3006 microsociology

And not only is it lost, but we do not even
wonder at this loss. We are resigned to losing
the concreteness of the present. We immedi-
ately transform the present moment into its
abstraction. We need only recount an episode
we experienced a few hours ago: the dialogue
contracts to a brief summary, the setting to a
few general features. This applies to even the
strongest memories which affect the mind dee-
ply like a trauma: we are so dazzled by their
potency that we do not realize how schematic
and meager their content is.
When we study, discuss, analyze a reality, we
analyze it as it appears in our mind, in our
memory. We know reality only in the past
tense. We do not know it as it is in the present
in the moment when it is happening, when it is.
The present moment is unlike the memory of
it. Remembering is not the negative of forget-
ting. Remembering is a form of forgetting.
We can assiduously keep a diary and note
every event. Rereading the entries one day we
will see that they cannot evoke a single concrete
image. And still worse: the imagination is unable
to help our memory along and reconstruct what
has been forgotten. The present the concrete-
ness of the present as a phenomenon to con-
sider, as a structure, is for us an unknown planet:
so we can neither hold on to it in our memory
nor reconstruct it through imagination. We die
without knowing what we have lived. (Kundera
1995: 128 9)

How can a scientist or scholar capture rea
lity, when we and the people whom we study
usually cannot? As Kundera suggests, only the
greatest of novelists, giants such as Tolstoy
and Proust, have even come close, by reporting
the evocative details of sight, sound, and
context that we usually ignore or immediately
Kunderas comments clarify and extend the
Proustian quest, not only for the lost past, but
for the lost present. Although most of Prousts
commentary concerns the recovery of the
distant past, a few passages concern a past
so immediate that it edges upon the present.
For example, in the section called Within a
Budding Grove, there is an incident in which
the narrator, Marcel, finally meets Albertine,
the girl he has been yearning for (and who later
becomes the love of his life). At first he is
deeply disappointed with the meeting; the
whole episode seems banal and empty; he and
she both conventional and distant. However,
that evening, as he reconsiders the meeting,
he begins to remember the fine details of
her gestures, facial expression, and inflections.
She comes to life for him, in his darkroom,
as he says, where he is able to develop the
negatives of his impressions of her earlier in
the day. By focusing on the details, he is able to
regain a past so immediate that it points toward
the possibility of recovering the present.
Proust is still ridiculed for his seeming pre
occupation with minutiae. A favorite joke is
that it takes him 15 pages to describe turning
over in bed. This joke is a defensive maneuver,
serving to protect the status quo described by
Kundera. Proust implies that the ability to
recover even fleeting moments of the past and
present are the sine qua non of the great artist:
it is these recovered moments that breathe life
into art.
But why do we need the living present in the
human sciences? Because it is needed to breathe
life into our enterprise, also. Linking the min
utia to larger wholes can restore human reality
to the social sciences. This approach is a way of
filling in the details of Prousts method of
developing our negatives in our darkroom.
Using transcripts or verbatim texts as data, one
interprets the meaning of the smallest parts
(words and gestures) of expressions within the
context of the ever greater wholes within which
they occur: sentences, paragraphs, the whole
dialogue, the whole relationship, the whole cul
ture and social structure. A central theme in the
work of Spinoza was that understanding human
beings requires relating the least parts to the
greatest wholes. Microsociology proposes that
this method may be carried out in a disciplined
program of inquiry.
Social relationships can be represented by
two main dimensions: power and integration.
Marxs early work gave these dimensions equal
attention, social class and rank representing
power, alienation/solidarity, integration. But
in his later work he focused almost entirely on
the power dimension, leading to a huge gap in
our understanding of social relationships.
The idea of the social bond can be seen as a
way of representing integration in terms of
alienation and its opposite, solidarity. The
structure/process of actual social relationships
involves mixtures of alienation and solidarity,
and the exact proportion can be determined