It may perhaps be possible to imagine a society without institutions but the term is, in any case, of fundamental importance to sociology. e term is somewhat unclear, though, vaguely de ned as basic terms o en are; it is indeed a bit di cult to see the common denominator for the family and the government’s organization — not to mention when ‘institution’ accounts for almost everything that characterizes the social, as opposed to the natural. However, all these institutions are usually interpreted in terms of domination and restraint, which could perhaps be of outmost importance for the existence of culture.
It seems to me as if Carl Palm has been interested in a kind of uno cial institutions, recurring situations that may appear to be unorganized, unexpected opportunities without rules and open to creativity. Activities done for their own sake, autotelic, and therefore hard to explain and justify. Not that they are in any sense wrong, just beyond the possibilities of justi cation, beyond universal communication. ey imply instead that you seclude yourself with a number of selected persons. ese situations and activities are not necessarily even a part of one’s private life, but of a kind of temporary life that does not identify what you “are” even among friends. Carl Palm’s works involving sex tools point towards this kind of secret social activities as an an institution for adults of a certain age. It is not an institution that one can expect everyone to relate to, but at the same time it is su ciently mainstream to be inapt as a material for the construction of an identity. What is interesting about this today is the relative commonness, among a number of people that do not constitute a real group, of shared experience; that’s what turns it into a (potential) social phenomenon. ere is an energy in those institutions, probably di erent in each one, which is part of an age and of a certain time, linked to certain things, states of mind, certain premises, situations, and maybe a particular drug. Sometimes a bus stop is also such an institution, but for teenagers in small towns and suburbs. ey do not hang out there to be seen. On the contrary, everything about such an institution appears to be a background, and the important thing is not what emerges into the foreground – a leader, or someone showing o – but the very possibility of disappearing in and into the background. One can slip into the mumble, scribbles, gra ti, ride an elusive thought or get immersed in an unconcentrated wandering gaze. What happens at the bus stop stays there, not because of some kind of omerta, but because of the di culties to formulate what has actually happening there; the actual place where they are at is neither public, despite the concrete, nor really private, despite the gra ti and whippets: it is its own background and that’s where things go down. at’s why these institutions are silent, “secret”. Even a background is a place, though it cannot empirically ever be here. But you can be in it if you are part of it, while others can not even go there. It’s a community without network, a shared energy. I have the impression that when these institutions are spoken about, only the networks are highlighted. For example, homosexual secret networks is a lieu commun, a topos of conspiracy theories. But what intrigues Palm is not the networks, but the energy of these institutions. e energy is what constitutes these institutions.
Virginia Woolf once wrote about what people say to each other at the cafe on a Friday a ernoon. e same words were said before and a er the war, she notes, yet they are completely di erent: the murmur had changed. Of course, she wrote about an institution, but something of the kind applies to Palm’s secret institutions, even if they do not constitute a whole epoch. But are small and scattered communities which can be entirely separate but still belong together, not through the networks, but by virtue of the energy and its quality, analogously to the murmur. Energy is o en thought of as something that can realize possibilities. e energy is somewhere, charges something and discharges itself in the realization of a possibility in which it is consumed. Each pathos is a state of energy with a certain tone or hue that is the energy’s own quality. What happens to those energies? ey are not just consumed, are they? Even a er the act done for its own sake, something is le . In the shadow of unjusti ed social activity, there is still a new quality remaining, isn’t there? Are these energies and qualities nding their ways into society? You bring your bus stop with you. Imagine you could follow these energies and qualities through society, locate them in a certain movement of thought here, or in an architectural solution there, see them in institutional changes just as Woolf did. Even better, imagine you could learn how to connect the energies of several of these, widely separated, secret institutions! It would really alter your state of consciousness! It would be a leap into a psychedelic world, incite processes that de es predictions. It sounds like a dream, no like something revolutionary.
Lars-Erik Hjertström Lappalainen