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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8 Oct '02 08:08:40 AM

Yes, it's commonplace book week (month?) here on josh blog.

7 Oct '02 07:13:28 AM

Two similar ideas I've picked up from philosophy of science stuff lately:

One, from my philosophy of biology seminar, says something like: geneticists used their focus on genes, and gene talk, to get a foothold on investigations into fundamental questions in biology. (Oppose this to using genetics to provide explanations, something that there are good criticisms against its ability to do while remaining gene-focused.)

Two, from a history of science talk about how Newton changed science in the Principia: Newton intended the idealizations involved in his laws (and the results derived from them, like statements about the motion of the moon) to be a response to the inevitable parochiality of our observations. If the laws turn out to be incorrect because of some bias in our ability to see the world (as happened when Newton's theory of gravitation was corrected by Einstein's), that's OK because they're designed in such a way that, as long as they're true of the way the world would be under certain ideal conditions, any deviations from predictions provided by the laws tell us things about the way the world is different from the ideal. Thus the laws provide an investigative tool, and were intended to, aside from whatever explanatory power they have.

I'm sure ideas like this next one have been advanced before, but I don't know if they've been put like this. Either way, I'd like to find out who thinks things like this so I can read them:

When we give readings or interpretations of artworks, an important purpose isn't to get it "right", but to use the interpretation as a tool to investigate how things are not the way the interpretation says they are. What things? Not just the artwork. But us: how we react to the artwork, how we feel and think and live in general.

Lately I think (a lot) that people forget this and would like too much to have interpretations be right. Maybe a view like this sort of deflates interest in interpreting, though, makes it seem like pointless work to come up with really developed readings. But even if they only help us get at everything else that won't normally fit into nice readings of artworks, we have to do them. We have to.

7 Oct '02 06:34:16 AM

"when love congeals / it soon reveals / the faint aroma of performing seals"

From "I Wish I Were in Love Again".

What the hell? Gross.

I mean, really. What the fuck?

Congeals? Seals? Love?!

7 Oct '02 05:48:10 AM

So I picked up the Capitol Years Sinatra comp today. "Love and Marriage" sounds totally wrong without the ball and chain (or jail cell door closing? I can't remember) sound from Married with Children.

6 Oct '02 07:37:40 AM

Kierkegaard from "Rotation of Crops" in Either / Or Part I, p. 298 in the Hong edition:

Just as one varies the soil somewhat, in accordance with the theory of social prudence (for if one were to live in relation to only one person, rotation of crops would turn out badly, as would be the case if a farmer had only one acre of land and therefore could never let it lie fallow, something that is extremely important), so also must one continually vary oneself, and this is the real secret. To that end, it is essential to have control over one's moods. To have them under control in the sense that one can produce them at will is an impossibility, but prudence teaches us to utilize the moment. Just as an experienced sailor always scans the sea and detects a squall far in advance, so one should always detect a mood a little in advance. Before entering into a mood, one should know its effect on oneself and its probable effect on others. The first strokes are for the purpose of evoking pure tones and seeing what is inside a person; later come the intermediate tones. The more practice one has, the more one is convinced that there is often much in a person that was never imagined. When sentimental people, who as such are very boring, become peevish, they are often amusing. Teasing in particular is an excellent means of exploration.

Arbitrariness is the whole secret. It is popularly believed that there is no art to being arbitrary, and yet it takes profound study to be arbitrary in such a way that a person does not himself run wild in it but himself has pleasure from it. One does not enjoy the immediate object but something else that one arbitrarily introduces. One sees the middle of a play; one reads the third section of a book. One thereby has enjoyment quite different from what the author so kindly intended. One enjoys something totally accidental; one considers the whole of existence from this standpoint; one lets its reality run aground on this. I shall give an example. There was a man whose chatter I was obliged to listen to because of the circumstances. On every occasion, he was ready with a little philosophical lecture that was extremely boring. On the verge of despair, I suddenly discovered that the man perspired exceptionally much when he spoke. This perspiration now absorbed my attention. I watched how the pearls of perspiration collected on his forehead, then united in a rivulet, slid down his nose, and ended in a quivering globule that remained suspended at the end of his nose. From that moment on, everything was changed; I could even have the delight of encouraging him to commence his philosophical instruction just in order to watch the perspiration on his brow and on his nose.

3 Oct '02 07:03:45 AM

Ethan asked me recently how I've been challenging myself (musically) lately. My lame answer was that I had been playing Ginuwine's "Pony" and liking it - which I think was a good answer, it's just that I hadn't really had to try very hard, and I haven't tried much harder at anything else lately.

