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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30 Dec '14 05:12:39 AM

'As social historians have long noted, people of working-class background rarely write autobiographies. Self-creation through literary technique is very much a game played by elites. This seems always to have been so. But over the last two hundred years, the working classes have increasingly found themselves subject to forms of "coerced self-narration," where they were obliged to tell stories of their own sins, suffering, criminality, redemption, and reform, all so as to establish themselves in the eyes of the administrative classes as members of the "deserving poor." Elites get to tell stories about themselves that are ultimately both manifestations of, and reflections on, their own power; everyone else is forced to tell stories about their misery and perseverance. For an anthropologist, it’s hard to contemplate this history without immediately calling to mind the difference between (a) the kind of performance of reflexivity that accompanied the hyperprofessionalization of the academy in the 1980s and 1990s, and (b) the simultaneous emergence of subgenres on the study of both popular “resistance” and “social suffering”—which began slightly later, but largely overlap in time. It’s an almost uncanny parallel. Joel Robbins (2013) has recently argued that the "suffering subject" has come to replace the savage as the primary object of anthropology—perhaps a tall claim, but one where there is surely some truth—and makes the very cogent point (equally true, I think, for most of the resistance literature) that what’s specifically eclipsed in most such accounts is any sense of what those we are asked to empathize with feel is ultimately important or valuable in life.'

29 Dec '14 04:56:42 PM

'I feel that the novel is very much like a room, or rooms: that you're in this room or that room, and that the whole aim of writing is to create a room where you can say something.'

25 Dec '14 01:19:05 AM

'In the modern period, the transmission of Cynicism on the basis of anecdote and apophthegm was twice seriously questioned and shaken, first by historical criticism as practiced in an exemplary and influential fashion by Pierre Bayle. He and his successors subjected the copiously transmitted anecdotal-biographical material to the standard of historical credibility. Thus, they reduced it to a steadily decreasing stock of anecdotes that were believed to be true. Only later, in reaction to historical-philological criticism, was it recognized that the value of an anecdote—its philosophical and moral meaning—does not necessarily depend on its historical truth. At least the requirements of historical criticism for the time guaranteed the continued examination of the untrue stories, the fables or fairy tales, even if the aim was solely to devalue them by demonstrating their ahistoricity and to withdraw them from circulation. Precisely this intention necessitated a thorough study of these stories, such as Bayle's study of certain versions of the Diogenes–Alexander anecdote, or that of Christoph August Heumann (a German successor of Bayle) of the anecdote about Diogenes and the tub.

When the anecdotal-biographical basis of the reception of Cynicism was shaken for the second time, the consequences were even graver and more devastating than those of historical criticism. This second challenge was ushered in through the understanding of the history of philosophy that Hegel formulated, as a consequence of which he criticized the earlier historiography of philosophy as unphilosophical. After this, the history of philosophy is reduced to the history of ideas: only the theoretical products of philosophers, not their biographies, are of importance for the history of philosophy. Before this shift, the transmission of biographies had a large place in the historiography of philosophy, for the life of the philosopher was believed to be of exemplary character and was considered the verification of the doctrine. Now, biographical transmission becomes an inessential and superfluous accessory: "The bodies of these spirits who are the heroes of this history, their temporal lives, have passed, but their works did not follow them; for the content of their works is the rational [das Vernünftige]," writes Hegel. Only the works count, and moreover, the more they have left behind the individual signature of their creator, the more they "belong to free thinking, the universal character of man as man, the more this thinking free of peculiarities is itself the producing subject." For those philosophers who did not leave behind theoretical works and who became part of the tradition only by virtue of their exemplary individuality or their idiosyncratic personalities, this meant exclusion from the history of philosophy. Reduced to a mere history of theories or ideas, a historiography of philosophy does not know how to deal with them. This primarily affects the Cynics and their chief exemplar, Diogenes. Even though they were still dragged along in the histories of philosophy in the nineteenth century and have begun to be excluded from them at an increasing rate only very recently, it was in fact the Hegelian understanding of the history of philosophy that pushed them aside into the curiosities at the margin of history.'

24 Dec '14 09:37:50 PM

'Now if Diogenes' disenchantment with the polis, with its nomoi and nomismata, as engendered by his experience of exile, leads to the Cynic reconception of autarkheia ("self-sufficing") from a collective civic virtue to a personal one, this is no less true of the Cynic idea of freedom. Just as autarkheia changes its meaning—is effectively defaced—when applied to a stateless individual living in exile, so too does freedom. Clearly, the Cynic understanding of freedom cannot be that of Plato, Aristotle, or the citizens of Athens, since its premise rejects the polis as the locus or source of freedom. Therefore, freedom cannot be a matter of legal status (or entitlement), such as that of being a citizen. The Cynic conception of freedom—"to use any place for any purpose" (DL, 6.22)—is a license to practice autarkheia free from that "most intimate of social fetters," shame (aidōs), the cornerstone of conventional Greek morality.'

24 Dec '14 06:48:25 PM

'It's very beautiful and stupid.'

21 Dec '14 12:08:35 AM

'At the beginning of the Hellenistic period (ca. 323–31 B.C.), Greek society enjoyed the refinements and luxury of a highly developed civilization, yet social inequalities were always widespread. It is often asserted, and with some justification, that with the decline of the polis (or city-state) as the comprehensive center of social life, each individual felt compelled to secure his own happiness in a world in which it was not uncommon to be sent into exile, taken prisoner by pirates, or sold into slavery, according to the whims of Fortune (Tukhē). From this point of view, Cynicism was intended as a response to this quest for happiness, by which the Greeks of this uncertain time were almost obsessed. Consequently, it offered Hellenistic society a systematic moral practice (tekhnē) capable of guiding the individual toward happiness and delivering him from anguish.'

20 Dec '14 11:56:03 PM

Cynic freedom: 'To use any place for any purpose'.

16 Dec '14 10:45:48 PM

'Women writing in the "I" fight the specter of the diary, which saps their authority and saddles them with the obligation to be both a good author and a good subject.'

12 Dec '14 04:19:59 AM

'But now I say nothing. I'm not an electrician anymore.'