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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8 Jun '04 08:17:44 AM

Cult of the genius out of vanity. - Because we think well of ourselves, but nonetheless never suppose ourselves capable of producing a painting like one of Raphael's or a dramatic scene like one of Shakespeare's, we convince ourselves that the capacity to do so is quite extraordinarily marvellous, a wholly uncommon accident, or, if we are still religiously inclined, a mercy from on high. Thus our vanity, our self-love, promotes the cult of the genius: for only if we think of him as being very much remote from us, as a miraculum, does he not aggrieve us (even Goethe, who was without envy, called Shakespeare his star of the most distant heights; in regard to which one might recall the line: 'the stars, these we do not desire'). But, aside from these suggestions of our vanity, the activity of the genius seems in no way fundamentally different from the activity of the inventor of machines, the scholar of astronomy or history, the master of tactics. All these activities are explicable if one pictures to oneself people whose thinking is active in one direction, who employ everything as material, who always zealously observe their own inner life and that of others, who perceive everywhere models and incentives, who never tire of combining together the means available to them. Genius too does nothing except learn first how to lay bricks then how to build, except continually seek for material and continually form itself around it. Every activity of man is amazingly complicated, not only that of the genius: but none is a 'miracle'. - Whence, then, the belief that genius exists only in the artist, orator and philosopher? that only they have 'intuition'? (Whereby they are supposed to possess a kind of miraculous eyeglass with which they can see directly into 'the essence of the thing'!) It is clear that people speak of genius only where the effects of the great intellect are most pleasant to them and where they have no desire to feel envious. To call someone 'divine' means: 'here there is no need for us to compete'. Then, everything finished and complete is regarded with admiration, everything still becoming is under-valued. But no one can see in the work of the artist how it has become; that is its advantage, for wherever one can see the act of becoming one grows somewhat cool. The finished and perfect art of representation repulses all thinking as to how it has become; it tyrannizes as present completeness and perfection. That is why the masters of the art of representation count above all as gifted with genius and why men of science do not. In reality, this evaluation of the former and undervaluation of the latter is only a piece of childishness in the realm of reason.

The serious workman. - Do not talk about giftedness, inborn talents! One can name great men of all kinds who were very little gifted. They acquired greatness, became 'geniuses' (as we put it), through qualities the lack of which no one who knew what they were would boast of: they all possessed that seriousness of the efficient workman which first learns to construct the parts properly before it ventures to fashion a great whole; they allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than in the effect of a dazzling whole. The recipe for becoming a good novelist, for example, is easy to give, but to carry it out presupposes qualities one is accustomed to overlook when one says 'I do not have enough talent'. One has only to make a hundred or so sketches for novels, none longer than two pages but of such distinctness that every word in them is necessary; one should write down anecdotes each day until one has learned how to give them the most pregnant and effective form; one should be tireless in collecting and describing human types and characters; one should above all relate things to others and listen to others relate, keeping one's eyes and ears open for the effect produced on those present, one should travel like a landscape painter or costume designer; one should excerpt for oneself out of the individual sciences everything that will produce an artistic effect when it is well described, one should, finally, reflect on the motives of human actions, disdain no signpost to instruction about them and be a collector of these things by day and night. One should continue in this many-sided exercise some ten years: what is then created in the workshop, however, will be fit to go out into the world. - What, however, do most people do? They begin, not with the parts, but with the whole. Perhaps they chance to strike a right note, excite attention and from then on strike worse and worse notes, for good, natural reasons. - Sometimes, when the character and intellect needed to formulate such a life-plan are lacking, fate and need take their place and lead the future master step by step through all the stipulations of his trade.

6 Jun '04 06:56:40 AM

Sitting in the coffeeshop, I more than somewhat unintentionally caught a girl's eye as she was walking by, I think because besides the obvious me looking at her part, it was a good look, somehow.

And I thought, I wish I knew how to do that (since I seem to do it only rarely and then by accident).

And I thought, jesus, of all the things to not know how to do.

And also, I thought, it is obviously not something that you can figure out how to do if you're the kind of person who's gotten it into your head that you need to learn how to do it.

6 Jun '04 06:10:31 AM

Always, there may be something in it that we can't see.

3 Jun '04 03:23:53 AM

Why on earth would one not think that Bob and Charlotte were depressed?

And: Ray notes the 'voice-of-authority encouraging the protagonist to keep on writing, she'll be great someday'. But how much hope is Bob supposed to provide there, exactly?

3 Jun '04 02:45:30 AM

An article about John Larroquette's book collecting.

2 Jun '04 09:45:46 AM

Over the weekend I met and ate with Josephine, a long-time reader whose generosity of feeling always takes me by surprise: take, for example, the reason for her trip here by plane, a plan to show up by surprise at another down friend's door and help pick her up a little. We had Japanese at a small and strangely busy place in St. Paul's deserted downtown.

Josephine asked if I felt that working on papers for my courses and exam wastes time and effort that could have gone toward projects that I want to do for myself. The answer is a sad one.

1 Jun '04 08:24:49 AM

'Can I be said to have observed that I and other people can go around with our eyes open and not bump into things and that we can't do this with our eyes closed?'

31 May '04 09:10:09 AM

Often my attempts to write are overwhelmed by my compulsions to write: driven by the latter to sit down for the former, I end up thinking so much more about having to write, needing to write, that every thought but that of the outstanding (as in a debt) work to be done is drowned out.

31 May '04 04:42:51 AM

'On the one hand, the beginning of the Logic does not establish anything particularly controversial: it shows that our judgments about "being" and "nothing" require us to speak of something as coming-to-be or passing-away, assertions that even Hegel himself admits are only "superficial." On the other hand, the beginning sections of the "Doctrine of Being" serve to bring out Hegel's main point: what might look like a "reflective judgment," in the sense of being a comparison between two items, turns out to be not a comparison of things at all but a normative ascription of entitlement, and, for that entitlement to work, it turns out that something else must be brought normatively into play (or must be revealed to be already normatively in play in it). In some ways, this is the point of the Logic as a whole: to say that we know something is not to compare two "things" at all (as we seemingly do when we match up, for example, a photograph with what it is about); it is rather to make a normative ascription, to say that the person making the claim is entitled to the claim. That is, our ascriptions of knowledge are not comparisons of any kind of subjective state with something non-subjective but instead are moves within a social space structured by responsibilities, entitlements, attributions, and the undertakings of commitments.'