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.
It's been a strange day. Though I woke up a tiny bit hungover (I went to Linda and Stephen's last night, and didn't get home on the bus until about four), that wasn't really too much of an obstacle. I just couldn't bring myself to get up and go to class. Or do anything else. So I went back to sleep a few more times and then got up at four. I developed a pretty good habit of skipping classes when I was an undergraduate, often for similar reasons, but in the time since I went to graduate school (even my year as a math student), I've been pretty conscientious about going to class. The contrast makes it easier for me to see the connection between the way I felt today and the way I've felt more generally lately, a slight downturn compared to most of March and before. Wait, "slight" is putting it too lightly. It hasn't been that good. But in that peculiar way where everything is not so great but not so bad, most of the time.
Tonight, because it seemed it might fit my mood while giving me a bit of clarity, I reread a bit of Dance Dance Dance. I read a passage where the narrator walks around in a gray haze, affectless and directionless, and found myself sighing a little at Murakami's heavy-handedness (though I should note that I was probably forgetting about how important hard-boiled thrillers are for him, so maybe I wasn't taking that influence on his style into account). But then a few pages later I forgave him, even while aware that part of my reason for doing so was just the typical Murakami trick of (almost merely) mentioning drinking, food, pop music, and a girl. As it happens, I can do that today too.
This afternoon, luckily after I had finally woken up and showered, a group of girls rang my doorbell and asked for my landlord's home phone number, because they were interested in renting but he hadn't been returning their calls to his work number. Once I gave them the phone number, they asked if they could walk through the place quickly since two of them hadn't gotten to see it yet. I would have shown anyone anyway, but since they were cute, of course, there was no question - even though we're in the middle of moving and the place is even more of a dump than usual. So I showed them around, even my frightening room. Aside from the slight strangeness of the group showing up unannounced, the connection to Murkami is of course that the girls' leader (from the way they talked to each other, and the way she talked to me, it seems it could only be that they decided beforehand that one person had to do all the talking, and no one wanted to, but everyone else in the group thought this girl should, so she lost) was compellingly and mysteriously beautiful, with long black hair. Murakami narrators are a little sharper than me in that respect, though, because it wasn't until I showed the girls out that I noticed to myself: self, that girl with long black hair is compelling and mysteriously beautiful.
Murakami staple numbers two and three: alcohol and food. Somehow even his simple or banal ones have a little something to them. I'm not sure that the pizza I ate tonight did, at least not in the novel-about-contemporary-man's-existential-doubts-and-appreciation-of-the-small-things sense. The Jameson probably did, though, just because I am happy to romanticize any whiskey. (I can't claim that Murakami didn't have something to do with this, but I will deny it was substantive.)
While I read and ate and drank I put on Entroducing, somewhat at random since it was at the top of the box of CDs I had just packed. It had been a while, but it was a nice choice. Suddenly it seemed - even though I really started to finally like the record last year - as if I had made leaps and bounds in my appreciation of it. Enough that later I popped down the street (in my winter coat - it snowed today, hello there Prince) and bought The Private Press, and also Digable Planets' Blowout Comb which I had been planning on buying for a while since hearing it at Jeff's anyway. The new DJ Shadow was interesting, I suppose, and I need more time with it, but it didn't really help me continue my earlier mood (or, to put it better, my way out of my earlier mood). Blowout Comb did, though. I suppose maybe my comparison to Murakami calls for something less abstract - and the abstract quality of the music I liked tonight, especially the zen-monk-satori that comes with a beat stretched out for seven minutes, the sound of a sample repeating in that beautiful mid-90s way. Even when the narrator of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle listens to classical, it's often Rossini or something, light music, for whistling, occupying time with, relating to ("But back then I never thought about it, and it was just great listening. Didn't matter what it was. I was a kid. I was in love. And when you're a kid you can relate to anything, even if it's silly," the narrator to Dance Dance Dance tells Yuki). But, hello refrain - and abstraction is just as good a way of making that temporary space as anything else, especially if it's me making the space. (Not that it's something particular about me, I mean - just that it's well, it's not up to anyone else. Whatever.)
I am sick with the definitiveness disease; I don't want to write things down unless I am absolutely sure that they are right, and what's more, significant. (A number of things do slip by.) The cure has to be regular writing - taking advantage of the diaristic aspect of my format. Simple, direct.
List, list, list. My sister got married on the 29th. I played the music at the reception. Here's what I picked.
Miles Davis - "All Blues"
John Coltrane - "Moment's Notice"
Keith Jarrett - "What Is This Thing Called Love"
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong - "Isn't This a Lovely Day?"
