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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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…'

17 Feb '16 04:20:26 PM

The little kids on the playground asked, 'You down with O.P.P.?'

16 Feb '16 06:34:31 PM

Teachings about teachings; non-teachings about teaching.

16 Feb '16 03:23:23 AM

'Nothing will come of it': an attitude which can attach to teaching (to a teaching), too.

15 Feb '16 11:28:46 PM

—I suppose, then, that what that triangulating tells me is that I am looking for something like a cynicism of knowledge, or a cynicism of speech (where the latter often goes for the former, especially where ordinary talk about the world goes). With the thought of the whole public apparatus of language, as it were a linguistic polity, in mind, I'm reminded of Cavell's parenthetical in The Claim of Reason (pp. 94–95):

'(If to what we call something and to what we count as something we add the notion of what we claim something to be, we have gathered together the major modes in which we have invoked the fact of talking, the work of wording the world; and if to the pairs telling and counting, and counting and claiming, and claiming and acclaiming or clamoring, hence proclaiming and announcing, and denouncing and renouncing, and counting and recounting, or recounting and accounting, we add the notions of calling to account or accusing, hence excusing and explaining, and add computing and hence reputing and imputing; what we seem headed for is an idea that what can comprehensibly be said is what is found to be worth saying. This explicitly makes our agreement in judgment, our attunement expressed through criteria, agreement in valuing. So that what can be communicated, say a fact, depends upon agreement in valuing, rather than the other way around. This is what our speech acts come to, or come from. Such an idea arose at the beginning of our consideration of Wittgenstein's notion of a criterion when we had to say that his notion seemed to make statements of fact turn on the same background of necessities and agreements that judgments of value explicitly do. It comes up again in beginning to weigh Austin's findings that epistemological assessments, assessments of our offerings of knowledge, can come from curiosity, from suspicion, or from a demand to know the special reason which makes a question (as to the reality of an object) reasonable. Here I am thinking of the special reason as the thing which makes the question worth asking. The idea of valuing as the other face of asserting will make another appearance in Part Two, in the form of the issue of the philosopher's "non-claim context". But while the idea will be present throughout these pages, it will not be much taken up thematically. I understand this idea to require studies in what I should like to call the aesthetics of speech and in the economics of speech. In the former case we follow the fact that understanding what someone says is a function of understanding the intention expressed in his or her saying it, and then the fact that one's intention is a function of what one wants, to a perspective from which responding to what the another says is to be seen as demanding a response to (the other's) desire. When in earlier writing of mine I broach the topic of the modern, I am broaching the topic of art as one in which the connection between expression and desire is purified. In the modern neither the producer nor the consumer has anything to go on (history, convention, genre, form, medium physiognomy, composition…) that secures the value or significance of an object apart from one's wanting the thing to be as it is. The consequent exercise of criticism is not to determine whether the thing is good that way but why you want it that way—or rather, the problem is to show that these questions are always together. A strictness of scrupulousness of artistic desire thus comes to seem a moral and an intellectual imperative. About the latter case (of an economics of speech), I have said a word or two in The Senses of Walden (pp. 87 ff.) where I point to the vocabulary established in the opening chapter of Walden entitled "Economy", as the fundamental vocabulary of the work as a whole, implying that the question of true necessaries, which it shares as its opening theme with Plato's Republic and with Rousseau's Social Contract, is a question about what we have to say as much as it is about what we have to do; and in the way Thoreau means them, the one because of the other. My version of Thoreau's answer is in effect that he takes it upon his writing to tell all and to say nothing.  —If we formulate the idea that valuing underwrites asserting as the idea that interest informs telling or talking generally, then we may say that the degree to which you talk of things, and talk in ways, that hold no interest for you, or listen to what you cannot imagine the talker's caring about, in the way he carries the care, is the degree to which you consign yourself to nonsensicality, stupify yourself. (Of course your lack of interest may be your own fault, come from your own commitment to boredom.) I think of this consignment as a form not so much of dementia as of what amentia ought to mean, a form of mindlessness. It does not appear unthinkable that the bulk of an entire culture, call it the public discourse of the culture, the culture thinking aloud about itself, hence believing itself to be talking philosophy, should become ungovernably inane. In such a case you would not say that the Emperor has no clothes; in part because what you really want to say is that there is no Emperor; but in greater part because in neither case would anyone understand you.)'

I've wondered before about Cavell's seeming tendency, in his discussions of modernism or the modern, to slip between remarks about domains with some autonomy of their own—art, religion—and remarks that seem to encompass everyday life as such. One such seems to be his comment in 'Music Discomposed' about the breakdown of convention, where 'saying' as an act of artistic creation slips over into saying simpliciter. One uncertainty I've had over that remark concerns the extent to which it can be well grounded as a remark about the conventions of ordinary language, which whatever their state of health or disrepair or disarray seem not to leave us, generally, yet, with only the three options Cavell enumerates for the modernist artist: 'silence, nihilism, or statements so personal as to form the possibility of communication without the support of convention'. But perhaps part of the problem I have with that is that designating the middle option as 'nihilism' already sets the stakes too hyperbolically high. If it's with regard to ordinary language as such, everyday life, that we're to be making an assessment, then perhaps the long parenthetical from Claim suggests why: we dwell, day to day, in so extensive a part of ordinary language as a whole that we do, on the whole, sustain a talk about which we care: we're interested, invested, in that part, something of, our discourse. Maybe not comprehensively, and maybe not with total consistency, but we get by. Which is as much as to say that when Cavell says it doesn't appear unthinkable that a culture could become 'ungovernably inane', he's imagining something like a widespread nihilism: but doing so from a position from which it's an unrealized possibility, because mindlessness is not the norm. —Because we remain, however erratically, interested.