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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20 Dec '03 07:24:05 AM

Bits of Anarchism Is Not Enough by Laura Riding.

20 Dec '03 06:50:22 AM

'Anybody's welcome to it.
Take: a raft of stuff.'

11 Dec '03 10:30:03 AM

'Although a university education was at this time no longer unusual for a woman, Beauvoir was intent on a specialization in the almost entirely masculine domain of philosophy. She achieved this goal, despite parental opposition, and became only the ninth woman in France to receive the agr├ęgation in philosophy. Beauvoir did exceptionally well in her examinations, finishing second only to Sartre, who was three years older than she and re-taking the exam after his failure the previous year. (Beauvoir was also the youngest person to date to pass the exam.) The examiners had a long debate over which of the two should recieve first place: "If Sartre showed great intelligence and a solid, if at times inexact, culture, everybody agreed that, of the two, she was the real philosopher."

Despite her obvious ability and the close run with Sartre, Beauvoir concluded that she did not have a philosophical mind on a par with his and decided to pursue literature instead. In this regard, much has been made of an apparently decisive discussion she had with Sartre during their preparation for the agr├ęgation exam, a discussion in which she felt he "took apart" her ideas. The experience was not an isolated one: "Day after day, and all day long I set myself up against Sartre, and in our discussions I was simply not in his class."

We need, however, to remember that the "class" Beauvoir had in mind was that of the highest level of creative philosopher. She had, she acknowledged, a remarkable ability to understand philosophical ideas and "penetrated to the heart of a text" more readily than Sartre. But this very facility, she said, was due to her "lack of originality", which made her better able to assimilate others' ideas. As a philosopher, she thought she could have been an excellent expositor and critic but not "a genuinely creative talent". What she means is clear from her response in an interview with Margaret Simons, who expresses doubts about Beauvoir's claim that "she is not a philosopher": "For me, a philosopher is someone like Spinoza, Hegel, etc., or like Sartre: someone who builds a great system, and not someone who loves philosophy, who can teach it, who can understand it, and who can use it in essays, etc., but is someone who truly constructs a philosophy. And that, I did not do." She adds that there are, in her sense, perhaps only two philosophers in a century and says that "Sartre, in my opinion, will be one of them". Given this, her turn away from philosophy was a sign less of self-deprecation than of high ambition: "I possessed far too much intellectual ambition to let this satisfy me." She wanted to "communicate the element of originality" in her own experience and "in order to do this successfully I knew it was literature towards which I must orient myself".'

5 Dec '03 08:24:46 AM

'It furthers one to have somewhere to go.'

5 Dec '03 05:45:14 AM

HAMM: The whole thing is comical, I grant you that. What about having a good guffaw the two of us together?

CLOV (after reflection): I couldn't guffaw again today.

HAMM (after reflection): Nor I.

5 Dec '03 05:27:41 AM

How are value and judgement related?

I can think of several sorts of situations that are said to involve judgement. Essentially, they all involve a person choosing between two or more alternatives, or deciding whether something is appropriate or correct or whether it otherwise meets some norm. The norm is usually implied in the choices between alternatives, too. I suppose it's the involvement of the norm that urges us on to thinking about judgement in terms of statements like 'x is good' or 'x is right' or 'x is beautiful'. Then it's a small step to making sense of value in terms of those things about which statements like 'x is beautiful' are true.

But consider two different situations: one where a person is deciding between two shirts, and points to the yellow one and says 'that one', and another situation (if it could be called that - I have a hard time making up a context for it, in my head) where a person is judging whether 'this shirt is beautiful' is true. It does depend on what one thinks about words like 'beautiful' and 'true', but I think it's more in the latter situation that we feel inclined to understand 'value' in terms of the extension of words like 'beautiful'. And it's just because of that word, 'beautiful', and words like it. It sounds as if it ought to pick out a class of things: the beautiful things, the yellow things, the heavy things. Compare to the former situation, where we can't yet say whether the indexical phrase 'that one' picks out a class of anything. If the context were made more elaborate, we might have cause to say so. Or not. Especially when it's taken into account how often judgements like 'that one' might be made without even the pointing and talking, without an explicit formulation of judgement at all, it seems to me as if there are much more interesting ways to think about value.

