30 June 2006

Continental Blog

I found a fellow, John Sellars, who writes a continental blog in English. It looks like he's just started it, and there doesn't seem to be a way to comment upon it. I hope he keeps it up; there seem not to be many continental blogs.

Wittgenstein and Culture

This blog is quickly turning into some sort of reluctant defense of postmodernism type piece. I don't really like that. But ideas that aren't stupid must be defended from that moniker. (Wittgenstein is a postmodernist.) This is a Wittgenstein blog!

Wittgenstein in the news.

Outing Wittgenstein
The Developing Community Theatre (DCT), presents a staged reading of Fred Newman's outrageous comedy, Outing Wittgenstein, on July 15, 2006 at CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission St., San Francisco. In Outing Wittgenstein, the deceased Viennese philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein comes back to life along with his gay alter ego and a ragtag assortment of famous and infamous relatives, friends and acquaintances who appear together on the popular TV show, This is Your Death. A classic comedy with a philosophical twist. Directed by Denzil Meyers. Tickets are $15, $8 with student ID. To purchase tickets or for more information contact Caroline Donnola @ 415-986-2565.

Matmos has an album called The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast. Pitchfork sez,
Matmos returns with their fifth, most-engaging full-length, The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast. These 10 works are described as biographical "sound portraits" of historically and culturally important gay figures, which incorporate details relevant to a particular person's life or practice.

An mp3 of "Roses and Teeth for Ludwig Wittgenstein" (courtesy of Matador Records). The recording features Bjork and roses making percussion.

A few things. This latter topic, the Matmos album, has to do with a passage in the Philosophic Investigations

“A new-born child has no teeth.”—“A goose has no teeth.”—“A rose has no teeth.”—this last at any rate—one would like to say—is obviously true! It is even surer than that a goose has none.—and Yet it is non so clear. For where should a rose’s teeth have been? The goose has none in its jaw. And neither, of course, has it any wings; but no on means that when he says it has no teeth.—Why, suppose on were to say: the cow chews its food and then dungs the rose with it, so the rose has teeth in the mouth of a beast. This would not be absurd, because one has no notion in advance where to look for teeth in a rose.

((Connexion with ‘pain in someone else’s body’.)) (188-189)

which seems cryptic, but maybe it isn't. It comes from Part II of the work, and it's not as tightly organized. I believe at this point Wittgenstein is talking about private language to some extent; or at least, he is talking about whether you can doubt someone else is in pain. You cannot doubt that you yourself are in pain; but if I am writing on the ground holding my leg, would you doubt my leg pains me? Why would you?

Is it absurd to say the pain is in my leg? Is it absurd to say, 'The rose has teeth in the mouth of the beast'? I suppose that cryptic paranthetical is supposed to make an analogy between looking for teeth in a rose and looking for pain in another person. But I had characterized to myself Wittgenstein's pain argument as saying that other people do feel pain, and it just makes no sense to doubt it when you think someone is in pain. Maybe that's the point of the passage above.

Second, Wittgenstein was gay. More on this later.

29 June 2006


Again: I really loved Sokal's essay about transgressing hermeneutic boundaries with quantum gravity, etc. Blah blah blah. Postmodernism is funny! It's kind of like Carrot Top: Carrot Top's humor, objective and subjective genetive--let's poke fun at him. He's ridiculous!

This Keith DeRose writes for the excellent Certain Doubts epistemology blog. But he takes such a dim view of postmodernism, which can be characterized roughly speaking as continental philosophy, that he seems pretty dim himself. Now, wait:
  • He's very insightful--sharp.
  • I'm not committed to binary opposition's necessary usefulness, but analytic and continental go together like pb and j.
  • He doesn't really say much against postmodernism, he just sort of quotes a lot of people and comes of as snarky (not an a priori bad thing).
His post here, the most popular post on Certain Doubts, it seems, is quite long. This passage characterizes his view. Surely.
My duties on humanities divisional committees have involved me in reading quite a bit of material by (what I at least take to be) postmodern writers. I would have to classify a lot of the material I’ve had to read as philosophy, but it is written by people who teach in various different humanities departments other than philosophy departments at various schools. And I generally find it to be dreadful.
And remember, he teaches at Yale. From my limited understanding Yale is a hotbed of French psycho-analytic criticism. I sloughed through much Lacan with a professor from Yale. In an English department. Just as you would expect. What are my points?

a) Writing off a whole system of thought in such a cavalier manner is like writing off a whole system of thought! WTF. I'm no Holocaust denier, but I think postmodernism (read interchangeably [roughly speaking] as continental) merits a bit more pondering over.

b) My main, personal point: I came into philosophy by studying Derrida, Levi-Strauss, the Frankfurt School, FOUCAULT et alia. I still like them, and many many people read them. Slavoj Žižek! I've only read one slim book by Lacan, but I read tons of Žižek. Do you know why these continental, pomo philosophers are widely read? They are entertaining to read: esthetically, culturally and intellectually. Analytic philosophy is a tangled morass of Ps and Qs--I hate it. But I'm trying to learn. Maybe some dogs are too old to learn new tricks.

c) This relates to some above points but merits an elucidation.
This leads me to a suggestion for philosophers who teach introductory philosophy courses. Why not forewarn our students? Do a unit – perhaps just a class meeting or two – on postmodern philosophy.
This passage comes after a section called "Forewarned is Forearmed". What kind of closed-minded cracker wants to prejudice his students against a popular, world-widely practiced type of philosophy? Why don't we "forewarn" students about the gays and the Jews and everyone else we don't like? A Leiter Report post says that postmodernism hasn't had any impact on US philosophy departments. Stopping the spread of those European ideas, I'm glad that the proctors of philosophy in America are behaving like little J. Edgar Hoovers. That's ad hominem, but I don't see this debate being taken out of the ad hominem realm.

I was never warned that serious philosophy in America only encompasses analytic; and I never thought I had to be warned because I thought philosophy was about rigorous thinking, not prejudice.

But I am at heart bitter that most of my education was in continental-type philosophy: literary theory, structuralism, existentialism, phenomenology. I did not advance in logic or take any analytic classes. But I discovered Wittgenstein, luckily. But the most troubling thing about postmodernism, and this is summed up very well by Nagel in a related book review, is
Those who have no objective standards themselves find it easy to deny them to others.
That's it. It's the crushing sense of nihilism one receives from denying objective truth. What is truth? DeRose plays dumb for that question in his blog post, but it is certain (rhetoric: I mean to convince) that some brand of Kantian transcendental idealism underlies experience; and we can know only concept and not things in themselves. The truth lay in how you act. There does not have to be a big-T Truth (DeRose--you know what that means!), but it is shown by your actions, truth is.

But what about people that ardently deny truth? (Besides, of course, the truth that there is no truth.) Those people should perhaps be feared.

