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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3 Jan '15 11:56:30 PM

'By 1900, Habsburg power and authority had been transformed into a mere shell, or carapace, within which the Austrians, Hungarians and other nationalities lived their real lives and coped with their real problems, in ways that had lost all real organic connection with the Habsburg establishment. Politics as it was officially practiced was one thing; the practical solution of authentic social and political problems was something quite different, though convention demanded that the resulting solutions be presented in forms that respected the appearances of the Habsburg situation. If this meant that political discussion had to be carried on in a kind of double talk, so be it. The ability to dress up substantive discussions in formalistic fancy dress was no doubt one which the average mayor or provincial governor acquired without difficulty. Yet its very lack of any organic significance meant that the disappearance of the monarchy brought, for the most part, only a sense of relief that one was no longer compelled to pretend.

Given a society committed to ignoring this basic falsity, it is no wonder if "communication" became a problem, or if, over questions of morality, judgment and taste, men had difficulty in distinguishing appearance from realities. In this situation, the corruption of standards had gone so deep that the only effective response was an equally extreme Puritanism. So far as Kraus and the Krausians were concerned, direct political means were out. At the center, demands for political change had crystallized around nationalism, at the periphery around working-class aspirations, and neither of these was the kind of cause to which a man of Kraus's individual integrity could warm. There remained only two possible courses of action. One could stand on the sidelines and play the part of a Greek chorus, as Kraus did in Die Fackel, so that those of his contemporaries who had any standards of judgment left could see for themselves how language, social attitudes and cultural values alike had become debased in a society built upon artificialities and falsehoods. Alternatively, one could wash one's hands of communal affairs entirely. Society would go to hell in its own way. All the individual could do was try, like Wittgenstein, to live in his own high-minded way, maintaining and exemplifying in his life his own exacting standards of humanity, intellectual honesty, craftsmanship and personal integrity.'

3 Jan '15 11:30:03 PM

'… when the play metaphor was used in the drama as it so often was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it referred not only to the stage as it was seen but also to the centuries-old idea of the stage as a paradigm of human life, and of the artificial boundaries placed on feasible behaviour and on the actualities of social existence. Most people were aware of this and were accustomed to connect the theatre, in this literary, traditional sense, with a moral and critical view of humanity. When Jaques makes his well-known speech in As You Like It in which he elaborates the topos in order to emphasize the meaninglessness of life, he is both more and less than a player. Man and actor cancel each other out on a stage which represents the unreality of the world. This bleak demonstration of the way in which the metaphor really works is repeated by Macbeth and by Antonio in The Merchant of Venice:

I hold the world as but the world Gratiano—
A stage where every man must play a part,
And mine a sad one. (I, i)

But Shakespeare does not only use this metaphor to conjure up the idea of the theatre as a moral emblem. With the knowledge and insights of a player as well as a dramatist he is acutely aware of the fabricated nature of conduct both on and off the stage. Hamlet, who uses the players' performance as a means of manipulating events is shocked by the ability of a player to feel and express emotion: 'But in a fiction, in a dream of passion', in contrast with his own deficiency in feeling and enterprise for a real cause. His immediate decision to take action through the staging of a play, 'The Murder of Gonzago', suggests that he as much as the King has to see the scene acted before it becomes real—shockingly recognisable—to him.'

2 Jan '15 03:14:02 AM

And again.

1 Jan '15 06:29:22 PM

'… timelessness was a sham…'

1 Jan '15 05:55:08 PM

'There is little room in this corpus for outbursts of colloquial profanity.'

30 Dec '14 06:01:02 PM

'Reading this, I thought, yes, I am losing my sight and my discipline, my sense of who needs to be answered to and who doesn't…'

30 Dec '14 06:29:51 AM

'… the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free.'

30 Dec '14 06:12:39 AM

'As social historians have long noted, people of working-class background rarely write autobiographies. Self-creation through literary technique is very much a game played by elites. This seems always to have been so. But over the last two hundred years, the working classes have increasingly found themselves subject to forms of "coerced self-narration," where they were obliged to tell stories of their own sins, suffering, criminality, redemption, and reform, all so as to establish themselves in the eyes of the administrative classes as members of the "deserving poor." Elites get to tell stories about themselves that are ultimately both manifestations of, and reflections on, their own power; everyone else is forced to tell stories about their misery and perseverance. For an anthropologist, it’s hard to contemplate this history without immediately calling to mind the difference between (a) the kind of performance of reflexivity that accompanied the hyperprofessionalization of the academy in the 1980s and 1990s, and (b) the simultaneous emergence of subgenres on the study of both popular “resistance” and “social suffering”—which began slightly later, but largely overlap in time. It’s an almost uncanny parallel. Joel Robbins (2013) has recently argued that the "suffering subject" has come to replace the savage as the primary object of anthropology—perhaps a tall claim, but one where there is surely some truth—and makes the very cogent point (equally true, I think, for most of the resistance literature) that what’s specifically eclipsed in most such accounts is any sense of what those we are asked to empathize with feel is ultimately important or valuable in life.'

29 Dec '14 05:56:42 PM

'I feel that the novel is very much like a room, or rooms: that you're in this room or that room, and that the whole aim of writing is to create a room where you can say something.'