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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25 Nov '03 07:38:11 AM

'lyrics are weak, like clock radio speakers'


24 Nov '03 10:02:56 AM

'If artworks are not semblances of anything actual, what are they semblances of? Although he says it movingly and lyrically, the precise claim is that semblance is the promise of nonsemblance (ND, 405), or a promise of otherness, des Anderen, to revert to the title of section 11. The notion of the promise of semblance is clearly an echo of Stendahl's contention that aesthetic pleasure is a "promesse de bonheur"; Adorno would assume that the Stendhalian promise could be heard in the more austere promise he proposes. There are two aspects to Adorno's proposal here. First, he is claiming that if works of art are semblances, then they must be semblances of something; and once art is no longer representational, then the temptation to suppose that the semblance is of an existing real thing or the idea of such a thing lapses. Thinking again of paradigmatically modernist works, music by Berg, abstract expressionist art, the claim would be that this is a semblance or appearing of an ordering of material stuff that owes nothing to the simple concept, that is, this is a concatenation of material stuff which is meaningful and orderly in itself without the meaning or order being owed to anything but the medium and the matter. This side of the argument thus states that here is the possibility of another nature, of the transfigured body. Second, in the same light, Adorno is contending that works of art say that nature can be like this. And what now is the status of that can? It is a promise.

I presume that the notion of a promise was carefully chosen to capture the anomalous modal status of the kind of possibility, the kind of relating of present to future, which semblances project. Like a promise, a work of art is a fully (materially) substantial present object; like a promise, a work of art "intends" a future that is not legible from the present other than through its very being, only providing a sign that a certain nonpredictable future will come to pass; and finally, like a promise, a work of art is impotent in the face of future reality. While promises are certainly iterable, in promising to be there tomorrow I am also promising that my promise will be kept, they are equally fragile: in promising that my promise will be kept I cannot guarantee that it will be; forces beyond my power, say, the forces of causal nature, may prevent its being kept. Part of the majestic beauty of promises, vows, and pledges is that they pose human determination and hopefulness in the teeth of intransigent reality. Artworks on Adorno's accounting partake in that kind of emphatic claiming and impotence. In experiencing works of art we are experiencing a material event that is incompatible with the present social order of the living, and in so being promises another social order of the living.

These are, I know, massive claims about works of art that would take, did take Adorno a huge volume on its own to substantiate. However, at least on this account, it is the modal shape of semblances that is the heart of the matter; if so, then one may legitimately ask whether anything other than artworks has the structure and modal shape Adorno attributes to semblances and which simultaneously satisfies the other requirements for metaphysical experience. There are losses and gains in taking this path. The loss is that no domain of social practice systematically sustains human transcendence in the way that art does according to Adorno; on the contrary, the philosophical importance of art is that it systematically, that is, in accordance with the demands of the practice itself, works at sustaining human transcendence. And this means as well, that only from within art can the necessity of semblance be inferred since only in making out why there is art at all in its present disposition in relation to the rest of social reality can the role of semblance in social reality as a whole (including art now) be shown to be rationally necessary. The gain is twofold. First, it has proved consistently difficult to demonstrate how the achievement of artworks can be interpreted as satisfying the concept of the concept; which has made the whole cognitive side of Adorno's aesthetic theory an invitation that no one seems quite sure how to accept or reject. In asking after more worldly events, the conceptual and cognitive aspects of the claim about semblance should be able to come into view. Second, in focusing on the modal shape of Adorno's conception of metaphysical experience, it becomes possible to see that his attention to aesthetics need not be considered as being at the expense of the possibilities of ethical action.'

