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.

newest | archives | search | about | wishlist | flickr | email | rss

1 Jan '20 06:46:35 PM

Νέος ἐφ' ἡμέρῃ ἥλιος.

21 Dec '19 12:17:50 AM

'I think it is sometimes felt that drawing an analogy between moral conduct and games makes moral conduct seem misleadingly simple (or trivial?), because there are no rules in moral conduct corresponding to the rules about how the Queen moves in chess. But this misses the point of the analogy, which is that moves and actions have to be done correctly; not just any movement you make will be a move, or a promise, a payment, a request. This does not mean that promising is (just) following rules. Yet if someone is tempted not to fulfill a promise, you may say "Promises are kept," or "We keep our promises (that is the sort of thing a promise is)," thus employing a rule-description—what I have called a categorical declarative. You may say "You must keep this promise" (you are underestimating its importance; last time you forgot). This is not the same as "You ought to keep this promise," which is only sensible where you have a reason for breaking it strong enough to allow you to do so without blame (there is a real alternative), but where you are enjoined to make a special effort or sacrifice. (This is partly why "You ought to keep promises" is so queer. It suggests that we not only always want badly to get out of fulfilling promises, but that we always have some good (anyway, prima facie) reason for not keeping them (perhaps our own severe discomfort) and that therefore we are acting well when we do fulfill. But we aren't, normally; neither well nor ill.) "Ought" is like "must" in requiring a background of action or position into which the action in question is set; and, like "must," it does not form a command, a pure imperative. All of which shows the hopelessness of speaking, in a general way, about the "normativeness" of expressions. The Britannica "rules" tell us what we must do in playing chess, not what we ought to do if we want to play. You (must) mean (imply), in speaking English, that something about an action is fishy when you say "The action is voluntary"; you (must) mean, when you ask a person "Ought you to do that?" that there is some specific way in which what he is doing might be done more tactfully, carefully, etc.… Are these imperatives? Are they categorical or hypothetical? Have you in no way contradicted yourself if you flout them? (Cf. n. 25.)

That "modal imperatives" ("must," "supposed to," "are to," "have to" …) require the recognition of a background action or position into which the relevant action is placed indicates a portentous difference between these forms of expression and pure imperatives, commands. Whether I can command depends only upon whether I have power or authority, and the only characteristics I must recognize in the object of the command are those which tell me that the object is subject to my power or authority. Employing a modal "imperative," however, requires that I recognize the object as a person (someone doing something or in a certain position) to whose reasonableness (reason) I appeal in using the second person. (Compare "Open, Sesame!" with "You must open, Sesame.") This is one reason that commands, pure imperatives, are not paradigms of moral utterance, but represent an alternative to such utterance.'

19 Dec '19 06:41:30 AM

'It is also music about doubt and hope. An unmistakable and willful anxiety, skepticism, and hardened thoughts about a future—if not "the future"—reside there.'

18 Dec '19 04:13:52 AM

'We are still on the other side of the mirror. Yesterday you saw your best friend and told him of your passionate hatred of war. Now try to tell yourself that story in the style of Dos Passos. "And they ordered two beers and said that war was appalling. Paul stated he'd rather do anything than fight and John said he concurred and both were moved and said they were happy to agree. As he was going home, Paul decided to see more of John." You will immediately hate yourself. But it won't take you long to see that you can't speak of yourself in this tone. However insincere you might have been, at least you lived out your insincerity; you played it out on your own, you extended its existence at every moment in a process of continued creation. And even if you let yourself be dragged down into collective representations, you had first to live these out as an individual abdication. We are neither mechanisms nor possessed souls, but something worse: we are free. Entirely outside or entirely inside. Dos Passos's human is a hybrid, internal-external creature. We are with him and in him. We live with his vacillating individual consciousness and, suddenly, it falters, weakens, and flows off into the collective consciousness. We follow him and suddenly, here we are, outside, without having noticed it. This is the creature beyond the looking glass—strange, contemptible, and fascinating.'

28 Nov '19 08:12:02 PM

'… by this I mean a plausible address to everyone who is alive—and no one who is dead!'

20 Nov '19 05:51:29 AM

'We're the ones moving in circles.'

7 Nov '19 07:05:00 AM

'But before considering more fully what the order of historical event, as represented by the Revolution of 1848, means in the novel, it may be well to complete the discussion of interference and chiasmus by a word on style indirect libre, whereby interference and chiasmus come to inhabit the text in its very verbal texture. As the best recent critics of Flaubert have shown, traditional discussions of style indirect libre as a technique for reporting speech and its characteristic patterns, rhythms, and key words without recourse to direct quotation and without overt indication of an authorial-narratorial voice—discussions that see the technique as part of an increasingly sophisticated mimesis whereby the novel appears to "write itself" in the absence of the author—fail to appreciate the most radical consequences of Flaubert's practice, which are indeed consonant with the interference of systems and orders as I have sketched it. To understand how this is so, we ought to take the time to demonstrate how Flaubert uses style indirect libre to avoid and prevent direct attribution of what is spoken and reported, as a technique of irresponsibility, in that it refuses to designate who is responsible for any given statement. Brief illustration will have to suffice. To take first a relatively simple example, an evening in Mme Dambreuse's drawing room following the marriage of her "niece" (in fact her husband's illegitimate daughter) Cécile:

