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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12 Nov '04 08:00:00 AM

Also: one of the employees at Booksmart, talking to one of the other employees (were the ten employees really necessary?), pronounced 'Wittgenstein' in the naive but perfectly understandable American way, with a 'wuh' sound. This I have grown to accept without disdain; feeling at all better because I knew the 'right' way to say it was really only inescapable when I was, say, 20. And yet: book nerd girl did pronounce it correctly, which I was happy to treat, in my elaborate internal accounting scheme, as a sign of her fated perfect suitability to be mine.

Oh, that's just exaggeration. I know full well that the way I took it was with a momentary flash of that strangely chaste lust that goes along with glasses, awkward haircuts, headphones, and the over-idealized hopes of living out our advanced years in some sort of union of the minds, with dirty nasty fucking conveniently left implicit so as not to ruin the ideality of it all.

There is no internal accounting scheme. Just the passing lusts, dreams.

12 Nov '04 07:49:04 AM

As if the offputting lack of definition regarding newness were not enough, Magers & Quinn puts on the fronts of their books price tags of the sort normally put on the backs of books. Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one who pays attention to the rules anymore?

12 Nov '04 07:44:27 AM

It seems I've been weeks at doing nothing but grading papers; walking to and from various buses and places to be in between the buses; not seeing my friends; making furtive glances at unapproachable baristas between papers. This afternoon, finally, there was what felt like a real gap, so for lack of anything better to do, or the ability to be satisfied with not 'doing' anything, I made my way to uptown and methodically down the row of bookstores on Hennepin. Every bookstore is dissatisfying and disappointing in its own ways. Booksmart has satisfying fiction and poetry sections (well, at least for now - I use up bookstores so that they need time to change and grow before I am able to find interest in them again), but it has a lonely, mercenary quality. Even when full of customers. Also: overpriced. Magers & Quinn is too ambiguous. Even though I find plenty of what I conceive of as 'new books' there (a distinction that has more to do with the contents of the books than their history of use, even if it includes any book written as long ago as I feel like), everything always feels old. The stock changes slowly (though, to be fair: the four copies of Derrida's Glas that were there a few months ago finally moved, somewhere). The Borders in Calhoun Square loses, today, for having no fucking Ishmael Reed in stock, at all. Zzzt. Being that bookstores serve an important function in my ongoing efforts to enjoy the soporific benefits of consumer culture, it is all the more important that they be able to meet my most capricious and fleeting desires and demands. This is not to say that they did not, sort of, tonight. In Booksmart I found a copy of the 1976 Mindful Pleasures: Essays on Thonmas Pynchon, and a slightly too long chat about Pynchon with the cashier, the latter of which was not especially pleasing on a phatic level but which gave me the third reminder this week that I am far more invested in, and conversant with, Gravity's Rainbow than I usually give myself credit for being (which is not to say I don't). In Magers & Quinn I found the Cambridge edition of Nietzsche's Untimely Meditations, Hannah Pitkin's Wittgenstein and Justice (which Stanley Cavell notes, in the preface to The Claim of Reason, 'contains a substantial idea' of that book - Pitkin having enjoyed first publication since she was drawing on Cavell's unpublished dissertation as one of his students), and also: a book nerd girl with an endearing smile that made me feel more confident and cheery than usual, at least for a few minutes after I left the store and stood waiting to cross the street. (Lately I've been thinking a lot about a point Felicity once made to me. She had been idly staring at someone or other during her bar review classes. But she declined to do anything about her mostly insignificant interest in this person (mostly totally down to what she could see, of course) because, as she said, he was serving his purpose perfectly well. Hello, coffeeshop counter girls around the world.) One more thing, too, perhaps even more valuable a find ('find') than the friendly smile: a momentary modicum of financial responsibility - I had two more books (a paperback of Beckett's unpublished first - and I mean first - novel Dream of Fair to Middling Women, and an extra copy of V. that I didn't really need even if mine is old-stiff and vaguely waterlogged, as it was whenever I acquired it) and I put them back. Which is just as well, because in the Borders I picked up Annie Hall and Miller's Crossing. And not the aforementioned fucking Ishmael Reed.

I told myself, a couple of hours ago, self, you're never going to get any of your feelings or thoughts back out here on the screen if you don't let yourself start thinking of this more like a diary again. Fine, diary.

12 Nov '04 05:36:30 AM

'... as a sample goes on an old Public Enemy record you probably never heard'

12 Nov '04 05:31:00 AM

Love from Plum Drank.

