to induce improper mutual-involvement

behavior in public places: notes on the social organization of gatherings by erving goffman is a book that was mentioned in the notes for matt webb’s presentation about his “glancing” project.

because it is really a rather academic work (and perhaps because it was written in 1963), it chases a sort of precision of vocabulary that makes it tough to digest. but there were a number of interesting nuggets within that made it worthwhile.

here’s a quote from the book, which is actually a quote from georg simmel’s soziologie:

of the special sense-organs, the eye has a uniquely sociological function. the union and interaction of individuals is based upon mutual glances. this is perhaps the most direct and purest reciprocity which exists anywhere. this highest psychic reaction, however, in which the glances of eye to eye unite men, crystallizes into no objective structure; the unity which momentarily arises between two persons is present in the occasion and is dissolved in the function. so tenacious and subtle is this union that it can only be maintained by the shortest and straightest line between the eyes, and the smallest deviation from it, the slightest glance aside, completely destroys the unique character of this union. no objective trace of this relationship is left behind, as is universally found, directly or indirectly, in all other types of associations between men, as, for example, in interchange of words. the interaction of eye and eye dies in the moment in which directness of the function is lost. but the totality of social relations of human beings, their self-assertion and self-abnegation, their intimacies and estrangements, would be changed in unpredictable ways if there occurred no glance of eye to eye. this mutual glance between persons, in distinction from the simple sight or or observation of the other, signifies a wholly new and unique union between them.

it probably doesn’t take much imagination for anyone who knows me to figure out why i found that noteworthy.

(“to induce improper mutual-involvement” is one of those phrases that just popped out at me elsewhere in the book. sign me up.)

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