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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6 Nov '14 03:45:20 AM

Wittgenstein's shopkeeper, a bit less so than his builders, has been regarded as not just an example of how we use words, but as a kind of exaggeration, a defamiliarization of routine behavior that could even therefore be read as a kind of critique of our lives, of how primitive we can be, have become, whether under the influence of philosophy, or certain pictures, or, at a grand limit, of something like, our culture.

Usually, I guess. Sure. I don't know. But lately more and more I feel like the shopkeeper, the builders. Feel that there is not so much an exaggeration in the service of critique, in the service of turning away from something we're not to want about how we act, live, in these examples—as much as there is an exaggeration in the service of our recognition that yes, that is what we do. Go from here to there, give this to him, send him there, put this here, look at that. We can do this with a sense of purpose, naturally, for something, and we can do otherwise; but we still do it, almost, I want to say, only ever do it.

—Rent comes up due. I subtract the amount from my balance at the bank. There's not enough.

I look for money elsewhere.

Since January I've gotten money from the state; from four employers—technically, two, since the two others required, as a condition of employment, that I employ myself and contract my services to them, as my clients—my parents (more than once); and, if I haven't lost count of it all, four friends (some more than once).

The state did what it could: it paid me a small but barely liveable amount for a set number of weeks while requiring me to look for work. It also required me to attend a job-seeker's 're-employment' course (the third one I have attended, as required, since leaving graduate school with my degree: one in Iowa, and two here—in the same classroom, with the same facilitator). It also, come the end of the line, informed me that there was nothing more to be had in federal money meant to pick up where the state money had left off (though there had been), unless my congressmen and yours chose to continue funding benefits for the long-term unemployed. (They did not.)

You can imagine what I learned from the 're-employment' course. You probably can't imagine what I've learned from looking for work, too educated, mis-qualified, again and again, for years now. —The weird combination, alternation, of unshakeable self-esteem and a feeling of absolute uselessness, hopelessness. Of being nothing anyone would ever want.

Some time later, when my sights had lowered after many months of job-searching, the first employer hired me after I passed a, I forget, thirty- to one-hundred-question multiple choice quiz on basic grammar and usage. Also after I signed a non-compete and a non-disclosure agreement. If I could fully describe what I do for them, you would appreciate how absurdly aggressive that is, how overpoweringly protective of knowledge of this effectively less-than-minimum-wage job and its procedures, knowledge that I'm not sure anyone would want, or could not figure out on their own, or improve upon. But sign I did, and sue they would, I believe. They just seem like they would. Their work has structured, and overflowed into so as to deprive me of, many of my days for the past several months. It is—at first it sounds so liberating, so convenient—work from home. My home, my computer, my phone, my internet connection—my costs—and their work. Each day's work has a deadline of the following day. The deadlines are observed vigilantly, managed punctiliously, remotely, by a tiny but constantly slightly shifting management team who, even despite their seeming policy of uncommunicativeness, can't help but radiate a harried, hounded, miserly mood of mistrust at having, every day, to control the behavior of their hundreds of employees like me and hundreds? thousands? of field workers (really, 'independent contractors') in accordance with the byzantine requirements placed on the work product, which is: reports. Reports reports reports. My day's work is to edit reports for correctness and compliance, chasing down any information required of their authors to make them adequate, and readying them immediately—serving as the first and, usually, only set of eyes—for distribution to the client for whom the reports are ultimately written. I only work on one client. There are really only a few kinds of report; essentially, they all sound the same. It is, in some sense, despite the complicated rules for editing the reports—imagine a Bizarro-world variant of Taylorism which had somehow never been touched by the idea of efficiency—eminently doable, mechanical work. But for that same reason, for me, somehow, dispiriting, emptying words of their meanings, dulling the point of saying sentences, of describing people, things (as the report-writers must do)—deadening all time and interest and making each placement of the cursor, each click of the mouse, seem to come to nothing—magnifying the completion of any minor task so as to seem Sisyphean. The money is a factor. This job pays by the piece. You are allotted so many pieces per day, every day, constantly (except when you're not). Each one you finish may net you a dollar. Three dollars. Five dollars (those feel like you've really done something). Given these amounts, you simply have to finish with many such pieces in an hour, at a steady clip, to make what could be considered an amount that is not hopeless. I have found that, really, you can't; or I can't. Probably by design—if it takes you longer, it takes you longer, and it's on you—but no doubt also because the work, at home, alone, in contact for the most part only with effectively anonymous superiors who tell you what you must do and what you have failed to do; and the work's nature, already mentioned, i.e. grim, have the joint effect of sapping any vigorous or sustained effort toward completing said work. Something about doing something, and knowing that, most likely, doing well (or not badly—on pain of managerial intervention) entails earning less overall; or worse, with less of that in view, simply doing something, and knowing that it can net you only $3, or only $1—causes a dumb, stubborn Bartlebyesque catatonia, or maybe anxiety, or maybe both, to well up and consume everything you do. Or don't do (quickly enough).

