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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15 Jun '12 06:19:49 AM

I have never, ever, ever, stopped saying 'you-rippa-deese, you-buya-deese' to myself.

Nor 'mamalujo'.

15 Jun '12 04:37:31 AM

'In composing the skeptical recital, I did find it natural for the skeptic to wish to single out one other to exemplify the situation in which he, and by implication all of us, found himself. There was nothing special about this other that led the skeptic to single him out, nothing prejudicial it brought to the recital, was there? It was intended as analogous to the epistemologist's use of a generic object as the sort of example with which he is compelled to work, in order to speak of our capacity for knowing as such. I said early on that the rubric "generic object" was meant heuristically, for example to rule out the investigator's expertise in the case. It is a case, if there is a case, in which what is at stake is not the investigator's particular learning but his human capacity as a knower, a case in which anyone who has the power of knowledge can exercise that power. So if something was special about the one singled out, it must consist in the very way in which there is nothing special about him; in the fact, that is to say, that he is a stranger. Is this, in itself, special? Surely, at least, the stranger presents a more fundamental instance of our powers as knowers of others than instances of our friends and acquaintances, who will merely raise questions of our privileged position with respect to them, not of our general human capacities with respect to others?' (Part Four, ch. XIII, sec. 19, pp. 426–7).

'Am I implying that we do not really know the difference between hallucinated and real things, or between animate and inanimate things? What I am saying is that the differences are not ones for which there are criteria. As the difference between natural objects and artifacts is not one for which there are criteria. In such cases the role of origins is decisive, indeed definitive. So shall we rather say: knowing a thing's origin is knowing the decisive, the definitive, criterion of it? But that removes a criterion from its role in providing a means of knowledge, since in very few cases have we been present at a thing's origin, a thing we nevertheless know as well as anything! But then, as Descartes more or less says, conceiving how a thing is sustained or conserved comes to the same as conceiving its origin. The ultimacy of the idea of origin in our ideas of the difference between animate and inanimate things and between natural and artificial things is something that invites proofs from these locales for the existence of God.' (Part One, ch. III, pp. 63–4).

'Myths generally will deal with origins that no one can have been present at. In addition to God and the soul, society and the state are important figures.…' (Part Four, ch. XIII, sec. 6, p. 365).

Though at times others can be strangers to us while not so to others around us ('aw, cmon, so and so's been coming around here for years!'), a paradigmatic apprehension of someone as as stranger is literally when they show up, when they appear among us, and the question is: 'where did you come from?'. Not knowing their origins, we move naturally through a whole range of doubts, anxieties, fears, cautions, attractions which motivate our inquiries (or, sadly, sometimes our avoidance of inquiry).

Other strangers: the stranger who appears in a place where we are alone: in our home, working late in the office, lurking suddenly in the alley, meeting us in the other direction out on the road or passing through a field or a forest, overtaking us from behind in similar circumstances. The stranger who approaches us when we are alone in public: most fearsome for a child, recognized as pests or threats for single women, producing the most anxiety for adults generally when the strangers present themselves as authority figures ('come with me, at once').

Think of how we find out about strangers. Of course, by seeing how they act, by talking to them, and trusting them, or letting trust develop. But also by looking to find out from others, to be told, about the stranger. We want most to hear from people who know them: in the case of the stranger, that will often be, people who were present at their origin, at least in the sense of being present at the place the stranger came from. (The burden of being known by others is often what leads people to become strangers by leaving one place for another. This is something that was often appreciated before some point in history, and still is by, for example, watchful parents and small-town police.)

Think also of how unusual the circumstances would be in which one could truly claim to have been present at a person's origin, for example in the biological sense. 'I was there when you were born' is something people say (and also 'I wasn't there', apologetically, so probably more often 'He wasn't there when you were born', blamefully). Sometimes 'I was there when you were conceived', as a joke. Why a joke? Perhaps because, given the nature of conception, gestation, being present in this way does not so much provide the kind of knowledge of a person that one driven back to origins might seek. Knowledge of one's mother or, more likely, one's father. I want to say, being carried by, within, one's mother somehow obscures one's origin in the sense of origin one might imagine resolves any skeptical doubts about being animate or inanimate. As if one thought, secretly: 'who knows what can go on in there, during a pregnancy?' And sure enough, magical, supernatural, horrific, or science-fictional pregnancies are a standard site for the imagination of transformations, alterations, of the animate, the human.

14 Jun '12 11:34:32 AM

As the author, Descartes is explicit about submitting material that is to be carefully read, that is, material that is written, a book. As the meditator, he maintains a pretense of not having written any of each day's meditations down. Or at least, the meditator does not mention doing so. Except: 'right now my eyes are certainly wide awake when I gaze upon this sheet of paper', awake and seated by the fire, not dreaming. Is he writing down what he thinks?

