josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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29 Jan '13 05:10:39 AM

If only Beth Gibbons hadn't spoken to the audience at the Roseland show.

29 Jan '13 12:35:53 AM

I would be happier if more academic performances ended with fewer questions that sound like 'is this really right?' and more questions that sound like: 'where does our investigation point us next?'.

28 Jan '13 11:29:04 PM

What do narrative structures afford to their authors and to authors' readers? (Especially if the authors' works are not, for the most part, narratives?)

'Once A.…'

'She… and then she…'

'Despite… we still…'

'Once again A. and B.…'

'B. has always… but now…'

'We… but we…'

Important relatives: 'Are we…?', 'Have we…?', 'Will we…?'.

28 Jan '13 10:38:31 AM

I've spent a lot of time studying Stanley Cavell's work over the last several years, especially The Claim of Reason. Not much of that study has shown up here, but when it has, it might not have been in the most surveyable form. I've been working on several fronts at once as I try to piece together a useful sense of what Cavell's up to and how to deal with him. This has only, out of necessity, started to come together in the past year or two.

So here are links to readings and glosses from the past year or so (indexed to part, chapter, and section in Claim unless otherwise noted). I doubt that many of them would be very helpful to anyone not very familiar with Cavell, save for the discussion of philosophical journals, but I've marked with asterisks the ones which involve more of my own 'reading' and less of the mechanics of reading. There is a fair bit of mechanics of reading because the major obstacles to making any sense of Cavell are first and foremost gathering some sense from more sprawling works like Claim or tracing the passages in subsequent work that serve to elaborate or clarify claims made earlier. To help with that I roughly follow the order of publication below. The hardest and most interesting questions have to do with material like Part Four of Claim, on skepticism about our knowledge of others, which strains or ignores organizational niceties to the point of reader frustration or despair.


Author and audience under modernist conditions (Foreword, Must we mean what we say?).

The Claim of Reason

Continuously renewed questioning. The personal. Not destructive criticism, but a shift in interest (Preface).

Glosses of Wittgenstein on agreement in form of life (§241) and judgment (One, I), and on the expression of essence in grammar (§371; §90) (One, IV). Differences between real and imaginary not criterial (One, III). The impression that Wittgenstein wants to deny anything about our knowledge of others (One, V). Philosophy, the education of grownups, as a confrontation of the culture with itself* along the lines in which it meets in me (One, V).

Four characterizations of philosophical appeals to ordinary language (Two, VI). The fourth of these, appeals to ordinary language as statements of initiation, in connection with the idea of authority (Two, VII). A gloss on the expression of essence in grammar (§371) and Wittgenstein's method when addressing questions about essence (Two, VII).

Use of the term 'fantasy' (Four). The keeping of a limited philosophical journal* (Four, per Foreword). The expression of the soul is never better than natural (Four, XIII, 2). Internal dialogues, being thrown back on oneself, and use of the imagination (Four, XIII, 3–6). Passages on a fantasy of privacy as expressed in fragments of a myth (Four, XIII, 4–6). Singling someone out* to serve as a best case of knowledge, an analogue to the generic object (see mainly One, III; Two, VI, VIII) of external-world skepticism, such as the stranger (Four, XIII, 19). Seeing oneself as a stranger (Four, XIII, 21).

The ordinary in books and essays

Emerson and Thoreau underwriting ordinary-language philosophy by putting everything in their own voices (Senses of Walden). Living our skepticism ('Being Odd, Getting Even'). The audience and sound of philosophical writing ('Emerson Mood'). Thoreau's vision of philosophical writing and interpretation of reading ('Philosopher in American Life'). Willingness for the everyday ('Uncanniness of the Ordinary').

Going on as a reader

Responsiveness. Being left quiet.

28 Jan '13 12:02:22 AM

How you know A Lover's Discourse is not an ordinary book:

It has very large words in it.

'So it is a lover who speaks and who says:'

27 Jan '13 11:29:08 PM

Observations made on and about buses, maxims on writing maxims, remarks on the grammar of privacy.

Nietzsche claims that the best readers of maxims must be writers of maxims; without that practice, they lack a sharp enough feel for what is successful and attractive, what works and what doesn't.

Read a scholarly work on Nietzsche. As far as you can tell, if not there, then perhaps earlier, has its author been an aphorist? Could she have been, while now suppressing all signs of it? (Why would she want to?)

27 Jan '13 10:50:12 PM

'The lover speaks in bundles of sentences but does not integrate these sentences on a higher level, into a work; his is a horizontal discourse: no transcendence, no deliverance, no novel…'

27 Jan '13 06:51:56 AM

'It is in fearing our own thoughts, concepts and words, but also honoring ourselves in them and involuntarily ascribing to them the strength to reward, despise, praise and censure us; it is therefore in associating with them as we would with free, spiritual persons, with independent powers, as equals with equals—herein lies the root of the strange phenomenon that I have called "intellectual conscience."'

27 Jan '13 05:09:23 AM

The disillusioned name themselves after a term of criticism whose importance to them betrays their disappointment, as well. Those who have no illusions are not likewise disillusioned.