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 Dec '15 12:40:42 AM

I've kept this blog for sixteen years now. I started the day after Christmas during my last year of college. I was probably lonely, alone. For a long time I've been ambivalent about observances of all kinds; I have few of my own, and dislike being obliged to make them. But I do mark one from year to year.

Most often, after the first few, it's been a private observance. Or, at best, an oblique acknowledgement, maybe implied by the fact of the date and what I saw fit, or found myself able, to say then. Just two years in, I was wishing for perspective on what I was doing, and noting how hard it was to achieve. Six years in, looking back on what little I'd written, I called the entries I liked 'reminders of the writer I wanted to be' that would serve as 'places from which to begin thinking again'. (I hadn't read Thoreau yet.) In many years, I said even less, and was more and more comfortable saying less, though similar feelings—of achievement unrealized and of a need to confer some significance on what I had (nevertheless) been doing—still always came around, still do come around, when the anniversary does. Each attempt to look back amounted only to a little, maybe only could amount to a little. But with time I've been able to look back at those attempts, look back at my looking back.

For the first three years, the blog was effectively a listening diary. It ran along on its own track, but because of its public mode of existence, it could also take the form of almost-constant dialogue with other bloggers, with e-mailing readers, with conversations going on elsewhere on mailing lists, in newsgroups, in chats, on discussion boards. That was normal then—not universal, but widespread enough, and established enough in the variety of ways people made use of the technologies, that it could feel to me like internet culture just was a culture of dialogue, of exchange, of conversation.

To me, it was an old fact, spanning more than one era of my life. When, in the early 90s, my school was one of the earliest in the state to be connected to the internet, one of the first things we did was learn how to talk—Unix talk—with students we didn't know at another school set up like we were, halfway across the state.

The angle bracket is an emblem of that era for me:


It often served to place a cursor on a screen, of course, on a computer awaiting a command or a client awaiting a message, a line, to be sent—a symbol for the moment of communication, composure of one's thoughts—but it was also the public and private sign of the reply, not just marking out who said what (and, when multiplied, who said what when), but marking it all up, so that any choice of where to break up reply quoting, of where to add to or delete from what had already been said, could mean something.

In many spaces, people said as much as they wanted, about (almost) whatever they wanted. And in reply, you could distribute your responsiveness as finely or as coarsely as you chose: a lot here, a little there, keeping this, cutting that. Focusing.

There was a kind of dilation and contraction to exchanges regulated in this way that could sometimes seem to promise to improve upon more usual conversation.

23 Dec '15 07:58:35 PM

On the train, a man, homeless probably, or maybe just a drunk, long blond hair faded dirty white with age, splayed across his seat in the most uncomfortable way, seemingly dead to the world, his legs locked out against the floor to keep him in place. They don't hold; he falls off the seat, onto the floor. A thud.

For some long seconds the nearest passengers in the car were watching cautiously. The train cars are wide, open: spaces with seats in them rather than the filled-up rows of seats of buses which leave no place to fall, be fallen. On a train, to offer any help at all would be to cross the distance, step into the man's situation there alone in the middle of the floor.

No one helped. The man raised himself to a seated position, still on the floor; staring off before him somewhere, face blotted and dark. The passenger nearest to him, standing at the doors of the car, leaned over, said something. The man indicated something, barely, staying where he was, the other man leaving him where he was. He crawled back to his seat eventually, hoisting himself up from his knees, to reclaim the same position.

A few minutes later, at the next stop, three cops suddenly appear from the rear of the car. They stand about the man, obviously in a formation, a triangle. They have the look of linebackers, with wide stances. The lead cop says something. They're going to take him; he doesn't want to go but he seems not to fight it, save for a faint tug in the other direction when they lift him from his seat by his arms. But as they lean in to grab him, the look on his face is fear, complete powerlessness.

23 Dec '15 06:17:04 AM

'Nothing happened today. And if anything did, I'd rather not talk about it, because I didn't understand it.'

23 Dec '15 06:01:21 AM

Not to disappear into quotidia. To know, do, that.

21 Dec '15 12:50:31 AM

Νέος ἐφ' ἡμέρῃ ἥλιος.

19 Dec '15 06:45:41 PM

'… this absorption of swarming life into the immobile swarming of letters never happens.'

11 Dec '15 04:07:15 AM

'The artistic life is full of frustrations and failures as well as breakthroughs. You are alone. No-one can help you.'

5 Dec '15 02:48:48 AM

'That more confidence should be felt in there being physical objects than in there being classes, attributes, and the like is not to be wondered. For one thing, terms for physical objects belong to a more basic stage in our acquisition of language than abstract terms do. Concrete reference is felt as more secure than abstract reference because it is more deeply rooted in our formative past. For another thing, terms for intersubjectively observable physical things are at the focus of the most successful of unprepared communication, as between strangers in the marketplace. Surely such rapport tends to encourage confidence, however unconsciously, that one is making no mistake about his objects.'

Marketplace? Only a man who has never been grocery shopping would choose the 'marketplace' as his paradigmatic venue for the optimal usage of terms to refer to things.

28 Nov '15 07:17:33 PM

'The problem is not that, but this'