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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1 Apr '16 05:01:55 AM

In some form, Augustine's description of how he learned to speak, quoted in §1 of the Investigations, does speak of his coming into a voice, learning to use his. So one subtle effect of Wittgenstein's shopkeeper example in §1d, which is (almost!) given without any reference to speech, and explicitly involves transmitting the order for 'five red apples' to the shopkeeper in writing, is that Wittgenstein has described a way of operating with words, using language, in which there is no call whatsoever to talk of 'speaking', nor even of 'sounds' which might or might not be understood. Voice has been omitted. Thus one difference between the shopkeeper example and the builders' language of §2 which, in terms of the text, seems functionally to replicate much of what was already contained in §1, is that in the builders' language, the voice is back: A and B use a language consisting of words which A 'calls out', in response to which B brings the stones he's learned to bring as called.

In §6, expanding scope to consider how training in such a language would proceed, Wittgenstein notes that it would include the teacher's pointing to an object in order to direct the child's attention to it, while uttering the word for the object. This sets up an 'associative connection' between word and thing, he says. Here, one of the earliest instances of his touchiness toward mental images follows almost immediately: one might think (angling toward elaborating some notion of 'meaning' thus established) that an associative connection's being set up between word and thing means that an image of the thing comes before the child's mind when he hears the word, but Wittgenstein pushes back by insisting that this would not, save certain special cases, be the purpose of that word, viz. to evoke that image; and in the builders' language in particular, it is not.

Why the pushback here? It's inconspicuous, but the idea suggested to explain what's meant by 'associative connection' posits that, upon hearing a word, something else comes before the child's mind; something that, more or less, also belongs to another sense modality. He hears the word, 'sees' the image of the object associated with it.

In the shopkeeper example of §1d, the shopkeeper responds to the written order, 'five red apples', by performing a sequence of actions: he opens the drawer containing the apples, looks up the color red in a table, and then counts out five apples from the drawer, each possessing the color of the sample in the table. The drawer in particular can seem like a curious detail, gratuitous. But barring a case where apples would be individually labeled with the word 'apple', in writing, say tagged with it as later suggested in §15, storing them in a drawer labeled with the word 'apples' seems the next best thing. It sets up a complex situation, though. The transposition of the order from speech (as we might expect in §1) to writing means that 'understanding' the order can, up to a point, be imagined to involve simply matching visual correspondences: these scratches on this slip of paper, the same scratches on this piece of cardstock slipped into a slot on the front of the set of drawers. At the same time, though, this suggests that in some sense the word is nothing like the thing: the shopkeeper can fill the order by matching visual correspondences between different inscriptions of the word, but the word doesn't look at all like the apples it refers to. The shopkeeper is lucky the drawer is there to help him out! In effect, it becomes a metaphor for the classificatory function of the word, or common nouns generally. Yet applying the same sort of reasoning to 'red' multiplies the problems: again, the inscriptions of 'red' on the order and the table look sufficiently alike for the shopkeeper to perform the lookup, but the sample next to 'red' in the table doesn't look at all like the word (and the table itself just barely has any visual similarity to the word, by virtue of having the word written somewhere on it!). Then the action the shopkeeper performs, to take an apple from the drawer which has the color of that sample, reaches back to awaken a crazy question about the first step: if it's by matching the color of a thing the shopkeeper has, to the color of a thing he has yet to have, that he knows which to take, then how is it that in picking the drawer to open in the first place, he knows that to fill the order means to take those, the apples there in the drawer? After all, he doesn't have an apple, they're in the drawer. Worse still!—taking the word 'five' into account, with no numerical aide-mémoire available, say with which to match inscriptions of 'five', the shopkeeper now has to do something which transposes the linguistic activity with written words into a spoken activity, counting to five; and with each number he says (he knows them by heart, Wittgenstein adds), he takes an apple of the appropriate color from the drawer—thus applying the word 'five' in such a way that not only does matching of the number-word with each apple seem out of the question (save maybe the first), since there's nothing oneish or twoish or fiveish about the apples he takes from the drawer to recommend a match, as there is with the red sample and red apples, but this step (which itself multiplies the steps, or consists of steps) awakens its own crazy question about the preceding step: how is it that in picking apples of the appropriate color in the first place, he knows that each has its own color, as the sample has its own color (each being its own thing, different), but these in turn can have, at once, 'the same' color? After all, if he counts them, the colors red, the red things, he comes up with two (or five, or six): or is it one, one red?

The images of things proposed in §6 to explain the idea of an associative connection between word, as heard, and thing, might appear as if they enabled the child to make the transposition and thus to reliably recognize things, given utterances of their names: the sound gets connected to an image (which is not at all like the sound) which then looks like the thing, and the child as it were matches the mental image to the thing, or matches the remembered image to the present image upon actually seeing the thing. But the complex of externalizations effected in the peculiar description of the shopkeeper underscores how, internal or external, positing some kind of performance of a 'match' still stands in need of some explanation of what is done, what one learns to do; and even the simplest examples of such doing quickly seem to make the very idea of matching appear of limited value, unenriched by some idea of multiform activity. Particularly a matching which is attracted to the need to pair sensory modalities with one another, inner mediator and outer object or experience.