14 Jun '12 11:09:07 AM

Three former Agency men, Parmenter, T-Jay Mackey, and Win Everett, who were once part of covert meetings planning to take down Castro, are still meeting, even after the committees and groups they were part of have been dissolved, disbanded. T-Jay was 'the only man who'd refused to sign a letter of reprimand when the secret meetings in Coral Gables were monitored by the Office of Security… Parmenter and two others signed letters of reprimand that were placed in their personnel files. Win signed a letter and also agreed to a technical interview, or polygraph exam. He signed a quit claim, stating that he was taking the test voluntarily. He signed a secrecy agreement, stating that he would talk to no one about the test.'

Paper, paper, paper. Why does the paranoid mode (cf. 'shit, money, and the Word') invite so much of it?

14 Jun '12 10:53:31 AM

Lee Harvey is drawn to the library, outgrows the local branch, is excited to discover it full of communist books. 'He learned that Trotsky had once lived, in exile, in a working-class area of the Bronx not far from the places Lee had lived with his mother. Trotsky in the Bronx. But Trotsky was not his real name. Lenin's name was not really Lenin. Stalin's name was Dzhugashvili. Historic names, pen names, names of war, party names, revolutionary names.' Two scenes later, 'he tried to talk politics with Robert Sproul's sister, mainly to say something'. After arguing for some time about Eisenhower, the Rosenbergs, Lee ventures:

'If you look at the name Trotsky in Russian, it looks totally different… Plus here's something nobody knows. Stalin's name was Dzhugashvili. Stalin means man of steel.'

The boy who makes a fetish out of his inner life, who defines himself by his secret, or secretiveness—'like him, to be a misplaced martyr and let you think he was just a fool, or exactly the reverse, as long as he knew the truth and you didn't'—is as much led into making a fetish out of what he thinks, naively, that other people must not know about others, and precisely what impresses him in this regard is the idea that a person's name might not be their name, that the—the?—means by which they're known to people might in truth fail to impart any knowledge of them at all. At least, to impart it to anyone who is anyone, since 'nobody' knows. When 'nobody knows', if you know, then you're not just not nobody, not just somebody: you're practically the only somebody.

'He kept the Marxist books in his room, took them to the library for renewal, carried them back home. He let classmates read the titles if they were curious, just to see their silly faces crinkle up, but he didn't show the books to his mother. The books were private, like something you find and hide, some lucky piece that contains the secret of who you are. The books themselves were secret. Forbidden and hard to read. They altered the room, charged it with meaning. The drabness of his surroundings, his own shabby clothes were explained and transformed by these books. He saw himself as a part of something vast and sweeping. he was the product of a sweeping history, he and his mother, locked into a process, a system of money and property that diminished their human worth every day, as if by scientific law. The books made him part of something. Something led up to his presence in this room, in this particular skin, and something would follow. Men in small rooms. Men reading and waiting, struggling with secret and feverish ideas. Trotsky's name was Bronstein. He would need a secret name. He would join a cell located in the old buildings near the docks. They would talk theory into the night. But they would act as well. Organize and agitate. He would move through the city in the rain, wearing dark clothes. It was just a question of finding a cell. There was no question they were here. Senator Eastlund made it clear on TV. Underground reds in N'yorlenz.'

13 Jun '12 11:25:15 AM

It's right that two pages into Libra, they're watching TV.

13 Jun '12 05:16:46 AM

'If we are on the outside, we assume a conspiracy is the perfect working of a scheme. Silent nameless men with unadorned hearts. A conspiracy is everything that ordinary life is not. It's the inside game, cold, sure, undistracted, forever closed off to us. We are the flawed ones, the innocents, trying to make some rough sense of the daily jostle. Conspirators have a logic and a daring beyond our reach. All conspiracies are the same taut story of men who find coherence in some criminal act.

But maybe not. Nicholas Branch thinks he knows better. He has learned enough about the days and months preceding November 22, and enough about the twenty-second itself, to reach a determination that the conspiracy against the President was a rambling affair that succeeded in the short term due mainly to chance. Deft men and fools, ambivalence and fixed will and what the weather was like.…'

13 Jun '12 03:39:24 AM

'That confirms the idea that there is that in us that is capable of escaping human nature, here still expressed mythically. The myth speaks – beyond that of my standing in specific relations to myself – of the possibility of my gaining perspective on myself. I can, for example, sometimes gain a perspective on my present pain. … Is there something that could give me a perspective on my human nature as such? And would this be a perspective from which I see myself in the same way, or from the same distance, as I see the other? Could I, for example, see myself as a stranger? This need not be a case of seeing the strangeness of myself, though that might help my perspective. It would be a case of seeing that I have not met myself; it happens upon me, the knowledge comes over me, that I have not. I would then have an occasion for taking an interest in myself; it would be an occasion for interesting myself in something more than I have already heard about myself.'

12 Jun '12 03:35:47 AM

A gloriously cool day; cool air.