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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15 Jan '04 11:47:50 AM

(Oho. I almost edited the typo in that last entry, but then I remembered my broken post-editor that dribbles duplicates in its wake.)

The idea, I think, is that if I make these lists for long enough, eventually I'll get sick of it and start actually writing about the records in order to stave off boredom and pointlessness.

Stereolab / Margerine Eclipse
Stereolab / Margerine Eclipse
Einstürzende Neubauten / Silence is Sexy
some Bill Evans thing I haven't been able to find yet

Word used to describe new Stereolab today: 'boobling' (v).

15 Jan '04 11:41:18 AM

Ermanno Bencivenga further erodes my resistance to reading the first Critique, in 'Philosophy One and Two' from his Looser Ends: The Practice of Philosophy:

'To begin to see what I mean, suppose that your polemical objective is a philosopher who has argued that a class of statements that we ordinarily, in our everyday life, take as true are really impossible. For example, we ordinarily assume (the truth of the statement) that we know of the existence of certain causal connections, but Hume comes along and argues that such knowledge is impossible, that we can never legitimately claim that we have a successful epistemic relation with a causal statement. Or, alternatively, we ordinarily assume that we are free, in at least some limited area of our activity, but d'Holbach or some other mechanist philosopher comes along and argues that such freedom is impossible, that insofar as we are part of a deterministic world (which, for the sake of argument, we might assume we are), the determinants of any (alleged) action of ours are always to be found in a causal network which ultimately extends far beyond the spatiotemporal scope of our life. Then you might conceive of the following philosophical project. Let us accept the challenge that Hume and d'Holbach implicitly make and argue not for the reality of knowledge or freedom, but, rather, for their possibility. The success of this project would not in any way found or ground our ordinary judgments of knowledge or freedom, but would at least allow us to defend those ordinary judgments against the "scandal" of a philosophy that claims their illegitimacy. And how can you argue for the possibility, not the reality or the truth, of a statement or a class of statements? A natural strategy would seem to be that of telling a coherent story that includes such a statement or class of statements, or, less provocatively put, that of characterizing a model of the statement or class of statements in question, a way in which the world could be to make that statement or class of statements true. On the face of it, you should be able to successfully pursue this strategy without abandoning a purely conceptual level of reflection, since what you need to know in order to tell your story is not, say, what objects or causal connections there really are (which you could only know from experience), but at most what it is to be an object or a causal connection.

With an important qualification to be made later, I think that this is essentially Kant's project. But, as I said, I do not want to make historical points here; rather, I want to use the suggestion provided by (my understanding of) Kant to make some theoretical points. The first of these points is as follows. Systematic philosophy is usually identified with an attempt at founding or grounding some belief(s) or practice(s), in the sense of showing their logical or metaphysical "necessity." And usually, the skeptic is seen as the opponent of the systematic philosopher, the spoiler of systematic projects. But, in fact, (many) skeptics have something in common with (virtually all) systematic philosophers, insofar as they want to establish the impossibility of some belief(s) or practice(s). To begin with a trivial logical point, an impossibility is after all a necessity (of the negation). And to show the significance of the logical point, what this means is that the success of many skeptical, as well as of virtually all systematic, philosophical projects would claim to have a vast impact on ordinary, everyday life, though, of course, a very different impact in the two cases: in the latter, usually, the effect would be that of providing ordinary life with a solid rational assurance, whereas in the former the effect would be a challenging, revisionary one. Once this similarity is appreciated, the suggestion may surface of conceiving yet another philosophical activity, one that has absolutely no interest in neccessities of this sort. It is this suggestion that Kant is offering when he characterizes the main aim of the Critique as that of establishing how synthetic a priori judgments are possible. Here is how I would flesh it out.

There are two ways of doing philosophy. For the sake of labels, we might call them the philosophy of necessity and the philosophy of possibility. The philosophy of necessity tends to reduce the number of alternatives to be considered in a rational approach to the world by showing the impossibility (that is, the irrationality) of certain alternatives and thereby establishing the necessity of (the disjunction of) the alternatives left. If the (possibly degenerate) disjunction a given philosopher of necessity argues for includes (the statement of) some ordinary belief or some ordinary practice, the philosopher may be construed as attempting to give a rational foundation to that belief or practice; otherwise, he may be construed as adopting a revisionary attitude with respect to them. The philosophy of possiblity, on the other hand, tendsd to extend the number of alternatives to be considered. It does not either question or try to legitimize ordinary beliefs or practices; at mst, it can be construed as trying to protect them from the attacks of some philosophers of necessity.

The philosophy of necessity is also a philosophy of coercion, which tries to set limits to our conceptual framework. The philosophy of possibility is also a liberating philosophy, which tries to break open any limits our conceptual framework might be construed as having. The main instrument of the philosophy of necessity is an argument or proof from a set of (assertoric) premises to a(n assertoric) conclusion; if such an argument is accepted, then a necessary link is established between premises and conclusion, and one avenue of thought is sealed off, the one including the premises and the negation of the conclusion. The main instrument of the philosophy of possibility is a story, or, described more respectfully, a theory or model, which tries to show that a certain avenue of thought is coherent by articulating it in a plausible way. If we want, we can see such a story as an argument, not, however, one with an assertoric conclusion, but one with a problematic conclusion of the form 'It is possible that p.'

