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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1 Oct '03 06:02:44 AM

In Marcia's seminar I keep trying arguments, if they can be called that, that try to make both ethics and aesthetics ultimately social. They all seem to be, in spirit, kind of like the 'well what would aesthetics be if we didn't share art with others' deal below. So it occurs to me today upon rereading part of Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self that I may be able to fatten up my argument considerably. Early in the book he argues apparently casually but as far as I can tell at the moment convincingly that to be a self is always to be oriented toward some conception of the good, or some things equivalent to that. He opposes this view to the modern-ist (i.e. 'modern philosophy') view that he calls 'the punctual self', where basically the only essential thing about selves is self-consciousness. Social stuff gets added in later, but not successfully, ultimately, because the foundation - the self as simply a self-conscious thing - is too impoverished. Now, it seems to me that if Taylor can be so confident about an argument like that (he feels confident to me, at least), a similar approach to arguments about aesthetics should be easy to push. (The reason I wrote all this down is that, despite what I say here, there seems to be a great deal of resistance to say aesthetics conceptually grounded in something social.)

I suppose if I were better educated I would know if I was right to think that Taylor is throwing transcendental arguments around like crazy. I always thought they were kind of serious things. So blasé, philosophers.

30 Sep '03 07:37:35 AM

I put on Change today to walk to the coffeeshop. I hadn't played it in a while. Once the first song got going, it was as if it was fall 2001 again. Or rather, I felt like the me of fall 2001 again. The sort of thing that happens to me a lot, music or not, when I'm reminded of some time in the past, especially college or later. It's so strange. The feeling is so intangible, so vague, and yet it's always so definitely connected to a sense of my being in a particular time, and then less clearly, place.

Since I have begun reading Proust I would quote something pithy ('pithy: consisting of or abounding in pith') about involuntary memory here, but it's too late and I'm too tired to look it up. Madeleine this, madeleine that. Do your best to imagine it.

26 Sep '03 05:02:01 AM

Some stilted thoughts I've been returning to a lot lately:

If somebody gives me a theory of art and I can't immediately see where the people are, or what impact they have on the theory, then I can already tell that it will eventually disappoint me. I mean real people, meaning people who have relationships with other people, not all of whom are conceived of as essentially the same. If it's not social, it can't capture my experiences. It will fail.

The same is true of time. To look at one of the papers I typically have to read, you would think that there is no time.

It's reflexive to try to characterize art as essentially involving something aesthetic, something involving perception, perceptual experience - even if one is willing to admit that art may also be ethically valuable. The resulting conflict between ethics and aesthetics seems irresolvable.

Most concerns in ethics are immediately faced with the problem of all those people, again. However badly this has been handled, philosophers at least freely admit the people are there somewhere, before doing their best to get rid of them.

But the 'purely' aesthetic seems to me no less social, even if social in a different way. If I couldn't share my experiences with others, would they really be all that important to me?