When I first started working for that employer, they put me on a reduced load of work (after a certain amount of dead time in which simply nothing happened at all) while I was being trained, which meant, having all my work double-checked. (Officially, 'released', I would become the only person, usually, ever to be responsible that my work was right—as if a publisher sent things straight off to press as soon as one person had read them.) Then, even after, the load was light. I couldn't live on it. There wasn't enough.

At more or less the same time (raining! pouring!) the second employer—or client, in their case, according to the extremely serious-sounding documents I electronically 'signed' in order, as before, to work from home—contracted me for a project wholly determined by what usually seemed to be their own sole client, always known but for some reason of legal mystification hardly ever named: your favorite search engine and, less and less so, mine. Their hundreds or thousands of independent contractors were to evaluate the quality of search results and of the web pages pointed to by those results. For that purpose we were given, before hiring, a multi-part, week-spanning exam covering the detailed guidelines they had written for their system of evaluation, covering its main concepts, explaining its criteria, and giving examples. We were encouraged to study these guidelines. After work began, we were also encouraged to study these guidelines. At almost every point where the possibility of advancement or improvement existed, we were advised to study the guidelines. This employer essentially metered its assignments of labor, and its evaluation of the quality of that labor, quantitatively. You began doing little: half an hour, an hour a day. As you accrued successfully completed tasks, and thus a higher rank, you earned the opportunity to do more work: ninety minutes a day, two hours a day. Any rise was, by design, gradual. And not simply for arbitrary reasons. Their guidelines were credible; they would have impressed and put to shame most teachers and their half-assed methods for grading student work. So fluency with, and mastery of, the guidelines, their use, took practice. Time. (This was a frustrating irony I felt: not enough work to live off from one job, I accepted another, only to receive… not enough work, fast enough, from it.) Time, and failure. The remedy for which was—instruction from the community of more advanced workers and managers aside—'study the guidelines'. So study I did, for no pay; and practice, for no pay, on the 'simulator' on which correct evaluations were already determined, and it was my task to learn to judge as it judged; which was the same as, ultimately, to judge as this employer, its employees, the thousands of other workers out there, and ultimately, its (only?) client wished that we would judge. As with the actual, paid tasks. In a way, it was good work. It was challenging and (however little one was allowed to do) paid well. But it was, as I said, metered. Metered for time, metered for quality, metered for availability, metered for deviation from the (adjusted) community consensus. The hard part, for me, was that work was generally only available at certain times of day—often in conflict with deadlines for my first job—but not assigned, and not announced, so only available just then to people who would be there waiting to do it. 'There': really, here, at home, at my computer. I was quickly put in mind of pellets, feeling ratlike; then of shackles, joining me to the computer, the source of work. I set up a widget to check on the availability of work for me. It would ding, and I would jump over to see if there was work. The widget was imperfect. Sometimes it would ding when there wasn't work. But there would generally (not always) never be a ding without work. And, when it was there, it would have to be done, or be foregone. So, quickly. On the meter. Say, for many of the tasks to be done: in nine minutes. Or 9.0 minutes, in the precise style their metering called for. You might think: OK, nine minutes, ten minutes, twelve minutes. Work a little slower, make a little less, right? But no. For whatever reason, this employer or its client determined that the speed with which the tasks were done was an important factor, so in effect, part of the training regimen called for learning to do the tasks as quickly as was prescribed, never slower (or your average would balloon). And, ha ha, not really faster, either, in the sense that working more quickly would not, aside from its effect on your overall average rate, cause more pay or a greater (because accepted more rapidly) amount of work to accrue to you, given the employer's fastidiously applied invoicing policy (you are a contractor: you work, then invoice them for the hours of work for which you are to be paid): no more and no less than efficiently-enough performed work in the assigned amount shall be paid (so: you invoice them, but they reply, and tell you whether or not they are in agreement with your invoice, or dispute its conformity to their policies prior to your acknowledgment of failure to conform to their policies).

I became anxious. Sleepless, heart-throbbing, jumpy, desperately anxious. I wasn't fast enough. I received notifications that my rate of work was deficient. I made errors. I received notifications that the quality of my work was deficient. I knew I should try to be more cautious. I knew I should practice more. I knew I should study the guidelines. But I also knew there wasn't much work. And I needed that money. So I would take each new task, trying to quell my frantic feelings, trying to make accurate judgments, trying to keep up, trying not to let my scores fall, trying not to make too many mistakes. I couldn't do it. I was too anxious. My numbers fell. I didn't have the luxury of a real job—many people did this one, I heard, only a couple hours a week, several a month, for a little extra cash; few for any real length of time—and so once I was put on 'restricted' status, my availability of work reduced, and instructed to do more unpaid work on the simulator to try to earn a return to a higher status—the costs of trying to hold on to the job were too great, in time, and most of all, in misery, so: I let it slip away.

At first, neither of these jobs was paying much, or paying fast. The second especially so, with more than a month of lag time, and only one payday per month. There wasn't enough. So, as I worked, or tried to train myself (without pay) to do the work, I looked elsewhere. And for something quicker, easier.

