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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23 Apr '04 04:22:29 AM

'Adorno's own pedagogical efforts were of course primarily located within the department of philosophy. One of his functions was that of an examiner of future high school teachers, who had to pass a general examination in philosophy (Philosophicum) before they were admitted to the general examinations in their field of specialization (Staatsexamen). In his capacity as an examiner for the state, Adorno had to deal with students who for the most part studied philosophy only in order to pass the Philosophicum. As he points out in his essay 'Philosophie und Lehrer', these students usually showed no special interest in and little appreciation of philosophical discourse. For them, the examination was nothing but a hurdle they had to overcome in order to receive their professional licenses. Adorno, on the other hand, thought the exam should prove that the candidate was able to understand and to discuss philosophical problems within a larger cultural context. He mentions the case of a student who chose to be examined about Henri Bergson but was completely unable to situate the texts she had selected, or to detect any link between Bergson and Impressionist painting. Adorno uses this example to demonstrate an approach to philosophy that altogether undercuts the purpose of the exam. By restricting her attention exclusively to the content, the candidate reified its meaning. Instead of relating to the text and its problems, she could at best reproduce the opinions of the philosopher. What Adorno's essay deplores more than the students' lack of extensive familiarity with the philosophical canon is their stubborn refusal to enter into philosophical dialogue with their teachers and examiners. For this reason, philosophy remains for them a mere object of study, not a mental exercise and intellectual experience. In other words, their attitude is that of specialists whose consciousness is largely ossified; they do not reach the level of active self-reflection (lebendige Selbstbesinnung).

Because Adorno wants the preliminary examination in philosophy to function as an intellectual exercise in which the candidate, through a dialogue with the examiner, demonstrates his or her grasp of the problems involved in the reading of the assigned text, he emphasizes the process of reflection rather than the factual result. The examination, he points out, is designed to find out whether the candidate, while reflecting on his or special field, can move beyond the range of the prepared material. Adorno continues: 'To put it simply, the question is whether they are spiritual human beings [ geistige Menschen], if the term "spiritual human beings" would not have certain arrogant connotations, reminding us of elitist desires to dominate, desires that prevent the academic teacher from achieving self-determination'. Indeed, terms such as geisteger Mensch and geistige Bildung (spiritual self-formation) do have problematic connotations, invoking the kind of pre-war idealism that Adorno scorned. Nevertheless, he seems unable to do without them, since they refer to a project of Bildung of which philosophers such as Johann Fichte, Friedrich Schelling, and Wilhelm von Humboldt were representative. Thus it is not accidental that the essay contains an extensive quotation from Fichte's writings. The element of German idealism that Adorno wants to rescue is the moment of reflexivity: that is, self-understanding through the understanding of cultural texts. Though he can be highly critical of the absolute claims of idealism, in his instance he almost identifies with Fichte's definition of philosophical training as an antidote to the implicit positivist tendencies of his own time.'

23 Apr '04 12:59:03 AM

One would expect that a song called 'There is a Fountain Filled With Blood' would sound less like a Sunday school choir. Ah, religion.

23 Apr '04 12:48:16 AM

Sitting here in the coffeeshop, I've noticed that the woman sitting next to me is looking too openly at the other people around her. But then again, I've also noticed that I probably had to do a bit of looking to determine that.

22 Apr '04 04:55:53 AM

Warning to writers and teachers. - He who has once written, and feels in himself the passion of writing, acquires from almost all he does and experiences only that which can be communicated through writing. He no longer thinks of himself but of the writer and his public: he desires insight, but not for his own private use. He who is a teacher is usually incapable of any longer doing anything for his own benefit, he always thinks of the benefit of his pupils, and he takes pleasure in knowledge of any kind only insofar as he can teach it. He regards himself in the end as a thoroughfare of knowledge and as a means and instrument in general, so that he has ceased to be serious with regard to himself.

14 Apr '04 07:52:15 AM

538: 'Where did the swing band come from? She's bouncing up and down, she wants to be jitterbugged, he sees she wants to lose her gravity -'

12 Apr '04 10:41:22 AM

Walter Benjamin, 'Post No Bills':

The Writer's Technique in Thirteen Theses

I. Anyone intending to embark on a major work should be lenient with himself and, having completed a stint, deny himself nothing that will not prejudice the next.

II. Talk about what you have written, by all means, but do not read from it while the work is in progress. Every gratification procured in this way will slacken your tempo. If this regime is followed, the growing desire to communicate will become in the end a motor for completion.

III. In your working conditions, avoid everyday mediocrity. Semi-relaxation, to a background of insipid sounds, is degrading. On the other hand, accompaniment by an étude or a cacophony of voices can become as significant for work as the perceptible silence of the night. If the latter sharpens the inner ear, the former acts as a touchstone for a diction simple enough to bury even the most wayward sounds.