9 Nov '04 03:13:57 AM

These are some notes for my own use later, on what Stanley Cavell says in The Claim of Reason about Wittgenstein's notion of a criterion.

Cavell takes Wittgenstein's notion to be dependent on (at least as far as its intelligibility goes?) the ordinary notion of a criterion; he surveys some real-world sources and comes up with seven elements functioning in the ordinary notion:

1. source of authority
2. authority's mode of acceptance
3. epistemic goal
4. candidate object or phenomenon
5. status concept
6. epistemic means (specification of criteria)
7. degree of satisfaction (standards or tests for applying #6)

The examples that I'm not reproducing here are helpful, but this will have to do: 'on this lay-out, criteria are specifications a given person or group sets up on the basis of which (by means of, in terms of which) to judge (assess, settle) whether something has a particular status or value' (from p. 9).

The interest in Cavell's point about the relation of Wittgenstein's criteria to the ordinary notion of a criterion comes when we observe the discrepancies or disanalogies between the two:

1. The criteria Wittgenstein appeals to never admit of a separate stage where one might, explicitly or implicitly, appeal to the application of standards; the question is simply, do the criteria apply or not? If there's doubt about it, the case is non-standard and we have no decisive criteria for it. (This is by itself interesting, and doesn't necessarily call for any sort of scramble for new criteria or reformulation of the existing ones.) [p. 13]

2. Whereas ordinary criteria apply to objects that somehow obviously call for evaluation or assessment, or a determination or settling of status or rank, Wittgenstein's apply to ordinary objects and concepts. Cavell's non-exhaustive list of examples:

whether someone has a toothache
... is sitting in a chair
... is of an opinion
... is expecting someone between 4 and 4:30
... was able to go on but no longer is
... is reading, thinking, believing, hoping, informing, following a rule
whether it's raining
whether someone is talking to himself
... attending to a shape or color
whether he means to be doing something
whether what he does is for him done as a matter of course

(A very significant passage follows here, that I haven't tried to get down the details about; for now it will have to suffice to note that Cavell takes this to be a sign that, to put it one of many ways, statements of fact and judgments of value rest on the same human capacities.)

3. The authority (see element #1 above) for the criteria Wittgenstein appeals to is always 'us', or (and I am slightly uncomfortable that Cavell is so quick to make this move) the human being generally. This point is one to which he raises some worries that for him get to the distinctive features of ordinary language philosophy; I have quoted one of his responses to these worries before.

The second worry ('if I am supposed to have been party to the criteria we have established, how can I fail to know what these are; and why do I not recognize the fact that I have been engaged in so extraordinary an enterprise?') is perhaps my best chance to bring this piece of Cavell's writing together with other things he has written, about the problems posed by modern art. In that case, one of the problems is that 'we haven't got clear criteria for determining whether a given object is or is not a painting, a sculpture [he might have added: music]'.

I want to bring these problems together so that I can take advantage of his thoughts on ordinary language philosophy - on appeals to 'what we say' as certain kinds of searches for community - in order to get any kind of understanding of how to let the stylistic, rhetorical, and formal features of philosophical writing (particularly Wittgenstein's) matter. And by 'matter' I mean, have philosophical import that is recognized on more than an individual basis.

8 Nov '04 07:55:16 AM

Something said here (which I linked to a bit ago regarding 'Mo Money, Mo Problems') about 'I Got A Story To Tell' gave me pause the first time I read it, but I couldn't figure out what my problem was until I went back to listen to the song. The author says that he's taking out 'about a minute of the overlong fade-out' since in his version of the record the song no longer comes at the end of a disc. I couldn't make sense of what he meant by 'overlong fade-out' until I realized he didn't mean the actual fade-out, that starts about 15 seconds before the end of the track, but the final part of the track - about two minutes of the total 4:43 - where Big re-tells the story that makes up the first part of the track. The song is perhaps slightly misleading about this, because at first it sounds (it sounded to me, for a long time) like Big finishes his verses, then they let the beat ride for this long stretch (which never bothered me - nothing long with letting the beat go for a while, especially at the end of a record) while there's some verite-style dialogue mixed low enough relative to the verses to kind of seem like background. But I think it would be a mistake to ignore that part of the song, and especially to cut it.

More on why later. I hope.

6 Nov '04 02:54:02 AM

Note on the back of Corporate Ghost, Sonic Youth's Geffen-era video collection:

'SY's pre-sellout "independent" videography forthcoming'

3 Nov '04 11:51:37 PM