I found something, better than nothing, with the third employer, if they could be called that. Again, technically, I was an independent contractor, selling my labor. And 'selling', and 'labor', in a very brute sense. The employer is essentially the online on-demand temp agency branch of your favorite industry-disrupting merchandiser. The work is conceived as a kind of analogue of artificial intelligence, fantasized as done by a computer. It is still done with computers: but by thousands of humans on the internet, piece by piece, cent by cent. Some of it does literally seek to exploit the human involvement the internet makes possible. So, for instance, I have earned a tiny bit choosing grammatical (or more grammatical) sentences or sentence fragments from pairs of alternatives, both obviously machine generated or machine-extracted, apparently serving as the John Henry to some neural network in the process of being trained and tweaked. Or: I have earned a tiny bit by reading English sentences aloud, into the microphone of my computer, apparently to supply data for some company—reportedly Chinese—looking to get its speech recognition technology up to speed. Or, a bit less intelligently, I have taken scores of surveys for psychology researchers, management researchers, market researchers, anyone who needs warm bodies to fill out bubble sheets (yes, even on a computer) and contribute data points to some effort to study the role of gender in workplace conflict, or the effect of political affiliation on susceptibility to persuasion by media sources, or just to figure out whether certain kinds of people might like some dumb movie about an international conspiracy or something. Or. Many of the tasks available, the majority, are nothing but data entry, in many cases set up to serve as back-end processing for the money-making startup scheme of some charmed Harvard MBA, transcribing images of receipts into computer-manipulable data from those receipts, or entering the contact information from images of business cards, or googling evidently semi-powerful and ambitious people seeking to become more powerful, in order to monitor their leading search engine results and make sure that damaging results have somehow been suppressed through—another line of work, another sort of task for another employer—the work of the shadow industry of search engine 'optimization', data cleansing, whatever. Or. I have, a little bit, to see how it was (too much work, not enough pay), moderated images based on how pornographic they were; or based on how inappropriately much dick was showing in them; or I have clicked on tags to identify the types of actor and person and body and sex act in a tiny grainy photo-sheet array of stills from a porn clip, presumably to facilitate the more efficient distribution of the product (if you can't search for it, then you can't find it). Or. I have transcribed audio. Interviews. Tutorials. Economics lectures (lots of math read out loud, difficult Indian accent). Corporate promo garbage (always with the worst music underneath). Sometimes, little tiny chunks of audio, in ten-second bursts, even of the same three or four sources, all mixed up and out of order (the better to distribute on demand to the global labor force, as well as to distribute the cost to the employer of employee error, or straight up nihilistic gaming of the system, trying to grab as much as can be grabbed under the eye of dumb automation in case no human ever really gets around to checking on the quality of the result). Or. I have, in actually kind of a relieving bout of meaningfulness, scanned research articles for citations of a given article, and written little summaries of the use of the article and its role in the argument of the citing paper—feeling, for a short while, like my dozen years of advanced education was good for something. Or. Or. Or. There has been a lot more. None of it for very long, and none of it really that I could stand to do for long (again, too slow). Sometimes it pays a bit that makes you feel like maybe you're not a slave. That's a key term among the workers there, who do actually interact, off-site, grousing about the conditions and sharing information to protect themselves against exploitation (mostly in vain): 'slave labor'. They rate the desirability of a task or a type of task based on how much it is not like doing slave labor, since for most of the rates there, however much of a record of good performance you have built up, it… is. Many of the tasks explicitly prohibit workers based in India, or elsewhere in the English-speaking world (and sometimes, elsewhere than that—else they would be shanghaied by workers without adequate English even to do the intellectually menial work there is to do), where, perhaps, the low rates and even the most miniscule rates—cents per micro-task, seven cents, five cents, three cents for anywhere from a minute to too many minutes worth of time—can, somehow, add up enough to make it better than nothing. For me, now and then, lacking anything better, it has been, sometimes—mostly because I could count on the money coming soon, a few days later. Enough to get some groceries, help cover a bill, get some quarters for doing laundry.

So, for a while, I worked mostly for the first employer, particularly after giving up on the second one, ramping up my workload, finding a way to grind it out, and here and there when I needed to for the third employer, or whatever it should be called when you're a kind of internet day laborer, and no one employs you. At times, it was not enough. A friend, out of the blue, sent me hundreds of dollars in the mail. To fill my pantry, he said. You would, if you had to know, be surprised at who gives.

The constant in these three sources of income has basically been having the pay for everything I do being constantly, totally at the discretion of someone else inclined to refuse to pay on the basis of a determination that the work was of insufficient quality. A yes/no distinction, when you're down to the level of the piece, the task that lasts all of five minutes. A don't-screw-up distinction.

This infuses everything I do, no matter how easy, with a certain anxiety. A feeling of powerlessness.

Another friend causes envelopes containing cash to appear. Cash, and notes of encouragement. I need the money, for actual things, but sometimes, it has been so charming that this money just appears because of her generosity, that I feel like I should be happy. So I buy a soda, or a sandwich, with some of the money. I hope that I'm doing something okay by trying to be happy for a moment.

Another friend says, geez, that's terrible, I'll have some money soon. He gives me money, apologizing that it isn't more. Once, I remark to him, having noticed, that now if I'm cooking and there's a grain of rice left in the box, if I drop one in the sink, I literally think of it as something I could have eaten, something I paid for and can't waste. I feel a moment of—something. I count it.

