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 Feb '13 10:28:06 AM

Quine writes as if warning you not to take his words too seriously.

28 Feb '13 08:08:56 AM

There's a logic by which the writers occasionally have to show Adam Schiff outside the office.

26 Feb '13 09:59:50 PM

'Words' is too innocent a metonym. In the habit of referring to words, to all words, to anything articulable in speech, to the whole of writing, you can nearly think you've exhausted what there is to talk about, proved somehow the inadequacy of words when you've barely used one.

26 Feb '13 09:04:17 PM

'make much of negatives, and of mere daylight and the skies"

26 Feb '13 10:39:48 AM

Since the new year I've been keeping a new journal. At first, I seem to be the same as I ever was when I write. There's a mixture of thoughts and expression, work and self. More the former than the latter, I suppose one might say—a little reproach. I would count that as a misunderstanding, as not seeing how my thoughts do express me, how my work (that work, not the job work) is not separable from who I am or, more importantly, to my way of coming along, of figuring things, and myself, out. People miss feeling when they don't see it in uncast forms, but for one who has it, it can be just as valuable to let a feeling give rise to something, to shape an expression, as it can be to just feel it all over the place.

Nevertheless, when I read over my old journals or, more typically, notebooks, I rarely feel much of a connection—to myself, or to what the words on the page say, or express. Perhaps because they rarely seem expressive, despite feeling more so at the time of writing. Perhaps, instead, because I have no habit of reading myself—there, at least, in that form, cramped pen scrawl and one dropped thought after another, connections at best tenuous between entries, if not lateral, or so often trying to begin anew without the benefit of previous attempts. An instrument for my thinking but rarely a record of it put to any use.

Which is strange, because I do have different habits, depending. I've always reread my writing here, for example—I will go back recently or months or years and just remind myself of the texture of my thoughts, of what prompted them or how I felt in writing them or publishing them, of what else was going on in my life off-screen; and when writing 'for real', at a computer or with a hard copy of a draft in front of me, I will hardly write a thing before reading very carefully over what I already have.

Different, but not necessarily any more productive of further writing, I suppose. I mean writing which directly takes up what is already written; extends it, responds to it, gathers up whole stretches of it and tries to push on ahead. That's never been how I write. Least so, in my notebooks. I have tended rarely to read them over while keeping them, and almost never after done with them.

But this is an important element in writing them in this 'productive' way I have in mind—not productive as in 'get more work done', but productive as in Thoreau's 'thought begat thought'. So with my current journal, I've been making an effort to create and maintain continuities between old entries and new—for example, by rereading what I've written, but also by a technique I've almost never used before. If I've already written something, I will let myself write some more. For example, if I fill half a page on some topic on some Tuesday, I will, later, return to that page either to continue the thought, or to try to prompt myself to continue the thought. I may do this even if I have a bad day, or get too busy, and write only a few words; when I return, I may fill in more detail, or more likely, make a first real attempt at writing down whatever it was I might have thought about, and indicated briefly, on the original day. I may go back in other ways—for example, if I don't feel like I have much to say, I may look through past entries for one that it seems like I could add to. Lately, I've been trying to read through the first couple of months as a whole, to get the gist of them and perhaps sum up what in them is worth summing up (which means, worth trying to carry forward).

I'm even using different colors of ink, and pencil. There's something about the ease that lends the page, of being grasped in a glance as a place where I wrote, wrote some more, wrote at length, or added on one or more times. Perhaps it lends some structure to the pages so that they say something to me, visually. (Books say something to me, visually, because of the way they're laid out, but my own writing hasn't, in the past.)

I don't know the effect, yet. When I look over the last couple of months' worth of writing, it does feel a little thicker to me than I suppose a comparable stretch of my former notebook-keeping (or notebook-use) might. Which means that it coheres a bit more, seems to retain a more robust trace of my day-to-day life (even that strange part, seemingly with no story, that is 'just thinking'), has an inertia to it, a sense of stored value, as opposed to a value that has to be extracted, mined, hunted for, reconstructed.

This is different from what I think of as a fuller intimacy—with oneself, with one's thoughts, or even with one's journal. I've played with that too, but so far I see that something about me, about the way I think, about my writing habits, makes that a hard intimacy to establish—which is to say, achieve, by a habit of writing that confers a sort of special status on the journal; makes one's relationship to it, constitutes it as something like an other to oneself. Among journal-keepers they will often talk about an intimacy with oneself that requires writing in the journal, so that it is as if one needs to spend time alone with the journal, and will start to feel, just as with a friend or a lover, lost if having gone too long without that time alone, to reconnect.

Perhaps that use for a journal requires a much more social existence than mine. Perhaps—hermeneutics of suspicion aside—I'm too intimate with myself already to easily generate some feeling of intimacy from keeping a journal, however much I could use a deeper, freer, more honest version of it.

But I have felt that feeling of need grow a little; and felt its connection to a certain stability, clarity. Sense of what's what, where I'm going.

25 Feb '13 09:17:53 AM

Eight months into the 'secession war', an entry in Whitman's Specimen Days from 'Down at the Front' records a startling image:

'Out doors, at the foot of a tree, within ten yards of the front of the house, I notice a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, &c, a full load for a one-horse cart.'

For some pages to follow, every word and phrase between commas retains some of that charge, as if limbs have been strewn across the page—and a sentence without several commas is rare, as is an entry without one of Whitman's characteristic lists.

24 Feb '13 11:22:10 PM

One of the falsest poses, of having taken it all in.

22 Feb '13 05:14:12 AM

You can't just tell every story whenever.

18 Feb '13 10:08:29 AM

'Yeah! yeah what happened to Imipolex G, all that Jamf a-and that S-Gerät, s'posed to be a hardboiled private eye here, gonna go out all alone and beat the odds, avenge my friend that They killed, get my ID back and find that piece of mystery hardware but now aw it's JUST LIKE—'