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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11 Mar '14 05:37:26 PM

'… untethered to geography, universal in topic and voice…'

11 Mar '14 03:16:54 AM

—As if to answer the question, 'what does the imagination do?' with another question, 'well what can doing do?'

11 Mar '14 02:25:07 AM

In the Investigations Wittgenstein regularly considers and dismisses various roles mental 'images' might serve in meaning and understanding things. Near the beginning of the Blue Book, he is much more explicit about having 'the imagination' in mind:

'There is one way of avoiding at least partly the occult appearance of the processes of thinking, and it is, to replace in these processes any working of the imagination by acts of looking at real objects. Thus it may seem essential that, at least in certain cases, when I hear the word "red" with understanding, a red image should be before my mind's eye. But why should I not substitute seeing a red bit of paper for imagining a red patch? The visual image will only be the more vivid. Imagine a man always carrying a sheet of paper in his pocket on which the names of colours are co-ordinated with coloured patches. You may say that it would be a nuisance to carry such a table of samples about with you, and that the mechanism of association is what we always use instead of it. But this is irrelevant; and in many cases it is not even true. If, for instance, you were ordered to paint a particular shade of blue called "Prussian Blue", you might have to use a table to lead you from the word "Prussian Blue" to a sample of the colour, which would serve you as your copy.

We could perfectly well, for our purposes, replace every process of imagining by a process of looking at an object or by painting, drawing or modelling; and every process of speaking to oneself by speaking aloud or by writing.'

Several similar examples have already been given by this point; to a reader of the Investigations they seem no different from the odd procedures and devices which the shopkeeper, the builders, and others are described as using to carry out their orders and conduct their business. But in the descriptions of language-games in the Investigations, these replacements for imagination appear as imagined. Why? (Is it because 'to imagine a language is to imagine a form of life'? But then why less emphasis, early on, on 'the imagination'?)

10 Mar '14 07:18:31 AM

'That ain't what kinda world it is.'

10 Mar '14 04:18:53 AM

Or, 'o friends, there are no friends'

10 Mar '14 12:04:17 AM

Academics, never far from smaller-print reminders of their affiliations. Smaller print, bigger authority.

10 Mar '14 12:01:11 AM

Rancière among the critics (and artists)

9 Mar '14 06:59:53 PM

Daniel Lindquist on relative identity in Heidegger (with reference to Geach and Frege).

9 Mar '14 06:47:23 PM

'We imagine nothing, nothing can be imagined': that means something like, we have no sense of possibility. In contrast to a skepticism about knowledge, where the conclusion drawn bears on our ability to know—it's not enough, we just can't do it—a skepticism about the imagination would seem to bear more on the imagination's vitality. 'No sense of possibility' means: it is dead in us, has died. But where the skeptic about knowledge looks back at what seemed to be knowledge and infers, 'we never really knew', perhaps nonetheless anticipating a time when what we do know, did know, can know, will be properly established, the skeptic about imagination seems more focused on now: what must be denied is not so much that we have imagined, now that imagination is dead, but that it is dead at all. The skeptic's conclusion, or conviction, is opposed by the insistence: 'it's not really dead'. Or: 'it can't be'. This is a weak opposition. Because the skeptic about imagination's reply is: 'it is'. And if it's dead, it's dead: nothing can be brought back from the dead. Everything living dies. (But: there is a spring. Hence Kora, Spring and All, The Descent of Winter. Hence Thoreau's year of observation.)

Cavell adverts regularly to an alternative skepticism of this sort, associating it with Romanticism, with the imagination, with acceptance or rejection of the world, with deaths and lives. But I want to say that it's not staged like this—not with the imagination aligned in this way with knowledge, as it appears in his recitals. But his recitals of the skeptical argument about knowledge play some important role in connecting the two, for they put the 'I' onstage. And his reinterpretation of skepticism is written as an 'I' (all first-person plural business aside), as are, modulo this or that, many of the marginally canonical 'texts' he regularly appeals to in just the same connection with the alternative form of (imaginative) skepticism. His focus on external-world skepticism can obscure the significance of this, because the proximity of his rehearsal to the Cartesian model or its traditional successors can suggest overmuch that the I's perspective is exhausted in an exploration of the I's capacity to know, and that any salience a philosophical writer's own I has naturally pertains to problems of knowledge. The significance of Cavell's writing as an I is, I think, first of all that he has reinscribed the problems he discusses within, let's call it, the problematic of the I. And thereby reinscribed the I of the philosophers within that broader tradition. (Why 'reinscribed'? Look at something like the Investigations, or even Austin. Considered as texts, they are far less I-ish than Cavell's convincing portrayal of them can suggest. He draws out, reconstructs, I's he sees in them. That's part of his work.)

Many literary modernists pursue solutions to their difficulties by intensifying the thingification of the work of art: Stein, Williams, Joyce. Writing philosophy rather than literature, Cavell chooses personalization of whatever sort rather than thingification. Montaigne's 'consubstantial' book is a closer fit, as a model. But if you consider that in a certain light, even Wittgenstein's writing can seem more thingified than personalized (Larochefoucauld: 'a heap of diverse thoughts'), it's not obvious that the need to write philosophy (in contrast to literature) must lead to Cavell's choice.

Even in Paterson there is still a lyric I, the poet's I. As in Williams' ground-clearing works, in which the prose often assumes a journal form. Cavell's alternative or expanded canon (really a restored one) is populated by philosophical authors who write as I's, I think crucially because they too are concerned with this alternative skepticism, in whatever form it takes in them. But as with Cavell, it is hard to find in them a 'skeptical argument' for this sort of 'conclusion', even if only to treat or reject it. I want to say, as Cavell does of Wittgenstein having 'discovered the problem of others for philosophy', that most of these philosophers are fully aware of the problem, of whatever skepticism about the imagination is. But there's no Descartes for it. Or too many.