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

13 Jul '03 09:07:32 AM

"These reflections will perhaps seem uncongenial to many of my professional colleagues, but they are meant to collect data which most of us, I believe, have noticed, but perhaps have not connected, or not taken to be potentially philosophical. Take, for example, the fact that the isolated analytical article is the common form of philosophical expression now, in the English speaking world of philosophy; something reflected in the fact that the common, and best, form of philosophy textbook is the assemblage of articles around individual topics. This is often interpreted as symptomatic of philosophy's withdrawal from its cultural responsibilities. The trouble with such an idea is that it occurs to a person who imagines himself certain of his culture's needs, and certain of his capacity to supply them on demand, and ignorant of our cultural situation -- in which each major form of expression (say painting and music and philosophy) has, where serious, taken upon itself the characteristic cultural responsibility of preserving itself against its culture, against its own past accomplishments, which have helped to inform, and to distort, present culture; past accomplishments which are used as names by those incapable of contributing to the present, against those who would take those accomplishments as setting the tasks of the present, or setting the terms in which present activity has its meaning and acquires its standards.

Analytical philosophy can, alternatively, be interpreted as symptomatic of philosophy's finally coming of age, or accepting its age, assimilating itself to the form in which original scientific results are made known. The trouble with this idea is that these articles are not accepted the way scientific papers are; they are not felt to embody results which every member of the profession can then build from. On the contrary, it seems to me commonly assumed among the serious philosophers I know that when they look into a new article they will find not merely a number of more or less annoying errors, but that they will find the whole effort fundamentally wrong, in sensibility or method or claim. Even when it is good -- that is, when it contains one interesting or useful idea -- the interest or usefulness cannot simply be taken over as it stands into one's own thought, but will require independent development or justification from within one's own procedures. It often happens that what makes an article or passage famous is its enunciation of a thesis which the profession is fully prepared to annihilate. The refuting of Mill on "desirable," or Moore on "indefinable," or Wittgenstein on "private language," have become minor industries, established more than one living. These can be disenheartening facts, especially among the young who are entering the profession and still deciding whether it can support life -- as though the profession as a whole has forgotten how to praise, or forgotten its value. (In emphasizing that criticism has been the life of philosophy from its beginning, I do not wish to camoflage what is genuinely disenheartening about its present. I mean merely to remember that criticism need not be uncomprehending, nor always entered out of enmity.) It is hard to convey, to anyone who has not experienced it, how pervasive this malaise has become. For it controls one's response to one's own past work as well as to the work of others, and it applies not merely to chunky articles, but to each assertion one hears or makes.

The figure of Socrates now haunts contemporary philosophical practice and conscience more poignantly than ever -- the pure figure motivated to philosophy only by the assertions of others, himself making none; the philosopher who did not need to write. I should think every philosopher now has at least one companion whose philosophical ability and accomplishment he has the highest regard for, who seems unable to write philosophy. Were such a person content with silence he would merely be the latest instance of a figure always possible within philosophy, possible indeed nowhere else. (It would make no sense to speak of someone as a gifted novelist who had never written a novel; nor of someone as a scientist who had made no contribution to science. In the case of the scientist, the contribution need not be his own writing; but one could say that he must affect what his field writes. His contribution, that is, may be oral, but it must affect a tradition which is essentially not oral; this suggests that such contributions must be exceptional. It indicates further that writing plays differing roles in different enterprises, even that "writing" means something different, or has a different inflection, in contexts like "writing a novel," "writing a fugue," "writing a report," "writing (up) an experiment," "writing (down) a proof." If silence is always a threat in philosophy, it is also its highest promise.) But one finds instead various contraries of contentment, perhaps a tendency, more or less contained, to cynicism or to despair about the value of writing or of philosophy altogether -- discontents often not sufficiently unambiguous, or not showing early enough, to force or to permit a break with the field. Philosophy inspires much unhappy love.

