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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13 Feb '14 03:44:17 AM

T. was reading a book, at a coffeeshop maybe, about Dostoevsky, and a guy, British accent I think, struck up a conversation in which he intimated—at least, maybe he just outright implied or said—that Dostoevsky was for pseudo-intellectuals. Pseudo-intellectuals! T. kept pronouncing that word, like a Seinfeld character or someone in a Woody Allen movie, we said it too, landing hard on the pseudo, like pseu?-do?, as if breaking apart the word and querying its syllables might uncover what kind of an asshole would think that was a good or OK thing to say to someone, even the word 'pseudo' much less the rest of it, especially since, I guess, he asked her out or she was thinking about it or something—because at least, he was otherwise charming or interesting, accent and all, and presumably if you're too good for Dostoevsky you must have some shit going on. I don't remember if we found out later whether his haughty overture was more from being British—lotta pseuds over there, something in the way they do school (over here, we might have phonies, but those are totally different)—or just his own bright idea of how to come off all dauntingly superior to a prospective date. But they did go out.

13 Feb '14 03:12:50 AM

In school, before there was an internet (at least, for me), I had a pen-pal. There might have been one from France, or somewhere Scandinavian, once, but the one I actually formed a pal-ship with was less distant: Des Moines. Presumably my class had been instructed to be pen-pals with this class of students a thirty-to-forty-minute drive away. 'Be', not 'become', I think: whatever instruction we were given about how to turn pals into friends didn't really extend beyond 'share some things about yourself'. As it turns out, that's not enough to make a friend: you and your pal need to take some interest in each other, which probably means, you have to find each other interesting. Which not everyone does. At that age, and more directed by my teachers to do this odd thing than I was led of my own accord to make something of it, I think I was probably just a pro forma pen-pal. And it probably didn't occur to me that finding friendship in a pen-pal might depend on trying—even on trying different pen-pals, 'meeting' different people, cultivating pal-ships. He was basically the one; then, I didn't have pen-pals.

As part of the activity, we visited our pen-pals as a class. It was probably awkward; I don't remember anything but lunch, which (from their cafeteria) was the most disgusting food I had ever had. So I remember barely anything about meeting my pen-pal, either. Mostly I remember his picture, either sent in a letter or taken that day: against a brick wall, a kid with dirty blond hair, braces, a shirt with black and white stripes. His name was Nils, I think. (But maybe I did also have a Scandinavian pen-pal?)

Of course, the early internet was like having, and meeting, lots of new pen-pals all of the sudden.

12 Feb '14 11:22:58 PM

'One wants to belong to the very simple people.'

12 Feb '14 10:21:30 PM

Street clothes, that's my favorite kind of clothes.

12 Feb '14 05:48:58 PM

The enclosure of the street!

12 Feb '14 12:38:26 AM

(I added the exclamation point myself, that's right, I do what I want.)

12 Feb '14 12:37:30 AM

Lyric Backlash!

11 Feb '14 07:03:36 AM

The journal, from the paratextual side: what does its minimal complement of paratextual elements say about the form?

Genette says that 'the paratext is what enables a text to become a book and to be offered as such to its readers and, more generally, to the public'. So, naturally enough, it would follow that a form mostly lacking paratext has not been made so as to be offered to the public; something about it remains private, perhaps even despite publication. What Genette says about prefatory material seems to apply to most other paratextual elements as well: the material's main functions are to get a book read, and to get it read properly. This suggests that what 'enables a text to become a book', what converts it from something private to something public, somehow casts its contents into readable form, where the term 'readable' covers a whole range of factors from those by which a book attracts readers (title and genre indications which help readers identify reading material of interest, back-cover blurbs that tantalize or quote testimony of reliable readers or renowned authors), to those by which prospective readers are first introduced to the author and his or her purposes (prefaces, forewords, and introductions especially, which Genette sees as occasions for feats of persuasion placing a high value on the text without 'antagonizing the reader by too modestly, or simply too obviously, putting a high value on the text's author'), to those by which the reader's progress through the text is managed (I would count intertitles here, though that way of conceiving of their function in a text, as titles of parts, downplays the greater importance of the structure they help indicate, especially in what Genette calls 'didactic texts', about which he says only a tiny bit) and, of course, effected (the 'text itself', which it seems shouldn't be denied a role in the reader's reading—consider, after all, some of the famous limiting-case texts which are generally regarded as inherently unreadable).

An unpublished journal (one written for private use, with no thought of publication) is not likely to contain any of that. A published journal is likely to contain, at most (excluding non-authorial paratextual material, like Searls' introduction for his abridgement of Thoreau's journal), dates as headings for the entries (perhaps a little regularized, as compared to unpublished journals, as a sensible concession to readers when the original entry dates are incorrect or erratically maintained). But nothing else. (OK, a generic title too: 'Journal'.)

What does all the paratextual apparatus give the reader, help the reader to do, that is simply not done (or not doable? or without a point? or just harder?) when reading books which lack most of that apparatus, like journals? In what way is what the reader does connected to the (paratextually-constituted) book's being public, and the journal's being private?

11 Feb '14 02:44:38 AM

About the use of descriptive intertitles, delayed for ancient historical texts until the late fifteenth- or sixteenth-century editions of medieval chroniclers, Genette says: 'the titles in these editions are synopses in the indirect style, noun clauses introduced with "How…" or complements introduced with "About…"' (Paratexts 309). The synoptic function is one that aphorisms' titles seem hard-pressed to serve, probably given the degree of compression already at work in their texts. But its other side is the titles' use in something like a table of contents or a plan communicated in-text: with no effective way to refer to each of a text's individual parts synoptically, it seems difficult to coordinate their relation to one another in anything like an overview, or synopsis of the whole.