But. Ethan made me a tape which I have been enjoying listening to in my office (where I have a tape player). I was slightly surprised to like the Specials song, because it's ska. (During the punk-ska revival in the 90s I liked a bit of it but was very much annoyed by lots of it, so I deliberately avoided hearing any older and possibly better ska.) Not that surprised, though, because I wasn't really letting my do-not-like-this censors tell me what to do. Not that they seemed that interested in doing it anyway.

On the tape and on my small office speakers "Nite Klub" is even more deliciously metallic and clattery, without the bass jumping around as deeply as on my home stereo. But I still like it here. And I basically like the whole album to different degrees. Not quite as much as I liked hearing the song on the tape. Which makes me wonder: how much might I like this in the future if I keep listening to it? The question interests me because the music seems kind of between music I've been growing colder toward, and music I've been more excited by (the split ancestry of late 70s punk-ska should help make sense of what I mean by that). Which is partly why I chose to buy this CD tonight, instead of, say, Biggie's Ready to Die: I want to hear lots of things because of Ethan's tape, but at this point I think I have actually felt more challenged by a ska record than I would've by a rap record, even as shallow or as still cursory as my appreciation of rap is.

(I'd like to say that the same is true of the R & B on the tape - in the place of the rap in the previous sentence - but that seems false and to get out of it I would like to mumble something about singles versus albums here and then stop talking.)

(It's so nice to hear the Specials singing a Tricky line even if I know that the order can't really be in that direction.)

3 Oct '02 06:32:21 AM

"Southern Hospitality". He sounds blunt, yes, and in other songs I might be more prone to thinking that he is just based on his lyrics - I have a mental line somewhere between "fat titties and a matchin ass" (from this) and "they body start to leak and shit" (from his verse on Missy's "One Minute Man"). But since that line isn't approached here, really, I think the content itself doesn't lead me to think anything in particular about his delivery as opposed to others. (Translation: big deal, fat titties in a rap song.) But something else about the whole thing makes me hear the line very differently.

I can't get at all of it now, but just the rhyme scheme, and the way the rhyming words are emphasized extra strongly, seems to have something to do with it. At first glance the rhymes seem kind of dumb: it's pretty obvious that he's going to say "dick" and "balls" eventually, e.g. But because they're so dumb, they pick up something playful, if that word makes sense in the middle of all this. I don't know - like a version of the avoid-swearing game that the Magnetic Fields play in "Fido, Your Leash is Too Long", or Primus in "The Air is Getting Slippery" (I think?), only with different rules.

That said, I don't know how it connects to this: that despite the content not coming down on the "too much" side of my mental line, when he says "fat titties and a matchin ass", I have this inescapable feeling of total, utter objectification (not of myself ha). I know he says "if you got" before that or something, and is addressing all the girls on the (dance) floor, but it somehow seems as if suddenly there are just disembodied tits - grotesquely large ones, like Hype Williams directing Philip Roth's The Breast (where an English prof turns into a giant boob!) - floating into the song (and a big fat ass too - "junk in the trunk" ha). "Floating" seems appropriate because the stresses in the lyrics and the grammatical structure all make the words seem to float in to me, make them seem like more than just a disconnected list of things (Cadillacs, dicks, stocks, rocks, the Neptunes) that Luda mentions. (The music must surely have something to do with this - sort of a woozy, bleak shuffling glide or something?)

So, yeah. Did I mention I am listening to this constantly?

3 Oct '02 06:14:30 AM

Today I listened to Aaliyah's "Try Again" while walking and had something happen that doesn't usually: I could see (in a way) how a whole video to accompany the song might go. (I've never seen the real video.) It seems strange to me to describe it, though, because I have a sense that it would take too much work to explain while not even getting at what I saw in my head. I wonder if I would be of the same mind if it were music I "heard".

3 Oct '02 06:11:38 AM

When I listen to Herbert I hear "organic" and "artificial" ("synthetic" might be better but for some reason the word that demands to be used is "artificial") but I hear them at the same time, and this presents me with a problem: am I really getting them simultaneously? Sometimes I feel a little tension, like - oh, this part sounds so organic, then suddenly - oh, this part sounds so precise and mechanical. Is this tension aligned in any principled way with something about the sounds themselves? Like: their timbres sound organic, but the rhythms are mechanical (hmm notice how I keep wanting to use that now instead of the "artificial" that seemed forced on me at the beginning of the paragraph). Or: the rhythms are organic, but the sounds all have a texture to them like I'd expect to see in a hyperrealistic (i.e. achieved with computers) film - dayglo with Tom Waits "All The World is Green" green instead of Trapper Keeper florescence.

Of course, this tension doesn't have to break down in this nice, clean arrangement. I'm not sure which would be more comforting.