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 May '19 06:33:50 PM

''Will', 'the Will', can be a confusing concept, especially in its grandiose uses, as by Kant, Schopenhauer, Wittgenstein. It can be a term which, seeming to deal with or explain a large matter, halts reflection at a crucial point. It may be better, as I suggested earlier, to restrict the term will, as 'willing' or 'exercise of will', to cases where there is an immediate straining, for instance occasioned by a perceived duty or principle, against a large part of preformed consciousness. What moves us – our motives, our desires, our reasoning – emerges from a constantly changing complex; moral change is the change of that complex, for better or worse. Herein intellectual experiences, states of reflective viewing of the world, are continually moving in relation to more affective or instinctive levels of thought and feeling. Experience, awareness, consciousness, these words emphasise the existence of the thinking, planning, remembering, acting moral being as a mobile creature living in the present. Such, as it might seem here, obscure and complicated pictures are, we should remind ourselves, frequently and convincingly described by great novelists. St Augustine too, using a great many real-life examples, pictures will as a blend of intellect and feeling. (Plenty of experiential volume.) The problem of the freedom of the will must be thought of as lying inside such a picture. Freedom (in this sense) is freedom from bad habit and bad desire, and is brought about in all sorts of ways by impulses of love, rational reflection, new scenery, conscious and deliberate formation of new attachments and so on. There are good modes of attention and good objects of attention. 'Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things.' (St Paul, Philippians 4. 8.) Any look at the contingency of our strange and interesting world, its oddity, its surprisingness, its jumble or its neatness can provide such objects and occasions. These 'things' which are just and good assist our attention when we try to make just and compassionate judgments of others or to judge and correct ourselves. Faced with difficult problems or terrible decisions we may feel the need, not so much of a sudden straining of unpractised will-power, but of a calm vision, a relaxed understanding, something that comes from a deep level. This darkness must be stirred and fed, as the deep mind of the artist is fed intuitively by his experience. There is a 'moral unconscious'. This is how morality leads naturally into mysticism and has a natural bond with religion. (By religion I mean a religious attitude and form of life, not a literalistic adherence to a particular dogma.) There can no doubt be a mysticism of the extreme ascetic. But there is also a natural way of mysticism, as indicated by St Paul, which involves a deepened and purified apprehension of our surroundings. The truth-seeking mind is magnetised by an independent transcendent multiform reality. Unselfish attention breaks the barrier of egoism. Living in the present: I really see the face of my friend, the playing dog, Piero's picture. These visual cases also have a metaphorical force. We instinctively dodge in and out of metaphor all the time, and in this sense too are fed or damaged spiritually by what we attend to. Simone Weil uses the image of becoming empty so as to be filled with the truth. She speaks of the mountain walker who sees many things besides the mountain top. Eckhart speaks of emptying the soul so that it may fill with God. A moral position much higher than our own may only be imagined as deprivation. The idea of negation (void) or surrender of selfish will is to be understood together with the idea of purified desire as purified cognition.'

28 May '19 03:38:25 PM

'… O to be self-balanced for contingencies…'

26 May '19 10:35:43 PM

'On Slanted, Pavement makes things happen where nothing happened before. Pavement takes you to oil wells and houseboats, deserts, and starscapes, a city spread out like peanut butter, no man's land, and the place where summer ends. The lyrics fill the air as well, enigmatic and fresh, stuff about making mistakes, catching angels, listening to the radio, and waiting for your dreams to come shuffling over the horizon, waiting in a sunlight that blisters the soul.'

26 May '19 04:10:43 PM

'Not only does the wind of chance events shake me about as it lists, but I also shake and disturb myself by the instability of my stance: anyone who turns his prime attention on himself will hardly ever find himself in the same state twice. I give my soul this face or that, depending upon which side I lay it down on. I speak about myself in diverse ways: that is because I look at myself in diverse ways. Every sort of contradiction can be found in me, depending upon some twist or attribute: timid, insolent; chaste, lecherous; talkative, taciturn; tough, sickly; clever, dull; brooding, affable; lying, truthful; learned, ignorant; generous, miserly and then prodigal – I can see something of all that in myself, depending on how I gyrate; and anyone who studies himself attentively finds in himself and in his very judgement this whirring about and this discordancy. There is nothing I can say about myself as a whole simply and completely, without intermingling and admixture. The most universal article of my own Logic is DISTINGUO.'

23 May '19 05:05:49 AM

'… It is necessary to work our way backwards and understand how one who is so thoroughly immersed in the time flow 'sees' the city and its social relationships: understand, that is, what kind of vision of the whole is implicit in the novel with a suspense plot.

