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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9 Aug '12 09:10:15 AM

(A passerby tries his hand at exhortation: 'Eat your vegetables!'. Or 'Get some exercise!'. What are the responses? 'Thanks!' 'Mind your own business!' 'Fuck you, buddy!')

9 Aug '12 09:05:36 AM

You can exhort someone else, or perhaps any number of people, and you can exhort yourself in various degrees of privacy (in your room, in front of the mirror; backstage or in the locker room; off to the side, speaking quietly but insistently to yourself, if at the risk of minor embarrassment), but there seems to be something about doing it in writing: exhorting yourself in words on the page, written only for you, not even spoken aloud.

Imagine a Marcus Aurelius remark projected onto a building, in public, a la Jenny Holzer but with the uncanny thrill replaced by cosmic glumness.

(Who has the power, or rather the authority, to exhort others? To exhort you?)

9 Aug '12 08:57:29 AM

(My question over the last couple days has been: if, like I suppose, a philosophical journal can but needn't particularly relate the journal keeper's day to day experiences, so long as the thoughts he records somehow grow out of the matrix of those experiences, then why do Foucault and Hadot seem so insistent upon associating journals or diaries with the recording of those experiences, and the use of writing they have in mind—which seems an awful lot like the keeping of a philosophical journal—with anything but? And another question: why, nevertheless, does it seem kind of right to say that Marcus' Meditations just aren't personal enough to really count as a 'journal'? Can his text be thought of as fundamentally expressive, or not?)

9 Aug '12 08:50:01 AM

Trying to rebut a suggestion that Marcus Aurelius' regular formation of 'physical' definitions of everyday phenomena in his Meditations can (or ought) to be read as revealing Marcus' psychology, Hadot slips quite naturally into saying 'we' in the course of his explanation, not long after he had insisted that Marcus's writing takes the form of notes 'for the author's personal use':

'The function of Marcus' physico/objective definitions is precisely to make us realize that the feelings of repulsion we feel in the presence of some phenomena which accompany natural processes are nothing but an anthropomorphic prejudice.'

This is the humanist's we, the universalist we, if you like, the pedagogue's we or the moralist's we. Once you learn well enough how it works, you find that you're permitted to utter it to introduce any general-sounding statement about humanity as long as it's found in a classic, part of the humanist's canon. Marcus rarely says 'we', so far as a quick glance shows; most often he says 'you' (cf. Epictetus' 'you'), begins entries with imperative verbs: as Hadot says later, Marcus exhorts himself in his writing. By saying 'we' Hadot is giving a reading of the writing; specifically, he is making a claim about the way in which (a) hypomnemata (b) whose form of address is primarily second-person, and (c) which consist primarily of applications of Stoic dogma to everyday phenomena (d) permit reading by a 'universal' audience in a 'universal' voice.

(Perhaps it could thus be said that Hadot is treating the Meditations as what Bakhtin called a 'neutral genre'.)

My concern with this rapid move to a universally-voiced reading of the text is that it makes it harder for me to understand how the text is supposed to work, how hypomnemata of this sort are supposed to serve as what Foucault calls 'instruments… for the constitution of a permanent relationship to oneself', for use in some practice of the self. Since Hadot slides into using 'we' to reject the suggestion that Marcus be read 'psychologically', I find it interesting that Foucault also strenuously denies that the hypomnemata he has in mind as influential in the art of living are to be thought of as 'intimate diaries or… those accounts of spiritual experience (temptations, struggles, falls, and victories) which can be found in later Christian literature'. In distancing themselves from the category of 'diary' or 'journal' it seems as if both Hadot and Foucault are suppressing features of the diary form which enable Marcus' use of it even if he's not availing himself of certain other features.

(I realize that there's reason in Stoic doctrine for privileging certain uses of 'we', but wouldn't it make a lot more sense for a Stoic practitioner or exercitant to be wary of saying 'we'? Compare e.g. to Cavell on Wittgensteinian 'we'-saying or Goffman on his own use of 'we' (er, 'our').)

8 Aug '12 09:25:49 AM

Though Hadot is always eager to appeal to some feature of the written form of a piece of philosophical writing in order to explain its role in some spiritual exercise, or its use in philosophy practiced as a way of life, his explanations are often unsatisfying to me. It seems that the writing is left behind too quickly, to be obscured by principles, as in his Marcus Aurelius essay.

