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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10 Aug '03 10:26:56 AM

One problem among many I've been tangled up in this summer is the long-standing one, getting myself to write. Or, rendering myself able to write. Or, uh, writing. Obviously I could use some of this rendering on this page, but it's much more urgent that I write papers for my exam next month.

One piece of advice I've found particularly helpful came from Mark, who said that answering this question is often fruitful: 'why is this making me write so badly?'. One answer (there are many) at the time (and most of the time, really) was: because it makes me think I have to write in a certain way to respond to it or write about it, 'it' being James Edwards' book Ethics Without Philosophy. The problem extends to most philosophy that I read in my classes because stylistically, and formally, it's all pretty much similar, and calls forth the primal essay-writing guidelines that were imprinted on me at a young age (but which I never even fucking had to use, so why is this a problem, god dammit?!) - and then organization and clarity and robot-dumb hand-holding and fill phrases like 'it is obvious' and 'later I will show' quickly overwhelm my ability to express my thoughts. This was never a problem for me in the past because I just wrote down clear, reasonable, interesting arguments, and teachers are pushovers for those, especially next to some undergraduate writing. But the arguments got harder, and my inclinations became more cussed, and it stopped coming easily. Worse, somehow I developed my own personal style further while simultaneously becoming more aware of, and more anxious about conforming to, 'the style that papers are written in'. So, the answer to Mark's question is often for me that my subject matter and my venue make me believe that I am locked into a certain style of writing that I then resist with every resource I have available, the most deadly of which are perfectionism and aestheticism ('I can't write it down until I know exactly what I want to say'; 'I can't write it like this, it's correct but it's totally dreadful'). And one thing I've done to solve this problem is simply to write my papers exactly in the style ('the'?) of my entries here, which is to say, however the fuck I want, and with lots of commas, colons, dashes, lists, precariously adjoined appositive phrases and clauses, disregard for ignorance (which at its extreme is: I know this and you don't, therefore you are ignorant, go look it up if it's so fucking important to you), discomfort and avoision ('foilage') of formal trappings and integrated quoting (which often thus means no quotes at all for these papers), and uh all the rest of you know my stuff. Only without superfluous references ('avoision') that will confuse or irritate or please my readers, a certain level of uh real world speech plasticity to the uh writing ('uh'), and uh that's about all I've got, right now. Oh, and since these papers are so much longer than blog entries, there is some opposition generated merely by the fact of my having to construct longer chains of thought. I have had some success at dealing with that by simply writing outlines and then writing blog entries for the parts of the outline - and not writing the next one until I can see how to write it without any of that annoying connective information that isn't just implied by the forward motion of the content of the writing.

Another important response to this same problem: I sit and try to write to the point of a section of the paper, but off of the top of my head - which is how I write blog entries, on the spot, no notes, no preparation (for the most part) except for thinking and living. Various amounts of on-the-spot editing are involved but most often that just means that if I am trying to write something that I can't get to come out the right way, I'll just give up rather than keeping it to rework later. But that kind of approach is utterly foreign to the recent paper-writing me, with notes, outlines, books spread out everywhere. So I am combatting it head-on. I don't know why I never thought of this before. Somewhere the need for precision and exactness got me scared.

This has all been pretty successful, relative to my utter lack of accomplishment for the past two years. But only on two papers. A third as yet unstarted (except for thinking, always except for thinking) paper is going to give me more trouble, because I have to have to have to make it a more rigidly normative paper, to offset the other two (one of which has some unconventional and somewhat inchoate material in it, but a strong central argument; the other of which is weird and evasive, thank you very much Gilles fucking Deleuze, unmentionable spiritual ancestor to said paper) so that I can pass this exam on my first try and get my MA and not have to fucking worry about it any more. Word.

Also, there is no hip-hop slang.

Or one-sentence paragraphs.

10 Aug '03 09:41:25 AM

On my to do list for tomorrow: shake down some epistemologists and key Donald Davidson's car.

10 Aug '03 09:40:29 AM

Introductions and prefaces are, of course, favorite places for authors to relay their methodological choices.

Something about that strikes me as a disappointment. Why confine it to there? Afraid of not being able to stop talking methodology? Of not being able to get any work done? Pussy.

10 Aug '03 09:38:34 AM

I would save a great deal of money if they sold introductions and prefaces separately.

10 Aug '03 09:36:59 AM

You can imagine how in maybe fifty or sixty years of quoting paragraphs from introductions and prefaces, I will amass what I need for my own purposes. Then I will start working.

