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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17 Apr '03 08:12:30 AM

Stuff to put on a tape.

Miles Davis, "Wili (Part 1)", from Dark Magus
Ms. Jade, "Big Head", from Girl Interrupted
Sonic Youth, "Catholic Block", from Sister
Killer Mike, that one that samples "The Whole World"
My Bloody Valentine, that one that I don't know the name of
that one UKG song on Pure Garage Platinum
maybe just possibly Firewater, "So Long Superman" which I haven't heard in years
something from Blowout Comb
Kardi's "Belly Dancer", if only I hada copy or had even heard it
the demo of "Wish Fulfillment" from the deluxe Dirty
that one Stereolab song from Emperor Tomato Ketchup
a Pete Rock track, dunno which
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, "Together or Parallel?"
something from In Utero
Nas, "NY State of Mind"
Ice Cube, "Down for Whatever"
Sleater-Kinney, either "Call the Doctor" or "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone"
that one JB track I always forget the name of where he tells the guitarist to play like BB King

Now, here I am listening to the Miles track, and near the end I was worried that its meandering away the groove would ruin it as a choice (though I have considered the fact that once I get my CD changer fixed, I can make the tape on my new tape deck and thus have a recording level knob to edit with). But the track ends in a wonderful cloud of percussion and drum machine clicks. (Drum machine clicks!) Saved, gloriously saved.

16 Apr '03 06:54:58 AM

Jordan: You know I didn't even notice that when The Bad Plus goes disco on "Heart of Glass", they're playing the riff in 7/4. That changes everything. Or doesn't.

Josh: Yes it makes it worse.

Josh: Real disco only needs 4.

Jordan: B-b-but this does it in less beats! Seven quarter notes instead of eight!

Josh: hahaha

Josh: Well MAYBE disco is all for EFFICIENCY.

Josh: But that seems to be counter to DISCO = EXCESS.

Jordan: aha

Josh: They are admittedly contradictory urges within its cold pleasure-seeking heart.

16 Apr '03 06:51:22 AM

In his introduction to Pierre Hadot's Philosophy as a Way of Life, Arnold Davidson recounts an important discovery of Hadot's concerning Marcus Aurelius' Meditations: "Hadot's discovery of the ternary schema [adopted from Epictetus' three topoi] underlying the Meditations not only allows us to give structure to its merely apparent disorder. It also allows us to keep from falling into misplaced psychological judgments about the author of these spiritual exercises."

The three topoi are, according to Hadot, the "three lived exercises that... are in a certain way the putting into practice of the three parts of philosophical discourse," those parts for Epictetus being logic, physics, and ethics, corresponding respectively with the disciplines of assent, desire, and inclinations. Those disciplines may be pursued, or not, as a means of improving the state of one's soul. Hadot's claim about Aurelius' Meditations is that each of the seemingly disjointed entries - written, notably, day-to-day, as hypomnemata - develops one, two, or all three of the topoi.

Now, Hadot appreciated and studied Wittgenstein, but I don't know what he thought of him based on the books I have available. So perhaps he's already said something like the following. (I kind of hope not, because then I can write more about it. I also kind of hope so, so I can get help.)

It seems that in keeping with Hadot's insistence that we read philosophy not only "philosophically" (that is, in the modern way, looking primarily for arguments) but literarily, an understanding of later Wittgenstein as in the Investigations is incomplete, or maybe just wrongheaded, if it doesn't say something about what the form of the writing contributes. Edwards helps with his comparison of Wittgenstein's method to Wittgenstein's conception of aesthetic argument as a kind of persuade-by-showing, or maybe better put, effect-a-change-in-sensibility-by-showing. But his focus there is on the use language-games are put to. Wittgenstein isn't talking about language-games in every entry of the Investigations - so what about the rest? About the "average" entry? We might be able to make many of them more or less conform to Edwards' account, since even though Wittgenstein isn't always talking about invented language-games, the list in section 23 does tempt us to start construing plenty of day-to-day parts of language as language-games, and when Wittgenstein seems to be simply talking about some ordinary thing, like understanding, or intending, or meaning, he still often uses a kind of aesthetic argument, with the object of comparison being the strange way the thing appears when we follow our (philosophical - in the "illness" sense) inclinations to regard it a certain way rather than paying attention to differences. But. I still feel like something is missing. Couldn't he have written something more like vignettes, self-contained little objects of comparison for a number of different philosophical problem zones? Why does he so tenaciously pursue a line of thought, or keep answering new objections from the interlocutor?

