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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5 Mar '20 02:39:27 AM

'The series, then, has become one of modernist painting's chief defenses against the risk of misinterpretation—a risk that has grown enormously during the past twenty years in direct proportion to the success of modernism itself. And by success I am referring not to financial success, but to what is probably the most important single aspect of modernist painting's impact on the general sensibility. This aspect has been characterized by Clement Greenberg as follows:

Under the testing of modernism more and more of the conventions of the art of painting have shown themselves to be dispensable, unessential. By now it has been established, it would seem, that the irreducible essence of pictorial art consists in but two constitutive conventions or norms: flatness and the delimitation of flatness; and that the observance of merely these two norms is enough to create an object which can be experienced as a picture: thus a stretched or tacked-up canvas already exist as a picture—though not necessarily a successful one.

One consequence of this has been the expansion of the possibilities of the pictorial; in Greenberg's words, "much more than before lends itself now to being experienced pictorially or in meaningful relation to the pictorial: all sorts of large and small items that used to belong entirely to the realm of the arbitrary and the visually meaningless." Moreover, the situation has been complicated still further by the calling into question, first by Dada and within the past decade by Neo-Dada figures such as John Cage, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg, of the already somewhat dubious concept of a "work of art." In this connection it is important to bear in mind that, at bottom, Dada in any of its manifestations and modernist painting are antithetical to one another. Where the former aspires to obliterate all distinctions between works of art and other kinds of objects or occurrences in the world, the latter has sought to isolate, assert, and work with what is essential to the art of painting at a given moment. It would, however, be mistaken to think of Dada—the most precious of movements—as opposed to art. Rather, Dada stands opposed to the notion of value or quality in art, and in that sense represents a reaction against the unprecedented demands modernist painting makes of its practitioners. (It is, I think, significant that Marcel Duchamp was a failed modernist—more exactly, a failed Cubist—before he turned his hand to the amusing inventions for which he is best known.) But there is a superficial similarity between modernist painting and Dada in one important respect: just as modernist painting has enabled one to see a blank canvas, a sequence of random splatters, or a length of colored fabric as a picture, Dada and Neo-Dada have equipped one to treat virtually any object as a work of art—though it is far from clear what exactly this means. Thus, there is an apparent expansion of the realm of the artistic corresponding—ironically, as it were—to the expansion of the realm of the pictorial achieved by modernist painting.'

8 Feb '20 01:04:38 AM

'What familiar occupieng & enterteynement there is emong ye people.'

30 Jan '20 06:45:45 PM

Special issue of Parrhesia on Spinoza

27 Jan '20 11:35:19 PM

How to read Arendt's Human Condition

5 Jan '20 02:26:59 AM

Do trees exist?

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.'