Wittgensteinian Fideism

Commenter (to the previous post) Eric O. turned me on to a doctrine called Fideism, which he attributed to Wittgenstein. (I'm not sure, actually, if he really meant to attribute it to Wittgenstein or if he meant to offer it as a response to the previous post.) I'm hedging. He pasted a link to Stanford's Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which says,
It has been argued that Wittgenstein's later thought, though perhaps not overtly fideistic, nevertheless lends itself to fideistic interpretation. According to this interpretation, religion is a self-contained—and primarily expressive—enterprise, governed by its own internal logic or “grammar.” This view—commonly called Wittgensteinian Fideism—is variously characterized as entailing one or more of the following distinct (but arguably inter-related) theses: (1) that religion is logically cut off from other aspects of life; (2) that religious discourse is essentially self-referential and does not allow us to talk about reality; (3) that religious beliefs can be understood only by religious believers; and (4) that religion cannot be criticized.

and it sort of seems correct. (It seems plausible, at least.) However, I would have to disagree with all four points--and fairly strenuously at that.

1) Religious belief overlaps with many facets of life, not all of them clothed in the language of religious discourse: Charity, literature, family, legal affairs, architecture and so forth. Religion is not a mutually exclusive discourse to other discourses. (And from reading the fideism article, I would think trying to put within the rubric of logic one's religious attitude would already elude the spirit of fideism.)

2) Relgious discourse--like all discourse--is intimately tied to life, the Lebensform. Language is explained by examples, but its meaning lay in use.

3) This claim, that only religious believers understand religious beliefs, seems prima facie correct. But again, when I look at my life--or say, better yet, James Joyce's--when I look at Joyce... No, better to look at mine. I am not a religious believer but I think I understand religious beliefs. I can go to a Roman Catholic mass and do everything, I know why everything is done, I can read Aquinas and Augustine and follow.

4) Religion cannot be criticized by a religious believer: It would be like saying, 'This mountain wasn't here thirty seconds ago'--the entire system of one's beliefs wouldn't allow for such a proposition to have sense.

The encyclopedia entry goes on to further criticize fideism as a philosophic doctrine, comparing it (maybe in psychological terms) to relativism and anti-realism: Things one doesn't want to be labeled.

But there is a kind of anti-rational sense to Wittgenstein's work. In On Certainty, he notes something along the lines of the following. Moore says he knows he has two hands--OK. The book seems to be about debunking that sort of use of the phrase 'to know'. It would make no sense to say that because it couldn't be imagined what not knowing that would entail; i.e., what sort of system of knowledge would allow for one's not knowing he had or had not two hands. Using this systems of beliefs/knowledge epistemic outlook, Wittgenstein says it makes no sense to say to a Catholic, 'That is wine, not blood', 'That little cracker... why are you eating it?' and so forth. (I don't have the book in front of me, it's near approximately page 30.)

Wittgenstein says earlier if someone were to fail to believe in Napoleon he wouldn't know what to do; but if someone doubted the Earth's existence before his birth--he could deal with that. It's easier to understand disparate systems of knowledge than incongruous pieces of knowledge.

My point is that Wittgenstein, while not a fideist in my view, certainly (exuberantly, sometimes) allows for a religious epistemic system to co-exist along with--or even have primacy over--other epistemic systems. And I think philosophy of religion / ethics / moral epistemology is something that I tend to read into philosophers. (Husserl's later philosophy is lifted from the same basic template as the Christian Gospels.)

28 June 2006

Wittgenstinian (non)Epistemology

I've been working on On Certainty as a prelude to writing a master's thesis on Wittgenstinian moral epistemology. Until tonight I had ignored Wittgenstein's previous warnings not to look too closely at ethics (TLP:senseless to speak about / PI:A blurrily-defined concept). Maybe I should rethink my plan.

Among other things, Wittgenstein takes on a foundationalist (and to some extent a verificationist) epistemological system; instead he offers a coherence model of epistemology. I.e., we have a system of beliefs (I may want here to say knowledge, there's a distinction that remains perfectly unclear [not perfectly clear] to me), but that system is ultimately non-grounded. The axis of my system is immoble, "but the movement around it determines its immobility" (152).
The difficulty is to realize the groundlessness of our believing. (166)

If true is what is grounded, then the ground is not true, nor yet false. (205)
Fine. But how do we know to act morally? Wittgenstein's epistemic stance has to do with our whole system of beliefs, which is not (necessarily not) grounded. The foundation of the house is, so to speak, held up by the walls (248). This epistemic stance is not outrageous; I think it was advocated in my phil335 epistemology class.

All this talk is just to spin the tires, though: One could disagree, but I think (and I think this is what Wittgenstein means) along with Wittgenstein that the real juicy problems are the problems that actually occur. "Our talk gets its meaning from the rest of our proceedings" (229). Along the same lines, knowledge is not a mental process or state of mind--knowledge seems to be derived after the fact. Intention, as well. Justifications (epistemic) are means toward an end, which is action. Our action ultimately shows our knowledge and our justifications.

What would it mean to say, 'I should not kill'? If I had more inclination, I would write about riding bikes.

You don't know how to ride a bike at all times. (Given, that is, you ever knew how to ride a bike.) Times when you ride a bike and times when you say, 'I know how to ride a bike' are when you know how to ride a bike. If you're not thinking about bike riding, do you know how to ride a bike? How? How can you know it if you don't know it? When don't you know?

When I say 'I shouldn't kill' it only makes sense if I'm feeling a temptation to kill. My actions continuously demonstrate this moral imperative. How is this different than knowing how to ride a bike?

Neutral Milk Hotel + Rilke + S-K

hello again.
I was drinking some coffee and I just read those two words and everything all of a sudden was so much brighter. Everything is transitory, i.e., we're within a Heraclitean flux. 'Natch. But I guess that means everything is transitory: Even that feeling you get in your stomach when you realize that everything is transitory, the wasting sickness that you swear is flattening your arteries and ushering you off to a quieter death. That feeling, the natural human reaction to caprice and effluvial hopes, is itself transient. When a lover leaves she goes because she had to go, and all things must pass; even passing must pass.

This morning I read a news article conjecturing, rumormongering. hello again, this is Jeff Mangum. Hello again, what a beautiful day. Hello again, I'm listening to hear where you are. In an E6 message board posting entitled news and fish and meaningful messages, Mangum (apparently) implied that he's still working on music (expected) and that an album would come out again (unexpected).
we dont have a timetable for releasing the album yet, so dont get your hopes up for new songs now. if you want more “aeroplane” just ignore all of this, the songs are songs but they’re longer and more free. when jeremy came down after his tour we just spent days playing noise while screaming and it was incredibly liberating.

Who knows what to expect. But sometimes a Lebensform seems to have developed so as to close off whole wide avenues of discourse. Sometimes your life is such that speaking about love or bitterness or unrepentant contempt makes no sense. The words are always the same, but your life-world is different; and the world is not a thing: It's your own self's limits. Words suddenly partake in sense-bearing again. The world changes.

Here is a link to three Jeff Mangum performances in mp3 format (from Elephant 6). Below is a snippet (just a snippet as I'm loathe even to look at more of this translation) if Rilke's first Duino Elegy. (Who's to say what, but I would consider both Mangum and Rilke religious writers.)