I shall try to clarify this with two examples, one concerning the social dimension of the modern city, the other its spatial features. Lukàcs has written that Lost Illusions narrates a story set in a period of extremely rapid expansion of capitalist social relationships, which invest and subjugate even the field of 'spiritual production'. Second: when Lucien tries to sell the manuscript of his historical novel he is forced to turn to several publishers, and thus compelled to roam Paris's entire intellectual milieu and observe its urban and architectonic peculiarities, local slang, representative individuals, and so on. These two statements – one 'on' and one 'from' Lost Illusions – are, doubtless, true. But then it would seem that what has been said thus far needs revision. It would seem that the suspense plot – as depositary of the meaning of the text – is yielding to social history on the one hand, and to some new form of description and classification on the other. One is led to believe that the plot is simply an instrument, the necessary means to the emergence of much more substantial realities.

Yet this is not the case. In the Balzacian novel, social relationships and the urban landscape, far from disputing the primacy of the plot, have a right to citizenship only within the limits dictated by the plot itself. They are evoked only to reinforce the plot as plot: to intensify its complexity and unpredictability. Thus, the plot is not at their service, but they at the plot's. The syntagmatic axis not functional to the institution or the explication of paradigms (as in the case of myth): rather, the paradigms are the springboard for the story. It is not a 'story' at the service of a 'moral' capable of summarizing it, but thousands of 'morals' aimed at developing the taste for suspense, that is, for the temporal flow abstracted from the content of individual episodes in and for themselves.

If we now translate these observations into terms of urban psychology we perceive that the novel accustoms us to 'seeing' the city in a glance – not so much 'absent-minded' as intermittent. We see the city to the extent that it hinders a specific action, interposes between us and something else, and makes us 'waste time'. This situation culminates in some of Hitchcock's films, but it is experienced daily by anyone who lives in the city. It is precisely this interlocking of time and space that explains one of the city dweller's most bizarre perversions: his unswerving, arrogant and deliberate ignorance of the place he lives in. The urban dweller seems to make a point of honour of knowing as little as possible about his city, and is capable of walking a hundred times past a church by Borromini without ever going inside. How so? Because, the city dweller complains, I have no time. He lies; no one has ever had more free time. It is not that he has no time, but that city life does not allot time to contemplation. It allows time only for activity, of whatever kind. It allows for a time always dedicated to weaving relationships, obtaining things, and carrying out duties. It conceives of the flow of time and of the organization of life as the most gripping story possible, compared to which the city cannot stand out as an object worthy of attention in and for itself. It is only background: perceived perhaps clearly and violently, but always framed and defined by the exigencies of a temporal order.'

17 May '19 04:36:08 PM

'… fotonovelas are a guide to comportment, promoting restraint and self-possession, directed at a working-class public that owns little but its emotions.'

17 May '19 04:12:39 AM

'The "air" that Pascal describes points to a fundamental openness, to a desire and willingness to engage in conversation. A certain air invites conversation as opposed to moral or physical violence: conversation with oneself and others. As Pascal suggested, someone who writes in this way comes across not as an "author" who takes pride in his book, but as a "man" with whom we can talk. The ultimate purpose of conversation is the reconciliation of differences (with oneself and with others), but this reconciliation is never a final product. It is always in the making. In the ancient tradition, the practice of philosophy usually takes place in a pedagogical or therapeutic relationship. In Montaigne, it is a conversation between equals in the welcoming setting of a private home. All the details Montaigne gives us about his physical characteristics, his inclinations, his tastes and distastes, are not aimed at fashioning a "self" in the sense that they would add up to a more or less coherent image or persona. More precisely, they point to a certain way of relating to oneself and others, a way that could be defined as open, trusting, and intimate. Writing about himself candidly and openly, presenting himself in a private setting, is Montaigne's way of drawing the reader into a conversation: "An open way of speaking opens up another man's speech and draws it out, as do wine and love."'

14 May '19 06:59:20 PM

'They already know, and know that they know, and are done.'

13 May '19 05:33:08 PM

Winter listening diary, January 21:

Weekend Scandinavian-fest edition!

Tord Gustavsen Trio – Changing Places
Tord Gustavsen Trio – Being There
I thought this would be nice and meditative but I think these guys might be meditating too much. As a country or a geopolitical region. I read a lot about ol Tord having a church music thing going on but I haven't really noticed it yet. The quiet parts are a little too quiet and the non-quiet parts suddenly sound very exciting and interesting, which is good except then I wonder why they can't do that more often. Everything here is good, fine, but it has made me start wondering about the origins of the critical impulse to discriminate, to view things in terms of a contest to be the best, to conserve one's attention for only the most original and most pleasure-affording.

Bobo Stenson Trio – Contra la indecisión
Bobo Stenson Trio – Serenity
I get this suspicion that maybe too many ECM artists have gotten lost in their Bill Evans records but really I didn't even realize that I had picked multiple albums by two piano trios, maybe because I had thought somehow Bobo Stenson was a drummer (doesn't that sound like a name for a drummer?), and here and there the drummer really seems to have the full support of whomever is making all the decisions.

