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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27 Mar '03 05:40:07 AM

It's very exciting, I think I just heard an edit on In a Silent Way that I never heard before. There was a little 'whoshp' noise.

26 Mar '03 09:00:41 AM

As I sat down to write tonight, I felt a little disappointed, recalling what I'd listened to today, and thinking that it mostly seemed to pass by without my being any better off for it. But it wasn't so bad.

Sex Pistols, "Bodies". Sometimes I'm not sure I'll ever be able to overcome my jaded attitude toward the band's sound on this record - jaded by time, lack of context, and exposure to more sonically terrorizing music. It's so tame that it's even kind of cute sometimes, like the Magnetic Fields' "Punk Love" is not actually so far off base as I once thought. But. Every now and then while I'm not paying attention, Lydon gets inside with his sneer, makes me jump or laugh with joy or shudder or shiver. Later on the record it was jumping and laughing, but here Lydon's attitude overwhelmed mine. I don't even know the words, but I can make them out, more or less, while I'm listening. "This song is about abortion" is a true sentence, but it doesn't cover it. "Pennyroyal Tea" is about abortion, too, and though I find that song affecting, howling in the service of bleak expressionism seems more mediated by artifice than whatever it is Lydon's got going on here, and thus not as troublesome (perplexing? fascinating? engaging?) to me. In other places, like D12 songs, or Ice Cube or Eminem's references to kicking pregnant women in the stomach, perhaps the fact that I find the jokes funny should trouble me more, but it doesn't. And then sensitive girlyfolk abortion songs are hardly distinguishable from other sensitive songs about important emotional stuff, like, you know? But then, that sneering voice, maybe courting glee but not quite, well...

My Bloody Valentine, Loveless. I still don't know the names of the songs, and don't care to. But I've been listening to this a lot lately - four or five times in a week or so, which is "a lot" compared to the once or twice a year that's been the norm. I am still constantly tempted to think that most of the record is more or less banal - pretty warbling and cooing, and some noise, stuck together with poorly crafted British indie. But then there are moments like today, in my office, helping a student, when suddenly I realized there was this awful (read: glorious) noise coming from the CD player. (Hesitant gestures that accompany our encounters with the unknown.) A quote from Cage would be illuminating here, too, but I'm tired now and ready for bed. My comparison of Basement Jaxx's "Red Alert" and Biggie's "Mo Money Mo Problems" will have to wait (i.e. be forgotten).

26 Mar '03 07:58:29 AM

Below is a long quote from Dreyfus and Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, in an interview with Foucault included as part of an afterword from 1983 called "On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress". My quote starts on p. 245 of the second edition. The questions are, presumably, by both Dreyfus and Rabinow, and the answers are Foucault's, given in English. The earlier part is meant to provide some context; I am most interested in the later part, where Foucault starts talking about what was in the notebooks. Elsewhere in the interview, he says a bit more about what he means when he talks about constituting the self: "Rather they acted so as to give to their life certain values (reproduce certain examples, leave behind them an exalted reputation, give the maximum possible brilliance to their lives). It was a question of making one's life into an object for a sort of knowledge, for a techne -- for an art. We have hardly any remnant of the idea in our society, that the principal work of art which one has to take care of, the main area to which one must apply aesthetic values is oneself, one's life, one's existence." So, you see, this interview has a lot of interest to me, especially in light of recent entries here about Edwards on Wittgenstein's method and its relation to aesthetic arguments, and its goal to bring about a change in sensibility (yesterday, just below); Georg Lichtenberg's waste-book method, admired by Wittgenstein; and the role of confession in this method. So. The quote:

Q: We know that one of the studies for Le Souci de soi concerns the role of writing in the formation of the self. How is the question of the relation of writing and the self posed by Plato?

A: First, to bring out a certain number of historical facts which are often glossed over when posing this problem of writing, we must look into the famous question of the hypomnemata. Current interpretors see in the critique of the hypomnemata in the Phaedrus a critique of writing as a material support for memory. Now, in fact, hypomnemata has a very precise meaning. It is a copybook, a notebook. Precisely this type of notebook was coming into vogue at Plato's time for personal and administrative use. This new technology was as disrupting as the introduction of the computer into private life today. It seems to me the question of writing and the self must be posed in terms of the technical and material framework in which it arose.