And so I hold back, and swallow down the yearning,

the dark call heard in the cave of the heart. Alas,

who then can serve our need? Not angels, not human

beings; and even the sly beasts begin to perceive

that we do not feel too much at home

in our interpreted world.

In other news, Sleater-Kinney qua band is headed for the grave. Stylus (rather ambiguously [i.e., ambivalent towards S-K's overall awesomeness], I must say...) offers a eulogy.

They should have broken up after 1999’s The Hot Rock, in which Tucker and Brownstein achieved a nauseous parity: they traded vocals and guitar lines and finished each other sentences, dividing and dissolving as they reenacted their psychodrama for the audience. A lot of people think it’s their worst album (the honor goes to All Hands on the Bad One, whose inept role-playing proved why they weren’t ready for anything besides indie stardom). Like a John Cassavettes film it exerts a voyeuristic fascination that may or may not have anything to do with whether it’s any good.

27 June 2006

Snakes on a Plane

I've vaguely heard of this SoaP thing... PopMatters covers it all pretty well in this article.
When an empirically bad idea can become a monster summer blockbuster on the strength of out-of-control digital-age irony, the whole traditional movie marketing system is in jeopardy.

Wire: Dusted Magazine

Cited as it was for pretension, I still check out Dusted Magazine while I'm beginning my day. The best part of waking up is reading new record reviews, but Folgers in my cup comes in a close second. (Black as midnight on a moonless night.) Today, Dusted has an article (commercial?) for Wire's boxset, 1977-1979.
The mastering far exceeds both the original vinyl and the first CD versions that Restless Records put out a decade and a half ago for presence and depth; they sound positively luxurious, and if you’re not the kind of person who stopped playing their stereo when they bought their iPod, you’ll be able to hear and savor the difference.

I'm the kind of person who stopped playing his stereo pretty much as soon as I saw my first iPod. Not that I ever had that great of a stereo. What's the big deal about not listening to a proper hi-fi? My first intellectual hero, an English professor in college, was a huge jazz fanatic. He more or less turned me on to jazz. He gave students work-study jobs to catalog his cd collection. (It was large enough for several semesters' worth of work.)

He's a big fan of Cadence, who don't compress the audio on their cds at all. At least that's what he said. He refused to use LPs for one reason or another; I think it was mostly an emotional thing. One time when he was in college there was a big house party at his.. uh house, and he ended up running off with some girl for a few weeks. When he returned, all his records were stolen. Anyway.

He has tons of cds and a nice tube pre-amp and a tube amp and large, grave-looking speakers. A local upstate NY artisan handcrafted out of pine and cherry his massive cd cabinets. He's still one of my heroes, in a manner of speaking. But I never want to have that much stuff. What's the big deal with buying an album, ripping it and selling it to your local used record shop? It saves you waste/space and it passes on new music to other people. I move a lot and I'd rather not bring along a few hundred pounds of plastic--cases and discs--in addition to hi-fi equipment. I have my iPod, my speakers and my headphones. (Well, I have a computer, as well.)

I could be prejudiced by this missive, apparently by an audio engineer. Another audiophile-type line of thought is offered by these two posts, Imperfect Sound Forever (from Stylus Magazine) and its sequel. I know this misses the point somewhat of the article, but the same Stylus author wrote a Top 10 Things I Hate About CDs piece. He could preclude the frustration by chucking his discs. (Which is not to say that I don't share a lot of his frustrations; it's a close-to-home-type article--and it's funny.)

26 June 2006

Postal Service + Pitchfork

For associative and syntactical reasons lying well beyond my grasp I couldn't find the beginning of this Pitchfork newslink more funny.
Back in 2003, when music was still in its infancy, Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello came together as the Postal Service to release a little record called Give Up, making it okay for indie kids to get down. And the world was never the same.

Nietzsche & food

In the New Yorker, Woody Allen finds Nietzsche's long-lost cookbook.
To sum up: apart from my own Beyond Good and Evil Flapjacks and Will to Power Salad Dressing, of the truly great recipes that have changed Western ideas Hegel’s Chicken Pot Pie was the first to employ leftovers with meaningful political implications.

Not the most hilarious thing. But I remembered some other Nietzchean food-related items I'd seen on the Internet. The Onion ran a story about a Nietzschean Diet.
a new English translation of Germany's most popular diet book takes the concept to a new philosophical level. The Nietzschean diet, which commands its adherents to eat superhuman amounts of whatever they most fear, is developing a strong following in America.

Of course, the Unemployed Philosophers Guild has the infamous Will To Power Bar.
When your Wille zur macht is a flagging or you're just a little tired of transvaluating all values, these will help!

I found also a real cookbook, The Food and Cooking of Eastern Europe, which is written by Lesley Chamberlain. She happens to have written another book called Nietzche in Turin, which, as the title suggests, is about Nietzsche.

I'm not sure about this Nietzsche-food connection. I've not read too much Nietzsche: Only Beyond Good and Evil and the Genealogy of Morals. I remember my professor, Maudemarie Clark, saying that BGE was a direct response to Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. It's a lot more fun to read BGE, 'natch. I think a lot of desire and ritual surrounds the consumption of food. There seem to be certain cultural nodes that get lighted up by food.

Given media and culture's obsession with obesity/thinness, it's not hard to ascribe to food a mythic status. The diachronic study of our food culture seems like an interesting topic. The ironic juxtaposition of food for morality just signals a retransmission of our core cultural values. One could append a food chapter to the Genealogy, maybe.

Of course, Denis Johnson tackles Nietzsche pretty well in his book Already Dead. (Highly recommended, the book brings together northern California hippie-burnout culture and a Nietzschean zombie-villain.)
But Nietzsche's wrong. -Of course he's wrong. How could anybody with five successive consonants in his name be right?

Causing more family feuds than Richard Dawson

From the morning news, a list of bad Family Feud answers.
Question: Name something you'd buy for more than a thousand dollars.
#1 Answer: House.
Worst Answer: Pleasure equipment.
Does anyone seriously watch Family Feud for any reason other than the opportunity to see a train-wreck of an answer? The game should be made a little more esoteric to foster this aspect of the game. Maybe they could survey families in different countries: Name the favorite condiment of residents in Namibia!


File under: Things to which you're oblivious when you are an undergrad. Chancellor of US Santa Cruz leaps through window, dies in this CNN story.
In this city famous for political activism, running the University of California campus can be a pressure-cooker.
As a student, you don't always notice things like the on-the-job pressures of your professors and the administration until someone kills herself. For most of my time at Colgate we had no president. Our interim president, Jane Pynchon, was a wonderful teacher who had the most hilarious voice. She sounded like the Swedish Chef from the Muppets.

Then Rebecca Chop became the school's president in 2002. My high school foreign language teacher, who also went to Colgate, told me that the dish was she was fleeing a scandal at Yale's divinity school, where she had previously been ensconced. The general manager at the store where I worked quit because he anticipated the store would have a bad annual review.