10 Aug '03 09:34:42 AM

In the introduction to his third book on Deleuze and the arts (the one on 'music, painting, and the arts'), Ronald Bogue says some helpful things about understanding Deleuze:

'Deleuze is a profound and original analyst of the arts, I believe, but there are formidable obstacles to a ready assimilation of his thought. He is an inveterate neologizer and inventor of concepts, whose works at times read like one extended definition of terms. His arguments are often dense, and they always entail a thought that proceeds by means of paradox. Although carefully structured and gracefully crafted, his chapters frequently challenge readers' abilities to follow the arabesques of the general line of reasoning. He is scrupulous in his citation of sources, but his texts often require a thorough familiarity with the cited works in order to be completely intelligible. He offers copious analogies and examples to illustrate his points, yet seldom does he engage in prolonged discussions of any one analogy or example. Finally, he advocates and practices an unorthodox "nomadic thought," whereby concepts are at times modified and transformed from work to work, and even from section to section of the same work.

To help overcome these obstacles, I have attempted a reading of Deleuze, in several senses of the term. First, I have focused much of my analysis on the explication of difficult passages. Broad overviews are useful, but moving from the general to the specific can be especially perilous in interpreting Deleuze. He is most fascinating and most demanding in the subtle twists and turns of his arguments, and often the most resistant sentence or paragraph proves the key to understanding an entire section of a work. As part of this explication of difficult passages, I have ventured as well to trace the filaments that interconnect dense textual nodes and articulate the logic that informs the development of individual concepts. I have also attempted a "reading along with" Deleuze, investigating his sources and indicating the ways in which he appropriates other writers' terms, analyses, and illustrations for his own purposes. Often Deleuze's seemingly arcane remarks are simply highly allusive, and once one is familiar with his sources, his arguments become relatively straightforward. My reading of Deleuze has required as well an effort to tease out the implications of the analogies and examples he offers to explain various abstract concepts. Some of the most exhilarating and intriguing moments in Deleuze's writings begin with the phrase "it's as if...," and with careful elaboration of the hints supplied in his passing illustrations many opaque notions become considerably more transparent. Finally, I have proposed a reading of Deleuzian concepts that discriminates shifts in usage from context to context and suggests the possible rationale behind those shifts.'

I've been reading plateau ten ('1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible...') lately, and can attest that Bogue's exhilaration isn't hyperbole. But for me it's still intermingled with strong bouts of befuddlement.

References to Deleuze's 'nomadic thought' are all over the secondary literature, but I don't think I've yet read anything that has given me the impression of understanding what Deleuze means by it. This is not a comment on the literature I'm familiar with. I just haven't read anything relevant at all. But just the very way Bogue puts it above makes me sit up a little: oh, here's a thing I want for my own. (Sterling: 'sometimes I think you read everything methodologically'.)

10 Aug '03 08:53:20 AM

On the sexy new NYLPM, Tom notes some records that 'refuse to make it clear how you (the listener) should take them'. I wonder what happens when you look for other records like that, but without the issue of authenticity close by. Records that refuse to make it clear what you should do with them. Records that refuse to make it clear how much you should listen to them. Records that refuse to make it clear why you should listen to them.

Records that refuse to make it clear what they should mean, which is the pedantic, parallel form of 'records that refuse to make it clear what they mean', given the way we usually talk about meaning, are less interesting. (I wonder how many times I've had an English professor or teacher make a virtue of ambiguity or polysemy.)

Replacing 'should' with 'can' is perhaps also interesting, but probably not as interesting. Also kind of incoherent for the 'why' question above.

The 'how much' question is meant to be about repetition most generally, not about how much listening is required before you get the record. (I only listen to Coltrane's Meditations about once every two years, I think. I listened to 'Lithium' on repeat overnight - while awake - as a teenager. Lots of records I just stop listening to, eventually. I've heard people worried enough about wearing out their favorite records that they started limiting the time they spent listening to them. This always seemed strange to me, but then maybe if my attrition rate keeps growing I'll be more sympathetic while I still have some favorites left.)

10 Aug '03 07:13:24 AM

All of these things might be said in circumstances where interest and value are closely related. 'Interest' might last only a moment, or it may mark a number of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, in which a piece of music is captivating, rewarding, confusing, enticing, fruitful, unfamiliar, comforting, fashionable, surprising, soothing, energizing, unpopular, serviceable, familiar, engaging, challenging, bracing, popular, effective, important, unfashionable, relaxing, functional. These qualities and others all mark value of some sort. Even the imagined or believed possibility of these qualities is often enough. And by 'value' I don't mean anything specific. A valuable thing: something to be kept, desired, praised, set apart, shared, remembered, contested, protected, transmitted, preserved, considered, enjoyed, appreciated, recognized, sought out - all of these things, and whatever else people do with regard to value.

10 Aug '03 06:49:32 AM

I am aware of the deficiencies of saying The Man Without Qualities is about 'early twentieth century Viennese intellectuals debating big important shit'.