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 Apr '16 10:24:58 AM

Reading my own archives, looking for patterns, I was struck by an impression I'd had before, if more faintly, over the years: that I'd written here for various reasons, in shifting ways, at different times, but reasons I could always track, looking back, in terms of what something else, some form of writing, some work, someone, wasn't giving me. —Self-generating community, a backroom, a commonplace book, a Konvolut, an alternative, an unregulated space, an open venue, a private broadcast, a dim beacon, an empty field, a trailing past, my consubstantial, a fixed point, a familiar to which to return, an extensible medium, a workspace, a valve, a quiver, a trace, a record and a window, a bottled message, a reminder. Always a something else to something. —But in the past couple months, fully engaged with a paper that ballooned suddenly into something resembling a book, and writing more every day, I've found, in contrast, that the journal from which I've been inseparable for four years—day in, day out until recently—has lost all interest for me. I don't need it; there's something else.

23 Apr '16 04:53:04 AM

Making music, notation

21 Apr '16 10:02:23 PM

It's a city, but not a big city. Not that big. Big enough to have its places, but not big enough for them to quite take on real cultural existences independent of people talking about them as places. (Copy for a tourism bureau's promotional magazine.) Two cities, actually, geographically continuous, not even perfectly split by the river, and hardly distinguishable from each other in any more than parochial ways. Which only makes their uneven fame seem like a magnified version of that same limiting effect, applied to their names: somehow, 'Minneapolis' is the one that gets to be a place for others, 'St. Paul' is not. (As if its name always carried with it a hyphen in prefix.) But only, one feels, from people talking about Minneapolis as a place, as if the one name were all that could catch hold of imaginations outside the city limits, since there was not quite enough to spark those imaginations other than the intention, the name, people saying it, Minneapolis Minneapolis Minneapolis. In town, say newly arrived, like I was in the summer of 2001, what you hear is a lot of these names, said like that. Oh, Nicollet Mall. Oh, Washington. Oh, University. Oh, Snelling. Fort Snelling, Minnehaha Falls, Nicollet Island, the Metrodome, the mansion where Governor Jesse 'The Body' lives, some house where F. Scott Fitzgerald lived once, a building named after Mondale. Lakes lakes lakes lakes lakes that everyone talks about, by name, like it's obvious where a lake is. (Odd, then, that the river is 'the river'.) Lake Minnetonka, say. The Dinkytown streets near campus—of 'the U'—whose names maybe show up in Dylan titles. City Pages. Let It Be Records—not nearly as venerable or as durable an institution as its eponym, the album by local name-legends The Replacements (nearly always paired with Hüsker Dü, in these refrains), which had its own more famous eponym, led me to believe. Blocks away downtown, First Avenue. And there, somehow, at that fixed point of condensation of the collective imagination and the sustaining, circulating names, though dispersed in time and often in place (maybe only to Chanhassen) from the 80s point of origin: Prince. I never super liked him then, never disliked him—I had just been missed by that part of the 80s, growing up on Iowa radio then, although in the late 90s preceding my move to the city, Cities, I had been listening up dutifully, wanting to hear everything that people said you had to hear, opening up. But with the move, of course, came the name somehow, produced especially for new arrivals, 'Oh, Prince'. Rarely accompanied by an insistence that you had to hear Prince, or that he was ours, or that the music mattered, just that he was a given, that his name now went with those names, our names. You try it out, of course. Who knows why, but you sit in a college radio station in central Iowa, say, and play Prince, whatever, but you move to Minneapolis (Saint Paul) and listen to Prince, and you're supposed to—what? You don't know, maybe, but just the talk makes you surmise that something more ought to happen, is happening. You go to the Electric Fetus, you buy a Prince record, you say 'wreckastow', you think to yourself, I'm in Minneapolis, I'm at the Electric Fetus, I'm buying a Prince record. It's maybe similar to what I suppose people feel, or felt, when listening to '1999', which I suppose I heard some in the late 90s but mostly heard in the early 00s, sitting in my office at the U, high up, looking out the window at Minneapolis, thinking not that he was singing about a year I had personally lived through, but that by singing about it, by making it into that title, a name, he had made it into something more than I had lived through, in a sense something that I should have lived more through. The lyrics of 'Uptown' make its eponym seem more like an idea, ideal, than a place, and if a place more likely one in New York than the gentrified 20-to-30-something post-collegiate nexus of a neighborhood here that features prominently in our place-talk but is hardly one where 'we don't let society tell us how it's supposed to be'. But it was one of the first songs I ever experienced firsthand as possibly being about a place, a place I had been and was with mundane regularity, riding the bus or walking down the sidewalk or eating out with friends. Again, though, not because it seemed to say all that much about Uptown Minneapolis, but because it 'said' it, like that, said and sang 'Uptown', and because he sang it, one name saying another name and each somehow growing in stature in the process, conferring more stature on places whose realities were heightened by bearing those names rather than simply being not quite willed into wider existence by their repeated utterance. Today I'll listen to Prince's records and cry.

