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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13 Sep '23 06:05:01 AM

'I have developed these conceptions of authenticity by setting them against what I argued are analogous moments in Wittgenstein and Heidegger: Wittgenstein's invention of rule following and Heidegger's investigation of anxiety. In both cases, we confront the worry that we have no good reason for going on as we do. For Heidegger, this was what McManus (2015a, 166) calls the 'Motivation Problem' that confronts Dasein in anxiety: in the absence of compelling reasons for pursuing projects, my choices, far from being resolute and authentic, seem either groundless and arbitrary or inauthentically grounded in das Man.

Here is one way of framing that dilemma. Inauthentic absorption in the one-self unduly constrains my responsiveness to my circumstances whereas the voice of skepticism or anxiety makes that responsiveness seem radically unconstrained: 'Anything—and nothing—is right' (PI §77). Responding authentically to our uncanniness means finding in ourselves a way of responding to our circumstances that is neither so sharply constrained as to be inauthentic nor so radically unconstrained as to be arbitrary. What does such responsiveness look like? Although Wittgenstein does not give Heidegger's explicit attention to the concept of authenticity, I think we find in his attention to unregulated play a model for thinking about the kind of responsiveness that authenticity requires.

We find a real-world model for this kind of responsiveness in musical and theatrical improvisation. Improvisers untether themselves from scripted instructions for how they should proceed but this does not leave them radically unconstrained: pace Harris (1988, 91), free play does not entail a 'free-for-all' in which any move is as good as any other. Actual improvisation is an exquisitely delicate balancing act that can collapse into chaos or banality unless players allow themselves to be guided by the continuously evolving play. The twin threats of chaos and banality are essentially the threats of the dilemma I framed in the previous paragraph. The improviser who falls back on merely conventional responses is boring and the improviser whose responses are entirely arbitrary turns the performance into an incoherent mess.

Performing the balancing act successfully requires responsiveness rather than control. Accomplished jazz musicians seem less to be making music than they are listening to the music that is flowing through them and their fellow musicians. Theatrical improvisers also place a high value on listening and discourage as destructive the ambition to control the direction of a scene. This kind of deep listening allows improvisers to avoid the twin threats of banality and chaos. Their attunement allows them to find responses to the state of play that are neither conventional nor arbitrary but rather answer inventively to the particularities of the situation.

The conventional responses of inauthentic Dasein manifest a coarse-grained responsiveness to the situation. At a high enough level of definition, every situation is unique, so falling back on what 'one' does manifests an impulse to assimilate this situation to ones that are similar to it. Skilled improvisers see what is similar while also being alive to the uniqueness of the situation.

What emerges from this model is an account of authenticity in which we are not so much agents as players.…'

13 Sep '23 05:43:29 AM

'In the end it is ex tempore eloquence that is the primal manifestation of the rhetoric of the time. Philostratus searched, literally, for the person in whom "the waves of improvised speeches found their source [skhediôn … pêgas logôn … ek … rhuênai]" (482): the metaphorics of time is evidently a metaphorics of flux, of waves. The time of discourse and the time of becoming: this is the perspective—it has been remarked—from which the alignment of sophistics with Heracliteanism appears correct; "everything flows" in the world of those who speak. But what has not yet been understood is how ex tempore is said in Greek: skhedioi logoi, "improvised speeches," skhediazein, "improvise." The adverb and the verb indicate proximity, whether it be spatial (that of two warriors in close combat) or temporal (the approach of death, as well as the unexpectedness of an event); such that skhedia, for example, is the word used by Zeus in book V of the Odyssey to designate the "stout binding" [epi skhediês poludesmou, V, 33] of the ties as numerous as those that bind Ulysses himself to the mass when he sails past the Sirens. This conjunction of spatial adjustment and precarity, of temporal immediacy, makes up the approximative essence of the "raft" Ulysses fabricates to escape his love for Calypso. Improvised discourses are the rafts upon which man embarks along the course of time.'

11 Sep '23 11:23:35 PM

'the specter of supreme disregard that lurks in the margins of their compositions'

10 Sep '23 03:05:04 AM

’Capitalism thrives on the upward pressure produced by reserve labor because it enables employers to exploit the increasingly cheap, docile, and pliable work of those for whom the threat of being supplanted often overrides any progressive concerns regarding decent pay, regular hours, worker solidarity, or a shared humanity. To the enduring benefit of the bourgeoisie, anxieties surrounding personal expendability (of having to “deskill”) intensify in relation to perceptions of a flooded labor supply, producing a variety of disciplinary and reactionary divisions and antagonisms throughout any given labor market. Vocational modernity, then, is one such reaction to “reserve anxiety.” It describes a historical process whereby the exceptional “sovereign individual is formed in relation to precariously embodied representations of difference, a relation that intensifies at those junctures when the promises of personal calling seem most at risk of unravelling.’

23 Aug '23 06:16:00 PM

(Reading, an automatism)

20 May '23 10:36:50 PM

Adjuncts and the academy: of it but not in it.

17 May '23 03:42:55 AM

Cavell's uses of the continental tradition are a form of philosophical arbitrage.

31 Mar '23 07:04:08 PM

'One of my experiments has become a sort of legend. It consisted of photographing a white cup and saucer placed on a graduated scale of tones from pure white through light and dark grays to black velvet. This experiment I did at intervals over a whole summer, taking well over a thousand negatives. The cup and saucer experiment was to a photographer what a series of finger exercises is to a pianist. It had nothing directly to do with the conception or the art of photography.'

14 Oct '22 11:27:06 AM