Traditionally, the methodology (though not necessarily the aim) of the philosophy of possibility was appropriated by the skeptics, who reacted to alleged natural or logical necessities by cooking up the wildest hypotheses on how the world could be. To my knowledge, Kant was the first to realize that the method of the skeptics could be put to a nonskeptical use, so long as one gave up on the attempt to legitimize ordinary practice and rested content with resisting (philosophical) threats to its coherence. The obsession of analytic philosophers with arguments is a good indication that most of their professional activities fall within the scope of the philosophy of necessity, and hence that (if I am right in my interpretation) they are probably going to be at a loss in understanding Kant and in pursuing the suggestions of a different philosophical practice that are implicit in his work. The conflicting uses of the phrases 'transcendental argument' and 'transcendental proof' signalled above are a tip of this iceberg of misunderstanding: whereas Kant's non-negative uses of such phrases seem to to refer to solutions of a possibility problem, and hence to stories, his analytic critics use them to refer to (attempted) refutations of the skeptic. No wonder that they find so few such refutations successful!'

14 Jan '04 12:18:40 PM

'Black wind, I have poured my heart out
to you until I am sick of it --'

14 Jan '04 12:14:31 PM

'This will do away with the stupidity of little children at school, which is the incubus of modern life - and the defense of the economists and modern rationalists of literature. To keep them drilled.

The difficulty of modern styles is made by the fragmentary stupidity of modern life, its lacunae of sense, loops, perversions of instinct, blankets, amputations, fullsomeness of instruction and multiplications of insanity. To avoid this, accuracy is driven to a hard road. To be plain is to be subverted since every term must be forged new, every word is tricked out of meaning, hanging with as many cheap traps as an altar.'

14 Jan '04 11:17:51 AM

Today:

Luomo / Vocalcity
The Dismemberment Plan / Emergency & I
Sonic Youth / Dirty
Sonic Youth / Dirty
Luomo / Vocalcity
Stereolab / Margerine Eclipse
Plastikman / Closer

13 Jan '04 11:56:19 AM

When I write a list like the one below, I put down a record for every block of time that I listen to it, which is why records show up more than once. That is, it's not because I listen to them exactly as many times as the list says. Usually at least three or four times.

13 Jan '04 11:31:53 AM

Today I listened to:

Grant Green / Am I Blue
Steve Reich / Music for 18 Musicians
Luomo / Vocalcity
Stevie Wonder / Music of My Mind
Thelonious Monk / Monk in Tokyo
Thelonious Monk / Monk in Tokyo
Luomo / Vocalcity

I would like to say, because of its compactness, that the Luomo records flirts ceaselessly with being interminable on its way to the blissful 12:07 of 'Tessio'. But I don't know that it's sensible to call it 'flirting'. Can a domme be said to flirt with you if she's got you tied up and keeps you on edge for an hour?

(And when does that stop counting as 'teasing'?)

13 Jan '04 07:26:41 AM

'TRADITION AND KNOWLEDGE

In the mainstream of modern philosophy we can no longer - pardon the odious word - be in the swim. The hitherto dominant philosophy of the modern age wants to eliminate the traditional moments of thinking. It would dehistoricize the contents of thought and assign history to a special, fact-gathering branch of science. Ever since the fundament of knowledge came to be sought in supposedly immediate subjective data, men have been enthralled by the idol of a pure present. They would endeavor to strip thought of its historic dimension. The fictitious, one-dimensional Now became the cognitive ground of all inner meaning. On this point there is agreement between patriarchs of modernity who are officially considered antipodes: between Descartes' autobiographical statements on the origin of his method and Bacon's idol theory. What is historic in thought, instead of heeding the timelessness of an objectified logic, was equated with superstition - and to cite ecclesiastically institutional traditions against inquiring thought was indeed superstition. Men had every reason to criticize authority. But their critique misconceived that tradition is immanent in knowledge itself, that it serves to mediate between known objects. Knowledge no sooner starts from scratch, by way of a stabilizing objectification, than it will distort the objects. Knowledge as such, even in a form detached from substance, takes part in tradition as unconscious remembrance; there is no question which we might simply ask, without knowing of past things that are preserved in the question and spur it.