Secondly, there are problems of interpretation concerning the famous critique of writing as opposed to the culture of memory in the Phaedrus. If you read the Phaedrus, you will see that this passage is secondary with respect to another one which is fundamental and which is in line with the theme which runs throughout the end of the text. It does not matter whether a text is written or oral -- the problem is whether or not the discourse in question gives access to truth. Thus the written/oral question is altogether secondary with respect to the question of truth.

Thirdly, what seems remarkable to me is that these new instruments were immediately used for the constitution of a permanent relationship to oneself -- one must manage oneself as a governor manages the governed, as a head of an enterprise manages his enterprise, a head of household manages his household. This new idea that virtue consists essentially in perfectly governing oneself, that is, in exercising upon oneself as exact a mastery as that of a sovereign against whom there would no longer be revolts, is something very important which we will find, for centuries -- practically until Christianity. So, if you will, the point at which the question of the hypomnemata and the culture of the self comes together in a remarkable fashion is the point at which the culture of the self takes as its goal the perfect government of the self -- a sort of permanent political relationship between self and self. The ancients carried on this politics of themselves with these notebooks just as governments and those who manage enterprises administered by keeping registers. This is how writing seems to me to be linked to the problem of the culture of the self.

Q: Can you tell us more about the hypomnemata?

A: In the technical sense, the hypomnemata could be account books, public registers, individual notebooks serving as memoranda. Their use as books of life, guides for conduct, seems to have become a current thing amongst a whole cultivated public. Into them one entered quotations, fragments of works, examples, and actions to which one had been witness or of which one had read the account, reflections or reasonings which one had heard or which had come to mind. They constituted a material memory of things read, heard, or thought, thus offering these as an accumulated treasure for rereading and later meditation. They also formed a raw material for the writing of more systematic treatises in which were given arguments and means by which to struggle against some defect (such as anger, envy, gossip, flattery) or to overcome some difficult circumstance (a mourning, an exile, downfall, disgrace).

Q: But how does writing connect up with ethics and the self?

A: No technique, no professional skill can be acquired without exercise; neither can one learn the art of living, the techne tou biou, without an askesis which must be taken as a training of oneself by oneself: this was one of the traditional principles to which the Pythagoreans, the Socratics, the Cynics had long attributed great importance. Amongst all the forms this training took (and which included abstinences, memorizations, examinations of conscience, meditations, silence and listening to others), it seems that writing -- the fact of writing for oneself and for others -- came quite late to play a sizeable role.

Q: What specific role did the notebooks play when they finally became influential in late antiquity?

A: As personal as they were, the hypomnemata must nevertheless not be taken for intimate diaries or for those accounts of spiritual experience (temptations, struggles, falls, and victories) which can be found in later Christian literature. They do not constitute an "account of oneself"; their objective is not to bring the arcana conscientiae to light, the confession of which -- be it oral or written -- has a purifying value. The movement that they seek to effect is the inverse of this last one. The point is not to pursue the indescribable, not to reveal the hidden, not to say the nonsaid, but on the contrary, to collect the already-said, to reassemble that which one could hear or read, and this to an end which is nothing less than the constitution of oneself.

26 Mar '03 05:46:15 AM

Mark Sinker on the Buffy musical.

25 Mar '03 07:28:52 AM

Some notes on the preceding.

1. This conception of aesthetic reasoning, or aesthetic arguments, is not new to Wittgenstein. (The point of criticism is also sometimes said to be to draw attention to the work.)

2. This conception of aesthetic reasoning is not universally accepted.

3. Though Edwards constantly discusses this conception with an undertone of aesthetic realism, I don't think that it's necessarily a feature of the conception. That is, it's consistent to hold that the point of aesthetic argument is to draw attention to the work, while denying that the end product of successful arguments will be agreement on the true aesthetic judgments about the work. (Actually, Edwards is ambiguous on this: he talks like an aesthetic realist, when he refers to sucessful arguments getting people to see what's valuable about the work, but he also often indicates that in some cases it may be impossible to obtain agreement via aesthetic argument. However, in the latter cases he generally seems to come off sounding like an aesthetic realist inclined to believe in the power of good taste - in parallel to the cases where the Wittgensteinian philosopher cannot find himself in the traditional philosopher's sensibility, those who we cannot convince by offering comparisons to other artworks, and further descriptions of the artwork in front of us, are just somehow different. There's maybe even a tiny hint of recalcitrance?)