Needless to say, none of the people giving me any money can really afford to give me any money. For some reason, I don't seem to know any of the other people, who can afford it.

Then, for a while, the first employer effectively laid me off. Left me with little to do, for longer than I could afford. Until things picked back up, on their terms. With this work temporarily—forever, for a while, how long, could not be said—in a doldrum, I sent out a call for leads, help; a friend forwarded me a message from a non-profit she knew someone who knew someone at, looking for temporary workers. The work: data entry at an hourly rate. A rate above ten dollars an hour! I wrote; I applied; I got it, but only just barely, since my shaky availability—still worried about holding on to work with that first employer—left them unsure whether I would be the best choice, since they really preferred a quick burst of full 8-hour days of entry for a week, maybe two, to get the work at hand complete. I showed up before they had gotten around to voicing their misgivings, so they figured, fine. So enter I did: names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, legislative districts written on postcards collected at events like the state fair. I commuted to work; I worked in a cubicle and sat at a desk; for a few weeks I felt like an employee, with co-workers I saw almost every day. I worked, for obscure reasons, briskly, with no rest, no slack, the permanent employees in the office lolling about talking as one does when its permanence causes one to feel a certain kind of ownership of, entitlement to, one's job. When it is not just work—to do, to be paid for, but a job—that one has, does, is. (Suggesting the tempting fallacy of denying the antecedent: if you don't have a job, then you are: ….) I typed, clicked, scrolled, looked up, corrected, deciphered, sorted, card after card. When we—there were two others—had finished entering, turning all the cards and their scrawls into a useful—because computerized—list of supporters (who might be contacted again for support in the future, although when we would sometimes call them up to get help figuring out what they themselves had scrawled in expression of their interest in our organization and its political advocacy, they would say: NOT INTERESTED), we sorted them. Into stacks, 134 of them, one for each legislative district, 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, 3A, 3B, up to 67A, 67B, to be handed, perhaps, to their respective legislators, as proof of numbers, a proxy for people. Democracy at work! Then, with that—the work was done. They took us out to lunch. I ate curry, I drank milk straight from a coconut. It was the best I had been treated by anyone who had only just put me out of work in, I don't know, forever.

—Rent is due. There's not enough. I add up the reports I have edited—$1, $3, $1, $4.50, $3.75, $1, $1, $1…—and can expect to be paid for on the day that rent is due. There's not enough. I send a note to my parents. I explain what I need, not really expecting anything—they don't have any money, either—but hoping. While I'm waiting, I send another note, to a friend. This friend just the other month took me grocery shopping when I was down to nothing, making the best of expired batter I found in the cupboard. On our circuit of the store she would pass something, say, 'Do you like this?' If yes—'Let's get two, let's get three.' If I wouldn't normally spend the money, not treat myself anyway—'Well would you like this if you could buy whatever you wanted?' If yes—'Let's get two, let's get three.' Confronted with generosity that gives and gives more, I don't even know what to do but take and hope I can someday give again. But then, a month or so later, here I am, in a spot, with no one to ask, so I ask. And she gives again. And 'you can repay me never.' She comes to see me, bringing Chinese food in the little boxes, a stack of cash folded over. Later, I count the bills to see where I stand. My parents send a note back to me. They can send me what I need, they say, but they want me to send a check in return, in the same amount, to hold until I can cover it. I wait for the mail. When it comes, I add the amount of the check to my total. There's enough. There's a little breathing room. I look at what I have, already in the bank; I look at what I hold in my hand, the check, the bills. Since I've moved here, I live close to a branch of my bank, and I've made a habit of going in for quarters, with little place else to get them these days. To do the laundry. I look at what I have, with, after I pay this rent, money tight again: could I afford to do laundry? Not quite, less than $3 in quarters. I have two dimes and a nickel. I put them in my pocket to take to the bank with the check and the money. At the bank, I fill out the deposit slip, even writing in my account number—I know it's not necessary these days, but somehow it reminds me of visiting the savings bank on the town square in the place I grew up—and I arrange it like so. I give the teller the slip, the check, the bills, the dimes, the nickel, and I ask for cash back in quarters: $3.25. The teller is a service industry lifer, all contorted expressions and exaggerated friendliness. She takes the slip, slides it through the scanner attached to the computer, and digs around in a drawer. The computer prints a receipt for me and she produces a handful of quarters from the drawer. She offers to use an envelope for the quarters—another throwback to childhood bank visits. She even, absurdly, asks me to help her count them out. Four quarters—one. Four quarters—two. Four quarters—three. One quarter—and they all go in the envelope she's asked me to hold open for her. When I leave the bank, I pass a mailbox in which I put an envelope addressed to my parents, containing a check for the same amount as the one I just deposited—the date line blank. Besides the check, there is a note: 'Thanks for helping me hold on.'

'I send someone shopping. I give him a slip of paper marked "five red apples". He takes the slip to the shopkeeper, who opens the drawer marked "apples"; then he looks up the word "red" in a chart and finds a colour sample next to it; then he says the series of elementary number-words—I assume that he knows them by heart—up to the word "five", and for each number-word he takes an apple of the same colour as the sample out of the drawer. ——It is in this and similar ways that one operates with words. —— "But how does he know where and how he is to look up the word 'red' and what he is to do with the word 'five'?" —— Well, I assume that he acts as I have described. Explanations come to an end somewhere. – But what is the meaning of the word "five"? – No such thing was in question here, only how the word "five" is used.'

