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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27 Aug '12 10:38:51 AM

A fragment to re-work:

Cavell thinks of his way of writing in Part Four of The Claim of Reason as a journal, where one important thing is just getting something out, getting it said: voicing it. But just as important to him is that ‘there would be no point, or no hope, in showing the work to others until the life, or place, of which it was the journal, was successfully, if temporarily, left behind, used up’ (p. xxiii). This latter thought is less clear. But the connection between this idea of discovering ‘extensions’ of Wittgenstein’s way of writing, and the thought that writing Part Four was like writing a journal, seem to be the big question about how Part Four is written, what its form means.

The idea of voicing something, getting it out, getting it down on paper, has a natural connection to the practice of keeping a journal. One characteristically keeps a journal for oneself, or at least by oneself; a journal is ‘my journal’ (or ‘your journal’, ‘her journal’). One can keep it, write it, for others to read, but not without ‘keeping’ it, not just possessing it or owning it but maintaining it in a certain way. (The OED interestingly has ‘to maintain continuously in proper form and order [a diary, journal, accounts of money received and paid, etc.]’; ‘to keep books, to make the requisite entries in a merchant’s books so that these shall always represent the state of his commercial relations’.) Why is it kept, maintained—why is that the appropriate mode of practice, for the practice of journaling? What is lacking about a journal that is badly kept—say, with unclear chronology or intermittent entries?

A journal needn’t be a chronicle, an exhaustive record of events, but it is in some way a journal of, as Cavell has it of his own journal, a life or place. (Why the alternation? Perhaps because there is a natural connection between being in a place and keeping a journal of it, of one’s life while there, as if where one was dictated the shape of one’s life and generated interest in capturing that shape, either to compare to past lives of other shapes in other places, or to hold on to for future comparisons, whether elsewhere or in the same place once it has grown familiar, unremarkable.)

Actually, he does not say ‘a life’; he says ‘the life’, which suggests thinking of life as a matter of energy, of a surplus of vitality, something needing to be discharged, let out. And while this could read as permitting a kind of dump, a one-shot expunging of the life that moves one to write, the proximity of ‘place’ in Cavell’s expression about journaling here retains a connection between ‘the life’ and some idea of its being localized, focused on a certain interval in the passage of one’s life. (Spatial and temporal metaphors are readily interchangeable here, so why prefer the spatial? It bespeaks a kind of permanence to what will be written in the journal, to the subjects of the writing; and it permits the thought of their having a kind of articulation which is independent of the one writing, as in Wittgenstein’s ‘landscape’ metaphor for the interrelations between concepts which he proposes to track in the Investigations.)

And this has something to do with how a journal can be written badly, or less well; why it needs keeping, maintaining. What calls for writing in a journal can as it were visit the writer, or appear in the writer’s life—including his inner life—accompanying his days and nights as a kind of presence which shapes his thoughts, draws words from him, or merely insists that he produce them without so much as helping to effect this, something asking for or demanding fuller expression. This is an expression which cannot be formed satisfactorily all at once, nor simply in stages, for example according to a plan. There is no plan. There is no pre-existing scheme which guides the writing across the days, to which the writer can look to orient himself, on which he can focus his thoughts to lend them force and direction when, as is all too usual in the course of writing, they falter or become obscure or become too timid to insist upon being voiced. There is only the past—the days, the pages, of writing to the left, turned aside—and the day to be written, the writing, the blank page to be filled.

The presence of the past in a journal can’t be denied, but it seems that anyone who keeps a journal well knows that those pages are not so much there to be continued; or at least, the pages are, but not what is in them. It would be a bad journaler who sat down every day to review his journal up to that point in order to consider how he should continue it, what the past days dictate that he should write today. This is something of why journals can come with a certain number of pages pre-allotted to each day, not just for the convenience of maintaining a strict chronology but for the suggestion, each day: start anew, fill this page with this day. (A formal hint about the poetics of journal-keeping; training wheels.)

Free of the guidance, or constraint, of a plan, where is the journal-keeper then supposed to turn? To life. To the day. To what comes of life each day. To what each day has come to. One might keep a dream journal upon waking, but it’s more usual to keep a journal at night, once the day is done. This is because the day provides either the material or the matrix for the journal’s content, for the day’s entry.

I say material or matrix because it’s obvious that not every journal must record outer or inner events, even though it’s natural to do so in a journal. The way in which it’s natural has something to do with what it means to keep a journal, to maintain it. Beyond striving for some kind of regularity, consistency—virtues of certain kinds of journals, certain ways of keeping one—one can strive to be timely, and one does so primarily so as to capture what might otherwise be lost to time.

