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 Jan '04 08:22:26 AM

I could've sworn I typed this shit in before but I can't find it anywhere. More Cavell, same essay, from the final section, 'The Style of the Investigations':

'I mentioned, at the beginning of this paper, the surface difficulties one has in approaching the writings of Wittgenstein. His literary style has achieved both high praise and widespread alarm. Why does he write that way? Why doesn't he just say what he means, and draw instead of insinuate conclusions? The motives and methods of his philosophizing, as I have been sketching at them, suggest answers to these questions which I want, in conclusion, to indicate.[1]

The first thing to be said in accounting for his style is that he writes: he does not report, he does not write up results. Nobody would forge a style so personal who had not wanted and needed to find the right expression for his thought. The German dissertation and the British essay - our most common modern options for writing philosophy - would not work; his is not a system and he is not a spectator. My suggestion is that the problem of style is set for him by the two aspects of his work which I have primarily emphasized: the lack of existing terms of criticism, and the method of self-knowledge.[2]

In its defense of truth against sophistry, philosophy has employed the same literary genres as theology in its defense of the faith: against intellectual competition, Dogmatics; against Dogmatics, the Confession; in both, the Dialogue.[3] Inaccessible to the dogmatics of philosophical criticism, Wittgenstein chose confession and recast his dialogue. It contains what serious confessions must: the full acknowledgement of temptation ("I want to say..."; "I feel like saying..."; "Here the urge is strong...") and a willingness to correct them and give them up ("In the everyday use..."; "I impose a requirement which does not meet my real need"). (The voice of temptation and the voice of correctness are antagonists in Wittgenstein's dialogues.) In confessing you do not explain or justify, but describe how it is with you. And confession, unlike dogma, is not to be believed but tested, and accepted or rejected. Nor is it the occasion for accusation, except of yourself, and by implication those who find themselves in you. There is exhortation ("Do not say: 'There must be something common... but look and see...'" (sec. 66)) not to belief, but to self-scrutiny. And that is why there is virtually nothing in the Investigations which we should ordinarily call reasoning: Wittgenstein asserts nothing which could be proved, for what he asserts is either obvious (sec. 126) - whether true or false - or else concerned with what conviction, whether by proof or evidence or authority, would consist in. Otherwise there are questions, jokes, parables, and propositions so striking (the way lines are in poetry) that they stun mere belief. (Are we asked to believe that "if a lion could talk we could not understand him"? (II, p. 223)) Belief is not enough. Either the suggestion penetrates past assessment and becomes a part of the sensibility from which assessment proceeds, or it is philosophically useless.

Such writing has its risks: not merely the familiar ones of inconsistency, unclarity, empirical falsehood, unwarranted generalization, but also of personal confusion, with its attendant dishonesties, and of the tyrrany which subjects the world to one's personal problems. The assessment of such failures will exact criticism at which we are unpracticed.

In asking for more than belief it invites discipleship, which runs its own risks of dishonesty and hostility. But I do not see that the faults of explicit discipleship are more dangerous than the faults which come from subjection to modes of thought and sensibility whose origins are unseen or unremembered and which therefore create a different blindness inaccessible in other ways to cure. Between control by the living and control by the dead there is nothing to choose.

Because the breaking of such control is a constant purpose of the later Wittgenstein, his writing is deeply practical and negative, the way Freud's is. And like Freud's therapy, it wishes to prevent understanding which is unaccompanied by inner change. Both of them are intent upon unmasking the defeat of our real need in the face of self-impositions which we have not assessed (sec. 108), or fantasies ("pictures") which we cannot escape (sec. 115). In both, such misfortune is betrayed in the incongruence between what is said and what is meant or expressed; for both, the self is concealed in assertion and action and revealed in temptation and wish. Both thought of their negative soundings as revolutionary extensions of our knowledge, and both were obsessed by the idea, or fact, that they would be misunderstood - partly, doubtless, beccause they knew the taste of self-knowledge, that it is bitter. It will be time to blame them for taking misunderstanding by their disciples as personal betrayal when we know that the ignorance of oneself is a refusal to know.'

[1]: 'Wittgenstein speaks of this as a problem in his preface to the Investigations.'

[2]: 'Perhaps another word will make clearer what I mean by "terms of criticism." Wittgenstein opens the Investigations (and the Brown Book) by quoting a passage from Augustine's Confessions in which he describes the way he learned to speak. Wittgenstein finds this important but unsatisfactory. Is there any short way of answering the question: What does Wittgenstein find wrong with it? (Does it commit a well-known fallacy? Is it a case of hasty generalization? Empirical falsehood? Unverifiable?)'

[3]: 'The significance of the fact that writing of all kinds (not just "literature") is dependent, in structure and tone and effect, on a quite definite (though extensive) set of literary forms or genres is nowhere to my knowledge so fully made out as in Northrup Frye's Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957); the small use I have made of it here hardly suggests the work it should inspire. More immediately I am indebted to Philip Rieff's introduction to the Beacon Press edition of Adolf Harnack's Outlines of the History of Dogma (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957), and to the reference to Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics cited by Rieff.'

