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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21 May '04 09:34:37 PM

Maybe the reason I don't care that Sonic Youth's lyrics can be sometimes embarrassingly dumb is that they still make me feel things, but what things, I don't know; in that they complement the music, made as it is out of sounds I was never necessarily taught to hear as this or that emotion.

20 May '04 07:57:54 AM

John Crowe Ransom's back-cover blurb is slightly backhanded:

'Pound's Cantos is a modern classic that everybody has to know.'

19 May '04 07:17:19 AM

Are there ever any ugly girls in Kierkegaard?

11 May '04 11:10:20 PM

Some paragraphs of Charles Bernstein reminiscent of an entry of mine of last August:

'In some sense these are just issues of style; a style is chosen and it is not to the point simply to be evaluative about which is best intrinsically. But to acknowledge that there are philosophical assumptions that underlie given stylistic practices - assumptions about the nature of reason, objects, the world, persons, morality, justice. At a certain historical moment certain paths were chosen as to the style that would express a quasiscientific voice of reason and authority - even though, as Thomas Kuhn points out in The Structures of Scientific Revolution, this "normal" science language cannot account for paradigm shifts central to scientific progress - a voice that was patriarchal, monologic, authoritative, impersonal. The predominance of this authoritative plain style (taught in such guides as Strunk and White) and its valorization as a picture of clarity and reason is a relatively recent phenomenon and its social meaning will no doubt be clarified by a careful tracing of its origins that would be a central project for the historian of social forms. Morris Croll has elucidated an earlier stage of these developments in his account of the rise of the Anti-Ciceronian prose style in the late 16th century, a development in some ways paralleling such current critiques as this one of contemporary expository forms, in its rejection of a static predetermined formality and its attempt "to portray not a thought, but a mind thinking." Montaigne most clearly exemplifies this movement, especially in terms of his methodological awareness of the implications of style: "I stray from the path, but it is rather by licence than oversight. My ideas follow each other, but sometimes it is at a distance, and they look at each other, but with an oblique gaze. . . . It is the lazy reader who loses track of the subject, not I. . . . I keep changing without constraint or order. My style and my mind both go a-vagabonding. . . . I mean that my matter should distinguish itself. It shows sufficiently where it changes, where it ends, where begins, where resumes, without interlacing of words, of conjunctions, or connectives introduced for weak or negligent ears, and without glossing myself."'

'This understanding [of the social meanings of styles and modes] should lead to a very acute sense of the depletion of styles and tones in the public realm of factual discourse, including in professional philosophy and the academy in general, but also newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV. Indeed, even within the predominant styles of contemporary philosophy, few of the tones and moods that potentially exist within the chosen style are utilized to any extent. Indeed, the only significant alternative to the neutral-toned plain style of most philosophical writing of the present time is the weightier tone of judiciousness; but rarely whimsical tones or angry, or befuddled or lethargic or ironic, as if these tones were moods that have been banished, realms of human experience thus systematically untouchable. Not only is the question of method suppressed, but even the possibilities of tone within the style are reduced!'

11 May '04 05:37:48 AM

'The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.'

10 May '04 07:06:37 AM

'Something - a practice like woodcarving, or the burial of dead, or of offering handshakes upon meeting - is genuinely social insofar as it is done by everyone.'

So goes, approximately, a source I'm responding to in a paper I'm working on. It's well-intentioned, I suppose, but there's something very dumb there: are we somehow to take it, then, that more parochial practices are less social, not as social? (Which implicitly means: not really social.)


- by S.'s lights a practices seems to be 'some thing that multiple people do'; do different ways of putting it make the phenomenon clearer?

a certain way things are done
a certain way to do things
a certain way of doing things
the way we do things
the way we do ______

- insofar as it can be done in a certain way, it seems that the skill of a single person could be characterized this way, too

- way: out of various possible ways of doing the same thing? (allowing for various non-essentialist reformulations)

- they-self: others are (i.e. others as) those from whom one does not distinguish oneself

- we-self: those from whom one does not distinguish oneself while distinguishing oneself from some others

- by and large, practices are things 'we' engage in, as per the preceding; this is what S. misses: we do this in this way, as opposed to them

- they (i.e. not us) aren't necessarily competing practicers; compare the difference between Christian and Hindu death rites to the difference between carpentry and not-carpentry ('the people who do not do this thing')

- 'doing something the same way' is too simplistic; rather, something is social when what other people do - no, how they do it - matters

10 May '04 06:40:46 AM

Half an aphorism:

The only 'we' the liberal humanist tradition wants to countenance is the one that encompasses all of humanity.

10 May '04 06:28:59 AM

I've often noticed lately how strong a need I feel to index anything I even think of writing here about music to the particular circumstances in which I heard what I'm writing about - even if only something as mundane as 'while listening to... today...'. This in itself isn't that unusual, but lately it's been met (and this may be why it bothers me more now) by an even stronger sense that prefacing anything I might say in this way fails to contribute anything significant to the sense. But I can't see the thoughts I have in mind as interesting enough to be articulated, absent the context. So, lacking also the capacity to give my ideas substance through further thought and critical attention to the music, I write nothing.

6 May '04 12:52:26 PM

'I tried to think of any "external distinguishing characteristics" I might have. Did I in fact have any?

"I'm thirty, I'm five foot nine, a hundred and forty pounds, short hair, no glasses." It occurred to me as I listed these for her that they hardly constituted external distinguishing characteristics. There could be fifty such men in the Pacific Hotel tearoom. I had been there before, and it was a big place. She needed something more noticeable. But I couldn't think of anything. Which is not to say that I didn't have any distinguishing characteristics. I owned a signed copy of Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain. I had a slow resting pulse rate: forty-seven normally, and no higher than seventy with a high fever. I was out of work. I knew the names of all the brothers Karamazov. But none of these distinguishing characteristics was external.'