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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28 Apr '03 10:01:50 AM

What passes for "work" is pretty appalling sometimes. I am not exempt from that, either. But at least I've written something down tonight. It's now officially my birthday. Time for bed.

28 Apr '03 09:56:46 AM

It's an open question how much, in the case of each remark, to draw from nearby or faraway surrounding remarks in order to get at the ordinary background. In 63, for example: "To say, however, that a sentence in (b) is an 'analysed' form of one in (a) readily seduces us into thinking that the former is the more fundamental form; that it alone shews what is meant by the other, and so on. For example, we think: If you have only the unanalysed form you miss the analysis; but if you know the analysed form that gives you everything. -- But may I not say that an aspect of the matter is lost on you in the latter case as well as the former?"

In light of this, I might say: one thing forgotten in the Bizarro world is that just those parts obtained from analysis are not enough to get the meaning of the ordinary sentence. So in the background is whatever goes on when we mean things, and foregrounded as strange is this particular picture of meaning, which presumably goes along with a theory, such as one that says language is compositional, and sentences get their meanings as a function of the meanings of their constituent parts, like the names of things.

28 Apr '03 09:47:50 AM

In Jokes Ted Cohen comes up with two kinds of jokes, which he calls hermetic and affective. To get a hermetic joke, you have to have some knowledge or belief. To get an affective joke, you need certain feelings or attitudes - about, say, the kind of people who are the subject of the joke. Later, asking why it generally doesn't work to explain the necessary background for a joke to someone who doesn't find it funny, Cohen compares the situation to one where you have to explain how to solve a math problem to someone - that can work, but it generally won't with jokes. He says:

"It is perfectly possible to give this solution to someone, and to have it fully appreciated by the recipient, even if he has no advance knowledge of the problem. You might simply explain the problem to him, and then offer the solution. You cannot do this with a joke, at least not without considerable cost to the joke-transaction, and the reason is that you need to begin with an implicit acknowledgement of a shared background, a background of awareness that you both are already in possession of and bring to the joke. This is the foundation of the intimacy that will develop if your joke succeeds, and the hearer then also joins you in a shared response to the joke.

And just what is this intimacy? It is the shared sense of those in a community. The members know that they are in this community, and they know that they are joined there by one another. When the community is focused on a joke, the intimacy has two constituents. The first constituent is a shared set of beliefs, dispositions, prejudices, et cetera -- a shared outlook on the world, or at least part of an outlook. The second constituent is a shared feeling -- a shared response to something. The first constituent can be cultivated and realized without jokes. So can the second constituent, but with jokes, the second constituent is amplified by the first, and this is a very curious and wonderful fact about jokes."

Now, the deal is: to run with Edwards' reading of the later Wittgenstein's (god I get sick of saying that, afraid someone is going to punch me in the face, but it's really easy to say) philosophical method as aesthetic in character, involving using language-games as objects of comparison in an attempt to change our attitude. So, what to do? Look at some language games and other similar things L.W. uses, and start asking how they do this (or not). Starting place: there are a number of little places that are just... strange, weird, unusual, anywhere from normal philosopher-weird (yo what up brain in a vat and evil deceiving demon) to a kind of funny joke-weird, a la "I know that that is a tree" ... "don't be alarmed, we're just doing philosophy", maybe Twin Peaks weird or something, Steven Wright weird. Short of some of the laughable ones proper these seem like some remarks to very fruitfully consider in this light. For comparison, on Edwards' reading, will generally involve comparison between the language-game and some in-place knowledge or understanding. What we might unabashedly (without planning on defending or developing it at this point) call "ordinary". So hey ho in comes Cohen's account of jokes. It looks like there's something similar here. Jokes need that background to really work. Think even of certain kinds of jokes, where you can see and feel and hear the ordinary, normal ways language works driving the joke, forming the contrast between the body of the joke and the punchline, where language takes a turn you didn't expect because you were just not sure where the difference would end up being, even though you knew you were hearing a joke and there might be some kind of twist eventually. So, in the strange or weird cases, same deal: why does it seem strange? What's in the background that makes it seem strange? What is it, by way of comparison, that's intended to appear, as a result of the comparison, more strange, or more normal?

Take for example section 60, which is closer to the philosopher-weird end of the spectrum, in the way it skirts a typical reductio. (In fact, lots of these sorts of remarks resemble reductios, or maybe could even be taken to be rather high-level reductios.)