I've seen it noted once or twice that Wittgenstein—he is the 'I', after all—sends someone shopping without any money. Perhaps because of the encouragement in §1 of the Investigations to think of this shopper as a child, tentatively learning to play her part in the grown-up ritual of shopping. In that case, especially, you would think that the money would be important. Crucial to the ritual. The child has to learn to hold the money, keep it safe, then hand it over to the shopkeeper at the right time. The timing is all-important for the ritual. And children, before they master it, can become so flustered, bashful: they rush through, or do things in the wrong order. I don't know why, but I have this feeling that one way they do it wrong, 'misfire' the act of buying something, is to collapse the whole interaction, transaction, into simply: handing over the money.

One thing Wittgenstein's example imagines about money, and about work, is the way in which it's done by other people for that money. If you have money, someone else will go from here to there, give this to him, send him there, put this here, look at that. Do what you want.

Occasionally, contrary to how we live, what we do, it changes hands for other reasons.

5 Nov '14 11:31:29 PM

The Nod

4 Nov '14 03:50:35 AM

Work in progress on Cavell's conclusions concerning skepticism about others in The Claim of Reason.

Near the beginning of Claim, Cavell mentions that (with perhaps astonishingly slim means) Descartes 'refined the options for philosophical belief'. I'm trying to work out a sense in which that remains true of Cavell in his own work, however much appearances, or his Wittgensteinianism (or Kantianism), might suggest otherwise—say, by making it unclear in what sense he cares to have a 'position'. (His usual preference for talking about 'conviction' in the early essays, akin to the passages in which he talks about finding our 'necessaries' at the end of chapter V of Claim, thereby recalling his reading of Thoreau in Senses of Walden as searching for our 'true necessaries', signals how much interest he retains in belief as a result, or aim, of philosophizing. Also the level at which that belief is situated, for him.) My approach is to use a distinction between 'belief that' and 'belief in' to help explain how Cavell reaches statements like 'I live my skepticism', produced somewhat as if they were conclusions, even though he regards his explicit consideration of the status of skepticism about others (in the active 'skeptical recital') as literally not conclusive in the way that external-world skeptical considerations are.

As you may see, in this draft I stop just short of the point where Cavell states, 'I do not picture my everyday knowledge of others as confined but as exposed. It is exposed, I would like to say, not to possibilities but to actualities, to history' (XIII/21, p. 432). If what I have so far gives you any thoughts about what is being said in that passage, I would love to hear them. I've never learned the knack of sharing work in progress, at least not with anyone but friends. I don't understand how people can read out whole, seemingly finished papers which they nevertheless think are not done. So instead, I'm trying something else: sharing things that are literally, visibly, not done, in the hopes that they'll stimulate others to share their own thoughts and (hopefully) help me along with mine.

3 Nov '14 08:10:01 PM

Cavell contends that Wittgenstein's work is to be read as modernist—so, for example, as produced in a context, or situation, or world (and with it the philosophy and art called for) which we conceive of or experience as 'having decisively but not yet intelligibly changed, as having become strange' (MWM?, p. xxvii). Elsewhere, that situation is more usually glossed in terms of a problematic relation of the present practice of a discipline to its history. But he typically reserves his most explicit, but still occasional, elaborations on what modernism is, or entails, to his remarks on the arts, not philosophy. In 'Music Discomposed', the leading note in his characterization of 'the new music', and of modernism, is the concept of fraudulence:

'… the possibility of fraudulence, and the experience of fraudulence, is endemic in the experience of contemporary music; […] its full impact, even its immediate relevance, depends upon a willingness to trust the object, knowing that the time spent with its difficulties may be betrayed' (MWM?, p. 188).

The conceptual neighborhood here is not unfamiliar. It is one in which 'what count as the genuine article… is not given, but requires critical determination' (p. 189), but 'there is no one feature, or definite set of features… and no specific tests by which… fraudulence can be detected and exposed' (p. 190). Which is to say, one in which established or traditional or conventional criteria for what counts as art are of no help, because (as the story he rehearses goes) the arts have developed in such a way that new instances seem compelled to repudiate the traditions they belong—or don't quite belong—to somehow, but in doing so (or trying to), also seem to deprive us of our, or any, means for making sense of how they belong with what preceded them, and so invite us to think of them too as novels, as poems, as compositions, as music, as 'art'. To stress a word Cavell often associates with both the discriminating and proclamatory moments in our judgments, our calling things what they are, this is a situation in which we cannot tell. No one can.