Frank Sinatra - "I Get a Kick Out Of You"
Herbie Hancock - "And What If I Don't"
Stevie Wonder - "I Love Every Little Thing About You"
The Beatles - "Here Comes the Sun"
Dave Brubeck - "Take Five"
Ben E. King - "Stand By Me"
Jackson 5 - "Who's Lovin You"
Al Green - "Let's Stay Together"
Yo La Tengo - "Center of Gravity"
James Brown - "I Got You (I Feel Good)"
The Maytals - "54-46 That's My Number"
Sonny Rollins - "Moritat"
Stevie Wonder - "Superstition"
The Sea and Cake - "Sound & Vision"
Prince - "Starfish & Coffee"
John Coltrane - "Bessie's Blues"
William Bell - "Everyday Will Be a Holiday"
The Magnetic Fields - "Zebra"
Bob Dylan - "I Want You"
Cee-Lo - "Gettin' Grown"
The Beatles - "Norwegian Wood"
Frank Sinatra - "I've Got You Under My Skin"
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong - "Cheek to Cheek"
Getz/Gilberto - "Girl From Ipanema"
Massive Attack - "Protection"
List, list, list.
Top ten Sonic Youth songs I listened to tonight:
1. "The Ineffable Me"
2. "The Ineffable Me"
3. "The Ineffable Me"
4. "The Diamond Sea"
6. "Dirty Boots"
7. "Screaming Skull"
8. "The Ineffable Me"
9. "The Ineffable Me"
10. "The Ineffable Me"
The connection between A Thousand Leaves and French philosophy seems superficial - the resemblance of the title to A Thousand Plateaus, the mention of Kim's "desiring machine" in "Female Mechanic Now On Duty", the lyrics in "The Ineffable Me" - at least at first. But more and more lately I've been convinced that the Kim tracks in particular contain a wealth of things to wonder at by using the poststructuralists as guides, or tools, or inspiration. I can barely get my head around it. Every little shift in Kim's voice on "Ineffable Me" seems to add to the ambiguities, and complexities, of what's going on in the song. I hope someday I can write more about it.
This is even less clear than normal - beware.
Suppose there's something odd about treating a piece of art (in the least evaluative sense possible - I mean, the kind of thing that we generally talk about as being art or not, a song, a story, a play, a cartoon, whatever) as a thing, or as a material object, in a very flat sort of metaphysical sense. A collection of atoms, a series of vibrations, an articulation or expression of some formal structure (?). (The reason for this, by the way, would have something to do with the ordinary usage of words like "art" involving seeing the thing on that level, and not on the level of a bare thing. Something like that.) Then what to say about the common view of appreciation that finds value in a sometimes reductive analysis of the art object into some of its parts or features? It seems that this, too, is a rather ordinary way of talking about art. I probably need a better characterization of what it means to appreciate some parts of the work (the way this transition works, the way this symbol is transformed in the course of the narrative, the density of sound at this point) as parts, while making it clear that this is distinct from the kind of art-as-thing-ness that I might have reasons for criticizing.
(This is related to an idea of Jeff's which I can't elaborate on yet because he claims the right to write a paper on it first. There are other - related - sources for it, but I'm too lazy to look them up, so Jeff is my source for now.)
(Recalling something Phil said once about the significance of the fact that, because of the edits, we get to hear the exact same thing again on the repeat, though of course by then we don't hear the "exact same thing".)
It's very exciting, I think I just heard an edit on In a Silent Way that I never heard before. There was a little 'whoshp' noise.
As I sat down to write tonight, I felt a little disappointed, recalling what I'd listened to today, and thinking that it mostly seemed to pass by without my being any better off for it. But it wasn't so bad.
Sex Pistols, "Bodies". Sometimes I'm not sure I'll ever be able to overcome my jaded attitude toward the band's sound on this record - jaded by time, lack of context, and exposure to more sonically terrorizing music. It's so tame that it's even kind of cute sometimes, like the Magnetic Fields' "Punk Love" is not actually so far off base as I once thought. But. Every now and then while I'm not paying attention, Lydon gets inside with his sneer, makes me jump or laugh with joy or shudder or shiver. Later on the record it was jumping and laughing, but here Lydon's attitude overwhelmed mine. I don't even know the words, but I can make them out, more or less, while I'm listening. "This song is about abortion" is a true sentence, but it doesn't cover it. "Pennyroyal Tea" is about abortion, too, and though I find that song affecting, howling in the service of bleak expressionism seems more mediated by artifice than whatever it is Lydon's got going on here, and thus not as troublesome (perplexing? fascinating? engaging?) to me. In other places, like D12 songs, or Ice Cube or Eminem's references to kicking pregnant women in the stomach, perhaps the fact that I find the jokes funny should trouble me more, but it doesn't. And then sensitive girlyfolk abortion songs are hardly distinguishable from other sensitive songs about important emotional stuff, like, you know? But then, that sneering voice, maybe courting glee but not quite, well...
My Bloody Valentine, Loveless. I still don't know the names of the songs, and don't care to. But I've been listening to this a lot lately - four or five times in a week or so, which is "a lot" compared to the once or twice a year that's been the norm. I am still constantly tempted to think that most of the record is more or less banal - pretty warbling and cooing, and some noise, stuck together with poorly crafted British indie. But then there are moments like today, in my office, helping a student, when suddenly I realized there was this awful (read: glorious) noise coming from the CD player. (Hesitant gestures that accompany our encounters with the unknown.) A quote from Cage would be illuminating here, too, but I'm tired now and ready for bed. My comparison of Basement Jaxx's "Red Alert" and Biggie's "Mo Money Mo Problems" will have to wait (i.e. be forgotten).