If these are facts of philosophical practice now, they must have a sociological-historical explanation; and what needs to be explained is what these facts point to, that the writing of philosophy is difficult in a new way. It is the difficulty modern philosophy shares with the modern arts (and, for that matter, with modern theology; and, for all I know, with modern physics), a difficulty broached, or reflected, in the nineteenth-century's radical breaking of tradition within the several arts; a moment epitomized in Marx's remark that "... the criticism of religion is in the main complete..." and that "... the task of history, once the world beyond the truth has disappeared, is to establish the truth of this world..." (Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, Introduction). This is the beginning of what I have called the modern, characterizing it as a moment in which history and its conventions can no longer be taken for granted; the time in which music and painting and poetry (like nations) have to define themselves against their pasts; the beginning of the moment in which each of the arts becomes its own subject, as if its immediate artistic task is to establish its own existence. The new difficulty which comes to light in the modernist situation is that of maintaining one's belief in one's own enterprise, for the past and the present become problematic together. I believe that philosophy shares the modernist difficulty now everywhere evident in the major arts, the difficulty of making one's present effort to become a part of the present history of the enterprise to which one has committed one's mind, such as it is. (Modernizers, bent merely on newness, do not have history as a problem, that is, as a committment. The conflict between modernizers and modernists is the immediate topic of the two essays on music -- numbers VII and VIII.) I might express my particular sense of indebtedness to the teaching of Austin and to the practice of Wittgenstein by saying that it is from them that I learned of the possibility of making my difficulties about philosophy into topics within philosophy itself -- so that, for example, my doubts about the relevance of philosophy now, its apparent irrelevance to the motives which brought me to the subject in the first place, were no longer simply obstacles to the philosophical impulse which had to be removed before philosophy could begin, hence motives for withdrawing from the enterprise. It was now possible to investigate philosophically the very topic or irrelevance, and therewith the subject of philosophy itself: it is characteristic of philosophy that from time to time it appear -- that from time to time it be -- irrelevant to one's concerns, or incredible in itself; just as it is characteristic that from time to time it be inescapable. No doubt there is a danger of evasion in this spiralling self-consciousness; perhaps one should indeed search for more congenial work. Just as there is the danger of excusing poor writing in insisting upon the complexities of consciousness one is at each moment attempting to record, or to acknowledge. -- Am I talking only about a condition within America? If so, it is said in the spirit in which a certain kind of American has usually spoken of his country's release from the past: out of a sense of disappointment in struggle with vistas of peculiar promise. And as usual, it is the expression of shock in finding that one's mind is not, and is, European; which in practice means (and in philosophical practice means emphatically) English or German. -- If others do not share these doubts, or find these dangers, I certainly have no wish to implicate them."

Stanley Cavell writing in either 1968 or 2001, I'm not sure which, in the foreword to Must We Mean What We Say?

13 Jul '03 08:01:18 AM

"Anything your reader can do for himself leave to him." (CV 77e)

11 Jul '03 01:13:52 PM

Two more years and Dre will have been in the rap game for twenty years! I have no idea whether that is fitting or terribly wrong.

11 Jul '03 01:11:14 PM

I don't know if "City of Compton" is the preferred nomenclature around Compton or if Dr. Dre or whoever just happened to realize that it scans better than "Compton". It surely doesn't help "Minneapolis" any.

9 Jul '03 07:58:35 AM

The number of downtempo (!) numbers in the complete Blanton/Webster set (four discs) is beginning to pose a danger to my emotional health; every time one comes up in iTunes, I feel a certain warmth at first, kind of like what I feel when I take out the few photographs I have (they are all of my first girlfriend) for that sort of thing, and look nostalgically at them - but then once I've drifted into an indeterminate mood, something about the slow tempos combined with the sixty-year-old patina of the recordings (yeah, they sound great, remastered, digital whatever, but that just means the oldness is clearer; see also: Trojan box sets, Blade Runner soundtrack's "One More Kiss, Dear") urges me toward melancholy.

8 Jul '03 11:22:29 AM

Songs which I have played recently and been especially pleased by:

Bill Evans, "My Romance (Take 2)"
Main Source featuring Joe Fatal, Akinyele, and Nas, "Live at the Barbeque"
Ice Cube, "I Gotta Say What Up"
John Fahey, "America" [both Death Chants versions]
The Specials, "You're Wondering Now"
Jay-Z featuring M.O.P., "U Don't Know (Remix)"
Charles Mingus, "II B.S."
Dizzee Rascal, "I Luv U"
Eric B. & Rakim, "Juice (Know the Ledge)"
DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, "Summertime"
Soft Pink Truth, "Satie (Grey Courduroy Suit)"
Clipse, "Young Boy"
Talib Kweli, "Get By"

The albums of the moment (week) on my computer are the two Bill Evans records made of the Village Vanguard date with Scott LeFaro, Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz For Debby. The album of the moment (week) on my stereo is Clipse's Lord Willin'.

Some of the older hip-hop I have listed here is from the Ego Trip singles list, but I owe Michaelangelo Matos thanks for the actual songs.

The Main Source track is Nas's first recorded appearance - and he's already pretty hot. The production on the DJ Jazzy Jeff/Fresh Prince and Ice Cube tracks is surprising for the time of each - 1991 and 1990 - comparatively lush-sounding next to many of the other singles from the list (the Ice Cube is not on the list, but it's from an EP dropped around the same time as AmeriKKKa's and its singles, and sounds like them).