The thoughts of a day, the personal impressions about its events, the feelings occasioned by reflection upon that day in relation to those that came before it and those that, then, were anticipated to come—these are characteristically fleeting, only somewhat under our control. They come along with the day and are best—most easily and most accurately—captured while still in sight of that day. If let slip too long, impressions, feelings, thoughts like these might not be retrievable. Sometimes, the events of a day are. For quite some time, a long time afterward, since the outward occurrences of a day fall into a scheme alongside others, take place in a world of events of which the journal-keeper is not the sole chronicler, uncaptured days and their events can still be put to paper, to some extent. And this does to some extent prompt recall of the personal dimensions of those events. Unaided memory has a depth of its own.

But I want to say that the events of private life, of my inner life, even if they fall into a sort of scheme of their own, aren’t so available for reconstruction and retrieval long after the fact, after the feeling, the experience. I am the scheme, my life provides the shape into which these ‘events’ fit readily or uneasily. It is often not much of a shape. I carry it along with me and it changes with my life. It distorts present and recent experience at the expense of the past, which I often hardly remember or at least hardly think of, despite sometime awareness of how much it can linger on in my present life. It is a poor means of access to my own life; which sounds like saying, my life is a poor means of access to my life.

Still, it is access. Part of my life is to carry forward what happened to me—including what I have felt and experienced—in the past, and often it seems as if, simply in virtue of living, this past comes forward of its own accord. Makes itself known. Presents itself, still, as the material for further life.

Whether as a holdover from the past, recently turned up again, or whether the fruit of some current or recent days, this dependency I have been talking about in terms of access, of having to rely upon myself for access to my own life, manifests in the keeping of a journal in the form of certain activities, certain practices. Keeping a journal well asks for a certain attentiveness on my part; to what I have seen, to what has happened to me, to what I have done, to what I have felt. It also asks for a very special sort of receptivity. Think of the way that the contents of a journal are characteristically inward, felt, personal. The timeliness which it is wise of journal keepers to try to attain has something to do with the ways in which, as a writer, the journal keeper has access to the personal. Even about her own life, the events of the day. And this is: to recall them, to notate them and read back over them, to allow them to stimulate, provoke, give rise to further thoughts. Feelings are among the timeliest of things. Many dwindle as their objects do, receding into the distance or the past. Many have a natural intensity to them; it is characteristic of them that they explode or surge forth and then die off. Some are so fragile that they depend, for their identity, almost for their very existence, on whatever means were to hand at the time they were first felt; a scene, a few words, a day or an hour. If what is felt about what has happened is not attended to, not taken in, dwelt with, in something like the lifetime of that feeling, or at least the time of its infancy, or its prime, then access to that feeling can vanish, and with it the feeling. To recall the events of the day, or even the recent past, from within that time is to be—not tangled, necessarily, within the associate feelings, but somehow involved, situated, immersed, mired, in touch with them. They are still at hand and retain something like their present relationship with what in the world, in life, occasioned them, or what they occasioned, so that it is as if the journal keeper need only observe these in their proximity to one another—feelings and events, the personal and the worldly—and record them. But only as if. To ‘describe’ feelings, or at least to put them into words, is often not to describe some inner objects but to cast the world, cast the events of the day, in a certain way. If some small conflict that did not go my way makes it to my journal, and I write what ‘I wished I had said to her…’, those words alone may express what I felt in that earlier moment, only later to permit reinterpretation or reconstruction as the record of a feeling about her which time allows me to identify more clearly. And this demonstrates the elusiveness of access the journal keeper may have to the day’s events, particularly their inner dimension. If I felt a certain way about something that happened, and perhaps think, at the time, of what I wished to say but stopped myself from saying, recollection of those words may alone be my means of access to that feeling; but as unsaid, those words depend upon me and my ability to hold them inside until such time as I can express them again—which may not prove simple, since I may also wish to let the words which capture an unhappy thought go before I make it to my writing desk, the safety and privacy of the journal.

To say that the day provides either the material or the matrix for a day’s entry in one’s journal is still not all that clear. To call it the matrix for what one writes suggests that something else will be situated in it, even grow out of it. But to describe the day as filled with events, even inner events, can seem to exhaust the domain of what there is to write about. I want to say that Cavell’s point, when he says that writing Part Four was like the keeping of a journal, and thus something which there was no point in showing to others until the life it was the journal of was used up or left behind, is simply to stress that what he was doing was rooted in life, in his life. What he suppresses here, aside perhaps from saying that he thought of himself as keeping a philosophical journal, is the name for what is rooted in his life.

