Sunday, 13 February 2011

Problematic Theory

When did the use of the word problematic as a noun cease to be merely the substantive use of the adjective (meaning, thus, problematic [things]) and start to be an object in its own right?

Also: what does this sentence mean?

"It is this context that I want to allude briefly to the problematic of seeing/being seen."

Can one really allude a context to a problematic? I don't think I speak this kind of English :*(

Help. Please.


revgrant said...

Hmmm...if you have to ask then maybe you are sophisticated enough to know. Because it 'sounds' like it might be sophisticated, or something, for a couple of beats.

Or maybe it happened around the same time that architects started saying: "We have to sprinkle the building." Translated: We have to install a sprinkling system in the building.

meg said...

I can't answer your question, but I know one thing for sure: It's the Germans' fault. Or, rather, Anglophone academia's centuries-long love affair with Germanistik.

Vellum said...

revgrant: is the sentence "A1 Fully Sprinkled" then?

meg: yes, it's a bit refreshing to blame Germany for a change... wait.

Leslie M-B said...

I asked this very question in grad school about 10 years ago--i.e., what is the difference between "a problem" and "a problematic"? I'm not entirely satisfied with the prof's answer: "problem" refers to a single problem, whereas "problematic" is a tangle of related problems.

Jonathan Jarrett said...

I think this may also just be bad English: I can't make sense of it without an extra 'in' as third word. Is the writer using his or her first language, I wonder? Because wilfully making 'allude' directly transitive seems very strange.

Sisyphus said...

Do you really want to know? It's Marxist theory. I don't know the exact meaning (though I may throw it around sometimes), but it basically is a matrix of social forces or social struggles when you're talking about the difficulties of how you are going to insert yourself and make social change. Hence, the neoliberal problematic in education would probably be talking about how we as intellectual workers can align with the laboring class during the budget cuts and protests in Wisconsin right now. Sorta. (Don't take away my Marxist membership card!)

I don't actually know if it's Marx's term from back in the day. I bet it's from the 20s/30s though. Or Lucacks. I never did read him on my theory list. Gotta be him then.

Vellum said...

Etymologically it seems to have arisen as a false singularization of a false pluralization the substantive plural "problematic," being used after the model of "mathematics" - cf. OED "freq. in pl. A thing that constitutes a problem or an area of difficulty, esp. in a particular field of study."

So "the problematic" starts plural -- short for "the problematic things"; then following the model of mathematics it becomes "the problematics of social Darwinism" (or underwater basket weaving, or whatever); finally it's singularized to become "one problematic of social Darwinism."