IV. Avoid haphazard writing materials. A pedantic adherence to certain papers, pens, inks is beneficial. No luxury, but an abundance of these utensils is indespensible.

V. Let no thought pass incognito, and keep your notebook as strictly as the authorities keep their register of aliens.

VI. Keep your pen aloof from inspiration, which it will then attract with magnetic power. The more circumspectly you delay writing down an idea, the more maturely developed it will be on surrendering itself. Speech conquers thought, but writing commands it.

VII. Never stop writing because you have run out of ideas. Literary honor requires that one break off only at an appointed moment (a mealtime, a meeting) or at the end of the work.

VIII. Fill the lacunae in your inspiration by tidily copying out what you have already written. Intuition will awaken in the process.

IX. Nulla dies sine linea - but there may well be weeks.

X. Consider no work perfect over which you have not once sat from evening to broad daylight.

XI. Do not write the conclusion of a work in your familiar study. You would not find the necessary courage there.

XII. Stages of composition: idea - style - writing. The value of the fair copy is that in producing you confine attention to calligraphy. The idea kills inspiration; style fetters the idea; writing pays off style.

XIII. The work is the death mask of its conception.

10 Apr '04 11:59:28 AM

Things on McCoy Tyner's first album sound thin. Though I know that this is in part due to his playing, to the way it had yet to develop into what I expect from his later (after 1962) time with Coltrane, at the moment I feel like attributing a lot to Art Davis, perhaps totally without reason. There are plenty of passages where Davis walks and Tyner tools along just fine, but missing Jimmy Garrison's thing for pulses, suspensions of movement for Tyner to dig into, I keep getting the sense that the ground is missing.

10 Apr '04 10:23:47 AM

Maybe the point of criticism, Maryann says, is to help us stop being thrilled by literature. And if that seems prima facie wrong—thinking maybe about all those times you've seen a book or a poem in a new light, come to find something sweet or clever or impressive about it, because of something a critic said—don't forget to compare those moments of appreciation to the complex relationships you have that outstrip, laughably so, mere 'appreciation', to the books that you read five, ten, fifty times, the ones that you never stop reading, the ones that infect and inflect all your subsequent thoughts, the ones in which you find for the first time someone writing things that you never before suspected anyone else in the world might have thought, except you. You know, whatever. Those books. What I say about them is loaded, to say the least, for—what if it's not such a positive thing, to have that kind of a book? To become mired in it, tied to it, forever affected by its gravity? And not merely because of the subsequent effect of it on your etc. etc.—not in that sense. No; in that, in that brighter book's sun everything else is dimmed. Including, most selfishly (i.e. not some liberal humanist line about the greatness of great literature and tradition and whatever), your own experiences of reading. Of reading whatever, anything. Even these can be brightened, but it takes hard work and dedication and commitment and openness, big things to call for in the face of the resentment and malaise that come of reading book after book where it just doesn't click, and you get the tired feeling of reading yet another book about which you will have yet more thoughts which you will recall a few of, perhaps, a few months on down the road if you are lucky. Even where the most abstractly intellectual is concerned, you want the lightning. And you want it to strike you down dead in your place. You want to be that moved. That affected.

10 Apr '04 09:06:45 AM

'Ulrich says: "When two men or women have to share a room for any length of time while traveling - in a sleeping car or a crowded hotel - they're often apt to strike up an odd sort of friendship. Everyone has his own way of using mouthwash or bending over to take off his shoes or bending his leg when he gets into bed. Clothes and underwear are basically the same, yet they reveal to the eye innumerable little individual differences. At first - probably because of the hypertensive individualism of our current way of life - there's a resistance like a faint revulsion that keeps the other person at arm's length, guarding against any invasion into one's own personality. Once that is overcome a communal life develops, which reveals its unusual origin like a scar. At this point many people behave more cheerfully than usual; most become more innocuous; many more talkative; almost all more friendly. The personality is changed; one might almost say that under the skin it has been exchanged for a less idiosyncratic one: the Me is displaced by the beginnings - clearly uneasy and perceived as a diminution, and yet irresistable - of a We."

Agathe replies: "This revulsion from closeness affects women especially. I've never learned to feel at ease with women myself."

"You'll find it between a man and a woman too," Ulrich says. "But there it's all covered up by the obligatory rituals of love, which immediately claim all attention. But more often than you might think, those involved wake suddenly from their trance and find - with amazement, irony, or panic, depending on their individual temperament - some totally alien being ensconced at their side; indeed, some people experience this even after many years. Then they can't tell which is more natural: their bond with others or the self's bruised recoil from that bond into the illusion of its uniqueness - both impulses are in our nature, after all. And they're both entangled with the idea of the family. Life within the family is not a full life: Young people feel robbed, diminished, not fully at home with themselves within the circle of the family. Look at elderly, unmarried daughters: they've been sucked dry by the family, drained of their blood; they've become quite peculiar hybrids of the Me and the We."'