[Choice; reasons at the time of choosing for making the choice; what is done with the thing after it's chosen? Why is this last such an important question?]

4 Dec '03 05:53:42 PM

'I was having a problem with liking her, so I came up with a plan to ask her out and have her turn me down.' It's like somehow Michael wrote a story about my life for me, except that I generally don't make it to the point of actually trying my plan. Or she says no. Which is still better than a half-date, I suppose.

25 Nov '03 06:38:11 AM

'lyrics are weak, like clock radio speakers'


24 Nov '03 09:02:56 AM

'If artworks are not semblances of anything actual, what are they semblances of? Although he says it movingly and lyrically, the precise claim is that semblance is the promise of nonsemblance (ND, 405), or a promise of otherness, des Anderen, to revert to the title of section 11. The notion of the promise of semblance is clearly an echo of Stendahl's contention that aesthetic pleasure is a "promesse de bonheur"; Adorno would assume that the Stendhalian promise could be heard in the more austere promise he proposes. There are two aspects to Adorno's proposal here. First, he is claiming that if works of art are semblances, then they must be semblances of something; and once art is no longer representational, then the temptation to suppose that the semblance is of an existing real thing or the idea of such a thing lapses. Thinking again of paradigmatically modernist works, music by Berg, abstract expressionist art, the claim would be that this is a semblance or appearing of an ordering of material stuff that owes nothing to the simple concept, that is, this is a concatenation of material stuff which is meaningful and orderly in itself without the meaning or order being owed to anything but the medium and the matter. This side of the argument thus states that here is the possibility of another nature, of the transfigured body. Second, in the same light, Adorno is contending that works of art say that nature can be like this. And what now is the status of that can? It is a promise.

I presume that the notion of a promise was carefully chosen to capture the anomalous modal status of the kind of possibility, the kind of relating of present to future, which semblances project. Like a promise, a work of art is a fully (materially) substantial present object; like a promise, a work of art "intends" a future that is not legible from the present other than through its very being, only providing a sign that a certain nonpredictable future will come to pass; and finally, like a promise, a work of art is impotent in the face of future reality. While promises are certainly iterable, in promising to be there tomorrow I am also promising that my promise will be kept, they are equally fragile: in promising that my promise will be kept I cannot guarantee that it will be; forces beyond my power, say, the forces of causal nature, may prevent its being kept. Part of the majestic beauty of promises, vows, and pledges is that they pose human determination and hopefulness in the teeth of intransigent reality. Artworks on Adorno's accounting partake in that kind of emphatic claiming and impotence. In experiencing works of art we are experiencing a material event that is incompatible with the present social order of the living, and in so being promises another social order of the living.

These are, I know, massive claims about works of art that would take, did take Adorno a huge volume on its own to substantiate. However, at least on this account, it is the modal shape of semblances that is the heart of the matter; if so, then one may legitimately ask whether anything other than artworks has the structure and modal shape Adorno attributes to semblances and which simultaneously satisfies the other requirements for metaphysical experience. There are losses and gains in taking this path. The loss is that no domain of social practice systematically sustains human transcendence in the way that art does according to Adorno; on the contrary, the philosophical importance of art is that it systematically, that is, in accordance with the demands of the practice itself, works at sustaining human transcendence. And this means as well, that only from within art can the necessity of semblance be inferred since only in making out why there is art at all in its present disposition in relation to the rest of social reality can the role of semblance in social reality as a whole (including art now) be shown to be rationally necessary. The gain is twofold. First, it has proved consistently difficult to demonstrate how the achievement of artworks can be interpreted as satisfying the concept of the concept; which has made the whole cognitive side of Adorno's aesthetic theory an invitation that no one seems quite sure how to accept or reject. In asking after more worldly events, the conceptual and cognitive aspects of the claim about semblance should be able to come into view. Second, in focusing on the modal shape of Adorno's conception of metaphysical experience, it becomes possible to see that his attention to aesthetics need not be considered as being at the expense of the possibilities of ethical action.'

- J.M. Bernstein, Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics, in 'Ethical Modernism' on pp. 436-7