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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24 Jul '03 02:05:09 AM

I feel totally disconnected from whoever my current audience is. If you you think you check this page regularly, please drop me at least a quick note saying hello (anything more about yourself would be welcome) at my email address, Response to this kind of request has been historically poor. I hope it won't be this time.

A number of things have conspired to divert my writing here. In the coming weeks I hope to get a better view of how this has happened.

15 Jul '03 10:44:42 AM

I think Stevie Wonder pretty much always sounds believable when he sings "there'll be brighter days ahead". This is significant to me especially because so many of the sentments and emotions expressed by other music I love, especially the positive ones, never seem guaranteed to work completely. There could always be a time - there are times - when I play them, perhaps just feeling bad and playing a record, or perhaps deliberately hoping to feel better through playing them, and they fall short. The happy songs ring false or never seem to rise beyond the level of musical convention ("they're doing this happy thing there and singing about being happy but it's only supposed to sound happy because that's how you're supposed to make happy sounding music"). Maybe this is why sincerity and its relatives authenticity and soul and etc. are so important to people, at least in the way they talk: the hope is that these failures will never happen. They must be guarded against, because we don't want to be let down by the things we love (a danger: that we stop loving them).

This is surely misguided, but it seems so easy to persist in thinking this way.

14 Jul '03 09:40:24 AM

LCD Soundsystem, "Daft Punk is Playing at My House (live)"

If rock bands insist that they can too make "dance music" by hitting the snare on 2-4 and leaning on the cymbals, then I insist on not listening any more. Don't be afraid. Give up your snares, dance-punk drummers.

14 Jul '03 09:32:39 AM

If it seems to you as if, when I start edging toward admitting unflattering things about myself (see also here, regarding Basement Jaxx), I also become defensive and apologetic, you're not right but not totally wrong. I know I do it. I know that in any case like this, there are ready-made stories out there. My ad hoc attempts to evade those stories are meant to serve as reminders to me (and you) that my own story (like yours) is never that simple.

14 Jul '03 08:59:11 AM

I don't know why this never occurred to me before, but I think part of the reason Kardi's "Bakardi Slang" sounds slightly lame slash desperate to me - lame slash desperate in the our scene can too produce stuff like what the cool kids slash cool Americans slash cool black people do sense - is that about half of their T dot slang sounds like upper Midwestern Germanic-Scandinavian idiom, or more pointedly, like Bob and Doug McKenzie ("mind where ya step," eh hoser?). This may be either perfectly justifiable given that they are representing the significantly corny Great White North ("my style's off the thermostat plus I'm comin' from the cold!") - or that they're playing off the novelty song potential provided by being from a nation stereotyped as characteristically bland (just like, yes, the Midwest). I'm open to either possibility.

I suspect though that if I counted up the Berlitz entries dropped into the song, only a small handful would sound like the Red Green Show, and most of them would be the almost etymologically incomprehensible West Indian derived slang. But elsewhere I once noticed another reaction of mine, which has thankfully disappeared mostly - every now and then Kardi's voice had in it a hint of American black parodying square white accent for comic effect. Early on I assumed this was just his Canadian coming through, but it still poisoned my experience a little, not just because he didn't sound as black as I expected from a rapper, but because I noticed myself wishing he sounded more "black" - a dangerous thing to wish for, although I'm not totally sure why I wished it.

But form is sedimented content, and sedimented residue of not just moral decisions and deliberate or implicit affiliations made, but social and musical affiliations (if these are even different): the sediment in the case of rap includes vocabulary, intonation, syntax, a plethora of tiny little particularities of language that help constitute the norms: these are rap songs and those are like rap songs (at best). To turn up a substantial amount of this sediment and fill in the hole with what you brought with you, you have to sell it, or you face the danger of making not-quite-rap, which is in theory no problem at all from a musical perspective ("I'm just, like, exploring a slightly different area, man"). But it's an enormous problem when the music belongs to someone else - then it courts either disrespect of that ownership and its importance to the owners, or worse, the threat of theft if you do manage to sell it (to someone, like say the suburbs) and pull a Gresham's law on the original product: no one could care anymore where rap came from.

This is all tenuous.

13 Jul '03 11:52:07 AM

Charles Rosen on concerts, excerpted from his new book.

[Thanks to Barbara for the link.]

13 Jul '03 09:08:42 AM

"I always stop reading immediately whenever the first thing I see on your page is a quotation mark." - Jess

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)