60. When I say: "My broom is in the corner", -- is this really a statement about the broomstick and the brush? Well, it could at any rate be replaced by a statement giving the position of the stick and the position of the brush. And this statement is surely a further analysed form of the first one. -- But why do I call it "further analysed"? -- Well, if the broom is there, that surely means that the stick and the brush must be there, and in a particular relation to one another; and this was as it were hidden in the sense of the first sentence, and is expressed in the analysed sentence. Then does someone who says that the broom is in the corner really mean: the broomstick is there, and so is the brush, and the broomstick is fixed in the brush? -- If we were to ask anyone if he meant this he would probably say that he had not thought specially of the broomstick or specially of the brush at all. And that would be the right answer, for he meant to speak neither of the stick nor of the brush in particular. Suppose that, instead of saying, "Bring me the broom", you said "Bring me the broomstick and the brush which is fitted on to it."! -- Isn't the answer: "Do you want the broom? Why do you put it so oddly?" ---- Is he going to understand the further analysed sentence better? -- This sentence, one might say, achieves the same as the ordinary one, but in a more roundabout way. -- Imagine a language-game in which someone is ordered to bring certain objects which are composed of several parts, to move them about, or something else of the kind. And two ways of playing it: in one (a) the composite objects (brooms, chairs, tables, etc.) have names, as in (15); in the other (b) only the parts are given names and the wholes are described by means of them. -- In what sense is an order in the second game an analyzed form of an order in the first? Does the former lie concealed in the latter, and is it now brought out by analysis? -- True, the broom is taken to pieces when one separates broomstick and brush, but does it follow that the order to bring the broom also consists of corresponding parts?

So we've got a little weirdness here. Even after some discussion of whether or not it makes sense to understand "My broom is in the corner" as hiding some more thoroughly analyzed sentence, we get a little situation to imagine, and it still sounds weird. That is, notice how he's kind of given the joke away ahead of time. And goes on after making the joke - "Bring me the broomstick and the brush which is fitten on to it" - to pick at it some more. Still weird. People don't talk like that.

Stalling! Try to answer the questions tomorrow.

28 Apr '03 09:04:56 AM

David wrote in to note, in response to my comment below about "turn the other cheek", that the injunction shouldn't necessarily be read as advocating some kind of masochism. I don't think so either, but I could have chosen a better wording than "bend over" to indicate that. I was thinking, though, of something like "I am willing to be hurt so why bother", which David also rejects as making sense when "turn the other cheek" is taken alone, but not making sense in the context of the Christian account of love. I don't know anything about that debate, really, but just thought you might like to know a bit about how it keeps going.

28 Apr '03 08:51:05 AM

Take say the one moment in the one where Buffy finds out that Dawn is only retroactively part of the Summers family. A heart-rending moment: Buffy has already done the magic-detecting spell, seen Dawn and Dawn's things and pictures of Dawn flashing in and out, real and unreal, the fact of her creation exposed. Buffy has also heard the dying monk's confession. Enough has accrued for her attitude toward Dawn to change - she's now suspicious, wary, confused. Inclined to regard her as a thing, or a problem, rather than her sister, a person. So, the moment: near the end when, goaded into it by Dawn, Buffy falls naturally back into the sister-sister dynamic, treating the family relationship and history she thought they shared as real: "oh you always" etc. And we see a look on her face. What is that look? I don't know. At the very least, she remembers that there's a problem now, maybe, with talking that way - with acting as if Dawn was not actually just energy coalesced into a person with a history by a bunch of goofy Eastern European monks. What I don't know is if it's just that. Can she act that way, then catch herself, unsure, without some recognition that that shared history between them is important? What does it mean that, later on, after possibly an extended period of time in which she treats Dawn kind of like the Presidential nuclear football, she somehow finds herself able to start regarding her as a human again, and a sister, worthy of her love despite how she got there? Somehow I think that in both cases she would have to recognize something like the same thing - that that history of love, of being together and caring for one another, is important. Somehow.

Heart-rending in part because it's so much, with so little. ("A whole cloud of philosophy condensed into a drop of grammar." - L.W.)

28 Apr '03 08:23:12 AM

First takes on two of the articles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy (predictably awful, but useful in a cautionary, I-learned-it-from-watching-you-Dad! way):

