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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25 Mar '03 08:28:52 AM

Some notes on the preceding.

1. This conception of aesthetic reasoning, or aesthetic arguments, is not new to Wittgenstein. (The point of criticism is also sometimes said to be to draw attention to the work.)

2. This conception of aesthetic reasoning is not universally accepted.

3. Though Edwards constantly discusses this conception with an undertone of aesthetic realism, I don't think that it's necessarily a feature of the conception. That is, it's consistent to hold that the point of aesthetic argument is to draw attention to the work, while denying that the end product of successful arguments will be agreement on the true aesthetic judgments about the work. (Actually, Edwards is ambiguous on this: he talks like an aesthetic realist, when he refers to sucessful arguments getting people to see what's valuable about the work, but he also often indicates that in some cases it may be impossible to obtain agreement via aesthetic argument. However, in the latter cases he generally seems to come off sounding like an aesthetic realist inclined to believe in the power of good taste - in parallel to the cases where the Wittgensteinian philosopher cannot find himself in the traditional philosopher's sensibility, those who we cannot convince by offering comparisons to other artworks, and further descriptions of the artwork in front of us, are just somehow different. There's maybe even a tiny hint of recalcitrance?)

4. It's significant that another part of Wittgenstein's method is to assiduously avoid arguing for one or another position. Significant for my appropriation (I wanted a word like "beatjacking" so I could be like Puffy, but I wasn't happy with the alternatives) of the method, that is. Edwards talks a lot about how part of the point of the method is that in making us aware of the variety of grammatical pictures which might mislead us, the method frees us from taking some picture to be necessary. Frees us from thinking things have to be this way or that. Part of the altered sensibility is that we enjoy a clear view of this variety, and thus that we not take any one grammatical picture as more literal than another. So shouldn't the parallel to the case of aesthetic arguments be that the objects of comparison are deployed to bring about a parallel change in sensibility, one where we don't take any one valuation as better than any other? (Or?)

25 Mar '03 07:52:19 AM

G.E. Moore, from his Philosophical Papers, reporting on a 1932-33 lecture of Wittgenstein's:

"What Aesthetics tries to do, he said, is to give reasons. ... Reasons, he said, in Aesthetics, are "of the nature of further descriptions," e.g., you can make a person see what Brahms was driving at by showing him lots of pieces by Brahms, or by comparing him to a contemporary author; and all that Aesthetics does is "to draw your attention to a thing," to "place things side by side." He said that if, by giving "reasons' of this sort, you make the other person "see what you see" but it "still doesn't appeal to him," that is "an end" of the discussion; and that what he, Wittgenstein, had "at the back of his mind" was "the idea that aesthetic discussions were like discussions in a court of law," where you try to "clear up the circumstances" of the action which is being tried, hoping that in the end what you say will "appeal to the judge." And he said that the same sort of "reasons" were given, not only in Ethics, but also in Philosophy."

James Edwards (in his imperfect but insightful book Ethics Without Philosophy: Wittgenstein and the Moral Life - I'll quote a lot from chapter 4) cites this lecture and claims it's key to understanding two things: Wittgenstein's radical new philosophical methodology, and the role language-games are supposed to play in that methodology. In 130 of the Investigations, Wittgenstein says:

"Our clear and simple language-games are not preparatory studies for a future regularization of language -- as it were first approximations, ignoring friction and air resistance. The language-games are rather set up as objects of comparison which are meant to throw light on the facts of our language by way not only of similarities, but also of dissimilarities."

