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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28 Jun '12 01:08:49 PM

In both parts, the chapters alternate. Lee's life is tracked in chapters named things like 'In the Bronx', 'In Minsk', 'In Dallas' (often there). Other chapters named with dates advancing toward November 22 track the conspirators and other players; them, and a retired senior analyst of the CIA 'hired on contract to write the secret history of the assassination of President Kennedy', Nicholas Branch. Branch is introduced before any of the conspirators are. Little sign is given of the reason that his story is folded into the dated chapters, where it sits unmarked alongside the stories of Everett and Parmenter and the others. One clue comes during his first appearance: 'He enters a date on the home computer the Agency has provided for the sake of convenient tracking. April 17, 1963'. The same date which heads the chapter including this account of Branch and of the activities of some of the conspirators on that date. The existence of the computer would be suggestive enough, but later (presumably while writing about April 26) Branch's story is dated at least after 1979, when 'a House select committee determined there was nothing statistically abnormal about the death rate among those who were connected in some way to the events of November 22', all of those linked to Lee H. Oswald or Jack Ruby who are now 'conveniently and suggestively dead'.

So it may be that Nicholas Branch is the one telling Lee's story, where Lee too is being tracked through time, through his life, but in a story parceled out by place, by where it was possible, on the basis of the evidence, to locate him. Lee's story is intimate, personal: the narrator knows his secrets, knows that 'never again in his short life, never in the world, would he feel this inner power, rising to a shriek, this secret force of the soul in the tunnels under New York' that he experienced while riding the subway, where 'he liked to stand at the front of the first car, hands flat against the glass'. Later, Lee keeps a journal, 'the Historic Diary', so perhaps Branch raids it, interpolates an inner life, induces a narrative, perhaps not. Lee's story starts, though, with a sentence that shows the hand of an outsider, coming after, placing Lee in time as well as in the Bronx: 'This was the year he rode the subway to the ends of the city'. The sound of a writer, a historian, indexing, fixing the point from which to remember, or fabulate.

But when Nicholas Branch's story is being told, it doesn't sound like he's the one telling it.

28 Jun '12 11:48:04 AM

'He saw himself go inside, a fellow on a quiet street doing ordinary things, unafraid of being watched.'

28 Jun '12 11:22:40 AM

Interpretation becomes unseemly all too frequently.

28 Jun '12 02:13:54 AM

Look, if any of your footnotes end with forward references to other footnotes, you have a problem. And if any of your footnotes are nothing but forward references to other footnotes, there is some shit you should have gotten straight before publication.

21 Jun '12 11:38:37 AM

'Pip is no one. Pip is as alone as any figure in the history of literature, the "all-one," the deep thought-diver, call him Ishmael, lost brother, invisible man, split, schizoid, least body on the good ship Pequod, eyewitness to the white event, floating in the sea, clinging to the coffin of his one imagined friend, mad, lost, the lonely self.'

21 Jun '12 10:36:04 AM

I remember my friends and I, readers all, once being a little fascinated, maybe perplexed, by the maxim, 'the only real reading is re-reading'.

Perplexed, of course, because it seems to say that reading means, needs, repeating: before you repeat you won't have read. As if the point of reading were to get every word, and the dumb advice dispensed to achieve that aim were simply to keep staring dumbly at the pages, over and over, until you have pieced it all together. Of course, that assumes that you can. Maybe it never ends, never terminates, culminates, and no reading is real.

Perplexed also, because it contradicts the lowest level of our experience as readers: if you've read something once, you have read it, you haven't read nothing, you didn't not read. So how could your reading be any less real? (I think 'real' in its contrast to 'counterfeit' might be useful here: imagine someone else testing your reading to see if it's real, to see if they'll accept it, let it into circulation. Circulation of what?)

But all reading is re-reading in the sense of reading again, to again perform the activity of reading. I would like to say that the only real reading is reading that unites these two senses, the first, obvious one of reading the same book in repetition, and the second, of reading as a continuation of (past) reading into which repeated reading is taken up. At its lower limit rereading destroys sense rather than clarifying or deepening it, as when a word said or looked at over and over loses its meaning. As we similarly suspect, at least vaguely, sometimes, about repeated greetings, expressions, jokes, stories (the detective: 'he's not making any sense, he just keeps giving me the same story over and over'), rituals. This has something to do with why both senses of re-reading are called for for real reading, and it means in part that other reading is, is to be interleaved among the repeated readings of those books we return to.

20 Jun '12 10:09:43 AM

'…our labors, our outward condition… to which we are "religiously devoted," are our sacraments, and the inward state they signal ("our very lives are our disgrace") is our secret belief that the world has already come to an end for us.'

20 Jun '12 09:43:45 AM

'The social contract is nowhere in existence, because we do not will it; therefore the undeniable bonds between us are secured by our obedience to agreements and compacts that are being made among ourselves as individuals acting privately and in secret, not among ourselves as citizens acting openly on behalf of the polis. The logic of our position is that we are conspirators. If this is false, it is paranoid; if it is not, we are crazy.'

20 Jun '12 04:53:21 AM

'What gives the impression that Wittgenstein wants to deny anything? What in particular does he seem to deny? Not, as he says over and over again, that "The other has his sensations; I don't"; or anyway, not that "He may be suffering when I am not". He is not denying the truth of that assertion; but then that is not the assertion the skeptic stops with. The skeptic goes on to say something about what the other knows, and whether I can know it. And he means that to have the same obviousness as the fact that the other may be suffering and I not; indeed, one might say, he takes it to be the same undeniable fact. And that Wittgenstein does deny.'

A short way: ask, how do you know what the other knows? (As one asks a witness: why am I supposed to trust what you say? What ever gave you any knowledge of so-and-so anyway? Or using a word that Cavell and Austin favor: what put you in a position to know that?)