6 Jan '04 07:56:22 AM

It irritates me that in order to find out how Cavell reads Wittgenstein, I have to read 500 pages of Cavell on the problem of skepticism. In a cruel irony for a philosopher sitting in an analytically-dominated department, the problem of skepticism is way up high on the list of things that give me narcosleepy.

Anyway, here's Cavell from 'The Availability of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy':

'If the little I have said makes plausible the idea that the question "How do we know what we say (intended to say, wish to say)?" is one aspect of the general question "What is the nature of self-knowledge?" then we will realize that Wittgenstein has not first "accepted" or "adopted" a method and then accepted its results, for the nature of self-knowledge - and therewith the nature of the self - is one of the great subjects of the Investigations as a whole.

It is also one of the hardest regions of the Investigations to settle with any comfort. One reason for that, I think, is that so astonishingly little exploring of the nature of self-knowledge has been attempted in philosophical writing since Bacon and Locke and Descartes prepared the habitation of the new science. Classical epistemology has concentrated on the knowledge of objects (and, of course, of mathematics), not on the knowledge of persons. That is, surely, one of the striking facts of modern philosophy as a whole, and its history will not be understood until some accounting of that fact is rendered.* In a smart attack on the new philosophy, Russell suggests that its unconcern with the methods and results of modern science betrays its alienation from the original and continuing source of philosophical inspiration. "Philosophers from Thales onward have tried to understand the world" (My Philosophical Development, New York, 1959, p. 230). But philosophers from Socrates onward have (sometimes) also tried to understand themselves, and found in that both the method and goal of philosophizing. It is a little absurd to go on insisting that physics provides us with knowledge of the world which is of the highest excellence. Surely the problems we face now are not the same ones for which Bacon and Galileo caught their chills. Our intellectual problems (to say no more) are set by the very success of those deeds, by the plain fact that the measures which soak up knowledge of the world leave us dryly ignorant of ourselves. Out problem is not that we lack adequate methods for acquiring knowledge of nature, but that we are unable to prevent our best ideas - including our ideas about our knowledge of nature - from becoming ideologized. Our incapacity here results not from the supposed fact that ordinary language is vague; to say so is an excuse for not recognizing that (and when) we speak vaguely, imprecisely, thoughtlessly, unjustly, in the absence of feeling, and so forth.'

[*] 'Bernard Williams, in a review of Stewart Hampshire's Thought and Action in Encounter, XV (Nov., 1960), 38-42, suggests one important fact about what I have, parochially, called "modern philosophy" (by which I meant the English and American academic traditions, beginning with Descartes and Locke and never domesticating Hegel and his successors) which, I think, is related to its unconcern with the knowledge of persons and in particular with self-knowledge; viz., its neglect of history as a form of human knowledge.'

6 Jan '04 07:29:32 AM

I suppose I briefly appreciated the Mouse on Mars EP comp, too. And at least that was kind of a proper reissue. Too bad I hardly played it again and also that I couldn't stop saying 'aye dee em' under my breath, Tourette's-style, while listening. But, still, nice. I guess.

I took a nap to it once. This is actually a positive test for my records.

6 Jan '04 07:23:45 AM

I'm not sure which I consider the most significant obstacle to voting:

1. not having enough records to vote on
2. not having cared enough to listen to records
3. not having cared enough to write about any records

(Including old ones.)

6 Jan '04 07:17:37 AM

Yeah. I would have listed the Michael Mayer mix, as it happens.

I'm making a quiet sighing sound now.

6 Jan '04 07:12:27 AM

Besides not helping me any with music totally new to me, that lack of enthusiasm mentioned below also kind of barred me from trying at all with records that I stood some chance of liking, like records by artists I already liked, some even good records, maybe, and some I had been anticipating. However. If this were a classroom I would be handing back these artists' tests folded lengthwise in order to preserve the privacy of their failure, or mediocrity, or good effort, depending.

(When I have cause to write 'good effort' or something like it I can never resist the temptation to underscore the limited nature of my praise by writing it something like: 'good effort, at least'. Or: 'at least you tried'. It may perhaps not be the most prudent thing, pedagogy-wise, to have depressives evaluate student work.)

6 Jan '04 07:01:18 AM

I received an invitation to vote in the Voice poll again this year, but I never turned in a ballot. The deadline was 5 PM today. I had been idly considering it, but I took so long idly considering that when I sat down to make a list at ten til midnight and read the instructions, I found I was about seven hours late. That's just as well, I suppose. The reason I was so idle is that I really didn't listen to enough new albums for their places on a year-end list to matter to me. At least, not enough to move me into making the list. Perhaps later I will write some about why this is so. (So, given my record, I will probably not write about this later. But I should.)

