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

7 May '19 05:54:21 PM

'Communicating with the public is often seen, in the professionalized world of academic philosophy, as someone else's work.'

3 May '19 10:54:25 PM

One of Cavell's recurrent tactics is in use early in Part Four of Claim, in its second section. Having maneuvered a little bit to maintain that the Vorstellung of pain with which Wittgenstein contrasts various pictures (of behavior, of pain) in the passages of the Investigations around the parable of the boiling pot is being regarded there as part of a person's overall response to someone's expressions of pain, to their pain-behavior, to them, to their pain, Cavell comes to the point of contrasting his observations (a gathering of statements of the grammar of pain, let's say) with the words of the parable again. While 'seeing (or imagining) the steam' coming from the pot, or pictured pot, 'is enough', in the sense, he says, that 'we know what steam coming out of a pot means', he denies that the same is true with regard to 'the language-game with the word "pain"'. Rather, he withholds a full assertion that it is true:

'… there is a question whether, from time to time, we know what a piece of pain-behavior means. Not merely in the sense that this piece of behavior is, say, a wince, but that this wince is of suffering, means suffering. Whether, so to speak, we take in the fact that behavior gives (as words do) expression; whether we take in the fact that criteria are expressions' (p. 340)

It's not infrequently that at a key point in his discussions, Cavell will advert to some general lack of knowledge of some concept (equivalently, in his quasi-Austinian terms, [the reality of] some phenomenon), as if in justification of his subsequent treatment of us as yet in need of clarity about it. The tone of these references to our knowledge is generally skeptical, and invokes the kind of concrete failure to know that may or may not eventuate in a disastrous skeptical conclusion, but in the contexts in which Cavell makes the references it is not usually established that such a conclusion can even be well founded. The intended logic of the denials that we know, though, usually seems to involve a sidelong glance to Cavell's invocations of ideas like Investigations §371—'essence is expressed by grammar'—or §373—'grammar tells us what kind of object anything is', and along with those, the more Kantian (than Cartesian) sense that we may become entangled in perplexities with regard to our concepts (which to me recalls James Conant's analyses of the different forms of skepticism under investigation in Cavell's work).

As a license for subsequent discussions in Part Four, this particular denial can go a long way, as far apparently as Cavell will ever need. With the essential role of my own responsiveness already tucked into the discussion, a question about whether I know here and now that this behavior is 'of suffering, means suffering', is entangled with or inextricable from a question about how I respond to the suffering, how I show that I know, how I acknowledge the other; but then whether we 'take in the fact that behavior gives (as words do) expression', or 'take in the fact that criteria are expressions', is not just a matter of our knowing or affirming a truth of grammar, a principle, but also a matter of fully incorporating that fact, embodying it in how we respond, not just here and now, but here and there, over and over, in our lives. The way is open to suspecting or insisting that this is a fact that few 'take in' as perfectly or completely as they might. The way Cavell puts it soon after this point in the discussion is in terms of his programmatic reference to Investigations §283: 'Only of what behaves like a human being can one say that it has pains. For one has to say it of a body, or, if you like, of a soul which some body has'. Cavell's reformulation is reminiscent, to me, of the phrase from Spinoza that Deleuze likes to quote, about nobody knowing what a body can do: the knowledge of what pain-behavior means 'is only the knowledge that a body which exhibits pain(-behavior) is that of a live creature, a living being. Not to know this would be the same as not knowing what a body is' (p. 340). It will take him the rest of the book to find a way to state our (ordinary) condition with regard to that knowledge, I suppose one figured in the title of the final chapter: 'between acknowledgement and avoidance'.

3 May '19 09:26:51 PM

There's so much going on in Part Four of Claim of Reason that I've never fully considered what to make of the excessive four epigraphs to it—from Wordsworth, Yeats, Eliot, and Richards. The long quote from Eliot, from an essay on Blake, dwells on Blake and what makes him 'terrifying', his knowing what interests him and therefore presenting only the essential, 'only, in fact, what can be presented, and need not be explained'. This has always drawn my attention more than the start of the quote, about 'the eternal struggle of art against education':

'It is important that the artist should be highly educated in his own art; but his education is one that is hindered rather than helped by the ordinary processes of society which constitute education for the ordinary man. For these processes consist largely in the acquisition of impersonal ideas which obscure what we really are and really feel, what we really want, and what really excites our interest.'

The contrast to Richards' description of G.E. Moore in the next epigraph—'more interested in [the problem at hand] than, I think, I have ever seen anyone interested in anything'—evidently does a lot to suggest a subterranean dialectic for Part Four as a whole, given Cavell's use of a Moore-like 'lecturer' to perform the skeptical recital for the case of other-minds skepticism. But it also activates a contested sense in which 'the ordinary processes of society' constitute an education 'for the ordinary man' (an issue elevated to a sublime degree in Moore's work, let's say), so that, just like the concluding words of Part Four suggest, it's a traditional rivalry between philosophy and 'poetry' over everyday life that he has in mind. You could think, probably, of the shift to tragic and comic studies of skepticism, or of acknowledgement and its avoidance, into which Cavell tries to steer by the end of Part Four as presupposing the great pains he takes in 'The Avoidance of Love' to contrive a fragment of a reception-theory which would serve to focus critical attention as much as possible on de-impersonal-ized ideas of 'what we really are and really feel, what we really want, and what really excites our interest'.

Which is to say, as a fragment of an aesthetic theory, this contrivance would recognize that the artist's education in his art is not a straightforward liberation or exemption from the ordinary: for with his art he must make something accessible from within the conditions of the ordinary, and ideally something from which one could return, in an intelligible way, to the ordinary. Say, so that one has a way of making sense of the experience afforded by the artist's work.

(Competing senses of 'the impersonal' which each discipline's practitioners must work to personalize in their own ways. Suppose, though, that they might converge upon some model of attentiveness, consciousness of what one is saying and doing, doing and seeing.)

27 Apr '19 08:03:30 PM

Marshall Cohen on Cavell

27 Apr '19 07:45:03 PM

'Where is the missing literature of the 1780s?'

12 Apr '19 03:08:47 PM

'They have this fear that everything is being taken away.'

12 Apr '19 02:39:00 PM

'To begin one of his books can feel like entering a lecture that has already started.'

12 Apr '19 02:32:09 PM

Habermas as a historian of concepts

5 Apr '19 09:39:12 PM

‘"You give with one hand and take with the other!" Certainly, for I do not want to give anything to you, but only demonstrate giving and taking.’