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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9 Jan '04 11:07:32 AM

Ron Silliman is reading Proust one sentence a night. I would like to say that I would try this just to see how it can be other than totally agonizing (kind of like eating a pie one bite a day, or better yet, fucking one, er, fuck? per day). But after just one sentence like this one the pull is too much and I have to keep going, which is probably why I haven't touched Swann's Way in weeks:

'Finally, continuing to trace from the inside outwards these states simultaneously juxtaposed in my consciousness, and before reaching the horizon of reality which enveloped them, I discover pleasures of another kind, those of being comfortably seated, of sniffing the fragrance of the air, of not being disturbed by any visitor, and, when an hour chimed from the steeple of Saint-Hilaire, of seeing what was already spent of the afternoon fall drop by drop until I heard the last stroke which enabled me to add up the total, after which the long silence that followed seemed to herald the beginning, in the blue sky above me, of all that part of the day that still remained to me for reading, until the good dinner which Françoise was even now preparing and which would strengthen and refresh me after the strenuous pursuit of the hero through the pages of my book.'

(The prize is 'of not being disturbed by any visitor'. Of course.)

9 Jan '04 10:54:06 AM

Today's listening:

Group Home / Livin' Proof
Mobb Deep / The Infamous
Bill Evans / Portrait in Jazz
Miles Davis / Birth of the Cool
Mobb Deep / The Infamous
Low / The Curtain Hits the Cast
Steve Reich / Music for 18 Musicians

9 Jan '04 10:43:55 AM

Today's listening:

Group Home / Livin' Proof
Mobb Deep / The Infamous
Bill Evans / Portrait in Jazz
Miles Davis / Birth of the Cool
Mobb Deep / The Infamous
Low / The Curtain Hits the Cast

8 Jan '04 11:07:55 AM

I wonder if the sample of 'we real cool' on this Group Home record really is Gwendolyn Brooks reading 'We Real Cool'. I'm going to pretend that it is even if it's not, though, so I suppose it doesn't really matter.

8 Jan '04 10:49:36 AM

Also, the date at the top of each entry here now includes the year, which may be helpful when searching or just paging through the archives.

8 Jan '04 10:22:45 AM

ellipsis was down for upgrading. Some things broke in the process, but they should be fixed now. If you see something that seems broken, tell me.

6 Jan '04 08:24:04 AM

Gff's lyric of the day:

bounce, bitch

6 Jan '04 08:22:26 AM

I could've sworn I typed this shit in before but I can't find it anywhere. More Cavell, same essay, from the final section, 'The Style of the Investigations':

'I mentioned, at the beginning of this paper, the surface difficulties one has in approaching the writings of Wittgenstein. His literary style has achieved both high praise and widespread alarm. Why does he write that way? Why doesn't he just say what he means, and draw instead of insinuate conclusions? The motives and methods of his philosophizing, as I have been sketching at them, suggest answers to these questions which I want, in conclusion, to indicate.[1]

The first thing to be said in accounting for his style is that he writes: he does not report, he does not write up results. Nobody would forge a style so personal who had not wanted and needed to find the right expression for his thought. The German dissertation and the British essay - our most common modern options for writing philosophy - would not work; his is not a system and he is not a spectator. My suggestion is that the problem of style is set for him by the two aspects of his work which I have primarily emphasized: the lack of existing terms of criticism, and the method of self-knowledge.[2]

In its defense of truth against sophistry, philosophy has employed the same literary genres as theology in its defense of the faith: against intellectual competition, Dogmatics; against Dogmatics, the Confession; in both, the Dialogue.[3] Inaccessible to the dogmatics of philosophical criticism, Wittgenstein chose confession and recast his dialogue. It contains what serious confessions must: the full acknowledgement of temptation ("I want to say..."; "I feel like saying..."; "Here the urge is strong...") and a willingness to correct them and give them up ("In the everyday use..."; "I impose a requirement which does not meet my real need"). (The voice of temptation and the voice of correctness are antagonists in Wittgenstein's dialogues.) In confessing you do not explain or justify, but describe how it is with you. And confession, unlike dogma, is not to be believed but tested, and accepted or rejected. Nor is it the occasion for accusation, except of yourself, and by implication those who find themselves in you. There is exhortation ("Do not say: 'There must be something common... but look and see...'" (sec. 66)) not to belief, but to self-scrutiny. And that is why there is virtually nothing in the Investigations which we should ordinarily call reasoning: Wittgenstein asserts nothing which could be proved, for what he asserts is either obvious (sec. 126) - whether true or false - or else concerned with what conviction, whether by proof or evidence or authority, would consist in. Otherwise there are questions, jokes, parables, and propositions so striking (the way lines are in poetry) that they stun mere belief. (Are we asked to believe that "if a lion could talk we could not understand him"? (II, p. 223)) Belief is not enough. Either the suggestion penetrates past assessment and becomes a part of the sensibility from which assessment proceeds, or it is philosophically useless.

Such writing has its risks: not merely the familiar ones of inconsistency, unclarity, empirical falsehood, unwarranted generalization, but also of personal confusion, with its attendant dishonesties, and of the tyrrany which subjects the world to one's personal problems. The assessment of such failures will exact criticism at which we are unpracticed.

