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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5 Oct '12 03:15:48 AM

People will say that there are things it's their job to know, or not their job to know.

5 Oct '12 02:47:05 AM

'Yet what is my softness good for even to tears— It is not I but nature in me.'

'"It is not I but nature," the speaker claims, dissociating himself from sympathy. But the repudiation is complicated because the prepositional phrase "nature in me" acknowledges that sympathy issues from the self, and therefore is internal to it. Maybe what is being suggested is that how the self defines itself is not dependent upon complete association with the impulses that inhabit it, but rather that the self can be defined in defiance of those impulses, at least of their totality. Definition does not specify that all that is interior is integral to the self, nor that all is exterior is alien to the self. It predicates a different notion of identity, contingent not upon bodily inclusion or exclusion, but rather upon that confluence of impulses and experiences imagined ideally to be one. The confluence of impulses has nothing to do with actual experience, nor with total experience, nor with inner experience. And as interiority or actuality fails to identify the self, so the attribution of sympathy to (one's own) nature is a statement about the origin of sympathy, not about its essence, about where it comes from, not what it is. In fact to specify that sympathy arises from human nature separates it from myself. This way of putting it suggests that between myself and my nature there is a disjunction.'

3 Oct '12 05:47:24 PM

'Dylan made no statement in her defense.'

3 Oct '12 01:09:27 AM

The association that Andrew draws between careers and offices seems right but not quite right; the contrast to field, factory, and home makes careers sound too much like jobs where you have a conference room and have to refill the printer.

You can have a career in law enforcement, a career in nursing, in medicine. A career as a teacher. (It might not be good that these are 'careers', but that's where we are.) A police officer might have a desk, but he's also likely to have a car; to work on the street, to work on sidewalks and in lobbies and livingrooms. A nurse might work, at some times, at a desk; but maybe it's not her desk; and she has areas, works in areas, rooms, in 'patients' rooms' (so they somehow belong to them, not her). A teacher has a classroom; in elementary school the librarian even somehow has the library, even though the librarian at a university library or at the public library just works there. Professors have offices, but strangely little of their work is done in them.

At least we can say that some jobs without offices, but not in fields, factories, are sometimes done in 'the workplace'. And that seems telling. A career promises work that will let you get somewhere; move up. It seems like the workplace isn't really a place that lets you get anywhere. If you move up in the workplace you might get to have an office; the office. But you're still in the workplace. If you move up in your career, you can leave the office; get another office; get a bigger, nicer office; work elsewhere. If you don't have a career and you (find) work elsewhere then you're just getting another job; more, not necessarily better.

Some jobs not done in offices are still done in specifically, spatially articulated workplaces; places where some work is done in the back, some in the front; on the floor; at the counter, behind the desk, at or on the door. Places that you have to be. This is true of some work done in offices, too. But somehow working in an office can also mean that you can move around, do your work some different ways, in different places, at different times. (Nobody will ever let you come in to prep tomatoes on the weekend, to catch up; nobody will let you put off mopping the floors until a really long night when you swear you're going to tackle all of it finally.) The spaces in offices are not so much places to do the work in, as places to be responsible in. They give your co-workers places to find you, which are like symbols for what they want to find you for: for the things you're supposed to do, for the cooperation you're supposed to engage in. Just like the number they can reach you at. In jobs, not careers, you might have a station: not just where they can reach you at, but where you're supposed to be (or you're fired).

2 Oct '12 07:52:11 PM

'My chief pleasure at such a meeting would be getting kicked out.'

2 Oct '12 07:50:06 PM

Ask a question; ask another.

2 Oct '12 05:09:45 PM

Every time you feel the urge to lay down the word on what 'professional philosophers' would or should do, try to imagine Socrates using the same words in all seriousness: 'professional philosophers'.

1 Oct '12 11:53:01 AM

'a children's record, a record for kids to dream to'

1 Oct '12 04:51:51 AM

Sometimes Thoreau will let a metaphor guide him through an entire paragraph. Sentences expand, relate to one another, in 'literary' ways. On 14 July 1852:

'Saw to-day for the first time this season fleets of yellow butterflies dispersing before us, we rode along berrying on the Walden road. Their yellow fleets are in the offing. Do I ever see them in numbers off the road? They are a yellow flower that blossoms generally about this time. Like a mackerel fleet, with their small hulls and great sails. Collected now in compact but gorgeous assembly in the road, like schooners in a harbor, a haven; now suddenly dispersing on our approach and filling the air with yellow snowflakes in their zigzag flight, or as when a fair wind calls those schooners out and disperses them over the broad ocean.'

Elsewhere, single sentences of Thoreau's often state single observations. In longer ones he records extended observations of complex objects, letting syntax accommodate his role as the observer. Shorter sentences then sound like facts, statements of facts. I saw this. This was that. Also. And then. But this technique also lets him do something surprising that would otherwise code as 'just' literary, as on 16 July:

'The bass on Conantum is a very rich sight now. Its twigs are drooping, weighed down with pendulous flowers, so that, when you stand directly under it and look up, you see one mass of flowers, a flowery canopy. Its conspicuous leaf-like bracts, too, have the effect of flowers. The tree resounds with the hum of bees,—bumblebees and honey-bees; rose-bugs and butterflies, also, are here,—a perfect susurrus, a sound, as C. says, unlike any other in nature,—not like the wind, as that is like the sea. The bees abound on the flowers of the smooth sumach now. The branches of this tree touch the ground, and it has somewhat the appearance of being weighed down with flowers. The air is full of sweetness. The tree is full of poetry.'

The effect of the final sentence is something like: 'I also saw this', that the tree was full of poetry. Not a metaphor, not a figure, but a perception, put into words stating a fact on a par with other facts.