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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23 Mar '13 08:51:25 PM

At lunch, I tell D. about my television aesthetics project; I talk about popular arts and ordinary life and about all the investments of our time and emotion that I'd like to speak up for against what seems like an opportunity we ('we academics') missed, or disdained—because it seems like philosophers don't know the first thing about how to talk about TV, still, this late. Along the way D. mentions some of the usual things one says, or hears said, against TV, even against one's own TV watching—disparagingly, or worse. Stimulation, stupidity, company, conformist yearnings, a fantasized righteousness or a fantasizing permissiveness, uniformity of format and predictability of plot and comfortability of outcome, unadventuresome slumping to rest by people too overworked to care that there is supposed to be something more, better, for them. But none of this was an argument—these are all the obvious things, the things everyone knows because they're what we say about ourselves—D. and I were just feeling out the conversation. I gladly did my part to brush what we usually say about ourselves aside—noticing, as I did so, that because I had begun with 'us' and 'them', academics or intellectuals and 'everyone else' who happens or happened to watch TV (which is to say, everyone), I was trying to brush aside things framed as surmises about others, ordinary people, the (as they would be called by other people in a different time) masses.

I only realized later that a lot of what we had been talking about were explanations of why people do what they do, but explanations of a sort that I habitually rule out or ignore when I'm thinking about aesthetics (so that I forget they might end up setting the terms of conversation). Wittgensteinians will like to cite remarks about the difference between psychological explanations and efforts to clarify differences between concepts (ordering, organizing, surveying, seeking an overview) or the many efforts in the 'Lectures on Aesthetics' to exclude various irrelevant kinds of explanations of judgments of appropriateness or taste. I always found it tiresome to start there (though it is interesting that Wittgenstein spends a lot of time circling around first person–third person issues) and to have to go over the same ground again and again, so quite a while back I guess I stopped recalling that when philosophers talk about aesthetics they very much want to, or can't help but, get tangled up in questions about those sorts of explanations. I would rather get on to doing; to working with the concepts by means of which, in terms of which, what I take to be our real, or our best, interest in 'aesthetic phenomena' can find proper expression. (Inside the circle, not outside.)

So why did I forget that, or in preference of what did I forget it? I guess, thinking like a critic. Which means that there's a way (there are ways) of thinking like a critic whose effect is to order priorities, schedule questions, identify (if not specify completely or finally determine) regions in which things are obvious, relevant, unclear, interesting, to be taken for granted, in which may be found points from which to set out—which provide orientation. ('Regions', 'orientation': Kantian gestures in the background there.)

And terms; ways of talking.

23 Mar '13 08:26:30 AM

I'm a little surprised that Ted Cohen doesn't make anything out of the fact that jokes rely on premises—even when he's contrasting funny jokes to persuasive arguments.

23 Mar '13 08:18:56 AM

'There's No Free Laugh (Anymore)'

23 Mar '13 07:49:44 AM

'I draw your attention to differences and say: "Look how different these differences are!"'

23 Mar '13 04:51:50 AM

'time, no changes'

21 Mar '13 09:24:31 AM

'… well-wishers and help-seekers, deadbeats trying to be better and do-gooders that are falling behind…'

21 Mar '13 09:07:17 AM

'Genuine philosophy may begin in wonder, but it continues in reluctance.'

21 Mar '13 02:21:13 AM

… things so intelligible that laboring to render them legible seems outlandish…

20 Mar '13 10:14:55 PM

Saw a picture of Thomas Jefferson, thought for a sec it was Beyoncé. OK: I will bow down.