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.

newest | archives | search | about | wishlist | flickr | email | rss

29 Apr '03 08:09:03 AM

"put your hands opposite to the ground if you lovin that sound"

28 Apr '03 10:52:13 AM

And what do you suppose is more profitable, looking for an ethical theory promoted by a television show, or looking at how the show explores - investigates, experiments with - how we go about being ethical? (And the answer won't be: well, first don't we need do figure out what the ethical theory should be, or what the one they're using is, so that we can know how they're doing? Isn't it clear that all the parts from your favorite ethical theories are in there, knocking around, like kids bashing G.I. Joes together? And if it's not, will we really get anywhere by arguing about that point?)

(Cite Charles Taylor in Sources of the Self - can't agree with his goal in particular, whatever exactly it is, but in general part of his deal is, look, to get a decent account of good human life you can't go following this or that constitutive definition of the good, like Mill's or Kant's, out into Bizarro world: you've got to try to keep all the balls in the air, somehow.)

28 Apr '03 10:39:53 AM

Or as Geoff put it - "oh no they're talking and it's moving and going so fast and I can't keep up!"

28 Apr '03 10:39:09 AM

For example - reading, I get the impression that the show is actually just a big set of dialogue, and those really are just there to express the stances and actions of traditional moral agents. When am I gonna come across something, anything, that wonders at the significance of the way Buffy constantly seems mock-imperious, in kind of an idiotic, confused-child way, when insisting in the face of a problem that the Scooby gang has to do this, this, and this, when "this" almost always amounts to "do the thing that will fix this problem somehow" in a totally non-substantive way? There's always an element of determination in that, I suppose, coming as it does when they have a problem they have no idea how to respond to: OK, uh yeah we're gonna be OK, we've gotta do it, do something, what what what, go guys and do it. You can sense it in the Scoobies' reaction - a tinge of resigned acceptance, yes we will soldier on in apparent (temporary we hope because it's always worked before) futility, ignoring the fact that you are telling us "we really have to do something you guys" when we are well aware of that fact. And it's not always that way - just look at the frequent tension in the group, say in the final story arc especially, where everyone keeps chafing and blowing up at Buffy's insistence that they have to do something, because the not getting anywhere has gone on too long, the futility is getting to be too much to bear. When is that look on her face, that tone in her voice, going to show up? How does it factor in to what the show "says" "about" "duty"?

28 Apr '03 10:29:41 AM

You might imagine a scholarly book collecting broadly philosophical papers on Ulysses, or Molloy, or Mahler's "Kindertotenleider", or Battleship Potemkin. If the essays in this book consistently showed only a cursory engagement with the object in question, with the textual details, people wouldn't take the book seriously. There is a strong tradition in place, one which says that in order to really get something out of certain kinds of artifacts, we must do a close reading - the closer the better. And though I want to be careful not to think we can go drawing conclusions wily-nily from this (regarding value, taste, what people find important or interesting or good), I think something in it makes sense - that to really do a good job, you should be getting in there.

So why is it that so many books ostensibly "about" pop cultural artifacts - music, movies, TV, comics, video games - just skim around on the surface? Yes, this Buffy book is probably marketed in some way at people who know something about philosophy but not much about Buffy. (It's probably marketed at lots of conflicting markets, which is, er, a conflict.) But in that case, will an uncommitted engagement with the text really do it for those people? Or will they say, oh look, another half-assed "applied philosophy" book. And what about the people who know about Buffy but not really about philosophy? The opposite problem: the book can't be much better than a general introduction to philosophy, only with a bunch of post-its stuck inside with things like "Anya - ethics of care!!" scrawled on them; without serious engagement with the details of the show, the book does almost none of the work of thinking philosophically about the show. It simply notes that it's possible to do so, and one way (flawed as it is) is to basically just go read some philosophy and then say "oh hey look this might be in there somewhere" or even worse "look an application of Kant's theory of justice!".

(Cavell on impossibility of quoting film, here?)

Or, in other words: one ILX thread on Buffy feels to me as if it gets dirtier than these essays. Come on, roll up your fucking sleeves or don't even bother.

(This belligerent mood won't pass, I hope - it makes me write more even if I am all bluster.)

Surprising to me that even though ethics of care shows up a bit, the words "communitarian" or even better "community" aren't in the index!

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.