I was deterred from looking into English programs when I finished my junior year because I thought the politics and pressure wouldn't really justify the commitment graduate school requires: several years of living in near-poverty, ephemeral job opportunities and potential insulation from the world-at-large. But after almost being in the world-at-large, I think it's probably worth while. It's kind of depressing to work in an office surrounded by mid-thirties co-workers whose boring lives start to rub off on you.

I've lost two professors (i.e., they lost their jobs) that I wish I still had, one at Colgate who frequently slept with his students, and another at Saint John's who failed to receive tenure. No-ones really there fighting for you in the last garrison; no one except yourself, etc. A longstanding inclination of mine is to think that the cream will rise. (And that Wittgenstein's insights are generally correct.)

25 June 2006


The tonyblog.
sa c de la voiture mais aussi de la meuf

24 June 2006

Ann Coulter, brief

A very friendly interview with Ann Coulter.

I fondly remember seeing the Dead when I was at Cornell. It was the day of the fabulous Fiji Island party on the driveway “island” of the Phi Gamma Delta House. We'd cover ourselves in purple Crisco and drink purple Kool-Aid mixed with grain alcohol and dance on the front yard. Wait – I think got the order reversed there: We'd drink purple Kool-Aid mixed with grain alcohol and then cover ourselves in purple Crisco – then the dancing. You probably had to be there to grasp how utterly fantastic this was.

Postmodernism plays a different game

From Arts & Letters Daily, Mark Goldblatt asks, Can Humanists Talk to Postmodernists? It seems that he answers negative.
This might seem paradoxical at first since people who consider themselves humanists do, in fact, talk to people who consider themselves postmodernists every day. They meet, for example, in faculty dining rooms and on payroll lines, and they discuss, for example, whether the cafeteria chili should be avoided or whether their health plans cover anti-depressants.

By talk he didn't really mean talk in the sense of communicate in a mundane way. Goldblatt sets out, then, to define the terms of the argument. He defines a humanist in pretty naturalistic light, saying the humanist is one who believes in truth/falsity that can be ascertained by empirical evidence and "rational principles". The postmodernist is a kind of linguistic idealist who sees empirical reality as a verbal construction rather than an independently existing phenomenon. For Goldblatt, talk means set forth opinions and have them verified or falsified.

Goldblatt offers his most compelling argument when he says that even the most asinine of postmodern claims rely on the logical principals that they seem to deny; i.e., to say, 'My writing explodes logic, causes a rupture in logic and marks an historic event', he already subscribes to logic--the structure of language is a logical structure already. Conversely, if a writer were to explode, elude or evade logic, then he would be spouting nonsense in very literal terms.

If he stopped here, I would have to accept his article part and parcel--he's right. But he goes on further to reject postmodernism because of its inability to talk to humanism; he goes on to exert the dominance of humanism within the humanist framework. This just is not right. He's already acknowledged different arenas of discourse (the cafeteria, the classroom, the academic journal) and it seems to me that he is begging the question of humanism's dominance. He is not right to assert the dominance of humanism as prima facie the best system, the system by which other systems are tested, but he is right about humanism's dominance. To do so would constitute a form of senselessness or to offer a sort of academic platitude.

He puts down postmodernism, which no one it seems takes very seriously, but he doesn't do the deed particularly well or in a very funny way. E.g., Alan Sokal's paper, Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeunutics of Quantum Gravity, which is a real killer. Or even the Philosophical Lexicon's put downs of Derrida and Foucault--those were pretty funny and accurate (except the put down of Foucault--that was just funny). The more interesting issue here is what makes humanism the dominant paradigm. That was the question that Husserl was after. The phenomenological reduction in many ways flouts logic; we would certainly say it brackets out logic. And then he quotes Wittgenstein, who offers the most robust response to Goldblatt's paper.

In On Certainty, Wittgenstein says,
All testing, all confirmation and disconfirmation of a hypothesis takes place already within a system. And this system is not a more or less arbitrary and doubtful point of departure for all our arguments: no, it belongs to the essence of what we call an argument. The system is not so much the point of departure, as the element in which arguments have their life. (105)

which is, I think, a very cogent way of describing a postmodern view. The different systems of discourse--i.e., different language games (yes, play)--are what allow for arguments of any kind. If we shared the same system, the cafeteria, say, and we were playing the same language game, then we would never have an argument. I'm thinking, though, of something like sharing a system meaning aligning ones beliefs and training perfectly with another's. We would never argue about liking or disliking fishsticks if we both liked fishsticks, i.e., shared the same system of judgment w/r/t/ fishsticks. And this is in some ways arbitrary. The first line of Wittgenstein's remark, that all judging already takes place within a system seems true; and it underlies my criticism that Goldblatt already approaches the problem as a humanist, having no system above humanism from which to judge it. Given that, and the apparent irreconcilability of humanism and postmodernism, Goldblatt offers no surprises and nothing new.

Not that I'm offering much in the way of new ideas--but he did write the article. Goldblatt cannot really assert the dominance of humanism so much as dominate with humanism. Our form of life generally confirms an apparent logicality to things. But in many ways it doesn't. Logic seems to elude certain acts, like, say, the Holocaust. (Goldblatt brought up Hitler first, always a bad idea.) World War II generally seems to have been the catalyst for much of postmodern thought. Heidegger, the unrepentant Nazi set down the groundwork upon which Derrida, Lacan et al. tried to make sense of the world. But if the world does not confront them with sense, then the mirror of nature is simply nonsense. (A subversion of the humanist empirical verifiability principal.)

But, to begin wrapping up, there is no necessary correct way of assessing the world; for how would your system of assessment be able to assess itself. The avenue that Wittgenstein seems so far to advocate in On Certainty is the coherence model of epistemology. And he says, "the end is not an ungrounded presupposition: it is an ungrounded way of acting" (110). Testing one's system of beliefs, the coherence of his epistemic values, is not a discursive practice. In some ways, the most damning criticism of postmodernism is that the postmodernist looks both ways before crossing the street. But then again, Roland Barthes was killed by being run over by a laundry truck. Maybe his belief in the causal nexus wavered ever slightly before the accident, and returned before his death.

23 June 2006

I love everything

-- Ned Raggett, June 23rd, 2006

Pretty much sums up the whole shebang. Remarkably, I did not read the previous three days correpsondance between SFJ and Gerald Marzorati that preceded the Slate piece that I quoted earlier. But I think still that I did well for firing off a quick morning post before I had any coffee.

"I walk on rough ground" refers to a line in Wittgenstein's Philosophic Investigations regarding language not working on ice, but only when it get's traction. I got a lot of traction today--thanks for the feedback!

Sasha Frere-Jones

I thought for the longest time that Sasha Frere-Jones (hereafter called SFJ, pictured left ) was a woman. Him and Choire Sicha (and Dominque Leone, yeah). And surprise surprise! I googled Choire Sicha to find a picture of him, and I found his weblog wherein he mentions SFJ.
In Slate, John Cook says of New Yorker pop music critic Sasha Frere-Jones that, because he writes for a serious publication in the daylight hours, "He ought to take the things he writes on his blog seriously."