In some sense, no such pairing is needed for, let's call it, the activity modality. To speak is already to do something; as are even to make sounds, noises. And so is to respond to what someone says.

So it might be that by omitting the voice from the shopkeeper example—which could even be completely done, with the shopkeeper counting silently, to himself—and thus bracketing all sense of the initiating order being merely some sounds understood in such-and-such a way to refer to such-and-such things, as in Augustine's description, Wittgenstein is able to bring out the surprising degree to which it condensed within itself, as an act, all the shopkeeper's complex activity, as an act in response.

(Condensed, or seemed to.)

31 Mar '16 04:02:34 AM

'Also, the relaxation of the demands of decorum both justifies and encourages literary experiments as the principle of decorum fosters a strong connection between literature generally and rhetoric. When the principle of decorum governs simply the appropriate matching of style and genre, it functions conservatively to protect a literary status quo. When, however, the doctrine of decorum refers to the social world outside the literary system—that heroes should talk like heroes and fools act like fools—it fosters literary innovation. In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries we find this social definition of decorum increasingly urged to defend the use of prose in tragedies as well as comedies; prose speaks more directly to contemporary audiences, and its basis in ordinary usage makes it a more accurate instrument for recreating human actions on the stage. Ben Jonson's Sejanus might have fared better had he curbed the artificial effulgence of his language to this new rule of custom. Shakespeare left no critical record other than the plays themselves; examination of his use of dramatic prose, however, would dispel the critical shibboleth with which this essay began [viz., that his rustics, clowns, peasants, and other corrupters of language speak in prose; his heroes descend to it when, clouded in confusion or distracted by evil, they forego the high talk of poetry]. Certainly the stylistic transformations we witness between the self-conscious artifice of Richard II and the more naturalistic prose and poetry of the later tragedies and romances indicate Shakespeare's incorporation of this principle.

A new definition of decorum, then, emerges in response to such anticlassical techniques as the use of prose in drama, a definition that clearly shows the influence of rhetorical theory on poetic theory. In this version decorum establishes a social contract between writer (or work) and reader: a decorous work operates through the forms most readily accessible to the audience. Defining decorum and hence communication of literary meaning as a function of "what without dishonor the place and the time require" assigns the audience a determining position with regard to a literary work. That the audience maintains such a position is, of course, a commonplace of rhetorical theory. The orator must establish a contract of style and subject with his audience if, as Sidney says, he is to "winne credit of popular eares… the nearest steppe to perswasion, which perswasion, is the chiefe marke of Oratorie." The application of this rhetorical doctrine to all literary art makes of decorum a means rather than an end and thus sanctions a good deal of literary experiment—not only in the use of vernacular models for the drama but more generally in the development of literary styles less obviously artificial, more directly communicative. In prose we see the fruits of this development in the movement from Ciceronian to Senecan styles in the seventeenth century. The Senecan style, precisely because it is less ornate, is capable of a more flexible response to the demands of its audience.'

24 Mar '16 09:13:49 AM

Nothing. That's what's happened.

23 Mar '16 07:45:15 AM

I went to the store last week and bought things I needed, but as I was leaving I felt unsatisfied. So I bought a little bowl.

I set it on a shelf and now I look at it and think, hey, look at that bowl.

I couldn't tell you what will happen next.

23 Mar '16 03:38:24 AM

'Здравствуй! Легкий шелест слышишь
Справа от стола?
Этих строчек не допишешь -
Я к тебе пришла.
Неужели ты обидишь
Так, как в прошлый раз,-
Говоришь, что рук не видишь,
Рук моих и глаз.
У тебя светло и просто.
Не гони меня туда,
Где под душным сводом моста
Стынет грязная вода.'

21 Mar '16 09:24:04 PM

'And yet something about the word "betters" is at odds with the spirit of this film, which Kubrick concludes with this epilogue: "It was in the reign of George III that the aforesaid personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now." They are all equal in death; and more importantly, they have all been equalized by the camera. Some of the characters in Barry Lyndon are objectionable. We can say that Quin is smug and cowardly, that Runt is a bloodless toady, that Mrs. Barry is harsh and insensitive; but the experience of the film makes any such judgments sound lame. The film transforms life into something arrestingly unfamiliar. We watch it with curiosity and care, until we sense the inexhaustible nuances of every image and encounter. Barry Lyndon incites us to tolerance by preserving the full integrity of experience, which is always more truthful than the conclusions it inspires. We learn to disregard authority and see for ourselves.'

21 Mar '16 02:57:46 AM

I'm not sure whether the years do.

21 Mar '16 02:57:04 AM

Although the street doesn't go through.

21 Mar '16 02:56:24 AM

But further down.