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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28 Feb '14 08:58:38 PM

Should Cavell's relatively unanticipated reliance on the concept of 'myth' in chapter XIII of Claim be inscribed within what he says about the 'field of sense' in chapter III, when rounding off his discussion of what dissatisfies him about what Austin has to say about existence in 'Other Minds'?

'Experience must, sub specie humanitatis, make sense. "A freak of nature" is one explanation which makes sense of experience; but it is, as Austin is always saying on other occasions, a specific explanation, competent only under certain conditions. And the field of sense, over which explanations range from "I just don't know" to "It's a freak of nature", is broader than any a priori bargain knows. Science, history, magic, myth, superstition, religion, all are in that field. There is no short-cut across it. Sometimes an explanation is wrong because it jumps to conclusions… sometimes because it appeals to magic before science has come to an end or to a head… sometimes because it makes science or philosophy into magic…' (p. 62).

(The next page quotes Wittgenstein's 'Only of a living human being and what resembles (behaves like) a living human being can one say…', important for much of chapter XIII, and then rehearses an Austinian point about those things for which there are criteria and those for which there are not: hallucinated and real, animate and inanimate, natural and artifactual.)

Later, once the concept has made its main appearance, and Cavell has used it to translate Wittgensteinian diagnoses of fantasies or illusions about the privacy of the inner into a different mode of discourse, concerning 'fragments of a myth' about the soul, his quick survey of philosophical responses to, let's say, crises of disillusionment or disenchantment, indicates again the roughly similar 'field of sense' in which the responses take place:

'When myth and actuality cannot live together happily—when you keep wondering too much, say, about where rules come from, then you have stopped living the myth. Nor can you know in advance whether interpretation and argument will be in harmony or, if in conflict, which if either will emerge victorious. Either may cede vast tracts of territory to the other and yet find some rocky corner in which to subsist. (Pieces of the myth of philosophy keep cropping up: here, the part about its battle with theology.) It may be the ambition of an ambitious philosophy to unmask a field of myth. This can mean various things. It can mean just showing that you do not really believe it (any longer); you believe science, or anyway you believe somebody who believes science. It can mean what Hegel did when he tried telling the entire myth of the soul, from origin to end (including the myth of origin and the myth of end), by inventing a speech that he could call philosophy and in which he could tell the soul's story as part of God's. It can mean what Nietzsche was doing in trying to break the myth of the soul, especially those parts about its origin (from nothing, by creation) and its existence (as opposed to the body) and its end (in a world beyond)—to break it by replacing it, or by removing the place for it, which meant breaking all our interpretations of experience, breaking belief, breaking the self' (p. 366).

(These same concerns, and the grounds encompassed by the 'field of sense', reappear in the closing 'developments', i.e. 'work for someone else to do', on the history of skepticism concerning other minds as something that we live, in pp. 468–78 just before the concluding readings of Merchant of Venice and (The Winter's Tale and) Othello. One item on the list concerns secularization and the need for 'constructing a mythology to rival that of Christianity, which in practice means to reinterpret Christianity, bone by bone'. Another item concerns 'the "science" of the human', and our not knowing whether that science has been established or not.)

I've been working at Mulhall's reading of Cavell as a modernist philosophical writer, which helpfully juxtaposes a contrast between a rationalizer of modern society like Rawls (it's claimed) and someone (it's claimed) with a more total view of our responsibilities to one another like Cavell, with remarks on Cavell's fragmentary literary form and on his conception of a Wittgensteinian philosopher as working with fragments of a myth of privacy. Given how thoroughly references to myths of various sorts are strewn throughout chapter XIII of Claim, in this connection Cavell can almost take on the tone of a properly bleak life-does-not-live modernist like Adorno, so long as you can sustain the sense that these are references to, in some sense, things that 'we' are said to believe, things that are said to say who 'we' are, while maintaining some grasp of Cavell's intention in labeling them (fragments of) myths. Since that label is counter to our actual continued (if partial or intermittent or wavering) belief in the (utterly prosaic and nearly omnipresent) myths, our sometimes living as if they expressed the truth of our lives, but its most direct implication, especially for philosophers (think of the conventional story about the rise of the pre-Socratic naturalists), is that these are stories, just stories, false stories ('not just untrue but destructive of truth'), even lies—the effect amounts to a philosophical claim that there is something unreal about our lives, which perhaps lends the appropriate irony to Cavell's insistence that it is in confronting fictional characters that we can best study the problem of others.

Continuing to work at (re-interpreting) myths, work on fragments of myth, is obviously only one choice from among several alternative ways of making sense of this situation. Is there something to recommend it, or say to make it a necessity or an only resort, perhaps from the perspective of ordinary life or 'the ordinary'?

27 Feb '14 05:12:55 PM

'… it was required cheerfulness barely concealing an unhappiness that she was too afraid to show.'

27 Feb '14 04:47:17 PM

'Now read that back to me.'

26 Feb '14 11:51:11 PM

The Idea of 'World' in Post-Cartesian Philosophy

26 Feb '14 09:55:36 PM

Danto's catalogue of philosophy's forms of literary expression in 'Philosophy and/as/of Literature':

'dialogues, lecture notes, fragments, poems, examinations, essays, aphorisms, meditations, discourses, hymns, critiques, letters, summae, encyclopedias, testaments, commentaries, investigations, tractatuses, Vorlesungen, Aufbauen, prolegomena, parerga, pensees, sermons, supplements, confessions, sententiae, inquiries, diaries, outlines, sketches, commonplace books, and, to be self-referential, addresses, and innumerable forms which have no generic identity or which themselves constitute distinct genres: Holzwege, Grammatologies, Unscientific Postscripts, Genealogies, Natural Histories, Phenomenologies, and whatever the World as Will and Idea may be or the posthumous corpus of Husserl, or the later writings of Derrida, and forgetting the standard sorts of literary forms, e.g., novels, plays, and the like, which philosophers have turned to when gifted in those ways… '

Berel Lang, I think, approaches this list by way of the (totally sensible) coordinates (or radicals of presentation, probably) of author and audience. But I think its sloppy mishmash of generic titles, names of forms, names of genres, literal titles treated as if they were names of forms or genres, etc. really needs to be periodized somehow before it could be of much use. When, say, are which forms the new or normal or privileged ones? When and which are the instruments of critique, investigation, dogmatizing, etc? And then you can sensibly investigate, say, the selves and worlds that go with the forms.

26 Feb '14 04:32:48 AM

—Say, on the level of 'obvious to a human being': obviousness bearing ontological commitments. Oneself, others, things, places, the world.

25 Feb '14 07:39:09 PM

Obviousness, not as a perceptual or epistemological category, but as an existential.

24 Feb '14 10:30:54 PM

'Suppose that everyone had a box with something in it which we call a "beetle"…' (§293). —Supposing that everyone has (is) a box is as much a part of the trick as the something is.

24 Feb '14 09:21:28 PM

Goethe and Herrick while waiting for the sun to peak. Simple forms for saying simple things.