Men with effeminate names take note: By sticking together you can promote yourselves up through the ranks of NYC publishing. Music critic for the New Yorker!

I don't really want to get into the whole SFJ calling Stephen Merritt a "cracker" and a racist. (That is what the Choire blog post regards.) I don't believe in the seriousness of the weblog form, so I have to side somewhat with a man whose name is Choire (?!). Anyway. I did want to talk about SFJ's music criticism. And I may get dragged back into the whole Slate, Merrit, SFJ imbroglio anyway. Who knows--it's like jazz, I'm improvising.

Wow. Talk about improvising. I just took a moment to search for SJF's name on the Slate website and I just caught him in a lie. In this concert review in the New Yorker (the rag that hired SFJ as a critic) he says,
the band is up to more than fans will ever figure out, even if they listen to the album every day. I seem to know about a hundred of these fans, and they constantly urge me to give the band a chance. Until recently, I hadn’t seen much point in doing so.

which implies to me that SFJ hasn't much listened to Radiohead. Or it could mean he has listened to Radiohead and just doesn't much like them. Either seems to be a strong interpretation, and neither is the case. SFJ is lying. (He's creating dramatic tension in his review by writing himself into it as a character bringing something particular to the table.)

In this record review of Hail to the Thief, which was published on Chuck Klosterman's and my birthday (see previous post) three years ago, SFJ claims to have listened to and pretty much enjoyed all of Radiohead's oeuvre.

I made a best-of CD in the process and it just kills. Here it is:

1. Planet Telex (The Bends)

2. High and Dry (The Bends)

3. Fake Plastic Trees (The Bends)

4. My Iron Lung (The Bends)

5. Airbag (OK Computer)

6. Paranoid Android (OK Computer)

7. Subterranean Homesick Alien (OK Computer)

8. Let Down (OK Computer)

9. Karma Police (OK Computer)

10. Electioneering (OK Computer)

11. Everything in Its Right Place (Kid A)

12. The National Anthem (Kid A)

13. Optimistic (Kid A)

14. 2+2=5 (Hail to the Thief)

15. Sit Down, Stand Up (Hail to the Thief)

16. Sail to The Moon (Hail to the Thief)

17. Scatterbrain (Hail to the Thief)

Whether this mix "kills" can be debated. But the act of making a mixtape shows (signifies, if you will) a certain thing about SFJ's intentionality toward Radiohead. A) He likes them. B) A lot. C) He's listened to all their proper studio releases enough so that he could make an informed decision about track selection and order (which doesn't actually seem to be that important to him--the whole chronological, album-lumping approach sucks) and D) That he totally lied three years later about giving the band a "chance".

It doesn't really matter that he deceived his readers in the recent New Yorker piece. But it does show a certain disingenuous side to SFJ's writing that I would expect. He ends his Slate review of HTTT by saying,

All this flapping I'm doing is an attempt to place Radiohead in a historical context and take a position on how their stuff is perceived and consumed. None of this has anything to do with whether or not they can make good records. In the Making Good Records contest, everything is allowed, including theft, erasing history, and downright pretentiousness. Hell, I love the White Stripes but they're acting as if the last 40 years of pop music haven't happened. The context and the art certainly inform each other, but they are also separate. And my Radiohead best-of mix is going with me in the car this weekend.

which shows a certain pre-occupation with the historical context of a piece. In both the Slate article and the New Yorker article he claims that Radiohead's great musical touchstone is Pink Floyd. In this quote above (and a bit above the quote in the actual article) he claims Radiohead ignores music since Pink Floyd. Along with Wilco and the Flaming Lips, he says that Radiohead goes into the studio and hits the "pretentious button" (i.e., studio tom-foolery) in order to dupe the listeners into thinking it's avant-garde. This is probably the primary criticism (my primary criticism) of Pink Floyd. It's not a bad or ungrounded criticism.

But I would bring this criticism back to SFJ. In his New Yorker piece he claims to be won over by the band in the end, even though he didn't particularly like them. In the review for Slate he makes the exact same tack. I know he probably has more important things to do than listen to Radiohead or even remember what he's written about the band in the past. But I feel now that SFJ is being a little to Gonzo in his writing. I.e., inserting himself into the story (very cleverly; implicitly, almost) he is the pivot around which the story swings, the story arc is his discovery of the band. Twice in two articles is too many times. He ends both articles by licking Radiohead's asshole. To me, SFJ has about as much spine as Rolling Stone movie critic Peter Travers.

22 June 2006

Klosterman redux / One Percent Doctrine

A few days ago I had a post on Chuck Klosterman (pictured right, looking something like a tool). Well: I found this interview today and I found out that his birthday and my birthday are on the same day. He is astounded by Wikipedia. I am, too. He remains interesting to me even when he's not writing about esoteric basketball statistics from the 1970's or composing a diachronic genealogy of metal. Writers and their observations.
You just had a birthday, didn't you?

I did—June 5th. How did you know that?


That's something I'm kind of obsessed with at the moment. The thing that I want to find out is who's doing the entry for butter. There's an entry for butter! What would motivate someone to do that? There's an entry for waffles; I cannot fathom what that person's motive is. And it's good—it's got the history of waffles! It's amazing to me!


It's getting toward the end of the week, and the phrase burnt-out describes my external state. How do I know? Well, besides the old my-own-knowledge-of-my-own-internal-state-must-be-infallible argument, I'm not exactly a dynamo here at work. Coffee is going undrank, companies are being written slowly and I just ate some Sun Chips at approx. 10AM (?!). This won't be much of a post.

My sources tell me that I have a handfull of visitors. You should add me on myspace.

21 June 2006

Sara Lee: Totally Random Meme

Sara Lee, maker of frozen pies and confections has a slogan. I was reading today at work a website, Things I Figured Out, and one of them regarded Sara Lee's company slogan. I haven't had a Sara Lee pie in a long time. I lived with a guy a while ago who bought frozen pies and tried to get me to chip in even though I hate frozen pies (kind of a long story) but they weren't Sara Lee. Anyway. The slogan. I was amazed.

What is the slogan for Sara Lee Bakery?

A. Nobody Doesn't Like Sara Lee!
B. Nobody Does It Like Sara Lee!

[Which do you think it is?]

The correct answer is 'A'.

David Chalmers and I

David Chalmers, analytic philosopher extraordinaire, has a weblog. Under the section "frivoloties" I found a quiz to gauge your philosophical bent. Chalmers scored in a similar fashion to me.

You scored as Postmodernist. Postmodernism is the belief in complete open interpretation. You see the universe as a collection of information with varying ways of putting it together. There is no absolute truth for you; even the most hardened facts are open to interpretation. Meaning relies on context and even the language you use to describe things should be subject to analysis.

Postmodernist: 69%. Cultural Creative: 63%. Existentialist: 56%. Modernist: 44%. Materialist: 38% (!). Idealist: 38%. Romanticist: 31%. Fundamentalist: 25%.