20 Apr '16 03:00:01 AM

'To what extent was Antony's injunction to the monks to keep a diary followed? There seems to be no other evidence indicating that keeping a diary became immediately a widespread habit among monks. It is only some two centuries later that we hear, from John Climacus, that monks used to carry a small notebook attached to their belt, on which they used to write down their thoughts (logismous) on a daily basis. Calling attention to the passage from the Vita Antonii, David Brakke notes that Athanasius articulates here "his own version of early Christianity's 'rhetoric of shame': because the monk is a mirror, he must form himself so as to be transparent to others without shame or embarrassment." It is something else, however, that this text seems to emphasize. The journal kept by the monk, in which he spells out his inner thoughts, or, more precisely, his evil thoughts (logismoi) or sins, is not meant to be shown to the other monks, but rather to externalize, as it were, these thoughts and these sins, so that they might become visible to individual himself. Through writing, then, thoughts and sins arise to the surface of consciousness, and the monk sees himself as others might see him, as if he were someone else. Writing is here a way of speaking to oneself, a kind of soliloquy—a concept and a literary form invented, at more or less the same time, by Augustine. In other words, writing is here used as a kind of spiritual exercise, and has become a method permitting one to read or decipher one's own soul. It should not come as a surprise, then, that the first Jesuits, who were to give a new life to the idea of spiritual exercises, were very fond of a figure such as Dorotheus of Gaza.'

18 Apr '16 01:34:29 AM


14 Apr '16 05:13:22 PM

'… marking them up and blocking off passages, sorting them into piles and flagging them with bits of scrap paper or colored ribbon or bubble gum wrappers.'

12 Apr '16 07:21:31 PM

'In the dark there is emphatically "nothing" to see, although the world is still "there" more obtrusively.'

12 Apr '16 10:29:53 AM

'Oh I did not say it in such limpid language. And when I say I said, etc., all I mean is that I knew confusedly things were so, without knowing exactly what it was all about. And every time I say, I said this, or, I said that, or speak of a voice saying, far away inside me, Molloy, and then a fine phrase more or less clear and simple, or find myself compelled to attribute to others intelligible words, or hear my own voice uttering to others more or less articulate sounds, I am merely complying with the convention that demands you either lie or hold your peace. For what really happened was quite different. And I did not say, Yet a little while, at the rate things are going, etc., but that resembled perhaps what I would have said, if I had been able. In reality I said nothing at all, but I heard a murmur, something gone wrong with the silence, and I pricked up my ears, like an animal I imagine, which gives a start and then pretends to be dead. And then sometimes there arose within me, confusedly, a kind of consciousness, which I express by saying, I said, etc., or, Don't do it Molloy, or, Is that your mother's name? said the sergeant, I quote from memory. Or which I express without sinking to the level of oratio recta, but by means of other figures quite as deceitful, as for example, it seemed to me that, etc., or, I had the impression that, etc., for it seemed to me nothing at all, and I had no impression of any kind, but simply somewhere something had changed, so that I too had to change, or the world too had to change, in order for nothing to be changed.'

11 Apr '16 07:57:43 AM

(—In other words, the transposability of names.)