Below is a long quote from Dreyfus and Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, in an interview with Foucault included as part of an afterword from 1983 called "On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress". My quote starts on p. 245 of the second edition. The questions are, presumably, by both Dreyfus and Rabinow, and the answers are Foucault's, given in English. The earlier part is meant to provide some context; I am most interested in the later part, where Foucault starts talking about what was in the notebooks. Elsewhere in the interview, he says a bit more about what he means when he talks about constituting the self: "Rather they acted so as to give to their life certain values (reproduce certain examples, leave behind them an exalted reputation, give the maximum possible brilliance to their lives). It was a question of making one's life into an object for a sort of knowledge, for a techne -- for an art. We have hardly any remnant of the idea in our society, that the principal work of art which one has to take care of, the main area to which one must apply aesthetic values is oneself, one's life, one's existence." So, you see, this interview has a lot of interest to me, especially in light of recent entries here about Edwards on Wittgenstein's method and its relation to aesthetic arguments, and its goal to bring about a change in sensibility (yesterday, just below); Georg Lichtenberg's waste-book method, admired by Wittgenstein; and the role of confession in this method. So. The quote:
Q: We know that one of the studies for Le Souci de soi concerns the role of writing in the formation of the self. How is the question of the relation of writing and the self posed by Plato?
A: First, to bring out a certain number of historical facts which are often glossed over when posing this problem of writing, we must look into the famous question of the hypomnemata. Current interpretors see in the critique of the hypomnemata in the Phaedrus a critique of writing as a material support for memory. Now, in fact, hypomnemata has a very precise meaning. It is a copybook, a notebook. Precisely this type of notebook was coming into vogue at Plato's time for personal and administrative use. This new technology was as disrupting as the introduction of the computer into private life today. It seems to me the question of writing and the self must be posed in terms of the technical and material framework in which it arose.
Secondly, there are problems of interpretation concerning the famous critique of writing as opposed to the culture of memory in the Phaedrus. If you read the Phaedrus, you will see that this passage is secondary with respect to another one which is fundamental and which is in line with the theme which runs throughout the end of the text. It does not matter whether a text is written or oral -- the problem is whether or not the discourse in question gives access to truth. Thus the written/oral question is altogether secondary with respect to the question of truth.
Thirdly, what seems remarkable to me is that these new instruments were immediately used for the constitution of a permanent relationship to oneself -- one must manage oneself as a governor manages the governed, as a head of an enterprise manages his enterprise, a head of household manages his household. This new idea that virtue consists essentially in perfectly governing oneself, that is, in exercising upon oneself as exact a mastery as that of a sovereign against whom there would no longer be revolts, is something very important which we will find, for centuries -- practically until Christianity. So, if you will, the point at which the question of the hypomnemata and the culture of the self comes together in a remarkable fashion is the point at which the culture of the self takes as its goal the perfect government of the self -- a sort of permanent political relationship between self and self. The ancients carried on this politics of themselves with these notebooks just as governments and those who manage enterprises administered by keeping registers. This is how writing seems to me to be linked to the problem of the culture of the self.
Q: Can you tell us more about the hypomnemata?
A: In the technical sense, the hypomnemata could be account books, public registers, individual notebooks serving as memoranda. Their use as books of life, guides for conduct, seems to have become a current thing amongst a whole cultivated public. Into them one entered quotations, fragments of works, examples, and actions to which one had been witness or of which one had read the account, reflections or reasonings which one had heard or which had come to mind. They constituted a material memory of things read, heard, or thought, thus offering these as an accumulated treasure for rereading and later meditation. They also formed a raw material for the writing of more systematic treatises in which were given arguments and means by which to struggle against some defect (such as anger, envy, gossip, flattery) or to overcome some difficult circumstance (a mourning, an exile, downfall, disgrace).
Q: But how does writing connect up with ethics and the self?
A: No technique, no professional skill can be acquired without exercise; neither can one learn the art of living, the techne tou biou, without an askesis which must be taken as a training of oneself by oneself: this was one of the traditional principles to which the Pythagoreans, the Socratics, the Cynics had long attributed great importance. Amongst all the forms this training took (and which included abstinences, memorizations, examinations of conscience, meditations, silence and listening to others), it seems that writing -- the fact of writing for oneself and for others -- came quite late to play a sizeable role.
Q: What specific role did the notebooks play when they finally became influential in late antiquity?
A: As personal as they were, the hypomnemata must nevertheless not be taken for intimate diaries or for those accounts of spiritual experience (temptations, struggles, falls, and victories) which can be found in later Christian literature. They do not constitute an "account of oneself"; their objective is not to bring the arcana conscientiae to light, the confession of which -- be it oral or written -- has a purifying value. The movement that they seek to effect is the inverse of this last one. The point is not to pursue the indescribable, not to reveal the hidden, not to say the nonsaid, but on the contrary, to collect the already-said, to reassemble that which one could hear or read, and this to an end which is nothing less than the constitution of oneself.