I also scored as a Postmodernist.

Postmodernist: 94%; Cultural Creative: 75%; Existentialist: 63%; Modernist: 56%; Materialist: 38%; Romanticist: 38%; Fundamentalist: 31%; Idealist: 31%.

What does this mean? On-line quizzes are pretty superfluous things (frivolities); but overlooking the simplicity, reductiveness and unreliability of them, the similarity between Chalmer's and my results may show one of two out of a plenitude of things.

A) I am an analytic philosopher. I'm not sure that this conclussion follows from--or even if it is a consequence of--the quiz scores. I think Chalmers is an analytic philosopher; but I'm not sure. Which leads me to my next point.

B) Analytic and continental philosophy aren't so far apart. They obviously are. However, as Husserl tried to show in his Crisis of European Sciences that Kant didn't really know Hume, that Berkeley, Hume and Kant were all gradations on the same hillside and that Hegel and scientific positivism need each other (and only become intelligible to each other vis-a-vis): I mean to say, in the words of Kanye West, "The way Kathy Lee needed Regis, that's the way I need Jesus." While it's a debatable claim that Kathy Lee really needed Regis (the current state of affairs would suggest she does) and I'm making no claim to needing Jesus, my claim is that continental and analytic philosophy can kind of keep each other honest.

It may be because my native language is American (i.e., I speak no non-English languages [What do you call someone who speaks several languages? Multilingual. What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bi-lingual. What do you call someone who speaks one language? American.]) and I only read very very contemporary analytic philosophers on the Internet, but it seems to me that continental philosophers get ripped on frequently and unfairly. Here are some things from the Philosophical Lexicon, edited by my favorite philosopher of science, Daniel Dennett.
derrida. From a old French nonsense refrain: "Hey nonny derrida, nonny nonny derrida falala."

foucault, n. A howler, an insane mistake. "I'm afraid I've committed an egregious foucault."

godel, adj. Said of a contribution: fundamental. (See Kleene.)
The first two are the only continental-referencing references in the work, I think. I have a good sense of humor, and some Derridian points are especially unclear and vexing in some ways; and some of the things Foucault says are prima fascie unintelligent (i.e., his reporting on Iran) or quite disconcerting/of dubious validity. The work is compiled by a certain circle of specialists for a certain circle of specialists (i.e., analytics). Har har. Derrida out thinks just about anyone currently writing about "qualia". (So does J.L. Austin.)

I threw in that third entry, godel, since I thought it quite funny. The particular arrangement of words aren't that funny; what I mean is that
Gödel (if Rebecca Goldstein's book can be trusted) created his two incompleteness theorems as a response to the logical positivist environment of the Vienna Circle, which he was part of briefly. A quiet man, Gödel kind of stewed in the back of the room as he watched inferior intellects drawing out a model of science and math that was merely descriptive. Gödel reacted against David Hilbert's formalist movement.
According to the formalist, mathematics is a game devoid of meaning in which one plays with symbols devoid of meaning according to formal rules which are agreed upon in advance. It is therefore an autonomous activity of thought. There is, however, room to doubt whether Hilbert's own views were simplistically formalist in this sense
The formalist movement is not a failure, per se. And I don't really know anything about mathematics. But according to Goldstein,
Gödel was repulsed by the notion of math that was devoid of meaning; i.e., Gödel was a type of Platonist, and he believed that there were mathematical concepts over and above human understanding, of which humans could partake to some unknown (but limited) extent. I.e., that there are mathematical truths that we know to be truths, yet we cannot prove them such. Apparently, this is Gödel's interpretation of his two incompleteness theorems (again, from Goldstein). What this all means to me is that the Vienna Circle in some ways spawned modern analytic philosophy. And this Gödel character, whom the Philosophic Lexicon seems to laud, fucking hated where all this analytic philosophy was going. And moreover, Goldstein asserts that analytic philosophy has more or less hijacked and misconstrued Gödel's position. Do analytics want to side with postmodernist and ciritical theorist Roland Barthes and say that the author is dead? Do they?

How did I get on this tangent? Yes. Analytic philosophy is much different from continental. But again, in the (paraphrased) words of Husserl: We must speak of philosophy, not various competing schools of philosophy, each of which shall be killed off by another. I'm afraid there is no type of Darwinism for philosophic thought--just caprice and fashion.

20 June 2006

Pitchforkmedia addendum

Read the below post. I finally found something that is pretty eyebrow raising. It was nestled in Pitchfork's Top 100 Albums of the 90s feature. I understand the overblown prose; (I'm tempted to name-drop Kant and his three main questions of philosophy.) it is hard to describe a [virtual] God and holy moment. But still,
My beleaguered "generation" and I may attempt to protect ourselves from emotional harm (and our grim inheritance) by stockpiling absurdities, but we will probably still go prostrate during a moment of disarming simplicity, pathetic mortality, or genuine romance. I See a Darkness is rife with such moments (though the exultant finale of "Nomadic Revelry" defies categorization).

that diction is a little excessive. Trying a little too hard?


Pitchforkmedia.com is today's ostensible focus. They put up a pretty awesome-looking 100 Top Awesome Music Videos feature. They've redesigned their site again. (Tweaked is more like it.) And despite all the hate, it's still a pretty solid site.

I think there are two reasons for the hate. I think pitchforkmedia's influence is a little overstated. Look at this quote from a NY Times article from last year.
A high Pitchfork grade can focus attention on a relatively unknown indie band, which is what happened with Broken Social Scene. Its second album, "You Forgot It in People" (Arts & Crafts), earned a 9.2; Pitchfork's editor, Ryan Schreiber, called it "exactly the kind of pop record that stands the test of time," throwing in an "oh my God" for good measure. By the end of 2003 Broken Social Scene was an indie-rock brand name.

I'll be the first to admit that I love the Broken Social Scene; and I probably wouldn't have heard about them if it weren't for pitchforkmedia. I couldn't find album sales figures (does anyone know where to look?) but according to allmusic.com, Broken Social Scene's follow-up album, the one that didn't receive nearly as much critical praise--especially from pitchfork--made a few appearances on Billboard's charts (the band's You Forget It in People didn't chart at all): 105 on Billboard's Top 200 and 6 on Billboard's Top Independent in 2005 and 2006. Compare this result to Lil' John's album, Crunk Juice (which pitchfork calls "patchy"), which did much better: 3 on Billboard's Top 200, 1 on Billboard's Top Independent in 2004 and 2006. I'm pretty sure that Crunk Juice is the top-selling indie album; either that, or it's really close. (Maybe that one Offspring album is still number one.) What's my point?

When your Lebensform--i.e., natural surrounding world--is built around indie culture, then pitchforkmedia looks hegemonic and pretty fucking powerful. But in the larger scheme of things, it's less of a taste-maker than Fred Durst wearing some tshirt of band to whom he's never listened.