That evening, a few friends came by to congratulate her and to condole with her: she must be missing her niece so much? It was a very good idea, though, for the newlyweds to have gone on a trip; later, difficulties, children come along! But Italy didn't live up to the idea one had of it. Granted, they were at the age of illusions! and then, the honeymoon embellished everything! (p. 401)

The lack of attribution here—we don't even know who the "few friends" are, though we could no doubt reconstruct the cast of characters from other Dambreuse gatherings—signals the commonplace nature of what is said, its status as cliché, belonging to everyone and to no one. The commonplace statements are presented in the imperfect tense, the usual tense of indirect discourse, but with a use of punctuation, question marks and especially exclamation points, which in Flaubert's usage seem to be almost musical notations of "voicing": they suggest the notation of those phrases which are being only indirectly quoted. And the sentence on the newlyweds' trip violates—in a manner once again typical of Flaubert—the normal structure of verb tenses in indirect discourse by moving into the present with surviennent ("come along"), as if voice broke through the reportorial convention to assert its presence.

Flaubert creates here the voice of a collectivity, and the lack of an answer to the question, who is speaking? does not much concern us, since what is being said is so banal. Nor are we much concerned here to say why we find the sentiments uttered banal—why we automatically read them with the distance of irony—so obvious does the point seem. Yet we should note that the passage gives no overt indications of ironization: our judgment that it is to be "taken ironically" must derive from our recognition of the perfect banality of the reported speech—a recognition of Flaubert's artistry in creating the perfectly stupid. This was indeed a basic Flaubertian ambition, mentioned many times in his correspondence, perhaps best expressed in his goal for the Dictionnaire des idées reçues, in which he wished to construct a book where "there would not be a single word invented by me"—where both the entries and their definitions would be made of the sottises, the stupidities, of others—and the reader would stand in the uneasy position of being uncertain whether to read it ironically or not. Thus would the dream of the perfectly disguised author be realized.'

6 Nov '19 06:01:03 AM

'It is perhaps striking that from the moment the work becomes the search for art, from the moment it becomes literature, the writer increasingly feels the need to maintain a relation to himself. His feeling is one of extreme repugnance at losing his grasp upon himself in the interests of that neutral force, formless and bereft of any destiny, which is behind everything that gets written. This repugnance, or apprehension, is revealed by the concern, so characteristic of many authors, to compose what they call their "journal." Such a preoccupation is far removed from the complacent attitudes usually described as Romantic. The journal is not essentially confessional; it is not one's own story. It is a memorial. What must the writer remember? Himself: who he is when he isn't writing, when he lives daily life, when he is alive and true, not dying and bereft of truth. But the tool he uses in order to recollect himself is, strangely, the very element of forgetfulness: writing. That is why, however, the truth of the journal lies not in the interesting, literary remarks to be found there, but in the insignificant details which attach it to daily reality. The journal represents the series of reference points which a writer establishes in order to keep track of himself when he begins to suspect the dangerous metamorphosis to which he is exposed. It is a route that remains viable; it is something like a watchman's walkway upon ramparts: parallel to, overlooking, and sometimes skirting around the other path—the one where to stray is the endless task. Here true things are still spoken of. Here, whoever speaks retains his name and speaks in this name, and the dates he notes down belong in a shared time where what happens really happens. The journal—this book which is apparently altogether solitary—is often written out of fear and anguish at the solitude which comes to the writer on account of the work.

The recourse to the journal indicates that he who writes doesn't want to break with contentment. He doesn't want to interrupt the propriety of days which really are days and which really follow one upon the other. The journal roots the movement of writing in time, in the humble succession of days whose dates preserve this routine. Perhaps what is written there is already nothing but insincerity; perhaps it is said without regard for truth. But it is said in the security of the event. It belongs to occupations, incidents, the affairs of the world—to our active present. This continuity is nil and insignificant, but at least it is irreversible. It is a pursuit that goes beyond itself toward tomorrow, and proceeds there definitively.

The journal indicates that already the writer is no longer capable of belonging to time through the ordinary certainty of action, through the shared concerns of common tasks, of an occupation, through the simplicity of intimate speech, the force of unreflecting habit. He is no longer truly historical; but he doesn't want to waste time either, and since he doesn't know anymore how to do anything but write, at least he writes in response to his everyday history and in accord with the preoccupations of daily life. It happens that writers who keep a journal are the most literary of all, but perhaps this is precisely because they avoid, thus, the extreme of literature, if literature is ultimately the fascinating realm of time's absence.'

5 Nov '19 03:32:04 AM

'… the act of simply writing those words fills me with terrible sadness.'