One mark of this is the way the terms appropriate to writing are left behind in Hadot's anxiousness to reject what he takes to be misinterpretations of Marcus' Meditations. He classes them as hypomnemata, 'notes written on a daily basis for the author's personal use', as opposed to fragments of some completed or planned systematic treatise, or to personal notes which were to serve as 'a personal diary of [Marcus'] inner states'. The interpretation of the Meditations as fragmentary might fall under another essay of Hadot's like 'Forms of Life and Forms of Discourse'; he spends most of his time here on the last interpretation, of Marcus' writing as not just psychologically documentary writing, but as psychologically symptomatic (e.g., of Marcus' supposed pessimism).

It seems easy for Hadot to make the latter case; his target's interpretations seem dumb. Where he wants to deny just that Marcus' 'psychology' can be read from his writing, things seem to get a bit more brusque in the way I've noted. 'It is too facile for us to imagine that, like many modern authors, ancient writers wrote in order directly to communicate information, or the emotions they happened to be feeling', Hadot warns. '[W]e must try to understand why these phrases were written or spoken; we must discover their finality.' OK. But as he begins to deploy his real explanation, he loses sight of the writing as writing, as hypomnemata, as all the terms of explanation begin belong to Stoic logic, physics, and ethics, or refer to worldly things and the reactions of Marcus or a generalized person to such things.

How far does this go? 'The function of Marcus' physico/objective definitions is precisely to make us realize that the feelings of repulsion we feel in the presence of some phenomena which accompany natural processes are nothing but an anthropomorphic prejudice.'

Where did we come in?! This was supposed to be an interpretation of 'notes written on a daily basis for the author's personal use'. Even if we're reading over Marcus' shoulder somehow, how is it that what he writes for his own use can serve—function—to 'make us realize' anything?

7 Aug '12 08:35:04 AM

The notebook I bought is thin, with a fraction of my usual number of pages. I meant it to be deliberate. When I buy a new notebook, my first thought is of filling it, something that, if done, is rarely done to a specific purpose. (I made a special notebook to write my dissertation, though.) For this one, I meant to make an experiment: to keep a journal for something, and to see it through until I have a sense that I am done (with… something). When I have a specific purpose in mind for a journal, I am more likely to abandon it quite early once it stimulates me to think elsewhere, or once my mood alters.

The advent of new work has suddenly shifted my schedule, and now it's been several days since I wrote in my journal. Because it was prompted by the work I've been doing on philosophical journals, I chose, as the subject of the journal: the keeping of a journal. Specifically, me and my own (past) keeping of journals, since that's often something that has been more instrumental than the subject of reflection for me (if that could really be accurate for someone not unused to reflexive reflection).

This seems to have given a point, a focus, to the light sense of neglect, of being out of touch, that can come of being away from a journal that has been being kept. While working on anything I might have the feeling of distance from it if the work is allowed to slip away for some number of days, or if other thoughts intervene. Keeping a journal about keeping journals, I feel that I'm out of touch with both, the thoughts—the work—and with myself.

6 Aug '12 06:22:29 PM

'“The Corner” ended with De’Andre’s first adult arrest, and Simon recalled that McCullough was frustrated with that conclusion. “He said, ‘You write that like it’s the end. Maybe that’s not the end,’” Simon said.'

6 Aug '12 10:31:56 AM

If the virtue most in request by record buyers (or thieves) is not what they call 'consistency' in an artist's work, but what Emerson calls conformity, that says little about what the self-reliant artist's career would look like: there are so many things for aversion to oppose, to turn away from.

5 Aug '12 08:00:46 AM

'When I ask for a garment of a particular form, my tailoress tells me gravely, "They do not make them so now," not emphasizing the "They" at all, as if she quoted an authority as impersonal as the Fates, and I find it difficult to get made what I want, simply because she cannot believe that I mean what I say, that I am so rash. When I hear this oracular sentence, I am for a moment absorbed in thought, emphasizing to myself each word separately that I may come at the meaning of it, that I may find out by what degree of consanguinity They are related to me, and what authority they may have in an affair which affects me so nearly; and, finally, I am inclined to answer her with equal mystery, and without any more emphasis of the "they,"—"It is true, they did not make them so recently, but they do now."'