But that's all obvious. There's a second, more compelling reason to pile on the hate for pitchforkmedia. They're pretentious. They inspired a hilarious send-up from Somethingawful.com called richdorkmedia, in which the site gave every Radiohead album a perfect 10.0. (Including something like Thom Yorke farting into the recorder and the band doing Creed covers; just ridiculous, hilarious stuff.) Apparently, the parody has been taken down.

But I couldn't really find anything too pretentious on the pitchfork site in the last five minutes of frantic browsing. I do remember reading some pretentious, rock-crit billingsgate from other sites. Stylus Magazine's recent movie review of X-Men 3 has a nugget.
After allowing just enough time to witness each superhero trait in action, Brett Ratner decisively moves on. Where in the two previous films each mutant chose her team based on personal morality, a Kantian sense of community preservation, or plain bravado, Last Stand eschews rich character dynamics in favor of whichever two mutants would look coolest in combat.

You know, I saw the first two X-Men movies; and I liked them. I really like Kant, too. I never thought to apply Kant's moral philosophy to the films, though. I don't think anyone ever should, either. I have in mind another example of pretentious pop writing (don't get me started on Popmatters.com, a fine site of hyper-chic, detailed and thrillingly pretentious culture commentary. Is it a joke? Sometimes I think it is) that can be indirected attributed to pitchfork. Entertainment Weekly recently ran a feature with different websites picking their favorite websites. Pitchfork's picks are pretty all right, but who knows. Anyway, another site chose Dusted Magazine. Some of their article titles:
  • The Wigmaker in Eighteenth Century Williamsburg
  • The Resistant Language
  • The Logic of Sound - Excepter's KA
  • Heart of Sound and Light:
    La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela's The Well-Tuned Piano In The Magenta
  • Not Just For the Cognoscenti
  • Unsteady As She Goes - The false nostalgia of The Hold Steady's Separation Sunday
  • Non-Idiomatic Process Music and We're Twins Records
Anyway, the site has some good writing. But a lot of this skinny, white male (a precursor to the dead, white male) music/culture writing sounds like a subconscious pining to be in English 441 again. I'm still in school, so I get to write long, pretentious titles to my papers. Critics write record reviews--you're titles should not be as long as a capsule review in itself. If it is, then I'll just go read a capsule review, or sample the record myself.

In conclussion: If you think pitchfork has an unhealthy grip on the indie community, maybe you're right. But go listen to Top 40 radio. I'll be the first to admit that Lil' John's "Snap Yo Fingers" is pretty catchy, but... And second, if you're even in a position to bitch about pitchforkmedia, then you're already in a pretty in-bred circle of indie pretention. (I.e., music snobbishness; and poptimism is just a more acute form.)

19 June 2006

Klimt et al.

The NY Times has today an article detailing the acquisition of Klimt's portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (pictured left). Ronald S. Lauder purchased the piece for the Neue Galerie in Manhattan; it cost $135 million, the largest sum ever paid for a painting.
"This is our Mona Lisa," said Mr. Lauder, a founder of the five-year-old Neue Galerie, a tiny museum at Fifth Avenue and 86th Street devoted entirely to German and Austrian fine and decorative arts.
The painting was acquired after a protracted negotiation with the Austrian government. The Nazis had seized the painting from the Bloch-Bauers in 1938 and since then its home was the Austrian Gallery. A niece of Adele Bloch-Bauer, Maria Altmann (90 years-old!), finally gained satisfaction in 2004, when the US Supreme Court ruled that she could sue the Austrian government from the US.

Did you know?

Gustav Klimt painted a portrait of Wittgenstein's sister, Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein (pictured right). Besides having painters hanging about the rarefied household, the Wittgensteins hosted composers such as Mahler and Brahms. Wittgenstein's brother, Paul, was quite the pianist until he lost his right arm in the first World War. He commissioned Hindemith, Prokofiev, Britten and Ravel to write pieces for left-hand only.

Wikiepedia and Abstract Strategy Games

Last night when I got home, I recounted to my housemate what I did: NBA Finals, beer, poker and speeches. It then occured to me that young men have changed little since 399BC; still there are drinking parties, serving girls and speeches made. The casual man-boy butt love has since taken its act more underground, but mostly things are the same. We gather around, arrayed all on our cushions and pillows, get drunk and make speeches. Last night our speeches were about whether chess is like blackjack. Can the human have perfect knowledge? And finally, battery-operated disposable razors--what the fucks up with that?

A young slave boy remembered hearing about a particular speech about chess from his deaf grandmother who had whelped him. She heard it from a gardener who happened to be mowing the lawn while some men were talking; but they got fed up with his incessant lawn mowing while they were making speeches and kicked him out. Frame within a frame within a riddle! The speech began innocently enough.

The NY Times generated this article a few days ago outlining Wikipedia's protecting certain entries from being edited. It is conceivable that much more of Wikipedia could become protected, which more or less means that they were given a whole lot of information for absolutely nothing.

To take a little from Wikipedia regarding Chess, an abstract strategy game,

The analysis of a "pure" abstract strategy game tends to fall under combinatorial game theory. Abstract strategy games with hidden information, bluffing or simultaneous-move elements are better served by Von Neumann-Morgenstern game theory, while those with a component of luck may require probability theory incorporated into either of the above.

which shows at least one thing: There are two modes of operation depending on your given information i.e., your epistemic conditions. On the one hand, given "complete information", you're advised to use combinatorial game theory; however, given hidden information", then the advised operating mode is Von Neumann-Morgenstern game theory. (That John Von Neumann is probably the most brilliant person of the 20c--no shit. Areas given his profound effect: Logic, set theory, computer science, quantum theory, game theory and economics. Read any history of math in the 20c.-type book, and a lot of 20cBooksks about science, and I guarantee that Von Neumann will figure in the book.) But it has been suggested that the human himself lacks complete information, even in a game that allows for complete information. In this sense, even while playing chess one operates in an epistemic condition that calls for the application of probabilistic game theory-type thinking. Does the prisoner's dilemma map onto the playing of chess?

I think not. There are at least two paradigms for the application of game theory cooperative and noncooperative games. Depending on how one looks at it, he could consider a cooperative situation as one in which he is encouraged to act such that the group's situation is optimized, i.e., the cartel system or the prisoner's dilemma. Then there are game theory situations in which one wants to win—noncooperative games--and thus he tries to predict his competitors' actions, i.e., the blonde-situation in A Beautiful Mind. In that scene, Russell Crowe qua John Nash is in a bar with his buddies and they spot a hot blonde. He tells them not all to go for the blonde because then none of them would get her. This is a noncooperative game. I quote:

A Nash equilibrium is not necessarily a "best solution" nor does it necessarily give the "best result". Nevertheless, at such an equilibrium, no player is motivated to change his (mixed) strategy since he cannot force other players to change theirs. [...] [T]he theory of noncooperative games assumes that each player does what is "best for himself", regardless of what is best for "the group".

I don't know much about logic or game theory, but this all implies to me that the above describes the metastases of participants' strategies in various competitive situations. The important distinction, though, is that these situations are all and only of the type in which you cannot predict another's move (i.e., incomplete information). That's why a Nash equilibrium doesn't necessarily give a 'best solution', etc.

