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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2 Jul '03 09:28:50 AM

Why is the Investigations written the way it is?

The book is unusual as compared to both normative philosophical writing, and books in general. It is not written in any recognizable form, such as the essay or technical paper, although it has affinities with the dialogue, the aphorism, the confession, the parable, and others. Although it is divided into two parts, and each of these into smaller parts, these divisions do not give the book an obvious large-scale structure. Locally, we might be comfortable calling the book an argument. But if so, it's an argument in the more conversational sense. From section to section, a particular claim might be debated, attacked, scrutinized, entertained, clarified, transmuted. Or, a number of different claims might be advanced as a result of damaging criticism - but the entire run of sections will still center on the same topic, such as how words mean things, or what it means to follow a rule. Yet these patches of continuity are punctuated by changes of subject (sometimes apparently unrelated, sometimes subtly related) which do not always settle back down into relatively well behaved passages of argument. And despite of the use of the word "argument" here, the arguments carried on in the book are remarkably resistant to more conventional reformulation, making conventional philosophical engagement with it difficult. This difficulty is compounded by Wittgenstein's reluctance or refusal to advance positive theses, or really any theses. It's compounded even further when Wittgenstein leaves his technical terms like "language-game" or the provocative "life-form" apparently unelaborated, leaving him open to misreading, or criticism that he fails to hold himself to the same standards he applies to his targets.

There's more. There are gnomic pronouncements, especially about the nature of philosophy. There are unfavorable remarks about philosophers - usually not specific ones, but apparently all of them. There are, as has often been noted, parts that are: funny, strange, exhortative, ironic, banal, poetic. There are pictures. There are examples - lots of them.

I can't go on, though I should. I have said this much about how strange a book the Investigations is because I think its strangeness demands explanation, but the briefest argument I can give to that effect is short-circuited by a well-entrenched point of view in philosophy. The argument is this: if the way the book is written is essential to its purpose as a piece of philosophy, then we should attend carefully to the way it's written. There is convincing evidence that the way the Investigations is written is essential to its purpose as a piece of philosophy. But that evidence puts Wittgenstein on the wrong side of the old and casually observed boundary between reasoning and rhetoric. Evidence is hardly necessary, anyway, because the fact that there is such a divide, together with philosophy's identification with reasoning and thus opposition to rhetoric, means that the only things that are supposed to be essential to a book of philosophy are its arguments.

So instead of considering the book's style and form seriously, philosophers, including Wittgenstein scholars, ignore them or quickly explain them away (with explanations like: that's just how he wrote, it's meant to complement or flatter his conception of philosophy, he's avoiding his obligation to give clear arguments, yes it's interesting but). But the book is so extraordinarily different that I can't see why we wouldn't take that difference seriously in every respect, in order to understand whether it's philosophically important or not.

2 Jul '03 07:10:37 AM

Questions that should be addressed by any synoptic reading of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations:

Why is the book written the way it is?
How do the various aspects of the book's style and form serve its purpose(s)?
Does Wittgenstein advance any theories or take any philosophical positions?
Why does(n't) he?
Does the book contain any technical concepts?
Why did Wittgenstein stop writing about ethics?
What are we supposed to do with the book?
What can we do with the book?

27 Jun '03 04:55:04 AM

If you get sleepy when reading a book, go to sleep!

26 Jun '03 08:01:17 PM

Dramatic tension, that is, borrowed from simulated realism.

26 Jun '03 10:53:08 AM

The central conceit in Big's "Suicidal Thoughts" is that he kills himself at the end, after rehearsing his litany of suffering ("reasons", you might say, if there are reasons for suicide). But it's also made to sound like a phone call - you can hear the person on the other end become more and more agitated as he realizes what Big is saying, and the longer Big ignores him. Something about this feels wrong. I'd prefer to have just Biggie's monologue. The person on the phone is meant to add some kind of dramatic tension, I suppose, but I don't want it. Big's part has enough of that. I would have liked to have said that it comes from some kind of progression in his lyrics, but looking at them now I'm not so sure.

26 Jun '03 09:07:25 AM

Ice cream trucks, again.

25 Jun '03 10:18:45 PM

Until I moved into my new place in Minneapolis (apparently there weren't enough children near Macalester), I had never seen an ice cream truck before. It took me a while to realize there was one to look at - the driver kept ringing a bell that sounded like an old fashioned fire alarm, and I just got aggravated at whoever was making noise outside. Then he started playing the creepy music.

25 Jun '03 10:45:39 AM

Thanks to the unbelievable generosity of my parents, I now have a modern computer. I'm already amazed at how different it feels, listening to music on the computer - especially having so much at hand.

The top of my "Top 25 Most Played" smart playlist (the new "Tessio" will be at the top soon):

Dexy's Midnight Runners - "Kevin Rowlands 13th Time"
More Fire Crew featuring Dizzee Rascal - "Still the Same"
Beyonce featuring Jay-Z - "Crazy in Love"
Dexy's Midnight Runners - "My National Pride"
Punjabi MC featuring Jay-Z - "Beware of the Boys"
Biggie Smalls - "Party and Bullshit"
Charles Mingus - "I X Love"
Charles Mingus - "Mood Indigo"
Dexy's Midnight Runners - "The Occasional Flicker"
Dexy's Midnight Runners - "This is what she's like"

25 Jun '03 10:22:23 AM

I only have the version of the new Luomo album, The Present Lover, with the copy protection beeps. Like Tim, at first I assumed they were part of the production. This was a stretch - on the new version of "Tessio" the beeps come during the acoustic guitar sections that bookend most of the track. And they don't sound like any kind of Luomo production touch anyway. Still, I told myself that perhaps there was some kind of exciting answering machine thing there. If you don't think or listen very closely, this almost even works for the first track.

The beeps do not sound enough like answering machine noises for me to overlook them and burn a copy of "Tessio" onto a mix, even if I am enthralled by it.