But by choosing the term 'fraudulence' to characterize what he calls the 'dangers' of this situation, Cavell is calling attention to a natural, or necessary, consequence for our experience of art (and non-art, or perhaps-art) in such a situation. Saying that we cannot tell, like the idea of fraudulence itself, suggests that superficial or initial or outward appearances never decide the issue for us; and saying that we cannot tell, again like the idea of fraudulence, suggests a related possibility that Cavell has to explicitly reject as disanalogous for his use of the term 'fraudulence': viz., that we could tell eventually, on closer inspection, in time, by finding some mark, some flaw, some decisive feature, or lack thereof. No, he says; that's what it means that we cannot tell; that we also could not even tell then, in that way. What his use of the term 'fraudulence' to characterize this situation brings out is, let's say, the nature of our experience in the interim: in the course of trying to tell, say, we still have to experience these works, these objects; come to know them, test them, negotiate their difficulties, let them test us, discover their satisfactions, find places for them in our lives, find the places in our lives that they touch or reveal; live with them. The full impact of modern arts, of art in this situation, he says, 'depends upon a willingness to trust the object' (p. 188). What we (have to) trust, we live with. Cavell draws a striking and strange comparison:

'Contemporary music is only the clearest case of something common to modernism as a whole, and modernism only makes explicit and bare what has always been true of art. (That is almost a definition of modernism, not to say its purpose.) Aesthetics so far has been the aesthetics of the classics, which is as if we investigated the problem of other minds by using as examples our experience of great men or dead men. In emphasizing the experiences of fraudulence and trust as essential to the experience of art, I am in effect claiming that the answer to the question "What is art?" will in part be an answer which explains why it is we treat certain objects, or how we can treat certain objects, in ways normally reserved for treating persons' (p. 189).

What we (have to) trust, we live with. Like we live with people, with others.

24 Oct '14 11:11:50 PM

'Someone coming with a piece of paper who says you have to leave.'

21 Oct '14 08:35:29 PM

'I'm finally learning how to work like a choir director.'

19 Oct '14 09:54:25 PM

Forms have, I want to say, grammars. Something about blogging, as a form—or not just one thing about it—makes (us say that) people stop blogging. Not just stop, but decide (it is time) to stop; or trail off, or cease abruptly; not only stop, but also to announce that they are stopping; or to end without notice, without explanation.

Calling these remarks 'grammatical' is a way of saying that they're in some way forced on us, when we talk about blogs; they are the ways in which the form is intelligible to us. Obviously the fact that we have to say a blogger stops is related to the form's sustained, open-ended continuity (however much discontinuity it may otherwise permit): its basically diurnal character. In some cases, a blogger will note that they no longer have anything to say (about a specifically or narrowly chosen topic, especially). Certain kinds of writers, like academics, do not. Or cannot, as if professionally bound to have something to say, for life. But academics, or other kinds of writers especially, those who earn a living with their writing (as academics don't), like journalists of any sort, can choose to husband their resources (aiming for that book, or book deal), or they can move on to a paying gig, to bigger leagues. Those who do persist often manage, even thrive, through a kind of instrumentalization of the form, always working up the next conference paper, always storing up a reserve of pre-fab commentary to serve as ballast in some future endeavor. Or, for more public-facing writers, addressing, in some way, the times, or matters of public concern, what is built up is literally a body of opinion, a profile, a presence in the public world. A rep, and a following; thus the constant stream of self-promotion in which almost all writers are compelled to swim or drown now: 'Here's a link to my new piece'—elsewhere.

The more public a blogger is—the more a journalist or an academic, say—the more their blogging is apt constantly to be done in view of an elsewhere, somewhere more permanent, more visible, higher status, more respectable, official. Elsewhere, publication is decided by someone else, to be alongside someone else, or several someone elses. Writing elsewhere is somehow detached from you, detachable, in a way your blogging can never be—even if signed. Publications are signed, or not; blogs have names, moreso than titles, because they're more like people than pieces, more consubstantial with their authors, in Montaigne's sense, than any form of print publication since, perhaps, the sole-proprietor newspaper or newsletter. (The latter, often named after those who run them.) They are, at some limit, more like saying something in public, than saying something in print; more like saying something out in the open, than appearing in print.

There is, of course, a sense in which we live in two worlds now, with the internet, especially anyone who writes on it, says anything on it, published or posted or tweeted—and the terrible consequences of that fact still take us by surprise all the time. Nevertheless, of the two poles, treating utterance there more like 'saying' or more like 'publishing' or its less permanent cousin, 'public speaking' (giving a talk, going on the radio, on TV, etc.), the former often seems more natural to me, more sane. More honest, less ridiculous. Journalists, and writers who live off their writing, can worry about the distinction between committing something to print, to publication, and saying it offhand; but when they blog they seem fully aware of, and responsive to, the conditions under which they do so, which are in the rough neighborhood of speech, of talking: of saying something out in the open, and saying it now, in your voice, as you.

I suppose I constantly compare journalists to academics in this context because, having kept this blog since the earliest days of blogging, and having lived with, on, the internet for even longer, it seemed quite perceptible to me that, especially after a more experimental, frontierish period, when blogging coalesced around several different types of the form, there was an affinity between the journalistic, comment-boxed forms of regular, extemporaneous commentary on news, novelties, and opinion, and the (belated, I think) typical academic uses of blogging, which seem to me to treat it as a kind of annex to the university, or an outpost in the world, every post and its comment thread a kind of ad hoc conference presentation (bad), the occasional staged event a kind of time- and space-shifted seminar or reading group (ok)—in short, as a kind of colonization of the internet, an attempt to transfer the norms of one's profession, or of the academy, into another space somewhat lending itself to the transfer, and maybe somewhat not. To capture this space in the name of others.

