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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20 Feb '16 12:12:08 AM

'… myths, or fragments of a myth': i.e., of a story, a history. —A remark which cuts across or incorporates the figurative. Which designates the realm of the figurative, via an allegorizing of 'our words' ('the topic of our attachment to our words is allegorical of our attachments to ourselves and other persons'), as that whose stories are not believable ones, not as histories are. But they may still be 'our' not-believable stories.

19 Feb '16 06:43:27 PM

'… In the course of the seventeenth century, however, the derivative nature of the transcriptions contained in one's commonplace book came to seem increasingly problematic. Writers newly confident about the idea of individual authorship consequently disparaged the reliance on commonplace on others and diagnosed it as compensation for their lack of originality. Jonathan Swift's narrator in his Tale of a Tub (1704) snipes at what is perceived to be dilettantism: '… what tho' his Head be empty, provided his Common-Place-Book be full…' Furthermore, the commonplace books of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries began to consist largely of trivial matter copied from contemporary sources. Oliver Goldsmith indicates in An Enquiry into the State of Police Learning in Europe (1759) how far these works had fallen from favour: 'the generality of readers fly from the scholar to the compiler, who offers them a more safe and speedy conveyance', his or her 'lazy compilations' supplying 'the place of original thinking'. The role of the commonplace gradually diminished in importance: from the study of carefully organized ideas as universal bases for argumentation, it became little more than the collation of a stock of neatly packaged aphorisms, principally ornamental and often trite. By the nineteenth century, even the most resonant or useful of classical commonplaces were seen simply as undistinguished cliché. Eric Partridge's Dictionary of Clichés charts this fall from grace. Cicero's fluctus excitare in simpulo becomes the proverbial 'storm in a teacup'; behind the common 'you're a rare bird' once lay Juvenal's rara avis in terris, nigroque simillima cygno ('a rare bird upon the earth, and exceedingly like a black swan').

So commonplaces became private—a contradiction in terms. In fact more often than not, as Roger Chartier has observed, the author of a commonplace book '[was] also its addressee'. And it turns out that this change in habit was bound up with a more profound development. A sea change in understanding, as well as a change in practice led to the decline of concepts such as 'rhetoric' and 'commonplace' into today's pejorative terms. The connection between rhetoric and logic–the appeal to the probable—came under threat in the seventeenth century with the growth of the idea of neutral, scientific truth. The desire to persuade came to seem at odds with the pursuit of such disinterested truth. The authority of existing commonplaces, passed down in the schools from the first classical philosophers and rhetoricians, waned in the face of both truths held to be demonstrable in nature itself, and those rational scientific formulae that seemed to exist in self-evident abstraction outside any interest or argument.

Both the growth of method and the belief in observable fact contributed to the confidence in individual authority, and hence authorship. Commonplaces were felt to be closed and artificial forms of thinking rather than being open to the reality of the observable world. Francis Bacon approved of commonplaces as an educative resource in principle, but finds no example of them in practice that did not 'carry in their titles merely the face of the school and not of the world', and which did not use 'vulgar and pedantical divisions, not such as to pierce to the pith and heart of things'. The clear alternative was a literal, neutral language—one that carries the face of the world in it—and the perceived need for such a language led to the famous commitment to an 'anti-rhetorical' language, to which the new scientific body, the Royal Society, rashly pledged itself in the late seventeenth century.

Thomas Sprat in writing the first History of this Royal Society in 1677 celebrated the work its members were doing to remedy the corruption of plain speech and spoke of the need for 'one word for every thing'. Not only formal rhetoric, but figurative language itself was a dangerous corruption of natural language: figures of speech were an 'extravagance' at odds with a 'natural way of speaking', 'swellings of style', which should be cut away in order that the 'luxury and redundancy of Speech' should not have a malign influence on the discipline of science. Thomas Hobbes had written similarly a few years earlier in Leviathan that metaphors were devices which 'openly profess deceipt' [sic]'. Their transfer of meaning by way of language played no part in reason, which relied instead on direct demonstration, or at the very most an 'apt similitude [sic (for simile)]'. In the parallel French context, Bernard Lamy, a logician of the Port-Royal school, also criticized the excessive nature of formal commonplaces, arguing that 'il n'est besoin que d'une seule prevue qui soit forte et solide, et que l'éloquence consiste à étendre celle prevue'. Eloquence, the suggestion is, has only attenuated and so weakened the initial solid proof.'

19 Feb '16 06:14:19 PM

'Both Flann O'Brien in At-Swim-Two-Birds and Samuel Beckett in his great trilogy of French novels capitalize on the anti-social quality of literature, the fact that the writer is not speaking, is not drinking, is confronting nobody warming and warming to nobody, but exists shut away in a room setting on pieces of paper word after word… a deed the very antithesis of everything that Irish culture prides itself on being.'

19 Feb '16 08:42:40 AM

Littera gesta docet; quod credas allegoria; quid agas moralia; quo tendas anagogia.

19 Feb '16 03:08:59 AM

… you can see… only if…

19 Feb '16 02:42:10 AM

'… to lead speakers and listeners unaware of each other's existence to talk to one another…'

19 Feb '16 01:58:59 AM

The 'visual room'?

17 Feb '16 09:18:15 PM

'… später liest er Bücher, die Zeitung, Briefe, etc.'

17 Feb '16 08:59:27 PM

'… multiplication of grief and toil…'