Greg Forster's 'Faith and Plato: "You're Nothing! Disgusting, Murderous Bitch!"' gets excited about the possibility of finding a pre-established moral system to compare to the one in Buffy, grabs onto Plato and dubs him a eudaimonist, then spends most of the rest of the time making Faith out to be an example case of Plato's: the comparison between the just man and the unjust man (which is happier?). The point of disgruntlement: early on Forster takes eudaimonism to hold that "the basis of moral goodness is the fulfillment of human nature to its highest potential". Later he seems to slip into equating eudaimonism with hedonism, which doesn't blow his comments about Faith, but at least distorts them. It all comes down to Faith's pleasure-seeking making her less happy than Buffy - "happy" on some basic level. I mean, really basic - everywhere she goes by the point of the body-switch or her visit to Angel at the point of suicidal desperation, she's just fucking miserable, abject. And, sure. She is. But the way Forster gets at this backgrounds the reasons he marshalls. There's a bit that suggests that, being a person, Faith will just start feeling guilty or whatever, her unjust actions causing her unhappiness directly. (Whether this is due to human nature or the way she was raised or whatever is unclear, and unmentioned.) The rest of Forster's reasons circle around - without directly confronting - the idea that Faith does not love, and isn't able to accept being loved. This is where things really get interesting, or should, but don't, because of the slant toward hedonism. Yes - it seems right that somewhere in this beautiful, fascinating mess we've got to talk about "the fulfillment of human nature to its highest potential". Doesn't the show make it blindingly obvious that prematurely reducing "happiness" to "pleasure" (or even - whoops, I did it myself - reducing "fulfillment of human nature" to "happiness", hello there Nietzsche) might be a mistake? (Rhetorical answer to a rhetorical question: do you suppose it felt really good when Buffy jumped off the tower to save Dawn and also the world? Well maybe somehow but not like Faith-manhandling-Xander good, to draw an example totally out of thin air.) Also, Plato's doctrine of the tripartite soul can bite me.

"Feeling for Buffy: The Girl Next Door", by Michael P. Levine and Steven Jay Schneider, is more disappointing. Here's the basic outline: Buffy is regarded as a success but all you lame academics are wrong about why, because it is not actually innovative or remarkable. Academics have been misled by the ways in which the show reinforces gender and sexual stereotypes because in 1912 Freud wrote "On the Universal Tendency To Debasement in the Sphere of Love", only in German, or maybe at least Viennese German, and anyway he explained once and for all that on page 179 love in the sense of deep and abiding affection and sexual desire are usually but not always incompatible, and to try to fix this problem men debase those they love and hey look voila madonna whore Buffy Jenny Calendar etc. etc. etc. but actually not so much because after Levine and Schneider call in Freud, jackbooted stormtroopers slithering down holes in the ceiling, leather analyst's couches strapped to their backs, klaxons blaring, putting to rest all pointless except insofar as it itself an interesting object of study since as previously mentioned the show itself is not innovative or remarkable -- academic work, whew! well then finally the essay screeches to a halt having taken almost nary a look at any evidence from the show to support their claims about how "there is plenty about Buffy's sex life -- which is, after all, the show's predominant focal point -- that illustrates central aspects of Freud's thesis and gives both young (and not so young) male and female viewers something to fixate on, fantasize about, and projectively identify with." So by now my preference, that they would have heeded Mark's (i) and not used the essay as a giant endorsement for Freud, should be clear. My disagreement with Freud, whatever it is exactly, is not a dispute about being able to fit some data to his psychological theories. It's a dispute about whether, regardless of apparent fit, his theory can actually explain what it claims to explain. I take it I'm not the only one that thinks this way. So is there a vast audience of academics and others out there that is somehow fine with the theoretical underpinnings, and just not sure whether the theory fits the data? Somehow I have my doubts. Then why do so many pro-psychoanalytic academics persist as if this were the problem, and they are actually providing helpful answers? (Rhetorical answer: hairstyles and wang brandishing, which NB do serve important functions but also NB talking about your wang in the classroom is verboten.)

This is all nominally frustrating - not truly frustrating - because like the Forster essay, there are a couple of good ideas floating around in "Feeling for Buffy" (I'm not going to type out the full title again and I would just like to note that nineteen out of twenty-two of the essays have colonized subtitles). One is that lots of the people who are interested in Buffy, including academics, love it. They think it is GRATE. (Whedon: "I designed Buffy to be an icon, to be an emotional experience, to be loved in a way that other shows can't be loved.") They go, holy shit, this is amazing, what the fuck? (A reference not for authority's sake but to show you what I have in mind.) Or, to put it another way, oh yes we almost forgot this is pop culture we're talking about here, and thus pop. This insight is confronted in, sadly, one of the lamest ways possible. We can apparently conclude that any intense engagement with a pop cultural artifact that takes a conflicted or even possibly utterly pedestrian stance on gender and sex is the result of what amounts to maladjustment. Nothing more. Nope. Do you suppose it's illuminating that "teenagers" are the paradigmatic class of Buffy viewers that the silly academics are set against in the essay?

28 Apr '03 06:28:32 AM

In the past I've referred to D.N. Rodowick's Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine. The first chapter is available online. It's a tough read but admirably clear as far as Deleuze scholarship goes.

28 Apr '03 12:42:35 AM

I find myself wishing someone had tried harder to emphasize to me that the Ramones were a conceptual endeavor.

24 Apr '03 08:15:44 AM

And for another instance - "Blind Love"? Yes oh yes, it's about blind love. Stone blind love. Only kind of love there is, you know. (It actually just about works on this one. God bless country music.)