I would have put Lil' Kim (feat. Mr. Cheeks)'s "The Jump Off" above, but it hasn't been as exciting as a song on the computer as it was a video on TV. I promise that is not all down to Lil' Kim as a sex object.

5 Jul '03 10:34:20 AM

All of my thoughts are reactive.

3 Jul '03 11:35:54 AM

I would like to say (I'm not sure if it's true) that all of the questions I posed yesterday, the ones that ought to be addressed by interpretations of the Investigations, arise out of sort of cynical, immediate reactions to some prominent features of the book.

"Why is the book written the way it is?" The book is obviously strange.

"Does Wittgenstein advance any theories or take any philosophical positions?" He seems to avoid doing so, and makes remarks to the effect that he shouldn't or doesn't want to or can't: so the instinctive (killer-philosopher) response is to try to catch him on it. Especially because he makes so many gestures toward positions (meaning is use, language is made up of language-games, there can be no private language, others) or creates a general atmosphere, as a result of his sustained criticism, that suggests that if he were working properly he would be able to come up with a clear statement of his position, or at the very least a single, stationary target for his criticisms in large areas like language and mind.

"Why or why not?" If he does, then there are questions about why he does so while pretending not to. If he doesn't, this is unusual enough to merit explanation - note that this is not just a lack of positive work as compared to negative work, because he doesn't just offer criticism, but, again, seems to claim that he shouldn't or can't do anything else (as far as traditional philosophers are concerned).

"Does the book contain any technical concepts?" This is related to the questions about theories and positions - but it seems to be a favored foothold for people interested in either turning Wittgenstein against himself, or refining his inchoate positive work. Terms Wittgenstein uses repeatedly like "language-game" are new, and not given even the kind of cursory definition expected in the tradition in which Wittgenstein worked.

"Why did Wittgenstein stop writing about ethics?" It's not too difficult to see how the Tractatus was, as Janik and Toulmin put it, an "ethical deed". Just this and Wittgenstein's ongoing concern with ethical conduct suggest that he wouldn't have abandoned the central concern of his earlier years. The obvious lack of discussion of ethics (the word itself only shows up once) in the Investigations, together with even a pop-culture awareness of the end of the Tractatus (silence, all that stuff), makes it tempting to suppose that maybe Wittgenstein started taking his ethical beliefs even more seriously than before, by keeping quiet about them. But his tactic in the Tractatus - shut up the blowhards and keep ethics safe - invites speculation about possibly subversive attempts to do the same in the Investigations.

"What are we supposed to do with the book?" If you're hostile, then you're supposed to get your shit together (plug up those holes, rebuild those foundations on more solid ground). If you're sympathetic, then you're supposed to: wave the flag, avoid talking about necessary and sufficient conditions or mental phenomena, use lots of examples, big up ordinary language, renounce theories, become a drill press operator. Or, following remarks about the nature of philosophy: try to avoid letting philosophy get you sick in the head. Depending on the severity of these responses, the unusual character of the book and Wittgenstein's admonishments regarding philosophy incline one toward not doing anything at all. Many of the obvious options also seem to be poor ones.

"What can we do with the book?" Supposed to and can aren't always the same.

2 Jul '03 10:34:50 PM

"Tessio" isn't at the top yet. But it is nine and a half minutes long, and kind of an undertaking.

Top ten with playcounts:

1. "Party and Bullshit" - Biggie Smalls - 14
2. "Kevin Rowlands 13th Time" - Dexy's Midnight Runners - 6
3. "Tessio" [Present Lover] - Luomo - 4
4. "All N My Grill" - Missy Elliott f. Big Boi & Nicole - 4
5. "Still the Same" - More Fire Crew f. Dizzee Rascal - 4
6. "Beware of the Boys" - Punjabi MC f. Jay-Z - 4
7. "Crazy in Love" - Beyonce - 3
8. "Baby Boy" - Beyonce - 3
9. "This is What She's Like" - Dexy's Midnight Runners - 3
10. "My National Pride" - Dexy's Midnight Runners - 3

It turns out that #11 is also Punjabi MC f. Jay-Z, which I've played 3 times. That's the version from the S. Carter Collection Mixtape; it has two Jay verses where the one at #6 above only has the first verse (but that one is still a longer track, and it's just the beat and singing for like two minutes at the end). It would be nice if I could consolidate these, but I suppose I would actually feel scandalized if iTunes let me play around with something as sacred as playcounts.