eyes.

The woman in high-vis stops reading for a moment and watches her opposite number then looks away as she realises she has been watching a bit too intently.

The beige-faced woman sprays vapour into her face. This must be the glaze to keep the paint in place. Next she uses a new sort of brush to apply a solution to her eyelids, brushing the lashes up from the eye.

Meanwhile, the high-vis reader, absorbed by her IT non-fiction, scratches then picks at the outside of her nostrils, then scratches her ears, while, quite elegantly, never taking her eyes from her book.

The face-painter is satisfied with her eyes and is spreading paint on her face with a beige-coloured cushion again. Now she returns to the first step of the sequence with the original brush she started with.

It’s a much colder day this morning. Is it possible to tell that it is colder from the view outside? The sun is quite bright, the clouds are a bit greyer. The only clue is that some passengers are wearing thicker coats. But most are still dressed for warm weather.

It was warm yesterday, it is not raining today. It will probably be warm again today and so I will not wear a coat. Familiarity heuristics like this might explain why it takes the average passenger in the train carriage more than a day to adjust to a change in weather. More generally, familiarity heuristics mean that the public sphere is always one step behind.

The idea of “the public sphere” in Habermas’s sense … designates a theater in modern societies in which political participation is enacted through the medium of talk. It is the space in which citizens deliberate about their common affairs, hence, an institutionalized arena of discursive interaction. This arena is conceptually distinct from the state; it [is] a site for the production and circulation of discourses that can in principle be critical of the state. The public sphere in Habermas’s sense is also conceptually distinct from the official economy; it is not an arena of market relations but rather one of discursive relations, a theater for debating and deliber- ating rather than for buying and selling. Thus, this concept of the public sphere permits us to keep in view the distinctions between state apparatuses, economic markets, and democratic associations, distinctions that are essential to democratic theory.

Nancy Fraser, Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy

Juergen Osterhammel writes that the translation of “Öffentlichkeit” to “public sphere” reduces the dimensionality that Habermas’ concept has in German. One imagines a public sphere to be nothing but a place, a suitable venue where debate and negotiation can occur. In fact, a public sphere includes processes, habits, culture… There may be competitions between public spheres, each angling for more gravity.

Two young boys, about 8 years old, read intently. Their mother took books for each of them out of her handbag and placed them on the ledge by the window: Fuzzy Mud and The rest of us just live here. Then she used her phone but quickly switched to her own book. The younger looking boy has thick glasses and he doesn’t pick up his book but reads the copy of the Evening Standard that was lying on his seat.

A scholar and his relative (his aunt?), both with Australian accents are on their way to Cambridge. She asks him about the market value of his qualification. He says there are only two or three people like him. She wonders whether that could change over the next few years. He doesn’t think so: first of all, PhDs are semi-rare already, secondly few people study policing and so PhDs in policing are difficult to find so he is safe.

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