And the norms of those other spaces haunt, hound, academic bloggers; control their speech. They can hardly say a thing without hedging, making excuses, diminishing both the space and whatever they've said in it: it doesn't take much pushback before many of them will come to say, in response to commenters, 'this is only a blog post'. In similar circumstances, offline, I suspect that a person would have to come to quite different straits, much further along, to say, 'we're only talking here', as if some imagined surety achievable only in print obviously made mere conversation nearly worthless. As if the circuit from silent thinking to writing could do what immediate utterance never could.

Now, what I've been wanting to say, this whole time, about stopping, is that there's a way of stopping, a grammatical possibility that the form of blogging has in virtue of what it is, its essence or nature, that's easily overlooked or lost when more (I want to call them, despite the ambiguity) public forms of blogging on the journalistic or academic models are taken almost to exhaust the space, the possibilities of the form. And this other possibility lights up a depth possessed by the form in virtue of what I've been insisting is its more natural affinity with speech than with print. A blogger who stops goes silent—in something like the way a poet does, either when he or she no longer publishes, or stops writing poetry entirely.

That there is a real analogy here depends, I'm sure, on the particular way in which a private blogger's words are made public—in time, in the context of the days of the blogger's life, and potentially with the permanence of print; and in scope, open to truly unimpeded access by any and all readers, yet with an immediacy to and inseparability from the blogger, not shielded by the institutions of print or the forms of its writing, and ideally, not backed by, or speaking in the person of, those institutions, either—as against some sense that a poet speaks from within, perhaps only more so or most so when doing so in print, where there are claims to be made (or shirked, or denied, or contested) for poems' speaking for us all. (Yes, something like Mill's definition of lyric: it's useful, at least.)

Which is not to say that blogging is like writing a poem; it's to say that this form, in this medium, offers configurations of possibilities for writing whose analogues in another medium have been found naturally to invite, or call for, conceptualization in the terms native or local to the concept of 'poetry'. (Or: there already was poetry; with the advent and spread of print, poetry as an art found all the ways it could to exploit the advantages its new home afforded.) Specifically, say, in terms of what occasions poetry; in terms of the relationships a poet can have to a poem, for him- or herself and for us; in terms of the range of voicing, from the most personal to the most universal, expressing the most fleeting or momentary things up to the most enduring ones, which we normally allow to poems and poets but prohibit or circumscribe in other, more public forms of culture. And maybe: in terms of the relation we think sometimes exists between a poet, his or her writing poetry, and his or her life. A poet who stops publishing stops writing (or, from our vantage point, 'writing') for us; a poet who stops writing at all stops writing for him- or herself. The need subsides, or persists but is allowed no outlet, or thwarted by incapacity, blocked. Or: other satisfactions are available, and enough. Or other things simply need to be done more. Here the grammar bottoms out in the details of life, of a life.

The analogy attracts me, I suppose, because I think of my own blog as something I write for myself, though I am well aware of the fact of the form, of the difference it makes that one writes something primarily for oneself, in public, with this peculiar character of immediate utterance, owned more than signed, and (in the long view) lived more than worked, left behind more than finished. But it's not a form I understand. Or: I sense, and have long sensed, that it can be for something, without ever having been confident that I've managed to find that something, or do well at it (for long). I write for myself, or try to, without knowing how to, or why to. But also without knowing how not to, at this point.

19 Oct '14 05:03:45 PM

'What seemed most important to me was not the fact of the 'I' but the way it moved through the text and the world.'

14 Oct '14 04:57:43 PM

Any account of Moore's 'teaching' has to address the ways he conveys the 'importance' of the matters he discusses. Chief among them, in print, I think, are his italics:

'And it seems to me that, on the view we have accepted with regard to sense-data, our knowledge of the existence of material objects by means of the senses must be analogous to memory at least in this: it must consist in our knowing that there exists something different from any sense-datum or image which we are directly apprehending at the moment. This would seem to be the minimum which we must know, if we are to know of the existence of any material object by means of the senses. We must know, when we directly apprehend certain sense-data, that there exists also something other than these sense-data—something which we do not directly apprehend. And there seems no sort of reason why we should not at least know this, once we have dismissed the prejudice that we cannot know of the existence of anything except what we directly apprehend. Of course, merely to know this, would be to know very little. If the something, whose existence we know of really is, in fact, a material object, we might be said to know of the existence of a material object, even if we did not know that it was a material object. But, we must know much more than this, if we are to know also that this something is a material object. And moreover, if we are to know that we all saw the same envelope, we must know that the something, of whose existence we each of us know, is the same something. But there seems no reason again why we should not know many things of this kind.…'

