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 Mar '14 06:10:05 PM

One of Cavell's earliest remarks about Wittgenstein's writing, as writing, is often cited for what it says about confessions, in connection with details like Wittgenstein's frequent reference to inclinations, things he wants to say, etc. I think its context is less often appreciated:

'In its defense of truth against sophistry, philosophy has employed the same literary genres as theology in defense of the faith: against intellectual competition, Dogmatics; against Dogmatics, the Confession; in both, the Dialogue. Inaccessible to the dogmatics of philosophical criticism, Wittgenstein chose confession and recast his dialogue. It contains what serious confessions must…'

There is a footnote, acknowledging Northrop Frye (as well as Rieff, Harnack, and Barth on dogma in the church):

'The significance of the fact that writing of all kinds (not just "literature") is dependent, in structure and tone and effect, on a quite definite (though extensive) set of literary forms or genres is nowhere to my knowledge so fully made out as in Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism…'

In distinguishing Wittgenstein's writing from more conventional work in the tradition, Cavell sketches a little system of genres and situates Wittgenstein within it. Why say philosophy's system mirrors theology's? And why parallel philosophical truth to religious faith? (I have to say I hear an echo of Nietzsche there, as one sometimes does in Cavell, but as usual with Nietzsche he is not inclined to go further than an allusion.) Earlier Cavell had characterized the philosopher's conclusions, in this case skeptical conclusions, as not believable (citing Hume leaving his study), as not creating 'the stability of conviction expressed in propositions which are subject (grammatically) to belief'. Nor, accordingly, I assume, the conclusions of a philosopher opposing the skeptic, for related reasons (even though they purport, like Moore's do, to articulate the views of common sense, and are thus presumptively believable, and enjoy some external funding from some unacknowledged source). Or, putting it differently: as not being something you (anyone) can believe in, while nevertheless being so reportedly important ('the world exists'!) that any faltering of belief, or apparent faltering of belief, is enough to cause despair.

So much for truth and faith, maybe. As for theology, that would seem to bear on Cavell's siting Wittgenstein's writing in only a part of philosophy's system of genres, omitting Dogmatics: 'In confessing you do not explain or justify, but describe how it is with you. And confession, unlike dogma, is not to be believed but tested, and accepted or rejected. Nor is it the occasion for accusation, except of yourself, and by implication those who find themselves in you. There is exhortation… not to belief, but to self-scrutiny. And that is why there is virtually nothing in the Investigations which we should ordinarily call reasoning; Wittgenstein asserts nothing which could be proved, for what he asserts is either obvious… or else concerned with what conviction, whether by proof or evidence or authority, would consist in'. It's remarks like these especially that are cited by others working on Wittgenstein. But I think those citations usually touch lightly, if at all, on the problems only gestured at here by Cavell's juxtaposition of dogmatics with philosophy and the ideas of conviction, proof, evidence, and authority. Dogma is to be believed; defenses of it are supposed to produce, or shore up, conviction (or at least show up challenges to it, for the benefit of those with conviction). In the case of theology, it has traditionally issued from institutions like the church claiming unique authority over dogma, or it has been grounded in claims referred back to uniquely authoritative texts, to scripture (or, I suppose some would say, it has been authorized, by communities or by individuals, say prophets or other spiritual leaders). Listing 'proof or evidence or authority' among philosophy's means for producing conviction highlights philosophy's similarity to theology (and thus, to any practice with a tendency toward dogmatism) just insofar as, given those options, we would have to say, to the extent philosophy has produced any conviction, it has not often been through proof or evidence (since it pretends to be above evidence as such, and since any available models of proof tend to cast its own efforts in a shabby light), and so must have been through something like authority. Of course, it can also just be admitted that philosophy hasn't produced much conviction. Or, say, that it has trouble believing in its own authorities, in its traditions, in itself.

12 Mar '14 02:46:01 PM

'What kind of medium a screen is'

11 Mar '14 09:39:24 PM

Girl Canons

11 Mar '14 05:45:40 PM

The more your profiles and streams of comments and likes and replies take on an independent existence thanks to being caught up in the constant hum of activity, the more the corresponding stream of notification emails comes to seem like a backchannel between you and your own (scare-quoted) life, your way of catching wind of what's going on with you out there.

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'