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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10 Aug '12 07:12:58 PM

'All that remains is the desire to be, to grow and to give, to share. I want prison ecstasies, epiphanies and revelations about freedom, the lack of freedom and which of these a person needs more for his or her development. I have a tremendous urge to think and feel: in the absence of external stimuli, one’s inner life develops at a furious pace.'

10 Aug '12 07:05:16 PM

'Мы свободней, чем все эти люди, которые сидят против нас в обвинении. Потому что мы можем говорить, что хотим. И мы говорим, что хотим.'


10 Aug '12 09:33:06 AM

A good word, from Emily Dickinson (#588), to include among the words related to 'life' circulating in the wake of the Romantic-era expressivist view of the self: 'deaden'.

'those little Anodynes / That deaden suffering'

10 Aug '12 04:58:32 AM

In his essay on 'Self Writing', Foucault treats correspondence as the counterpart to keeping a notebook for purposes of ethopoiesis. '[A]s Seneca points out, when one writes one reads what one writes, just as in saying something one hears oneself saying it. The letter one writes acts, through the very action of writing, upon the one who addresses it, just as it acts through reading and rereading on the one who receives it. In this dual function, correspondence is very close to the hupomnemata, and its form is often very similar.' He nearly leaves the principle behind the closeness unstated here: that a letter is addressed to one other.

It comes into play again when he notes that '[t]he letter one sends in order to help one's correspondent - advise him, exhort him, admonish him, console him - constitutes for the writer a kind of training...'. Imagine other forms (like a broadsheet, a book), or imagine a public audience. It seems true that in ways they too could be advised, exhorted, admonished, consoled. But now imagine the same form, the letter, but with a different relationship between the one who addresses it and the one addressed - at least, different from the one you probably presume. Imagine getting a letter from a stranger: 'Eat your vegetables!' 'Get some exercise!' 'Form proper conceptions of what depends upon you and what does not so that your false judgments of things no longer disturb you!'.

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?