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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17 Jan '04 06:38:36 AM

Actually, that section deserves to be quoted in full, considering how discomfiting it is, coming from someone who professes to be so concerned with suffering and such.

§5 How nice of you, Doctor. - There is nothing innocuous left. The little pleasures, expressions of life that seemed exempt from the responsibility of thought, not only have an element of defiant silliness, of callous refusal to see, but directly serve their diametrical opposite. Even the blossoming tree lies the moment its bloom is seen without the shadow of terror; even the innocent 'How lovely!' becomes an excuse for an existence outrageously unlovely, and there is no longer beauty or consolation except in the gaze falling on horror, withstanding it, and in unalleviated consciousness of negativity holding fast to the possibility of what is better. Mistrust is called for in face of all spontaneity, impetuosity, all letting oneself go, for it implies pliancy toward the superior might of the existent. The malignant deeper meaning of ease, once confined to the toasts of conviviality, has long since spread to more appealing impulses. The chance conversation in the train, when, to avoid dispute, one consents to a few statements that one knows ultimately to implicate murder, is already a betrayal; no thought is immune against communication, and to utter it in the wrong place and in wrong agreement is enough to undermine its truth. Every visit to the cinema leaves me, against all my vigilance, stupider and worse. Sociability itself connives at injustice by pretending that in this chill world we can still talk to each other, and the casual, amiable remark contributes to perpetuating silence, in that the concessions made to the interlocutor debase him once more in the person of speaker. The evil principle that was always latent in affability unfurls its full bestiality in the egalitarian spirit. Condescension, and thinking oneself no better, are the same. To adapt to the weakness of the oppressed is to affirm it in the pre-condition of power, and to develop in oneself the coarseness, insensibility, and violence needed to exert domination. If, in the latest phase, the condescending gesture has been dropped and only the adaptation remains visible, this perfect screening of power only allows the class-relationship it denies to triumph more implacably. For the intellectual, inviolable isolation is now the only way of showing some measure of solidarity. All collaboration, all the human worth of social mixing and participation, merely masks a tacit acceptance of inhumanity. It is the sufferings of men that should be shared: the smallest step towards their pleasures is one towards the hardening of their pains.

17 Jan '04 06:26:25 AM

Given how self-effacing Adorno's writing is, I was surprised to find him referring to himself in §5 of Minima Moralia. And I can't even figure out why the aberration, now.

'Every visit to the cinema leaves me, against all my vigilance, stupider and worse.'

16 Jan '04 11:46:05 AM

And I don't mean the grunting.

16 Jan '04 11:45:55 AM

Oh, god, shut up already Glenn Gould.

16 Jan '04 11:45:11 AM

Maryann says she thinks maybe criticism exists to help you stop being thrilled by literature. There is a very deep and unnerving truth hiding in there, somewhere.

16 Jan '04 10:48:45 AM

Some nights I'm just so tempted to take this whole fucking thing down.

16 Jan '04 09:51:09 AM

Today, if I can remember all of them:

Bill Evans / Sunday at the Village Vanguard
the new Stereolab
Sonic Youth / Dirty
Stereolab / Transient Random etc
Jay-Z / The Blueprint
the new(ish) Stereolab EP
Herbert / Around the House
Glenn Gould's '81 'Goldberg Variations'
something yet to be decided

15 Jan '04 10:47:50 AM

(Oho. I almost edited the typo in that last entry, but then I remembered my broken post-editor that dribbles duplicates in its wake.)

The idea, I think, is that if I make these lists for long enough, eventually I'll get sick of it and start actually writing about the records in order to stave off boredom and pointlessness.

Stereolab / Margerine Eclipse
Stereolab / Margerine Eclipse
Einstürzende Neubauten / Silence is Sexy
some Bill Evans thing I haven't been able to find yet

Word used to describe new Stereolab today: 'boobling' (v).

15 Jan '04 10:41:18 AM

Ermanno Bencivenga further erodes my resistance to reading the first Critique, in 'Philosophy One and Two' from his Looser Ends: The Practice of Philosophy:

'To begin to see what I mean, suppose that your polemical objective is a philosopher who has argued that a class of statements that we ordinarily, in our everyday life, take as true are really impossible. For example, we ordinarily assume (the truth of the statement) that we know of the existence of certain causal connections, but Hume comes along and argues that such knowledge is impossible, that we can never legitimately claim that we have a successful epistemic relation with a causal statement. Or, alternatively, we ordinarily assume that we are free, in at least some limited area of our activity, but d'Holbach or some other mechanist philosopher comes along and argues that such freedom is impossible, that insofar as we are part of a deterministic world (which, for the sake of argument, we might assume we are), the determinants of any (alleged) action of ours are always to be found in a causal network which ultimately extends far beyond the spatiotemporal scope of our life. Then you might conceive of the following philosophical project. Let us accept the challenge that Hume and d'Holbach implicitly make and argue not for the reality of knowledge or freedom, but, rather, for their possibility. The success of this project would not in any way found or ground our ordinary judgments of knowledge or freedom, but would at least allow us to defend those ordinary judgments against the "scandal" of a philosophy that claims their illegitimacy. And how can you argue for the possibility, not the reality or the truth, of a statement or a class of statements? A natural strategy would seem to be that of telling a coherent story that includes such a statement or class of statements, or, less provocatively put, that of characterizing a model of the statement or class of statements in question, a way in which the world could be to make that statement or class of statements true. On the face of it, you should be able to successfully pursue this strategy without abandoning a purely conceptual level of reflection, since what you need to know in order to tell your story is not, say, what objects or causal connections there really are (which you could only know from experience), but at most what it is to be an object or a causal connection.

With an important qualification to be made later, I think that this is essentially Kant's project. But, as I said, I do not want to make historical points here; rather, I want to use the suggestion provided by (my understanding of) Kant to make some theoretical points. The first of these points is as follows. Systematic philosophy is usually identified with an attempt at founding or grounding some belief(s) or practice(s), in the sense of showing their logical or metaphysical "necessity." And usually, the skeptic is seen as the opponent of the systematic philosopher, the spoiler of systematic projects. But, in fact, (many) skeptics have something in common with (virtually all) systematic philosophers, insofar as they want to establish the impossibility of some belief(s) or practice(s). To begin with a trivial logical point, an impossibility is after all a necessity (of the negation). And to show the significance of the logical point, what this means is that the success of many skeptical, as well as of virtually all systematic, philosophical projects would claim to have a vast impact on ordinary, everyday life, though, of course, a very different impact in the two cases: in the latter, usually, the effect would be that of providing ordinary life with a solid rational assurance, whereas in the former the effect would be a challenging, revisionary one. Once this similarity is appreciated, the suggestion may surface of conceiving yet another philosophical activity, one that has absolutely no interest in neccessities of this sort. It is this suggestion that Kant is offering when he characterizes the main aim of the Critique as that of establishing how synthetic a priori judgments are possible. Here is how I would flesh it out.

There are two ways of doing philosophy. For the sake of labels, we might call them the philosophy of necessity and the philosophy of possibility. The philosophy of necessity tends to reduce the number of alternatives to be considered in a rational approach to the world by showing the impossibility (that is, the irrationality) of certain alternatives and thereby establishing the necessity of (the disjunction of) the alternatives left. If the (possibly degenerate) disjunction a given philosopher of necessity argues for includes (the statement of) some ordinary belief or some ordinary practice, the philosopher may be construed as attempting to give a rational foundation to that belief or practice; otherwise, he may be construed as adopting a revisionary attitude with respect to them. The philosophy of possiblity, on the other hand, tendsd to extend the number of alternatives to be considered. It does not either question or try to legitimize ordinary beliefs or practices; at mst, it can be construed as trying to protect them from the attacks of some philosophers of necessity.

The philosophy of necessity is also a philosophy of coercion, which tries to set limits to our conceptual framework. The philosophy of possibility is also a liberating philosophy, which tries to break open any limits our conceptual framework might be construed as having. The main instrument of the philosophy of necessity is an argument or proof from a set of (assertoric) premises to a(n assertoric) conclusion; if such an argument is accepted, then a necessary link is established between premises and conclusion, and one avenue of thought is sealed off, the one including the premises and the negation of the conclusion. The main instrument of the philosophy of possibility is a story, or, described more respectfully, a theory or model, which tries to show that a certain avenue of thought is coherent by articulating it in a plausible way. If we want, we can see such a story as an argument, not, however, one with an assertoric conclusion, but one with a problematic conclusion of the form 'It is possible that p.'

Traditionally, the methodology (though not necessarily the aim) of the philosophy of possibility was appropriated by the skeptics, who reacted to alleged natural or logical necessities by cooking up the wildest hypotheses on how the world could be. To my knowledge, Kant was the first to realize that the method of the skeptics could be put to a nonskeptical use, so long as one gave up on the attempt to legitimize ordinary practice and rested content with resisting (philosophical) threats to its coherence. The obsession of analytic philosophers with arguments is a good indication that most of their professional activities fall within the scope of the philosophy of necessity, and hence that (if I am right in my interpretation) they are probably going to be at a loss in understanding Kant and in pursuing the suggestions of a different philosophical practice that are implicit in his work. The conflicting uses of the phrases 'transcendental argument' and 'transcendental proof' signalled above are a tip of this iceberg of misunderstanding: whereas Kant's non-negative uses of such phrases seem to to refer to solutions of a possibility problem, and hence to stories, his analytic critics use them to refer to (attempted) refutations of the skeptic. No wonder that they find so few such refutations successful!'