Trygve Seim – Rumi Songs
Trygve Seim – Helsinki Songs
The personnel is not that much different here from the piano trios above, but I think maybe given the size, a saxophone is a more fruitful choice for exploring the ECM-style small group sound. Hearing so much Evans in the piano trios, I think what I miss is the tumbling, rolling quality of Scott LaFaro's bass from those famous Village Vanguard recordings. Something about it leaves the other players constantly on the move. I hear more of a Ron Carter thing from the bassists on the albums above—they're playing a lot of nuanced, complex stuff, but stuff where they are often hanging back and interjecting. The pianists are left with lots of space in which to lyricize and the drummers can express themselves in rhythmically subtle ways. What makes a horn better here is that all the natural possibilities for doubling and ambiguity can get fully exposed. In 'Helsinki Song' the melody on the tenor gets doubled by the piano, playing single-handed. Seim's tone is pretty vocal and he plays tastefully with putting a wavering edge on it, so that you can always be put in mind of connections and contrasts between horn play and song. On the album of Rumi songs, with texts sung in English by Tora Augestad, and with backing from an accordion and violoncello, that possibility is fully embraced. There are points where Seim and Augestad trade off or interlock, and seem to be saying the same things, or also not saying anything (in mere words), in the contrast. In the background, the spacious production and the solemn atmospheres and silence are enhanced by this playing. But on the piano trio records, where the piano only occasionally seems to meet the bass as an equal partner in tone-sounding, the music seems to be deriving unearned atmosphere from the production choices.

Rainer Brüninghaus – Continuum
It is customary for ECM to be given a certain amount of shit for their pristine production values and their staid programs and colorless album cover design, but what this record makes me think, especially, is that people don't cut them enough slack for having been a label of the 80s. Pretty much everything in the world of music sounded like shit back then and it was all weirdly glossy and thin and had bad spiritual values, so hey, at least Eicher was able to keep up an artistically respectable business producing jazz records for public consumption, through all that. Given the history they have to just be allowed another decade or so to shake off whatever set in throughout the 80s, right? This one is ALSO pianist-led but it's the flugelhorn that sounds front and center. Brüninghaus's thing seems to be flowing arpeggios and ostinatos and such, puts me in mind of Charlemange Palestine or the more fidgety minimalists.

Jan Garbarek – Sart
Jan Garbarek – Triptykon
Jan Garbarek – Dis
To me Triptykon has the 'right kind of sound' for what's going on, Sart (noisy fusion electric guitar and some electric piano from Bobo Stenson somewhere in there, added to an otherwise similar ensemble) does not, and Dis (high saxes and flute and Ralph Towner playing 12-string and classical guitar and wind harp, plus a little brass) is clearly onto something but maybe not necessarily something I want at length. For sure though, in the 70s, ECM was weirder and scratchier and I would be surprised to be told that they were commercially thriving. The rhythm section on Triptykon is knotty and cluttered with cymbals and what seems like it must be auxiliary percussion, and makes for a bed of sustained crackling for Garbarek to go off over. The pulse is of the agitated post-65 free type, as suits a marquee saxophone soloist. On Dis the playing is sparser, the echo turned way up, the accompaniment more left-field, the folksong and other extra-jazz references more prominent, but the basic creative impulse seems similar: find ways to let this guy blow a while.

Eberhard Weber – The Colours of Chloë
Sometimes this sounds like a post-rock record, I mean specifically UK-style post-rock, where the draw is supposed to be not that it's a standard-issue rock ensemble ripping off minimalist ideas or playing with a symphonic sweep, but an ensemble of weirdos who are mixing musical styles because they started out in rock but eventually had too much love for some other kind of music and could no longer be constrained or creatively satisfied. The only thing that's missing here is some proper electronic work, really—there are synthesizers and the band's modulated jazzy pulse is set at about the right pace and texture, but for the most part the sonic profile is naturalistic, and slightly too pretty. Fiddle with the production a little, drop something more motorik in the middle of the running time, and you've got yourself a fine 1993 classic.

Trondheim Jazz Orchestra – Happy Endlings
Big band as weird juggernaut. Something about the vocals makes me think about the music for Star Trek, which who knows, could even be intentional. I suppose it's hard not to relish the idea that if you are making music like this in the twenty-first century, it ought to be a little weird. But it's not too weird. I haven't listened much but so far my impression is not of individual pieces of music so much as of a great and unwieldy apparatus which heaves into operation so that some fitting space can be found within which the players can take their little turns, and expect that they will seem as strange and otherworldly as maybe the solos in Ellington's bands once seemed.