From the outset, thinking as an intratemporal, motivated, progressive motion is the microcosmic equivalent of the macrocosmic motion of history that was internalized in the structure of thinking. Among the achievements of Kantian deduction, one ranging foremost is that even in the pure cognitive form, in the unity of the "I think" at the stage of imaginative reproduction, Kant perceived remembrance, the trace of historicity. Because there is no time without its content, however, that which Husserl in his late phase called "inner historicity" cannot remain internal, a pure form. The inner historicity of thought is inseparable from its content, and thus inseparable from tradition; the pure, perfectly sublimated subject, on the other hand, would be absolutely devoid of tradition. A knowledge wholly conforming to the idol of that purity, of total timelessness - a knowledge coincident with formal logic - would become a tautology; there would be no more room in it even for transcendental logic. Timelessness, the goal which the bourgeois mind may be pursuing in order to compensate for its own mortality, is the acme of its delusion. Benjamin innervated this when he strictly foreswore the ideal of autonomy and submitted his thought to tradition - although to a voluntarily installed, subjectively chosen tradition that is as unauthoritative as it accuses the autarkic thought of being. Although reflecting the transcendental moment, the traditional moment is quasi-transcendental: it is not a point-like subjectivity but the properly constitutive factor, what Kant called "the mechanism hidden in the depths of the soul." There is one variant that should not be missing from the excessively narrow initial questions in the Critique of Pure Reason, and that is the question how a thinking obliged to relinquish tradition might preserve and transform tradition. For this and nothing else is the mental experience. It was plumbed by Bergson in philosophy, and even more by Proust in the novel, though both men were kept under the spell of immediacy by their disgust with the bourgeois timelessness that will use conceptual mechanics to anticipate the end of life. Yet philosophy's methexis in tradition would only be a definite denial of tradition. Philosophy rests on the texts it criticizes. They are brought to it by the tradition they embody, and it is in dealing with them that the conduct of philosophy becomes commensurable with tradition. This justifies the move from philosophy to exegesis, which exalts neither the interpretation nor the symbol into an absolute but seeks the truth where thinking secularizes the irretrievable archetype of sacred texts.

RHETORIC

In its dependence - patent or latent - on texts, philosophy admits its linguistic nature which the ideal of the method leads it to deny in vain. Like tradition, this nature has been tabooed in recent philosophical history, as rhetoric. Severed and degraded into a means to achieve effects, it became the carrier of the lie in philosophy. In despising rhetoric, philosophy atoned for a guilt incurred ever since Antiquity by its detachment from things, a guilt already pointed out by Plato. But the persecutors of the rhetorical element that saved expression for thought did just as much for the technification of thought, for its potential abolition, as did those who cultivated rhetoric and ignored the object.

In philosophy, rhetoric represents that which cannot be thought except in language. It holds a place among the postulates of contents already known and fixed. Rhetoric is in jeopardy, like any substitute, because it may easily come to usurp what the thought cannot obtain directly from the presentation. It is incessantly corrupted by persuasive purposes - without which, on the other hand, the thought act would no longer have a practical relation. The fact that all approved traditional philosophy from Plato down to the semanticists has been allergic to expression, this fact accords with a propensity of all Enlightenment: to punish undisciplined gestures. It is a trait extending all the way to logic, a defense mechanism of the materialized consciousness.

The alliance of philosophy and science aims at the virtual abolition of language and thus of philosophy, and yet philosophy cannot survive without the linguistic effort. Instead of splashing around in the linguistic cascade, a philosopher reflects upon it. There is a reason why sloppy language - inexactness, scientifically speaking - tends to be leagued with the scientific mien of incorruptibility by language. For to abolish language in thought is not to demythologize thought. Along with language, philosophy would blindly sacrifice whatever is not merely significative in dealing with its object; it is in language alone that like knows like. Yet we cannot ignore the perpetual denunciation of rhetoric by nominalists to whom a name bears no resemblance to what it says, nor can an unbroken rhetoric be summoned against them.

Dialectics - literally: language as the organon of thought - would mean to attempt a critical rescue of the rhetorical element, a mutual approximation of thing and expression, to the point where the difference fades. Dialectics appropriates for the power of thought what historically seemed to be a flaw in thinking: its link with language, which nothing can wholly break. It was this link that inspired phenomenology to try - naïvely, as always - to make sure of truth by analyzing words. It is in the rhetorical quality that culture, society, and tradition animate the thought; a stern hostility to it is leagued with barbarism, in which bourgeois thinking ends. The vilification of Cicero and even Hegel's aversion to Diderot bear witness to the resentment of those whom the trials of life have robbed of the freedom to stand tall, and who regard the body of language as sinful.

In dialectics, contrary to popular opinion, the rhetorical element is on the side of content. Dialectics seeks to mediate between random views and unessential accuracy, to master this dilemma by way of the formal, logical dilemma. But dialectics inclines to content because the content is not closed, not predetermined by a skeleton; it is a protest against mythology. Mythical is that which never changes, ultimately diluted to a formal legality of thought. To want substance in cognition is to want a utopia. It is this consciousness of possibility that sticks to the concrete, the undisfigured. Utopia is blocked off by possibility, never by immediate reality; this is why it seems abstract in the midst of extant things. The inextinguishable color comes from nonbeing. Thought is its servant, a piece of existence extending - however negatively - to that which is not. The utmost distance alone would be proximity; philosophy is the prism in which its color is caught.'

11 Jan '04 11:35:45 AM

I would have been listening to the new Diamanda Galas records all day if it weren't for Joyce.