In short, one of the problems the Investigations presents us with is this: how exactly is this new method (whatever it is) supposed to help us stop doing philosophy, if that's part of the point (as in section 133)? In particular, the method seems to involve calling our attention to the ways in which language is not essentially one thing, but a variety of them. How is this supposed to do anything more than simply frustrate our inclinations to do philosophy traditionally by making the job harder, making things more complicated? According to Edwards, "just as in an aesthetic context objects of comparison, successfully chosen and perspicuously deployed, can change one's view of the value of a given work or artist, so too can objects of comparison like language-games alter one's perception of a given grammatical picture. In both cases what is wanted is a particular sort of resolution: an alteration of perception-sensibility." Edwards goes on later to discuss what he takes Wittgenstein's "vision of the sound human understanding" -- that is, the kind of (better) sensibility we should be trying for. Another long quote from Edwards:

"[Wittgenstein's] description of aesthetic reasoning in the Moore lectures shows that in such contexts the point of reasoning is not best understood as an alteration in belief. The person who has, under the conviction of aesthetic reasoning, come to revise some conception of value is not someone who has merely replaced one set of beliefs with another, as an accountant, looking again at a firm's books, might replace his belief in the firm's solvency with a belief that it is bankrupt. That sort of change, important as it is, is neither as deep nor as personal as that which typically occurs in aesthetics contexts. The change in the accountant's belief does not, in ordinary circumstances, change him; he is essentially the same person as before the bankruptcy was found. But a change in aesthetic contexts is a change in the person himself, a change in his individuating sensibilities; such an alteration is a change in the very way in which experience is appropriated. It alters some of the basic images and ideals that order our experience and give it a particular character and value. After the change many (perhaps all) things are experienced differently. Furthermore, the kind of change that occurs in the aesthetic context is individual in a way that the accountant's change in belief is not. Any competent accountant, we may suppose, will draw the conclusion that the firm in question is bankrupt, but the aesthetic change, as Wittgenstein pointed out, is not "objective" in that way. Recall Moore's report of the Cambridge lectures. It is perfectly possible that [what you say] will not appeal [to the judge], of course, and that may be an end of the discussion. The anticipated change in sensibility may not occur; experience may continue to be appropriated just as before. There is no proper way to coerce agreement in aesthetic contexts, as there (sometimes) is in accountancy."

Whew. Now. I think this is a pretty remarkable find, because of my own inclinations in aesthetics and philosophy, but even more so because since reading Philosophical Investigations I've been interested in taking advantage of Wittgenstein's method to direct it at criticism and art theory. But I could be working backwards, sort of! This is something I will be thinking about constantly in the near future.

24 Mar '03 09:29:25 AM

If it's 2:30, and I'm tired, and my spring break is over, and I'm not really doing anything else, then why am I just sitting here listening to records and not writing about them? I don't know.

Here are the songs I've listened to tonight.

Stevie Wonder - "Love's In Need of Love Today"
Stevie Wonder - "Have a Little Talk With God"
Stevie Wonder - "Contusion"
Stevie Wonder - "Sir Duke"
Stevie Wonder - "I Wish"
Luomo - "Tessio"
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - "The Great Communicator"
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - "Parallel Or Together?"
Prince - "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker"
Prince - "Starfish and Coffee"
Prince - "Slow Love"
Prince - "Forever in My Life"
Miles Davis - "Prince of Darkness"
Miles Davis - "Pee Wee"
Miles Davis - "Masqualero"

I don't know why I chose to list them so repetitively like that.

20 Mar '03 08:15:26 AM

Put that together with indie guilt and you have the beginnings of a fine entry for the forthcoming DSM-V.

20 Mar '03 07:57:16 AM

Lord help me I am still an indie kid even though I swear I never really was one. I will now dutifully present my evidence.

This afternoon after 1) moping around listlessly, I left the house in a 2) hooded sweatshirt and listening to 3) Yo La Tengo to go to a 4) coffeeshop to sit and 5) look at girls. On the way there a cute girl smiled at me and I 6) confusedly looked away in fear. (I am not lost, though; I did smile at the one later inside the shop.)