4. It's significant that another part of Wittgenstein's method is to assiduously avoid arguing for one or another position. Significant for my appropriation (I wanted a word like "beatjacking" so I could be like Puffy, but I wasn't happy with the alternatives) of the method, that is. Edwards talks a lot about how part of the point of the method is that in making us aware of the variety of grammatical pictures which might mislead us, the method frees us from taking some picture to be necessary. Frees us from thinking things have to be this way or that. Part of the altered sensibility is that we enjoy a clear view of this variety, and thus that we not take any one grammatical picture as more literal than another. So shouldn't the parallel to the case of aesthetic arguments be that the objects of comparison are deployed to bring about a parallel change in sensibility, one where we don't take any one valuation as better than any other? (Or?)

25 Mar '03 06:52:19 AM

G.E. Moore, from his Philosophical Papers, reporting on a 1932-33 lecture of Wittgenstein's:

"What Aesthetics tries to do, he said, is to give reasons. ... Reasons, he said, in Aesthetics, are "of the nature of further descriptions," e.g., you can make a person see what Brahms was driving at by showing him lots of pieces by Brahms, or by comparing him to a contemporary author; and all that Aesthetics does is "to draw your attention to a thing," to "place things side by side." He said that if, by giving "reasons' of this sort, you make the other person "see what you see" but it "still doesn't appeal to him," that is "an end" of the discussion; and that what he, Wittgenstein, had "at the back of his mind" was "the idea that aesthetic discussions were like discussions in a court of law," where you try to "clear up the circumstances" of the action which is being tried, hoping that in the end what you say will "appeal to the judge." And he said that the same sort of "reasons" were given, not only in Ethics, but also in Philosophy."

James Edwards (in his imperfect but insightful book Ethics Without Philosophy: Wittgenstein and the Moral Life - I'll quote a lot from chapter 4) cites this lecture and claims it's key to understanding two things: Wittgenstein's radical new philosophical methodology, and the role language-games are supposed to play in that methodology. In 130 of the Investigations, Wittgenstein says:

"Our clear and simple language-games are not preparatory studies for a future regularization of language -- as it were first approximations, ignoring friction and air resistance. The language-games are rather set up as objects of comparison which are meant to throw light on the facts of our language by way not only of similarities, but also of dissimilarities."

In short, one of the problems the Investigations presents us with is this: how exactly is this new method (whatever it is) supposed to help us stop doing philosophy, if that's part of the point (as in section 133)? In particular, the method seems to involve calling our attention to the ways in which language is not essentially one thing, but a variety of them. How is this supposed to do anything more than simply frustrate our inclinations to do philosophy traditionally by making the job harder, making things more complicated? According to Edwards, "just as in an aesthetic context objects of comparison, successfully chosen and perspicuously deployed, can change one's view of the value of a given work or artist, so too can objects of comparison like language-games alter one's perception of a given grammatical picture. In both cases what is wanted is a particular sort of resolution: an alteration of perception-sensibility." Edwards goes on later to discuss what he takes Wittgenstein's "vision of the sound human understanding" -- that is, the kind of (better) sensibility we should be trying for. Another long quote from Edwards:

"[Wittgenstein's] description of aesthetic reasoning in the Moore lectures shows that in such contexts the point of reasoning is not best understood as an alteration in belief. The person who has, under the conviction of aesthetic reasoning, come to revise some conception of value is not someone who has merely replaced one set of beliefs with another, as an accountant, looking again at a firm's books, might replace his belief in the firm's solvency with a belief that it is bankrupt. That sort of change, important as it is, is neither as deep nor as personal as that which typically occurs in aesthetics contexts. The change in the accountant's belief does not, in ordinary circumstances, change him; he is essentially the same person as before the bankruptcy was found. But a change in aesthetic contexts is a change in the person himself, a change in his individuating sensibilities; such an alteration is a change in the very way in which experience is appropriated. It alters some of the basic images and ideals that order our experience and give it a particular character and value. After the change many (perhaps all) things are experienced differently. Furthermore, the kind of change that occurs in the aesthetic context is individual in a way that the accountant's change in belief is not. Any competent accountant, we may suppose, will draw the conclusion that the firm in question is bankrupt, but the aesthetic change, as Wittgenstein pointed out, is not "objective" in that way. Recall Moore's report of the Cambridge lectures. It is perfectly possible that [what you say] will not appeal [to the judge], of course, and that may be an end of the discussion. The anticipated change in sensibility may not occur; experience may continue to be appropriated just as before. There is no proper way to coerce agreement in aesthetic contexts, as there (sometimes) is in accountancy."

Whew. Now. I think this is a pretty remarkable find, because of my own inclinations in aesthetics and philosophy, but even more so because since reading Philosophical Investigations I've been interested in taking advantage of Wittgenstein's method to direct it at criticism and art theory. But I could be working backwards, sort of! This is something I will be thinking about constantly in the near future.

24 Mar '03 08:29:25 AM

If it's 2:30, and I'm tired, and my spring break is over, and I'm not really doing anything else, then why am I just sitting here listening to records and not writing about them? I don't know.

Here are the songs I've listened to tonight.

Stevie Wonder - "Love's In Need of Love Today"
Stevie Wonder - "Have a Little Talk With God"
Stevie Wonder - "Contusion"
Stevie Wonder - "Sir Duke"
Stevie Wonder - "I Wish"
Luomo - "Tessio"
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - "The Great Communicator"
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - "Parallel Or Together?"
Prince - "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker"
Prince - "Starfish and Coffee"
Prince - "Slow Love"
Prince - "Forever in My Life"
Miles Davis - "Prince of Darkness"
Miles Davis - "Pee Wee"
Miles Davis - "Masqualero"

I don't know why I chose to list them so repetitively like that.

20 Mar '03 07:15:26 AM

Put that together with indie guilt and you have the beginnings of a fine entry for the forthcoming DSM-V.

20 Mar '03 06:57:16 AM

Lord help me I am still an indie kid even though I swear I never really was one. I will now dutifully present my evidence.

This afternoon after 1) moping around listlessly, I left the house in a 2) hooded sweatshirt and listening to 3) Yo La Tengo to go to a 4) coffeeshop to sit and 5) look at girls. On the way there a cute girl smiled at me and I 6) confusedly looked away in fear. (I am not lost, though; I did smile at the one later inside the shop.)

On my way home, I espied the 7) car poetry girl washing her windshield at the gas station. This is a girl who lives somewhere in my neighborhood, who drives a decrepit old Volvo covered with political bumperstickers and, most importantly, which has a 8) poem written on the 9) sides of it. The poem sounds suspiciously 10) goth at first glance but actually turns out to be 11) Emily Dickinson's #511, which you might find out if like me you are not that familiar with Emily Dickinson but happen to 12) google lines from a poem you saw written on a strange car because you figured a very cute and interesting (note the order there) girl must drive the car. You might even then 13) develop a silly crush on the idea (the idea) of this girl and 14) idly hope to one day run into her so you could ask her about the poem she painted on the side of her car, even if it is a bit fourteen-year-old-high-school-girl-who-hearts-Trent-Reznor, and even if the poem itself seems to indicate maybe that she is Waiting for Someone, not a metaphorical potential someone but some jackass who moved across the country or has cancer or something, which would really kill things real quick now huh.

Anyway, of course the moment I realized that it was her I 15) froze up with crippling anxiety, worse than any I have experienced in the 16) multiple times I have recently enjoyed its familiar company. As if this were not enough, the most damning evidence that I am one sorry-ass fucking indie kid at heart, still: I 17) did in fact decide on seeing her that she didn't look indie enough and so that it 18) wouldn't be worth it anyway.

Yes, I did go home in shame. To feel better I put on 19) the Geto Boys.

[See: grocery store checkout girl, i love you.]