Can’t we simply say, his thoughts? His thought? The possessive is crucial there, because it is what will bear all the weight of Cavell’s description of his writing as like the keeping of a journal. He doesn’t write about his days; he thinks, in writing, from day to day, as a journal-keeper does. With none of the material of days to recount everything falls on the manner, on that particular mode of attentiveness to oneself, receptiveness to what whatever material there is calls forth. I put it that way because I can’t deny that there is something like material in Cavell’s writing. It is what has the appearance, to an undiscriminating but philosophically-minded reader, of ‘Cavell’s arguments’ or ‘Cavell’s discussion of…’. It also can sometimes bear the suggestion of being written according to a plan, contrary to the idea of a journal being written without plan. If, despite these suggestions, what Cavell writes is to be his, his thought, then how is this to be so?

It could be said that this is merely an external determination; a matter of presentation. ‘Written without plan’ need not imply that the thoughts do not invite or permit organization, systematization. It just says that they were produced in a certain way, and perhaps have gone out into the world (as in Cavell’s case?) in that form. According to this way of looking at what purports to be a philosophical journal, it would be something like the raw materials for philosophy. Only occasionally (or often, depending on the writer’s success), accidentally or fortuitously, attaining something like the status of philosophical writing, of philosophy. Only fortuitously of philosophical interest.

I wrote earlier that whatever seeks or demands expression, whatever calls for writing in a journal, this is an expression not made or completed or accomplished according to a plan. And just now I have been emphasizing the fundamentally personal involvement of the author of a journal in his writing (both process and product): what he writes down is meant to be his thought. The idea of something needing expression has an obvious connection with its belonging to someone in particular, to its being theirs (in fact, with regard to any attempt at expression, and ideally, when some attempt can be seen to, as it is said, express them). I would like to say that the idea of this expression, this writing, not being done according to a plan, is a substantial inflection of this idea of writing. It seems true that there is something about the idea of expression, of one’s expressions being one’s own, that does or should or usually does leave open the question of whether one’s expressions really express one; and thus it seems as if the idea of expression not according to a plan is not exactly foreign to the plain idea of expression. But it seems to intensify it, to insist upon it, to admit it: ‘I don’t know where this is going; I don’t know what will come of this’. And to do so reflects back substantially on the idea of an expression’s being mine; or, in our case, of Cavell’s keeping of a journal aiming at the expression of thought which is properly his. For the question will be, of a given attempt at making this sort of expression: is it? Has he done it? Can this be seen to be his? Can he be seen in this thought, in these words? If the journal keeper writes without plan, then while writing, he cannot know. He too is waiting to see; seeing what he can make of his successive attempts at writing, at thinking from day to day. If, over time, he sees fit to make those thoughts public, to share them, then perhaps we can say that they proved to him to express what he took himself to be seeking to put down, to get out, to be moved to write by. But there is a catch. As a journal moves from day to day, it may exhibit the stops and starts, the misfires, the good and bad days, the inert thoughts and the unsuggestive expressions and spirited outpourings, which are after all characteristic of this process of diurnal thinking. Without a certain contrivance which I think we would have to call a falsification, there would be no way to present a journal to others so as to exclude these bad days, to depict the journal’s course as one of progress, or of sparkling, vibrant, sustained reflection. The journal keeper’s judgment must leave such flaws in place; it touches only the whole; the ultimate tendency; the eventual destination, or if not destination, then breaking-off point.

This suggests a desire for a certain kind of integrity of the journal; not an integrity while writing, but one perhaps sought over the course of writing, and one exhibited by the journal as written, after it is ‘done’. Cavell addresses this sense of integrity in his remark about how writing Part Four was like the keeping of a journal, in the point I have so far focused on for what it had to do with ‘life’. He says: ‘there would be no point, or no hope, in showing the work to others until the life, or place, of which it was the journal, was successfully, if temporarily, left behind, used up’ (p. xxiii). As I was just suggesting, the journal would, after such a point, presumably exhibit its kind of integrity; could be seen to be, in whatever sense proves to be apt here, Cavell’s thought that eventually found satisfactory expression. So what we could call Cavell’s reluctance to share this writing could be attributed to his sense that it wasn’t yet ready, that it didn’t yet exhibit the kind of integrity, or perhaps the eventual pointfulness, that would allow it to be understood by others (as an expression of thought growing out of Cavell’s life). But we could also come at it from the other side. Cavell expresses here a reluctance to be misunderstood, a protectiveness toward that for the sake of which he wrote, what he here calls ‘the life’ of which his writing is the journal. I am leaning mainly on ‘hope’ here. I assume that Cavell denies that there would be any hope in showing the writing to others, before a certain point, because it was written out of that hope; and the hope one characteristically has in letting others see one’s writing is for them to understand what one has written. You write to be understood; you share your writing in the hopes that others will understand it; understand you. And ‘hope’ is the appropriate name here because it is the counterpart to what I called Cavell’s protectiveness; one hopes on behalf of what is fragile, what is unlikely, what one is invested in yet cannot yet say will repay that investment.