On my way home, I espied the 7) car poetry girl washing her windshield at the gas station. This is a girl who lives somewhere in my neighborhood, who drives a decrepit old Volvo covered with political bumperstickers and, most importantly, which has a 8) poem written on the 9) sides of it. The poem sounds suspiciously 10) goth at first glance but actually turns out to be 11) Emily Dickinson's #511, which you might find out if like me you are not that familiar with Emily Dickinson but happen to 12) google lines from a poem you saw written on a strange car because you figured a very cute and interesting (note the order there) girl must drive the car. You might even then 13) develop a silly crush on the idea (the idea) of this girl and 14) idly hope to one day run into her so you could ask her about the poem she painted on the side of her car, even if it is a bit fourteen-year-old-high-school-girl-who-hearts-Trent-Reznor, and even if the poem itself seems to indicate maybe that she is Waiting for Someone, not a metaphorical potential someone but some jackass who moved across the country or has cancer or something, which would really kill things real quick now huh.

Anyway, of course the moment I realized that it was her I 15) froze up with crippling anxiety, worse than any I have experienced in the 16) multiple times I have recently enjoyed its familiar company. As if this were not enough, the most damning evidence that I am one sorry-ass fucking indie kid at heart, still: I 17) did in fact decide on seeing her that she didn't look indie enough and so that it 18) wouldn't be worth it anyway.

Yes, I did go home in shame. To feel better I put on 19) the Geto Boys.

[See: grocery store checkout girl, i love you.]

20 Mar '03 07:21:27 AM

I recently acquired a tape deck from Jeff. As my CD player is still broken, the tape deck has made a welcome addition to the stereo in my room. Unfortunately, though, I've had to subsist on a handful of tapes I had around in my office at work. All good tapes, but I'm tiring of them more quickly than I expected. So tonight I copied a disc of Louis Armstrong Hot Fives and Sevens recordings onto an extra tape, using my roommate's stereo. I'm not totally sure why. I've enjoyed listening to the music since I bought it, but not that much; I still need time to figure it out, get used to it. And that is not at all what I intend to do tonight. I want some guaranteed comfort. And yet here I am, listening to Louis Armstrong. I suppose it will do. I'm pretending like I've got an old-timey radio.

If you live in the Twin Cities, you may be interested in the Merriam Park Neighbors for Peace, whose website contains information about a march scheduled for Saturday near Macalester (where I live), and other protest events before Saturday.

16 Mar '03 09:51:57 AM

Good lord, I swear this Ted Leo and the Pharmacists track sounded like "Dust in the Wind" there for a very long second.

And then it sounded like it again.

14 Mar '03 08:35:44 AM

My seven favorite rap tracks of the moment:

Cee-Lo - "Big Ole Words (Damn)"
Clipse - "When the Last Time"
Ice Cube - "Down for Whatever"
Killer Mike f. Big Boi - "A.D.I.D.A.S."
Mobb Deep - "Survival of the Fittest"
Nas - "N.Y. State of Mind"
The Notorious B.I.G. - "Things Done Changed"

My seven favorite dance tracks of the moment:

Akufen - "Deck the House (Herbert Stops Like This Mix)"
Basement Jaxx - "I Want U"
Herbert - "The Audience"
Luomo - "Tessio"
MRI - "Tied to the 80s"
Recloose - "Can't Take It (Herbert's Some Dumb Dub)"
Superpitcher - "Tomorrow"

Why only seven of each? Because I couldn't go on. But I wanted to see how long I could go on, so that's OK.

Yes, I know the dance selection is notably limited: three Herbert tracks (one original, two remixes), five or six (loosely, now) microhouse tracks, three on Force Tracks. Don't think that I'm just caught up in a particular interest at the moment. That might imply that there's much other dance that I really listen to, which is not true.

14 Mar '03 07:51:56 AM

Killer Mike, you may remember, did a verse on one of the new singles on the Outkast best-of, "The Whole World". The second (?) single from his own album fucking bangs. There's some kind of toy piano or jack-in-the-box melody from time to time, but mostly it's big hollow-sounding fuzzy dirty bass pulses, four on the same pitch then another thing, over and over. So in the middle, when right under the lyric, "took 'The Whole World' and murdered that shit," the "Whole World" beat plays for about two seconds, er, something happens. I don't know what. The two seconds is just long enough to set me up to be excited to hear the "Whole World" beat, to recognize it as oh, it's that. But it's taken away so fast that I'm a little shocked and confused.