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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24 Feb '15 06:51:59 PM

'… this awareness of the medium creates a sense of intimacy with the reader.'

16 Feb '15 03:13:46 PM

'… what was most modern was the rejection of authority…'

14 Feb '15 05:54:04 PM

'Here in America there is no difference between a man and his economic fate. A man is made by his assets, income, position, and prospects. The economic mask coincides completely with a man's inner character. Everyone is worth what he earns and earns what he is worth. He learns what he is through the vicissitudes of his economic existence. He knows nothing else. The materialistic critique of society once objected against idealism that existence determined consciousness and not vice versa, and that the truth about society did not lie in its idealistic conception of itself but in its economy; contemporary men have rejected such idealism. They judge themselves by their own market value and learn what they are from what happens to them in the capitalistic economy. Their fate, however sad it may be, is not something outside them; they recognize its validity. A dying man in China might say, in a lowered voice:

Fortune did not smile upon me in this world.
Where am I going now? Up into the mountains
to seek peace for my lonely heart.

I am a failure, the American says—and that is that.'

14 Feb '15 05:48:43 AM

'Something has gone wrong in our collective idea of the "public."'

8 Feb '15 02:25:34 AM

'You'd have written them too. There's nothing secret about it.'

7 Feb '15 11:16:20 PM

'a sort of shorthand of emotional significances for later reference'

28 Jan '15 10:54:20 PM

'… a question of whether all these sensors, filters, profiles and algorithms can be used by citizens and communities for some kind of emancipation from bureaucracies and companies.'

23 Jan '15 07:01:22 PM

Scholarship: Vlastos says he had a year off at the Institute for Advanced Study to work on Plato, decided to work only on the Socratic dialogues, spent the year writing a perfectly fine book, looked at it, decided: 'the best thing I could do with that MS was to junk it'. So he did.

22 Jan '15 08:52:34 PM

'The crucial point in all such enquiries is to realize that the communication of knowledge is greatly affected by the form in which it is communicated. There is an obvious difference between reading an anthology of wise sayings from the classics and using a detailed edition of an author, together with a commentary. Such commentaries regularly included summaries, expositions, and interpretations by all the major commentators, who might include (for an author like Aristotle) Hellenistic Neoplatonists, Alexandrian philologists and allegorists, medieval Arabic philosophers translated into Latin, and a host of Renaissance scholars busy synthesizing all these traditions. (Bacon's ideas about the imagination, for instance, were probably shaped by the huge commentary tradition on Aristotle's De anima, supplemented by his own reading in the increasingly eclectic sixteenth-century sources.) This cumulative accretion process meant that all knowledge was simultaneously present, and that any quotation enjoyed the same status, in illustration or argument, as any other. This explains why Bacon can, in one paragraph, quote side by side Plato, Tacitus, the Bible, Machiavelli, and Montaigne. However incongruous these collocations might appear to us, for Bacon and his contemporaries they were all equally relevant, with the Bible obviously more authoritative in certain fields. But even the Bible was not treated solely as a source of religious belief and practice: Bacon cites it for apt material in politics, history, ethics, natural history, astronomy, and many other forms of knowledge…. For some modern readers the eclecticism of Renaissance writers, their pragmatic attitude toward quotations (ignoring huge differences in the original languages, the author's intentions, and the very different genres involved), is problematic. It is indeed a strange paradox that Renaissance scholars, who by their great skills in historical philology were the first people able to distinguish original Latin texts from later forgeries, and could give a reliable chronology of ancient history, in their actual writings simultaneously jumbled up all authors into one vast sea of quotations, to be used on any occasion, for any purpose.

The explanation of this strange contradiction, and one particularly relevant in Bacon's case, is the great importance Renaissance humanism attached to the notebook. From the first influential schoolmasters in fifteenth-century Italy, those pioneers who did so much to establish humanism as a discipline that could be taught in school (Vergerius, Guarino da Verona, Vittorino da Feltre), up to such polymaths as Erasmus, Vives, and Melanchthon in the sixteenth century, and onwards throughout Europe in the next two centuries, the notebook played a crucial role in the transmission of knowledge. All educationalists taught that reading was to be carried out with a pen in hand, ready to note in the margin metaphors, similes, exempla, sententiae, apophthegms, proverbs, or any other transportable units of literary composition. These were then to be copied out into one or more notebooks, divided either alphabetically or by topics, and to be reused in one's own writing. Although most attention was given to the establishing of notebooks during school years, many authorities emphasized that they were to be used throughout one's life. The Renaissance was fundamentally a notebook culture, its greatest literary productions displaying what has been called a stile a mosaico. Many passages in Montaigne or Rabelais, Bacon or Burton, Chapman or Webster, are tissues of quotations held together by a thin thread of argument. Modern readers must learn to see quotations as simultaneously foreign, the result of an individual author's reading, and yet as integral to the text, having been appropriated for and indeed by it. A whole theory of imitatio was developed, teaching how such material should be digested, integrated into the body or metabolism of the new work. Renaissance readers could certainly tell the difference between learning integrated and learning flaunted, or not properly understood.'