Why ‘hope’, then? Why fear that what one needs to get out, get down on paper, will not be understood by others, may even be at risk from them before a certain point? Cavell’s ambivalence about what is to be understood, or at least what moves him to write in the hope of being understood, might be suggestive. He says there is no point, or no hope, in showing the work to others until the life, or place, of which it is the journal is left behind, used up. Why a pair of ways of referring to what I earlier called getting past something? I mentioned that by tracing the writing of a journal to ‘the life’, Cavell suggested some thought of vitality, of a degree or amount of energy. And accordingly ‘used up’ refers to depletion. To protect the life out of which one writes, of which one keeps one’s journal, until it is used up suggests that one is sensitive to its extent or availability as a resource. It may be available for a limited time only, and so one must use it as one can. It may seem to be depleted by others, by a too early venture to share it with others, say to be understood by them. Hence one might seek to conserve one’s life, the source one draws on in writing, especially in keeping a journal, where it is understood that one writes by drawing on oneself.

To protect this life, to be reluctant to share the writing it has produced until the life is left behind, suggests, insofar as the writing eventually shared is after all a journal of that life, a kind of sensitivity to exposure. To share one’s life after the fact, after it has been left behind, is acceptable; even sought out, by the journal keeper who publishes his writing. For there to be no point in sharing that journal while the life it records remains, is for there to be no point in being known, in seeking to be known, from within that life. Or rather, amid, during, one’s attempts to write it. Recall the way I put it earlier, that a journal can call for writing, being written; it can involve a kind of insistence that something be given expression, put into words, put on the page. What would be unsatisfactory, then, would be revealing one’s efforts to do this before they had been seen to be satisfactory. It is that that would mark the ‘leaving behind’ of the life of which one’s writing was the journal. Before then, presumably, one is exposed to misunderstanding in a very simple sense, that one’s attempts at satisfactory expression are likely to be taken as successes, thus to express what one needs to express; while no satisfactory expression of it will be available—to the reader or the writer—to correct any such misunderstanding. There is no point to talking when you cannot make yourself understood, when you know that whatever you say cannot express what you mean to say, need to say.

26 Aug '12 11:02:14 PM

'SPIEGEL: How is your daughter handling the situation? Does she know where her mother is?

Verzilov: My daughter tells everyone that Putin has locked her mother in a cage and that we have to find a way to get her out. She draws diagrams showing how we can go about doing this with bulldozers and buses, first by tearing down the prison walls and then by breaking open the cage.'

26 Aug '12 10:08:50 PM

On 'routines':

'Have as many cards or slips of paper as you have points or gags. Write only one point or gag on one card or slip of paper. On the first card write "Introduction," and always keep that card first in your hand. Then take up a card and read the point or gag on it as following the introduction, the second card as the second point or gag, and so on until you have arranged your monologue in an effective routine.'

26 Aug '12 10:02:32 PM

Overbury's Characters

26 Aug '12 07:08:30 PM

'There were people throwing pies at one another.'

26 Aug '12 07:48:33 AM

'…to replace a realism based on characters and interiority with one based on systems.'

25 Aug '12 01:43:52 AM

Wow, Thoreau really went ham on that Flint dude.

23 Aug '12 09:50:52 PM

If you're gonna own a store, you might as well stock ice cream so you can eat it for free, otherwise what's the point of owning a store?

22 Aug '12 11:47:03 PM

Maybe the most surprising thing about Robert Shields' diary (a page of which is here) is that it contains anything like impressions, anecdotes, or opinions at all.

'I don't leave town. I haven't left town since 1985, to visit my brother in Tennessee. I don't like to be away overnight, because it gets me behind. If I travel to Walla Walla to do shopping, it puts me behind in the diary. I have to take notes all the time, and I get back and it takes me a day to catch up with the notes. So I avoid going out. I avoid being away.'