Part of Edward's reading is that the later Wittgenstein's goal is to let no pictures of the way language works mislead us. And there seems to be a consensus that Wittgenstein's later work is overwhelmingly negative. So following Hadot I think we should read that later work's form as contributing to that critical drive.

Wittgenstein is often taken to be anti-theoretical, in the sense of "theory" as a systematic theory, like Kant or Hegel. But he's sometimes then reproached for attempting to make his writing mirror that anti-theoretical stance in form. Artistically speaking, there would seem to be nothing wrong with this - it may even be a good idea. But it's taken to be somehow deceptive that a philosopher might write like this, because of course writing your book as a big series of sometimes-connected fragments is not an argument that there can be no (or that one should not pursue a) theory, now is it? It's a rhetorical trick! Meant to hornswoggle us! Listen here, Wittgenstein, you tricky motherfucker, either you give us an argument or we can't even be bothered!

Well. My. Anyway. Recall Wittgenstein's remark, somewhere, about wanting to write books that were "machines for thinking". (I still can't find the reference.) Like stoic philosophical writing may have a certain practical purpose - to help one bring about or maintain a certain state of being - so the focus on the form here should be on the reader, and what that form might help bring about for the reader, not the extent to which the form is effective in securing a philosophical position (in the world where only arguments do such a thing). And if Wittgenstein's work is overwhelmingly negative, perhaps the point of the form is to help one manage that negativity somehow - to help one live in such a way that the ever-returning demand for theoretical explanation (of thought, of meaning, of language, of whatever) is quieted, or at least dealt with, somehow, even if only by means of the learning of a technique (the technique being "thinking like Wittgenstein, only not, because it would be distasteful to try to think exactly like he did").

15 Apr '03 06:12:18 AM

"Adorno's writing is performative. His philosophical position is articulated not just through what he says but also through how he says it. If philosophy is to generate new, emancipatory concepts and avoid the contraditions of binary thinking, Adorno reasons, then it must become more like art. He draws his inspiration from music. Adorno studied composition under Alban Berg in Vienna between 1925 and 1927 and was especially sympathetic to the atonality of Arnold Schönberg's 'new music'. Whereas traditional, diatonic music is consonant with abstraction, summary, and ease of recognition, 'new' atonality draws attention to the structure of a composition as a series of decisions whose outcomes cannot be universalized. It is the same irreducibility to a concept which motivates Adorno's philosophy. His dense, torturous prose and the lack of unity or orientation which results, are intended to resist the transparency and ease of consumption of linear, continuous, recapitulative argument. His style might be described as 'constellational', following the 'constellation' metaphor he uses to explicate his epistemology in Negative Dialectics. Understanding occurs not through a unified hierarchy of concepts, he argues, but through the constellational proximities and distances which exist between terms and which will always, ultimately, frustrate classification. Parataxis is his preferred form of composition: clauses placed one after the other with little or no indication of the thesis or argument which mind bind them together. Some key works, such as Minima Moralia (1951), Negative Dialectics (1966), and Aesthetic Theory (1970), are made up entirely of aphorisms: individual excursions, each a couple or so pages long, which, on the one hand, give the impression of being self-contained and independent but, on the other, knit together to form an irreducible network of conceptual counterpoint and cross-referral. The texture of the interaction which takes place between ideas, the conceptual friction that is generated, and the possibility of new insights being thrown back, are the objects of Adorno's philosophical aesthetics. His writing is philosophy made into art or a philosophy of art, where the 'of' is not placing the philosopher at a distance but making his thought itself 'of art'."