- J.M. Bernstein, Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics, in 'Ethical Modernism' on pp. 436-7

24 Nov '03 09:34:58 AM

Athenäum Fragment 116

Romantic poesy is a progressive universal poesy. It is not only destined to reunite the separated genres of poesy and to bring poesy into contact with philosophy and rhetoric. It wants to - and also should - blend and merge poesy with prose, geniality with critique, the poesy of art with the poesy of nature, give life to poesy and render it sociable, make life and society poetic, poeticize wit and fill up and saturate the forms of art with every kind of genuine cultural material, and animate them through the oscillations of humor. Romantic poesy comprises everything that is in the least poetic, from the greatest systems of art that themselves contain multiple systems to the sigh, the kiss breathed out in artless song by the poetizing child. It can lose itself in what it represents to such an extent that one could conclude that its one and all is to characterize poetic individuals of all kinds, and yet no form exists as yet that would be suitable for fully expressing the spirit of the author. For this reason, many artists who merely wanted to write a novel end up more or less presenting themselves in rough approximation. Only romantic poesy can, like the epos, act as a mirror of the entire world that surrounds it, and become an image of the age. And yet it is also romantic poesy that can hover on the wings of poetic reflection between the presented and the presenting, free from all real and ideal interest, and continually raise this reflection to a higher power, thus multiplying it as in an endless row of mirrors. It is capable of the highest and the most multifaceted cultural refinement [Bildung] possible, and not only from the inside out, but also from the outside in; for romantic poesy organizes all parts of each thing, whose product is to be a whole, along similar lines, out of which arises the prospect of a boundlessly growing classicism. Romantic poesy is to the arts what wit is to philosophy and what society, interaction, friendship, and love are to life. Other genres are fixed and are capable of being classified in their entirety. The romantic genre is, however, still in the process of becoming; indeed, this is its essence: to be eternally in the process of becoming and never completed. No theory can exhaust romantic poesy, and only a divinatory critique might dare attempt to characterize its ideal. It alone is infinite, just as it alone is free, and it recognizes this as its first law, that the willfullness of the poet tolerates no imposition of laws. The romantic genre is the only one that is more than a genre and that itself typifies poetic production; for, in a certain sense, all poesy is or should be romantic.

24 Nov '03 06:44:12 AM

And, contra Jess, I'm happy to say '99 Problems' is the best track on the new Jay-Z. Its relative simplicity (blown-out 'live' beat + buzzzz + 99 problems - bitch) makes it relatively refreshing, but I'm a little worried the chorus, too. Why is it that I can sing along with such relish? I do in truth have 99 problems, and a bitch ain't one, but when I say 'a bitch ain't one', regarding my problems, it just sounds factual. I don't mean to opt in to Jay's second-nature misogyny when I say it. But. I can feel it rising up, unbidden. The phrase is so compact, flawlessly efficient: 'ain't one' dismisses her, and 'bitch' makes it clear why. She can't even be a problem - she's only a bitch. And 'a' bitch is the same as any other one, so it doesn't matter which one. None of them are problems. In fact, 'bitch' in this sense is so virulent that it encompasses every woman, resulting in the casual one-line syllogism: women = bitches = not problems. No wonder the misogyny comes on so easily. The phrase reduces more than half the world to almost nothing in four words. I want that to be the reason that it's so easy for me to sing with a momentary suspension of - or maybe even reversal of - character. The power is so easy to assume, to slip into, to enjoy, since it's not raw physicality, but something far more powerful: a priori indifference to the ineffectual, the unimportant, the powerless. Could it be that, perversely, there's something that feels liberating about denying the power of others so effortlessly?

I'm reminded of Wittgenstein's cloud, condensed into a drop of grammar. Ironically, I feel especially transfixed by a grammatical picture, the ever-persistent inside-my-head-or-out-there-in-the-world, I think because I want an easy explanation, somewhere convenient to dump the problem that absolves me of any malice. So, preferably out-there-in-the-world, which is where 'bitch' was before it and its cloud got into my head.

24 Nov '03 04:27:19 AM

'Writing means JACK SHIT in the face of someone hating you.'

24 Nov '03 04:13:54 AM

Wu-Tang are a lot more potent when you're already anxious and jittery, but then the words all blur by.

23 Nov '03 06:35:26 PM

I spent ten minutes in front of the mirror last night, making faces. I make good faces. With practice, though, I could make great faces.

23 Nov '03 05:45:50 AM

'he on some now you see me now you don't, you know what I'm sayin?'

18 Nov '03 07:34:00 AM

'Every profound thinker is more afraid of being understood than of being misunderstood. The latter might hurt his vanity; but the former hurts his heart and his sympathy which always says: "Oh, why do you want things to be as hard for you as they are for me?"'