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.
A few days ago I had an idea. I have ideas all the time, but they don't always go anywhere. It's often hard for me to let them play out: you have to have a less clouded mind for that, I think. But for once I had an idea that seems to let me chain several ideas together. I'm not quite there yet, so ever since I've felt peculiarly suspended, in a too-rare but familiar way. I can remember summer days in my office, in different offices, places where I would sit, listen, pace, jot, lay down a paragraph or so at a time in between cautious trips to the cafe or the library or a bench beneath a tree, cautious so as not to lose track of that feeling, of a definite but not yet expressed thought hanging there nearly in front of me, like a cloud of words I could almost feel myself already having said. In this mood, you are seemingly idle: you can't read much, you'd rather not be pulled too far into conversation, you sit quietly a lot, you write maybe a paragraph or two a day, but can't do anything else for several days until you've finished, until you've seen it through.
The feeling aside, often the way I know I have an idea like this is just that I start pacing. I never noticed before that I couldn't really pace in the last two places I lived, but here, I remember: I pace, I am a pacer.
Travel diary from March, 2010 (from Decorah to St. Paul to San Francisco)
1. The airport in Minneapolis plays classical music in its waiting areas. It doesn't seem cynical of them.
2. J., P., J. and I sit in Dunn Bros. and talk about philosophy pedagogy. I realize that they're playing jazz and I think, we're sitting in a coffeeshop listening to jazz talking about philosophy, really.
3. A few days into my visit to J., I realize that I've been relatively deprived of music. At home I hear at least two hours of music—that I choose myself—every day, sometimes more like three or four or five hours. And I don't even listen like I used to. At J.'s there's more talking, and it's not my house and I can't just do what I want. But there's also less walking, which is usually what I'm doing nowadays when I hear a lot of music. So I take a walk to St. Thomas, to Highland Park.
4. It's so comforting to walk into the Hard Times now and hear the same old music.
5. I run into S. on the light-rail platform. He’s been reading my course blog, and my students'. He says he wants to hear some record I mentioned, classical, Schubert maybe, but he was having trouble stealing it. A contemporary dilemma: how to get something you can't steal.
6. Music has the capacity to enclose one within a second world that insulates one from the world without—except, it seems, on this airplane, where the physical enclosure is so cramped as to give ceaseless reminders of how one cannot move. I put my headphones on to relax, to divert my attention from my legs and my arms and the uncomfortable, shifting person next to me, but I can't summon the passivity that would let the music even begin to do its work. If the music flags even a bit or loses my interest or its appeal, I skip ahead until I find something else likely. Mostly only dissatisfaction ensues. But a Gorguts album, Obscura, impressively enough obliterates conventional pleasures that I can listen to it and forget for a while.
7. The passenger next to me is listening to The Police, and I think, really, listening to The Police on an airplane? Then I figure people can listen to whatever they want on an airplane, but still, it seems like a weird place to listen to The Police.
8. A few years ago I went to Pasadena and instead of my headphones took earbuds—none of which I had ever been comfortable with—as part of a plan to carry as little as possible with me. As it happens, earbuds are the best for being on an airplane.
9. I walk in the direction of City Lights and my walk takes on epic qualities as I experience hills even steeper than the ones in Decorah. My soundtrack before and after the bookstore seems to fit everything just right:
Four Tet, There is Love in You, 'Angel Echoes'
Lightning Bolt, Hypermagic Mountain, 'Dead Cowboy'
Duke Ellington, 'Rumpus in Richmond'
UGK, Underground Kingz, 'Swishas & Dosha'
Miles Davis, E.S.P., 'Mood'
Bob Dylan, New Morning, 'One More Weekend'
Swell Maps, 'Read About Seymour'
Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Part Two, 'Out My Mind, Just In Time'
U.S. Girls, Introducing, 'Walk Life Away'
Bill Calllahan, Rough Travel For A Rare Thing, 'Diamond Dancer'
The Thermals, Now We Can See, 'We Were Sick'
ICP Orchestra, Two Programs: Performs Herbie Nichols and Thelonious Monk, 'Four in One'
Dizzy Gillespie, 'Duff Capers'
Crime Mob, Hated on Mostly, 'Circles'
But when you’re walking it's very easy for anything to fit just right.
10. Some of the hotel employees—in the AFL—are on strike during the conference. (The APA made a half-hearted attempt to solicit support for the strikers beforehand, but response was predictably non-radical: people support them but it’s too hard to change anything or do anything different.) The first few days they were waving signs and hollering and chanting outside the front entrance. I hadn't seen them when I first arrived at night, so in the morning from up in my room I just had the impression that the city seemed especially raucous from where we were. Later I realized that they had a megaphone and very well-practiced routines. The next day, in the morning I heard a call-and-response chant that I could only understand one half of: check ouuuuut… check ouuuuut… check ouuuuut… check ouuuuut…. I suppose it was meant to be a little annoying, a goad to guests who just wanted their peace, but either it was too tuneful or they didn’t design the chant to annoy people who like minimalist music. It sounded like a Reich tape loop piece before the source gets extremely cut up. I was a little disappointed when they switched to some less tuneful chant half an hour later, though.
11. On the street, saxophones, a bucket drummer, a homeless man who insisted on singing 'You Are My Sunshine' even after I had given him a little money. He was good—right to insist on singing.
12. In Berkeley F. and K. and I walk past Amoeba on our way to lunch. Record stores have little pull for me now.
13. I don't like going to philosophy conferences, but I like it less when I'm frustrated enough to lose sight of why they're dissatisfying. One way of putting it: however little it makes sense or however obscure it is to think this, I somehow see artworks as having the same standing as works of philosophy; or, art as having the same standing as philosophy. I have a fantasy of beginning a paper-reading session at a conference like this by playing a piece of music—giving the audience a chance to listen and then displaying an attempt to put into words what is heard, giving a demonstration of the fact that there are phenomena in life with the structure of calling-for-articulation. The difficulty of putting things to words seems to get short shrift among philosophers.