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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18 Feb '14 05:35:13 PM

Anything for a structure, for facts with which to busy ourselves, to get down to business.

18 Feb '14 05:24:03 PM

Faced with philosophy as it stands, (and) as a discipline with seemingly no use for me, I feel as if 'asked', indifferently, 'who cares about your experience?' We hurry not to touch on anything that matters. We would rather borrow voices than risk using our own.

18 Feb '14 08:45:28 AM

Reading Adorno in conjunction with Hadot, I was struck by a coincidence:

'According to Epicurus, there are "sweet and flattering" pleasures which are found "in motion." Propagating in the flesh, they provoke a violent but ephemeral excitement. People who seek only such pleasures will find dissatisfaction and pain, because such pleasures are insatiable, and when they reach a certain level of intensity, they become suffering once again. These mobile pleasures must be strictly distinguished from stable pleasure, which is pleasure in repose as a "state of equilibrium." This is the state of the body when it is appeased and free of suffering; it consists in not being hungry, not being thirsty, and not being cold:

We do what we do in order to avoid suffering and fear. When once we have succeeded in this, the tempest of the soul is entirely dissipated, for the living being now no longer needs to move toward anything as if he lacked it, or to seek something else by which the good of the soul and body might be achieved. For we have need of pleasure precisely when we are suffering from the absence of pleasure. When we are not suffering from this lack, we do not need pleasure.

From this perspective, pleasure as the suppression of suffering is the absolute good. It cannot be increased, and no new pleasure can be added to it, "just as a clear sky cannot get any brighter." Such stable pleasure is different in nature from mobile pleasures. It is opposed to them as being is to becoming; as the determinate is to the indeterminate and the infinite; as rest is to movement, and as the supratemporal is to what is temporal. It is perhaps surprising to see such transcendence attributed to the simple suppression of hunger or thirst, and the satisfaction of vital needs. Yet this suppression of the body's suffering—the state of equilibrium—makes the individual conscious of a global, coenesthetic feeling of his own existence. It is as though, by suppressing the state of dissatisfaction which had absorbed him in the search for a particular object, he was finally free to become aware of something extraordinary, already present to him unconsciously: the pleasure of his own existence…'

In Epicurean doctrine this pleasure is thus already there, unnoticed: the Epicurean 'cure' renders it noticeable again. It is a kind of ground for hope for a happy life, because, after all, you still exist.

But in Minima Moralia, existence has become grim, the individual's desires determined from without, so that he hardly even retains the possibility of experiencing himself. And the analogue to taking pure pleasure in simply existing is conditional on the vanishingly remote possibility—the actuality—of all others being able to take that pleasure, too:

'He who asks what is the goal of an emancipated society is given answers such as the fulfilment of human possibilities or the richness of life.… There is tenderness only in the coarsest demand: that no-one shall go hungry any more.… A mankind which no longer knows want will begin to have an inkling of the delusory, futile nature of all the arrangements hitherto made in order to escape want, which used wealth to reproduce want on a larger scale. Enjoyment itself would be affected, just as its present framework is inseparable from operating, planning, having one's way, subjugating. Rien faire comme une betê, lying on water and looking peacefully at the sky, 'being nothing else, without any further definition and fulfilment', might take the place of process, act, satisfaction, and so truly keep the promise of dialectical logic that it would culminate in its origin. None of the abstract concepts comes closer to fulfiled utopia than that of eternal peace' (§100).

Maybe that's one of the reasons Adorno elsewhere rebukes Freud's hostility toward sexual pleasure, insisting instead (but in terms nearly indistinguishable from those he uses to describe fulfilled utopia) that

'He alone who could situate utopia in blind somatic pleasure, which, satisfying the ultimate intention, is intentionless, has a stable and valid idea of truth' (§37)

—it, its actuality, the experience of it, grounds some hope for the emancipation of society, from within the most intimate society.

18 Feb '14 06:21:48 AM

We sat in the outfield grass and shared a bratwurst and fried mozzarella sticks. My first Dylan show: K. took me. It was the tour with Willie Nelson that hit minor-league ballparks. Like so many things with K., it's hard for me to place. There were too many uncertain times. At some point, before I'd told her I loved her, maybe wishing for some more acknowledgment of something I guess, I must have had to point out that I knew she knew how I felt about her—telling her without saying it, because it wasn't something she wanted to hear. Or, sometimes, I suppose, wanted to be: loved, in that way. Always such complexly unsettled mixtures of intimacy and distance, with K. I vaguely remember this show as one of those times, especially after the pleasure of the show, on the way home, where maybe I felt on notice not to be too affectionate, not to count on a relationship that promised to persist, existed too affirmatively. Maybe you can see why I would especially associate her with Dylan. But also just because it was time—those remasters had just come out, confirming me, and confronted with lively grizzled old Dylan, I was coming around to his 00s run—and because she had her Dylan, too. She had such a personal relationship to so many things, her Dylan included, that being with her changed my Dylan. We shared his records, like she liked to listen to Nashville Skyline in her car in the morning, dropping me on her way to work: literally, by listening together. Bob must have even helped me get laid. Because we did that a lot, listened to records. For a long while at the beginning it was practically the only way I knew to get her into my bedroom, on my bed. I don't know how to say that without coming off like an operator. It's exactly the opposite: I had no idea how to make a move with her, how to tell what she wanted. At the very least, the music provided a pretext for moving our long conversations elsewhere. The why, I suppose, I came to understand later. But at first, music seemed to help with the how: a good reason to tarry, to share time listening, letting something happen. She was always so jealous of her time that our more languid moments were sometimes tinged with wariness, for me, that she might suddenly remember herself, that self, the one distinct from the one I came to know, and rouse herself to get back to whatever, back from our state of exception. Not that I knew her Dylan, with that special intimacy I knew her with. We listened together but we each knew our separate Dylans, which is exactly right for Dylan. Who can talk about what he means to them?