25 Sep '03 06:21:10 AM

'Antithesis. - He who stands aloof runs the risk of believing himself better than others and misusing his critique of society as an ideology for his private interest. While he gropingly forms his own life in the frail image of a true existence, he should never forget its frailty, nor how little the image is a substitute for true life. Against such awareness, however, pulls the momentum of the bourgeois within him. The detached observer is as much entangled as the active participant; the only advantage of the former is insight into his entanglement, and the infinitesimal freedom that lies in knowledge as such. His own distance from business at large is a luxury which only that business confers. This is why the very movement of of withdrawal bears features of what it negates. It is forced to develop a coldness indistinguishable from that of the bourgeois. Even where it protests, the monadological principle conceals the dominant universal. Proust's observation that in photographs, the grandfather of a duke or of a middle-class Jew are so alike that we forget their difference of social rank, has a much wider application: the unity of an epoch objectively abolishes all the distinctions that constitute the happiness, even the moral substance, of individual existence. We record the decline of education, and yet our prose, measured against that of Jacob Grimm or Bachofen, has in common with the culture industry cadences unsuspected by us. Nor do we any longer have the same command of Latin and Greek as Wolf or Kirchoff. We point at the decline of civilization into illiteracy, and ourselves forget the art of letter-writing, or of reading a text from Jean Paul as it must have been read in his time. We shudder at the brutalization of life, but lacking any objectively binding morality we are forced at every step into actions and words, into calculations that are by humane standards barbaric, and even by the dubious values of good society, tactless. With the dissolution of liberalism, the truly bourgeois principle, that of competition, far from being overcome, has passed from the objectivity of the social process into the composition of its colliding and jostling atoms, and therewith as if into anthropology. The subjugation of life to the process of production imposes as a humiliation on everyone something of the isolation and solitude that we are tempted to regard as resulting from our own superior choice. It is as old a component of bourgeois ideology that each individual, in his particular interest, considers himself better than all others, as that he values the others, as the community of all customers, more highly than himself. Since the demise of the old bourgeois class, both ideas have led an after-life in the minds of intellectuals, who are at once the last enemies of the bourgeois and the last bourgeois. In still permitting themselves to think at all in the face of the naked reproduction of existence, they act as a privileged group; in letting matters rest there, they declare the nullity of their privilege. Private existence, in striving to resemble one worthy of man, betrays the latter, since any resemblance is withdrawn from general realization, which yet more than ever before has need of independent thought. There is no way out of entanglement. The only responsible course is to deny oneself the ideological misuse of one's own existence, and for the rest to conduct oneself in private as modestly, unobtrusively and unpretentiously as is required, no longer by good upbringing, but by the shame of still having air to breathe, in hell.'

- Adorno, Minima Moralia section 6

25 Sep '03 05:29:57 AM

The strangest thing (well, not really, unfortunately): in the earlier paragraphs of the paper I'm working on, I availed myself of the first person quite readily. But in the paragraphs where I'm doing something more like music criticism and less like philosophy (putatively), I'm trying to write around the 'I' but still trying to say things I want to say about me listening to records.

22 Sep '03 07:47:01 AM

Owing to recently won perspective ('won' appropriately enough applying to both struggles and prizes, that is, the earned and the gift) I can now better see why my failures to write are so trying - tonight, physically, mountingly so, my breathing restricted, muscles tensed, warm, sweating even. Why going forward, adding to something I've already put down (especially if I've left it for a day or more, thus the felt restriction to writing only what can be written all in one sitting), appears to be far worse than even a blank screen: language has its own logic, words leading to other words, phrases implying other phrases, calling for certain pictures, certain completions, blocking others. This logic is evident - it's all the ways I can't help but think, reading a passage. But it is rarely congenial to whatever I'm trying to write, where I am likely trying (hoping) to get the words run together in a certain way so that when I read them back to myself, I think (however temporarily) that I've said what I wanted to say, rather than said what the words I started with led me into saying. I'm working against that logic. Or, it's working against me. And when I come back to a piece of writing that I've left, even for a day, sometimes hours, when I no longer have some sense of the thought immediately at hand, I futilely try to get it back by reading over the words on the screen, in order to go from there. This hardly ever helps, because what I wanted to say was supposed to have been articulated in the entire (now unfinished) act of writing, by the whole complex of sentences, phrases, words - not by the mere concatenation of the separate sentences. It's when considered separately that they begin to lead by their own logic.

22 Sep '03 06:36:33 AM

'The afterlife of artworks, their reception as an aspect of their own history, transpires between a do-not-let-yourself-be-understood and a wanting-to-be-understood; this tension is the atmosphere inhabited by art.'

19 Sep '03 05:22:58 AM

'Perhaps he thinks of himself as a long-running going-out-of-business sale, and finds this funny.'

- Frank Kogan on Richard Rorty's inability to stop talking about the end of philosophy and get on with it already

19 Sep '03 04:53:19 AM

And from the draft introduction, p. 334:

'Hegel and Kant were the last who, to put it bluntly, were able to write major aesthetics without understanding anything about art.'