The reason I considered voting despite my lack of enthusiasm is that, in principle, I think lack of enthusiasm is just as worthy a core critical attitude as any other that will guide Pazz and Jop ballots, and thus should be - needs to be - represented. For what the representation's worth (little). My level of enthusiasm would be apparent from just the content of my albums list, I hope:

Basement Jaxx - Kish Kash
Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde
Bob Dylan - Bringing It All Back Home
Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited
John Fahey - Red Cross
Thelonious Monk - Criss-Cross
Thelonious Monk - It's Monk's Time
Thelonious Monk - Solo Monk
Mouse on Mars - Glam
Outkast - Big Boi's Speakerboxxx

I know that's eleven records. I don't really know whether I would end up choosing the Mouse on Mars album, a reissue I enjoyed earlier in the year but then never played again, or the Outkast album (one half of it, really, since Dre's half just annoyed me when I first played it, so I never put it on again), which I played a lot more and enjoyed but found a bit... thin, let's say. If I had played it any I might list the Dizzee Rascal album, which was nice but which I didn't really feel drawn to, or the Michael Mayer mix, which I think Gff made me a copy of but which I haven't even listened to yet. As far as rarely listened to records go, I haven't played the Fahey much since the spring, preferring to play an old record of his that I acquired later instead, but I would still rather leave it on than make space for something else because it captured my attention with less attenuation. Which unfortunately may be my primary way of sifting through records, this year.

The main thing about the list displaying my narcosleepy, though, is the presence of six reissues (seven if you count the Mouse on Mars, which is a different kind of reissue and which really I think I'm excessively pedantic for counting as a 2003 release). But. The Dylan remasters really do sound better, and I hear things in them I never heard before, and I have been listening to them ever since they came out. The Monk reissues are basically the same, but I had never heard those albums at all before. In either case, once I decide to count reissues, and since I don't care about letting artists on my list more than once, I don't even really need to think about including the records: imagine if six great records by two of any of your favorite artists came out in the same year. I was slightly disconsolate about my apathy before I had those reissues late in the fall. But only before.

I suppose I could stick the 'deluxe edition' of Dirty in there too, then, but aside from the fact of its being released during the year I can't think of anything at all new about the original album tracks. They might sound better than the old issue but this never occurs to me. (In fact I think they're just not remastered at all, but I'm too lazy to check again.) The b-sides are alright and the demos are interesting, but I never listen to them. I did listen to the album a lot, though, along with more other Sonic Youth records than ever before.

And Stereolab. Maybe this means someday I'll be able to listen to Cobra Phases and Sound-Dust again.

Speaking of reissues, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted was remastered this year.

The Basement Jaxx record and the S PRCSS record, then, are the only ones that felt like what in a normal year would be records vying for spots on my list. I like both a lot, the S PRCSS more than the Jaxx, but then the Jaxx is a lot more interesting than the S PRCSS, which probably lucked out by comforting me and being catchy. Pop-cultural lyrical references never hurt, either.

Now. Singles are a slightly different matter, since I can honestly say I did enjoy them this year and did care about them. But since I did it casually and informally, and without buying anything, mostly just hearing them on the radio and BET (i.e., the way singles were meant to be heard), I don't know what I liked well enough to make a list at the moment. Maybe later. I would include the 'Tessio' remix on the Luomo album just because I listened to it so compulsively (the rest of the album made me ever so slightly uneasy which was enough to drive me away this year) - and loved it. 'Crazy In Love' would probably go down as my favorite single, but not like eyes bugging out jumping up and down favorite. More hey oh is it hey turn the radio up to an impolite level making other passengers wince but then grin infectiously favorite. Which doesn't put it far from whichever Sean Paul single it is that I liked so much. (I always get 'Get Busy' and 'Shake That Thing' confused in some way that has nothing to do with what any idiot could use to distinguish between them on a cursory listen.) Others, too, like 'Right Thurr', 'Milkshake', 'Beautiful', 'The Jump Off', 'Pump It Up', maybe 'Belly Dancer' but I have trouble feeling shit that I only see on TV once in twelve months, certainly 'I Luv U', whatever I can get by the rules lawyers from Kish Kash, 'Never Scared' (most awesome thing seen on TV, musically: maybe the entire 106 & Park audience shouting along, totally amped up, totally happy), and then, you know, whatever.

5 Jan '04 09:35:19 AM

'It is chuckleheaded to desire a way through every difficulty.'

4 Jan '04 07:36:17 AM

Last week I insisted to Lora that despite appearances, there really are rules one must follow when doing philosophy, in particular academic philosophy. Rules like 'good writing is suspicious' and 'distrust metaphors'. Here's another: no concepts allowed. (Picture it painted on an old board and nailed up outside the clubhouse a la 'no girls allowed'.) Maybe it needs to be written teutonically to make sense: no Concepts allowed.