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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18 Oct '02 05:31:51 AM

I'm resistant to calling music like the blues simple, but when I consider it as an alternative to music that I think of as more sophisticated somehow (which I want to resist, too, but jesus it gets hard to resist all the time), like jazz, I find myself forced into it. Such was my situation last night, when I put on the Howlin' Wolf Chess compilation. When I don't feel well and I want to occupy myself somehow, distract myself maybe, I tend to prefer to listen to certain kinds of jazz or other music that strikes me as similarly abstract. Often I can't sanction Mingus or some Miles or Coltrane, anything with too much "feeling" (I was going to say, just no slow stuff, but with Mingus especially that's not true, all of his music has too much color or something, which may be a more affectively neutral way of putting what I have in mind - this "feeling" ascription makes me wince). So Miles' second quintet works well instead, or, say, Coltrane's Live in Japan (which I played the other night, two discs of it - "Crescent" sounded strangely similar to the album version I'm used to, in contrast to my past experiences where it blended together in a little-differentiated forty five minute directionless cacophony; I think I liked it better the old way, as the similarity to the album version dilutes its potency somehow).

But sometimes the sophistication is too much for me to deal with. My alternatives seem limited. Usually what I want in these cases is something emotionally, affectively monotonic, but when I turn to the music I have that seems to satisfy that requirement I remember that it makes me sad, or I find it too emotional, or too slow, or too floaty, or... well, I get very picky. It's hard to pin down why.

Yet I find that Howlin' Wolf fits, somehow. One of the things that made it work (I can't go into the others at the moment) seems to have been its simplicity. Saying that is not enough. I have plenty of other music that could be seen as roughly similar in terms of simplicity. But it's not what I want.

Of course, the blues are not affectively monotonic. I don't think I even listen to them as such in order to get a certain thing out of them. My, it's getting complicated.

Observations to keep in mind the next time I get a chance to think about this: Howlin' Wolf is funny. Rappers are too, but they're also bleak (some are Bleek oh haha sorry). Even when Howlin' Wolf is (as I told someone last night) bemoaning evil or celebrating his corpulence, or when his woman done him wrong (this happens often apparently), there's... something there. Confidence is not the right thing to call it. Some kind of assuredness, or acceptance. Yes, there is evil. Yes, woman done you wrong. There's not really any getting around it, and wishing you could have or feeling bad about it is kind of pointless. That's not to say that you should feel good - willfully ignorant (or ignoring?) wide-eyed optimism, denial of the bad things. They require recognition. Maybe "acceptance" is wrong, too. Or inadequate: you have to accept, but only that the bad things will be there. Not your reactions to them. This leaves room for being funny. Or for celebrations of corpulence.

Obviously I need more time to think about this. Note to self: Cohen's chapter in Jokes on Jewish jokes and acceptance of absurdity.

15 Oct '02 06:35:08 AM

I'm busy; swamped; tired; depressed; cold; and more. Most of my thoughts lately have been about philosophy stuff unrelated to the topic of this blog, when I have time to have thoughts that aren't about grading. I'm nursing a few, though (in brief: expression in music as a disposition, consequence that objective consensus on what expresses what is not likely, but who cares?; what is there in a recording of improvisation to hear as improvisation?; my long suffering paper on Deleuzean (barely) plateaus in listening practices involving popular music; what happens when the desire to do criticism fades?; how local need the social contexts in which music is meaningful be for us (or really lameass philosophers) to be convinced that those contexts are sufficient to ground the music's importance?; is my project here selfish or social or what, and how much?), so stay with me.

The best thing I've read lately has been the intervew Mike links to, with Morton Feldman. Go read it carefully and enjoy.

11 Oct '02 06:01:30 AM

So I'm grading and listening to Monk (who always works great for grading - I should remember that the next time I can't get started, which is every time), and on "Epistrophy" (the live Jazz Workshop version) the drummer starts doing this thing where he's hitting lots of eighth notes really straight, and then it keeps going for like 20 seconds while Monk and Gales are still swinging behind him, only it settles into something that's not so rhythmically complicated, just really straight eighth notes, bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop, and then I realize that Riley stopped 20 seconds ago and I've been tapping my foot on the straight eighths so hard that my chair is making a noise that sounds kind of like the drums coming from the right speaker. It was the greatest thing I've heard all week.

8 Oct '02 09:40:13 AM

When Mehldau does "Alone Together" I have trouble finding a rhythm to it - there's a pulse, in some sense, but it never seems to lock in.

8 Oct '02 08:13:49 AM

(That was Wittgenstein in the Investigations, at 133. What if we said the same thing about doing criticism?)

8 Oct '02 08:13:02 AM

The real discovery is the one that makes me capable of stopping doing philosophy when I want to. - The one that gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions which bring itself into question. - Instead, we now demonstrate a method, by examples; and the series of examples can be broken off. - Problems are solved (difficulties eliminated), not a single problem.

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?!