In asking for more than belief it invites discipleship, which runs its own risks of dishonesty and hostility. But I do not see that the faults of explicit discipleship are more dangerous than the faults which come from subjection to modes of thought and sensibility whose origins are unseen or unremembered and which therefore create a different blindness inaccessible in other ways to cure. Between control by the living and control by the dead there is nothing to choose.

Because the breaking of such control is a constant purpose of the later Wittgenstein, his writing is deeply practical and negative, the way Freud's is. And like Freud's therapy, it wishes to prevent understanding which is unaccompanied by inner change. Both of them are intent upon unmasking the defeat of our real need in the face of self-impositions which we have not assessed (sec. 108), or fantasies ("pictures") which we cannot escape (sec. 115). In both, such misfortune is betrayed in the incongruence between what is said and what is meant or expressed; for both, the self is concealed in assertion and action and revealed in temptation and wish. Both thought of their negative soundings as revolutionary extensions of our knowledge, and both were obsessed by the idea, or fact, that they would be misunderstood - partly, doubtless, beccause they knew the taste of self-knowledge, that it is bitter. It will be time to blame them for taking misunderstanding by their disciples as personal betrayal when we know that the ignorance of oneself is a refusal to know.'

[1]: 'Wittgenstein speaks of this as a problem in his preface to the Investigations.'

[2]: 'Perhaps another word will make clearer what I mean by "terms of criticism." Wittgenstein opens the Investigations (and the Brown Book) by quoting a passage from Augustine's Confessions in which he describes the way he learned to speak. Wittgenstein finds this important but unsatisfactory. Is there any short way of answering the question: What does Wittgenstein find wrong with it? (Does it commit a well-known fallacy? Is it a case of hasty generalization? Empirical falsehood? Unverifiable?)'

[3]: 'The significance of the fact that writing of all kinds (not just "literature") is dependent, in structure and tone and effect, on a quite definite (though extensive) set of literary forms or genres is nowhere to my knowledge so fully made out as in Northrup Frye's Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957); the small use I have made of it here hardly suggests the work it should inspire. More immediately I am indebted to Philip Rieff's introduction to the Beacon Press edition of Adolf Harnack's Outlines of the History of Dogma (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957), and to the reference to Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics cited by Rieff.'

6 Jan '04 07:56:22 AM

It irritates me that in order to find out how Cavell reads Wittgenstein, I have to read 500 pages of Cavell on the problem of skepticism. In a cruel irony for a philosopher sitting in an analytically-dominated department, the problem of skepticism is way up high on the list of things that give me narcosleepy.

Anyway, here's Cavell from 'The Availability of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy':

'If the little I have said makes plausible the idea that the question "How do we know what we say (intended to say, wish to say)?" is one aspect of the general question "What is the nature of self-knowledge?" then we will realize that Wittgenstein has not first "accepted" or "adopted" a method and then accepted its results, for the nature of self-knowledge - and therewith the nature of the self - is one of the great subjects of the Investigations as a whole.

It is also one of the hardest regions of the Investigations to settle with any comfort. One reason for that, I think, is that so astonishingly little exploring of the nature of self-knowledge has been attempted in philosophical writing since Bacon and Locke and Descartes prepared the habitation of the new science. Classical epistemology has concentrated on the knowledge of objects (and, of course, of mathematics), not on the knowledge of persons. That is, surely, one of the striking facts of modern philosophy as a whole, and its history will not be understood until some accounting of that fact is rendered.* In a smart attack on the new philosophy, Russell suggests that its unconcern with the methods and results of modern science betrays its alienation from the original and continuing source of philosophical inspiration. "Philosophers from Thales onward have tried to understand the world" (My Philosophical Development, New York, 1959, p. 230). But philosophers from Socrates onward have (sometimes) also tried to understand themselves, and found in that both the method and goal of philosophizing. It is a little absurd to go on insisting that physics provides us with knowledge of the world which is of the highest excellence. Surely the problems we face now are not the same ones for which Bacon and Galileo caught their chills. Our intellectual problems (to say no more) are set by the very success of those deeds, by the plain fact that the measures which soak up knowledge of the world leave us dryly ignorant of ourselves. Out problem is not that we lack adequate methods for acquiring knowledge of nature, but that we are unable to prevent our best ideas - including our ideas about our knowledge of nature - from becoming ideologized. Our incapacity here results not from the supposed fact that ordinary language is vague; to say so is an excuse for not recognizing that (and when) we speak vaguely, imprecisely, thoughtlessly, unjustly, in the absence of feeling, and so forth.'

[*] 'Bernard Williams, in a review of Stewart Hampshire's Thought and Action in Encounter, XV (Nov., 1960), 38-42, suggests one important fact about what I have, parochially, called "modern philosophy" (by which I meant the English and American academic traditions, beginning with Descartes and Locke and never domesticating Hegel and his successors) which, I think, is related to its unconcern with the knowledge of persons and in particular with self-knowledge; viz., its neglect of history as a form of human knowledge.'