(Clive Cazeaux, The Continental Aesthetics Reader, pp. 202-3)

14 Apr '03 10:10:55 AM

Hmm, who would have ever thought that the "author" of Kierkegaard's Seducer's Diary would seem so much like a plain old creepy stalker. I feel slightly creepy myself, now.

14 Apr '03 08:48:15 AM

Often, starting an album with "Metronomic Underground" (Emperor Tomato Ketchup) seems to me to be the same kind of mistake as starting an album with "Angel" (Mezzanine). But lately I've warmed so much to the Stereolab album (compare to the posts around this one from October) that the first track doesn't outweigh the later ones in quite the same way, even if I do still think it's the best song Stereolab ever did. (Since the song means a little less for the band because it's so singular, this doesn't mean quite what you might think it does.)

In particular, I've never felt quite so aware of how strange many of the songs on the record are, especially timbrally. You'd think that would have been high on the list of things I found interesting about the record before now, given how well known the "groop" is for "experimenting" with "analog synthesizers", but "oh well". Now almost every song seems remarkable in some way. I have yet to pay careful enough attention to see if the ones I don't think are remarkable are the ones that I also don't think are timbrally very inventive or strange or surprising.

At the same time, Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements seems to have finally opened up for me. As with many things I expect this isn't just because of the other record, but due to a confluence of many things which have changed over time.

You know, I never even noticed the "Sister Ray" rip before.

Having also been listening to a lot of Sonic Youth lately, I am all ready to take a big leap and concede that what really makes rock bands good and interesting in the Adornian advancement-of-musical-material sense - and thus influential in large part, since even if they don't know it lots of the less good bands take their cues from those who advance the material - is the developments and discoveries they make mainly in the realm of timbre and the ways it mixes with other musical elements. So, hello there Ted Gracyk. (NB: I do not know if his view is exactly this limited or wide-sweeping.) Anyway, I will not really think this tomorrow. I will think a much more complicated and subtle version of it not susceptible to all the complaints I can think of, though. Of course.

Apparently Pearl Jam have covered "The Noise of Carpet" in concert. That seems just about dumb enough a thing for them to have done. Covering the song that sounds most like a song you yourself might write from a band that sounds a lot different from you is not very interesting or cool, Eddie Vedder.

13 Apr '03 09:07:56 AM

Well OK not like actually happy, just judgment-happy.

13 Apr '03 09:07:36 AM

I am happy, quite happy, to see that Christgau gives high grades to so many Sonic Youth albums. Very happy.

13 Apr '03 08:05:25 AM

More moving today, and tapes tapes tapes. At the moment, this tape from Felicity. "Cigarettes Will Kill You" affects me with a strange kind of nostalgia. I've remarked before about how, already just three or four years down the road, hearing songs that I originally listened to a lot in the last part of my undergraduate years immediately gives me a sense that I am back there, that person, in that place, at that time. The Ben Lee song is different, because I know I couldn't have heard it more than a handful of times, and almost always around KURE somewhere, probably during Shar's show since she played it a lot. Yet it too gives me that sense.

Also another one, because even though I associate the song with that time, the song actually sounds out of place next to most of what I listened to then. What it actually sounds like is a minor modern rock radio hit circa 1995, only with more expensive production to throw my unerring detection of the bad-idea "alternative" drum machiney shufflebeat off just for a sec or two once or twice every minute. (Wednesday, Geoff and I wondered what it could possibly be that made so many people think this beat, or rather its platonic antecedent, since there are to be fair subtle and unimportant variations on it, a good idea. Or the only goddamn idea anyone who ever touched a guitar had upon seeing a sampler or 808.)

It's almost as if I'm pulled back five and ten years, all at once.