Moore is a gifted expositor; despite the occasional (well, regular) stretch of tedium in these lectures he somehow manages to make the existence of material objects sound like a natural issue to address, even from a strenuously insisted upon 'Common Sense' starting point, and to make the inquiry in pursuit of an answer itself sound, and feel, natural. This requires a sense that something important is as yet unresolved—actually, a constantly controlled sense of irresolution, as one consideration, one possibility, one argument gives way to another, and then another. The exercise of control depends, obviously, partly on where the emphasis is placed; its timing, its rhythm. This passage falls at nearly the end of the chapter in Some Main Problems titled 'Sense-Data'. The use of italics in the passage is not particularly more pronounced than it is in others, for that—for comparison, here are all the words and phrases Moore italicizes in the same chapter, in each paragraph—

supposing, certainly do, supposing, is

by means of the senses, based, it, some, some, only, see, mutatis mutandis

see, mental, seeing, do, know, "seeing," seeing

what, seeing, is

saw, it, the same, the same, it, one, one, it, one

part, sense-data, given, sensations, had, had, seeing, seeing, had, had, had, had, had, have, having, not, either, conceivable, my seeing, sense-datum, existing, conceivable, seeing, conceivable, conceivable, conceivable, seeing, sense-data, seeing, impressions, ideas, sense-data, direct apprehension, directly apprehending, sense-data

the same, same sense-data, this, this, knew, know, same, the same man, same sense-data

if, did, identical with, all

whole, this, that, part, part

see, a part of, sets of sense-data, part

part, part, in


size, shape, part, part, occupy, is, is, has, be


all, all, one, not, not, not, is, this

all, one, much the same, the, only, one, if, whether

all, one, not, is, is, is, roughly, the, the same, the, the same, the, the, same, the, same, two, not, of, of, the, in quality, numerically, numerically, two, squares, one, another, the, must, two, numerically, of the same size, the, the, real, is, shape, the, is, the, the, of, the, one, the, the, numerically, the, exactly, the

was the, not, all, the, in

was, none, none

space, this, not, part, space occupied by, seem, seem, really do, really are, this, is, is, seems



is not, was, was, were, may, exactly like, not, the, is, is, is, it, it, same, same, that, the

every, is, exists

alike, numerically, now, the same, not, at the same time, while


same place, to one another, private space of my own, one

the same space with, in the mind of, in our minds, in, in, in my mind, in, dependent, the accepted view

either, or, one, seems, or, seems, possible, might, seem, really, in, which, the, what, must, not, sense-given, not, against, suppose, suppose


part, saw, at least, that, if, merely, at least, mere part, same, do not, beside, what, direct apprehension, this, directly apprehend, one, another, what, are, may, not, the, something, the, the same, now, saw, not, now, the same, had, now, of, the

this, only, in fact

merely, is, might

also, also, it, my seeing



I did see it a moment ago, know, was, now, now, was

exists something, also, other, except, merely, something, in fact, that it was, also that, is, the same, the same something, should not know, something, was

seeing, seeing, not, it, partly, knowing, besides and at the same time, something, see, not

knowledge, other

—so one couldn't say Moore is just ramping up the use of italics in concert with a little end-of-chapter crescendo of suspense, trying to fill tomorrow night's seats in anticipation: do we know it? how?! did we all see the same envelope?!? Moore's emphases are a constant strategy, a habit; the passage I initially quoted, corresponding to the third last group of italicized words in the list above, does not even stand out as the most insistently emphasized one.

But it does have its rhythm. In reference to the present aim of the inquiry, (knowledge of) the existence of material objects, it shifts from 'there exists something' to 'there exists also something other' in roughly the space of the paragraph's first half—a slight shift in emphasis, as the second phrase paraphrases what was meant by (Moore's saying) the first. Then, addressing himself to a recently-answered opposing view about the limitations imposed on our knowledge by the privacy of sense-data, Moore refers to 'the prejudice that we cannot know of the existence of anything except what we directly apprehend', not only neatly recalling his criticism of the view by labeling it a prejudice, but also paraphrasing the statement of the view (knowledge consists in the direct apprehension of sense-data; all our sense-data are private) into a form—via emphasis on 'except'—that both makes that view sound like an exception to what is really the case, yet accepts the seeming weight of that view, tacitly, as if 'what we directly apprehend' were almost exhausted by our private sense-data, so that, in pursuit of proof that we do in some other way know of the existence of material objects, we're in search of something, something other, something else, something exceptional. And with this, the remainder of the paragraph is structured out of shifts in emphasis as much as it is out of words. This exception, this something, does not amount to much; knowing (of) it would mean little by itself. 'We must know much more than this', even if the something is a material object. A less gifted expositor of philosophy would say, 'we must know that it is a material object'. Moore says, 'we must know also that'—as if an additional piece of information, of a piece with whatever we might have gleaned or intuited about the thing's existence otherwise—'this something is a material object', as if the difficulty that still awaited us were to somehow make out, discern, how something we have barely got hold of is something else, or is like it, or can be found to count as one of those. —When, as the hypnotic lists of italicized words (like unsalvageable Diels-Kranz fragments from some student of Parmenides) suggest, this is a difficulty that forces us into relying on and distinguishing between the slightest senses of, functions of, the smallest words, applied to the very world around us: see, this, one, it, of. Moore's emphases, and his rhythms of emphasis, invest these words with untold importance, as his shows of caution over their precise use signal the care we too are to take as he goes on. Thereby is a sense of inquiry created, sustained.