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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24 May '04 06:54:16 AM

The great danger for scholars. - It is precisely the ablest and most thoroughgoing scholars who are in danger of seeing their life set narrower and narrower limits and, in the feeling that this is so, of becoming in the second half of their life more and more disgruntled and intolerant. At first they swim into their science with wide hopes and apportion themselves bolder tasks whose goals they sometimes already anticipate in their imagination: then there are moments such as occur in the life of the great discovering sea-voyagers - knowledge, presentiment and strength raise one another even higher, until a new distant coast dawns upon the eye. Now, however, the rigorous man recognizes more clearly year by year how vital it is that the individual items of research should be as circumscribed as possible so that they can be resolved without remainder and that unendurable squandering of energy avoided from which earlier periods of science suffered: every task is done ten times, and then the eleventh still offers the best result. But the more the scholar gets to know and practise this resolving of riddles without remainder the greater will be his pleasure in it: but the strictness of his demands in regard to that which is here called 'without remainder' will likewise increase. He sets aside everything that must in this sense remain incomplete, he acquires a repugnance and a keen nose for the half-resolvable - for everything that can yield a kind of certainty only in a general and more indefinite sense. The plans of his youth collapse before his eyes: all that remains of them is the merest few knots in the unknotting of which the master now takes pleasure and demonstrates his power. And now, in the midst of all this useful and restless activity, the older man is suddenly and then repeatedly assailed by a profound disgruntlement, by a kind of torment of conscience: he gazes upon himself as upon one transformed, as though he had been diminished, debased, changed into a skillful dwarf; he is harassed by the thought of whether his mastery in small things is not a piece of indolence, an evasion of the admonition to greatness in living and working. But he can no longer attain it - the time has gone by.

23 May '04 07:04:30 AM

'Here I would like to make a general observation concerning the nature of philosophical problems. Lack of clarity in philosophy is tormenting. It is felt as shameful. We feel: we do not know our way about where we should know our way about. And nevertheless it isn't so. We can get along very well without these distinctions and without knowing our way about here.'

22 May '04 08:25:49 PM

By chance I met Amy and Clancy last night at the Dinkytowner (which for some reason was playing drum and bass at body-churning volume, adding another layer of confusion to the place's already confusing character). They're both students in the rhetoric department, which is exciting for me since I talk about rhetoric a lot but don't actually know anything respectable about it and probably should before I start writing my dissertation. Speaking of which, Clancy has an essay that frames the problem of rhetorical persuasion in a helpful way.

22 May '04 09:33:06 AM

Recently while reading in Williams' Collected Poems I found a single poem (in the first volume, circa 1920?) with non-standard punctuation - for one thing, there was extra space between the ends of lines and the periods. In an editorial note, MacGowan says the poem was left unaltered in order to provide an example of Williams' idiosyncratic punctuation, which was usually cleaned up by journal editors and such before submitted poems were printed. This isn't quite the same sort of thing as the later double dots, but it's clearly related. Unless I run across another editorial note, I have no way of knowing whether the double dots appeared earlier than I previously noted, but were excised upon original publication, much like the unusual spacing of periods was. I would hope that the loss of actual ink on the page was considered more serious than the loss of whitespace (though of course both are terrible losses etc.).

21 May '04 07:34:37 PM

Maybe the reason I don't care that Sonic Youth's lyrics can be sometimes embarrassingly dumb is that they still make me feel things, but what things, I don't know; in that they complement the music, made as it is out of sounds I was never necessarily taught to hear as this or that emotion.

20 May '04 05:57:54 AM

John Crowe Ransom's back-cover blurb is slightly backhanded:

'Pound's Cantos is a modern classic that everybody has to know.'

19 May '04 05:17:19 AM

Are there ever any ugly girls in Kierkegaard?

11 May '04 09:10:20 PM

Some paragraphs of Charles Bernstein reminiscent of an entry of mine of last August:

'In some sense these are just issues of style; a style is chosen and it is not to the point simply to be evaluative about which is best intrinsically. But to acknowledge that there are philosophical assumptions that underlie given stylistic practices - assumptions about the nature of reason, objects, the world, persons, morality, justice. At a certain historical moment certain paths were chosen as to the style that would express a quasiscientific voice of reason and authority - even though, as Thomas Kuhn points out in The Structures of Scientific Revolution, this "normal" science language cannot account for paradigm shifts central to scientific progress - a voice that was patriarchal, monologic, authoritative, impersonal. The predominance of this authoritative plain style (taught in such guides as Strunk and White) and its valorization as a picture of clarity and reason is a relatively recent phenomenon and its social meaning will no doubt be clarified by a careful tracing of its origins that would be a central project for the historian of social forms. Morris Croll has elucidated an earlier stage of these developments in his account of the rise of the Anti-Ciceronian prose style in the late 16th century, a development in some ways paralleling such current critiques as this one of contemporary expository forms, in its rejection of a static predetermined formality and its attempt "to portray not a thought, but a mind thinking." Montaigne most clearly exemplifies this movement, especially in terms of his methodological awareness of the implications of style: "I stray from the path, but it is rather by licence than oversight. My ideas follow each other, but sometimes it is at a distance, and they look at each other, but with an oblique gaze. . . . It is the lazy reader who loses track of the subject, not I. . . . I keep changing without constraint or order. My style and my mind both go a-vagabonding. . . . I mean that my matter should distinguish itself. It shows sufficiently where it changes, where it ends, where begins, where resumes, without interlacing of words, of conjunctions, or connectives introduced for weak or negligent ears, and without glossing myself."'

'This understanding [of the social meanings of styles and modes] should lead to a very acute sense of the depletion of styles and tones in the public realm of factual discourse, including in professional philosophy and the academy in general, but also newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV. Indeed, even within the predominant styles of contemporary philosophy, few of the tones and moods that potentially exist within the chosen style are utilized to any extent. Indeed, the only significant alternative to the neutral-toned plain style of most philosophical writing of the present time is the weightier tone of judiciousness; but rarely whimsical tones or angry, or befuddled or lethargic or ironic, as if these tones were moods that have been banished, realms of human experience thus systematically untouchable. Not only is the question of method suppressed, but even the possibilities of tone within the style are reduced!'

11 May '04 03:37:48 AM

'The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.'