Tell Tale Signs just postdates our time together. I could hardly begin to say how it sounds now: how deepened because of her and her Dylan. I'm not sure I care to; it's mine.

17 Feb '14 06:56:07 PM


16 Feb '14 06:32:29 PM

Life after Sonic Youth

15 Feb '14 05:23:58 AM

—Human beings, the kind of animals who will even break up when they're not even together. Who are together even when they're not.

15 Feb '14 05:11:04 AM

A sudden impulse, to reconnect with a missing person, led me to dig up some correspondence from a pen-pal from the previous decade, S., a disarming, unconventional stunner and peculiar intellect who I'd 'met' somewhere online, 'seen' around, gotten to exchanging missives with. (Migration and re-encounter are as much a part of internet life as any other, maybe more so, because the disappearances can be so abrupt, so total, the trails to follow non-existent.) And I dug up myself: in different caches of correspondence from different periods, I find me, or someone signing my name, talking about two different women. Ten years ago, E. (or 'C.', at the time—I must have switched conventions), who S. had read about me meeting and dating and loving and abruptly and callously dumping because S. had all along been reading the diary I was keeping then, had said (I recounted to S.) that the only reason I was able to make it as far as I did with her before dropping her was the massive self-delusion that had control of everything else in my life, that was the only reason I could hold such a constantly low opinion of myself. A while later, after one of those natural internet lulls or migrations or whatever it was (the traces are gone), seven years ago, near my birthday, I tell S. that I had received, from K., 'my old love, my most recent and worst and best love', who I hadn't seen in nearly a year, a birthday present, a ticket to a show that K. hoped I would meet her at, if I could bear it—because our split had been hard and slow and unbearable and unwanted, because we couldn't work out how to be what we each wanted from, to, each other, but she couldn't take it anymore and had to try to keep me in her life on some terms (and herself in mine, as she—with such graciousness and perceptiveness—always knew full well mattered just as much to me). So what I did, I tell S., was to agree to go, and then to talk to K., and get anxious and realize nothing had changed and so to back out.

Saying so, just that, to S. likely did little for me. I said at the time that it was just the kind of thing that underscored everything unhappy about my life, which is just what someone looking to actively maintain their own entanglement, enmirement, in an unwelcome mood would say—couldn't see how not to say despite what little it does. As with what I said about the self-delusion that E. faulted me for. Then, at least. Because even if I disclosed these intimacies to my remote, partial stranger, my correspondent S., to only nominal discharge of the burdensome emotions attached to them, or to little to no shift in my actual understanding of myself, I did disclose them—I articulated something. Looking back now on those relationships, I feel stupid. Emotionally stupid: possessed of feelings with little to say about them, little sense of whatever deep wells of articulacy they might harbor were I to know more about how I now am still those me's then, or how not, or how I now stand toward E. or K. or toward my memories of them, toward the places they have in my past, my heart, or literally what exactly it was I lived through, did, said, thought, felt, back then. Because I hardly know. Perhaps for good reason: a grief like K. had died, untouchable on pain of days of sadness and resurgent anxiety, seemingly at best ignored, left undisturbed in hopes that it would be forgotten, dissipate of itself, be displaced, filled; or a far more obscure shame at not even really knowing myself, knowing my own feelings with E., knowing how to feel, how to be a person who feels, who relates, connects. In a frame of mind, in a mood, a stage of life, like those, one weathers. Ducks. I weathered. Only sort of. Often I feel like I still am.

But whatever the me back then didn't get, or was not ready to get, by sharing with S. back then, she's given the me now something from all the way back there. I find that even a year earlier—so, about eight years ago—I had reached out to detail what was happening with K., to try to somehow describe what, then, I noted would be called a breakup except that we had not even gotten back together so as to break anything up (so this had been going on a while, reconciling and parting). Reading 'me' now, I'm struck by how articulate I was about the tenuous understanding I had of my situation. How articulate about perceptions, motives, interpretations, how situated in a history of a relationship and engaged with K.'s view of herself, with her own life and past. How private! (So that I am struck by my own capacity to know another person, however inaccurate it might end up proving on inspection, and so that I almost think it must be some sort of betrayal, to know another person that well and relate it in any way to a third, even though I was hardly indiscreet in doing so. Strange.) My own words are something more like a document to me now, though I see how I might use them, emotionally, to re-connect with that 'me' and simultaneously take advantage of his nearness to and my distance from what he felt, and knew.

14 Feb '14 03:29:55 PM

'The immediate occasion for writing this book was Max Horkheimer's fiftieth birthday, February 14th, 1945. The composition took place in a phase when, bowing to outward circumstances, we had to interrupt our work together. This book wishes to demonstrate gratitude and loyalty by refusing to acknowledge the interruption. It bears witness to a dialogue intérieur: there is not a motif in it that does not belong as much to Horkheimer as to him who found the time to formulate it.

The specific approach of Minima Moralia, the attempt to present aspects of our shared philosophy from the standpoint of subjective experience, necessitates that the parts do not altogether satisfy the demands of the philosophy of which they are nevertheless a part. The disconnected and non-binding character of the form, the renunciation of explicit theoretical cohesion, are meant as one expression of this. At the same time this ascesis should atone in some part for the injustice whereby one alone continued to perform the task that can only be accomplished by both, and that we do not forsake.'