In chess, again, I'd say there is complete information, and there is always a best solution. If I know that the blonde dislikes non-doctors and the brunette likes lawyers, and I, a doctor and my buddy who is a lawyer, are out at a bar--then I would know the best strategy. But given that people don't walk around wearing sandwich boards listing their social preferences, we have to make small talk, lie, feed people alcohol etc in order to get anywhere. The social preferences of chess pieces are embedded in the rules of the game. Even to play chess is to partake in the notion of a best move. We don't wear epistemic blinders that limit our understanding of the game, as if at one moment I forget that the knight moves in an L-shape and at another I confuse my bishop for my rook. By playing chess under normalized, agreed upon rules we admit a best move; if we didn't then Bobby Fischer would occasionally lose to a scrub. That is the logical conclusion.

18 June 2006

Dangermouse & Klosterman

My man Chuck Klosterman has in the NY Times Magazine a good profile of Danger Mouse (ne Brian Burton), D.J. Auteur. I've been an ardent Dangermausfanatisch since he let fall Ghetto Pop Life and the so-called Black-White album. Klosterman extends an interesting argument, i.e., that Dangermouse, not Cee-Lo, Albarn, Jemini, MF Doom, Jay-Z, Ringo et al., is the primary creative force behind his work. Of course, Klosterman makes it all sound more interesting and tendentious.

Yet even while "Crazy" is Cee-Lo's song, it's still Burton's design. It's the product of a singular vision, which is (more or less) the whole idea. The music of Gnarls Barkley is collaborative, but not in a creative sense; the goal of this collaboration is to reproduce the music that already exists inside Burton's skull.

In this way, Danger Mouse is something like the structural device in Joyce's Ulysses, which is sometimes called the arranger. The Mizzo has an intentional aesthetic stance toward the material to which he applies himself. That is, he applies himself to his work with an intentional aesthetic stance; but the interesting point is that his work qua DJ and producer is a sort of meta-work put into someone's primary artistic creation. Consider his production of the Grey Album. He's given the Beatles' eponymous album (popularly called the White Album) and Jay-Z's swan song, the Black Album. By cutting up the Beatles' tracks to make beats for Jay-Z, Miz-to-the-Izzo puts to lie to Wordsworth's much-quoted saw, "We murder to dissect." If by murder you mean Django Mousehardt absolutely kills every track on the Grey Album (in the colloquially [borderline slangy] parlance of rap music, to kill a track is a good thing), then you're absolutely correct. He's a lot like Rivers Cuomo of Weezer who has since the mid-nineties kept a three-ring binder full of rock song analyses that he calls the Encyclopedia of Pop. By dissecting the tropes and figures of music, both artists (auteurs?) make sophisticated, lowest-common denominator pop music.
It appears to me that Joyce does a similar thing with Ulysses. He worked with what he was given: Newspapers, memories, accounts, reports, maps, stories and books. Anyone (well, not really--but for the sake of argument, let us say) could have arranged the exact same data in the exact same way; for the most part, much of the information of Ulysses was at least available. But no one arranges data like Joyce arranges data; and that's his particular genius. DM seems roughly analagous to Joyce in the sense that mostly all DJs and remixers are similar to Joyce in that they all engage in a similar project: To rearrange found content in an interesting and aesthetically pleasing manner.
Speaking of interesting and aesthetically pleasing things, that Chuck Klosterman has to be my favorite new sports writer (!) in all of the Internet. Since the end of 2005, Klosterman has been writing for ESPN's Page 2. Much of his writing is unavailable. [Why do on-line publications deter people from reading their website by charging to read archived articles? I fall squarely in the hate-the-new-New-York-Times-on-line-layout-and-tightwad-pay-scheme camp] But be sure to look for his work there in the future; most of it is too technical and shows too great an understanding of sports history for me to really follow; but that's the point. He is the typical white sports dork. He's endearingly like David Foster Wallace in his sports writing, sometimes. And his book, Fargo Rock City, which I purchased for, like, a dollar in an Ames that was going out of business when I was in college, the one that I read over a whole semester whilst taking craps in our increasingly olfactorilly suspect bathroom with the dingy, somewhat greenish tiles in the shower, you know, the ones right by the handles because there's some sort of reaction between water, metal and tile that causes that greenish tint, like, maybe they had some copper in them or something, like how the Statue of Liberty looks, except that one has nothing to do with tile--but there's a helluva lot of water! I read that book, which was about all these 80s hair metal bands that I'd never really knowingly heard; and it made me really appreciate hair metal in new ways. Klosterman's columns on Page 2 make me feel the same way about the ABA and baseball.

16 June 2006


James Agustin Joyce [sic]

There there is a picture of James Joyce. He often misspelled his middle name, Augustine. Today is Bloomsday, the day on which Ulysses is set. Literature is the eternal affirmation of the human spirit, blah blah blah. It's almost time to go out for a drink; we'll tip a bit of Guiness on the ground for all our dead homies.

That picture of Joyce, by the way, is of dubious legal status. Maybe. There is a fine Wittgenstein website that's had quite a few problems trying to post a handfull of Wittgenstein pictures. The pictures are no longer there. Will I be asked to take down this picture of Joyce? Don't tell Stephen James Joyce because litigation may follow swiftly.

15 June 2006

On Certainty: Math

38. Knowledge in mathematics: Here one has to keep on reminding oneself of the unimportance of the 'inner process' or 'state' and ask "Why should it be important? What does it matter to me?" What is interesting is how we use mathematical propositions.
39. This is how calculation is done, in such circumstances a calculation is treated as absolutely reliable, as certainly correct.

This section offers the difference between multiple choice and short answer questions on math tests. A student pencils in on his ScanTron the letter 'b'; a student finds the integral of an equation thereby solving a related rates question. (He shows all his work.) The two answers are given to the same question; there are two different sets of instructions. If both students came about to the same, correct answer then would you say that the former was somehow less correct than the latter? No.

Are inner states being denied? No. The child prodigy that learns the calculus at age four and the college sophmore 15 years his senior who lumbers through the subject offer the same results within the language game of calculus. If I guess correctly the answer to a math question and my partner claims to know the answer and answers correctly--what is the difference?


I discovered tonight that Optical Atlas has posted the entire Hype City Soundtrack, the third and final Neutral Milk Hotel demo. It's worth a listen because, like, NMH is the best for life.

When I got home from work tonight I did some things that weren't that important; I'm trying to drum up my productivity by getting new apps for my Mac. On the whole, it's working all right, but I also tend to download new music. Right now I'm listening to a Kronos Quartet cover of the Television song "Marquee Moon", courtesy of Chromwaves. That's it! I'm going to retire myself and read the first third of Wittgenstein's late great, On Certainty.

She walks in beauty

Since this is a time of relative scholastic/philosophic paucity, my posts will be more interspersed with personal (i.e., my own life) reflections. So I'm reminded of a Stoppard's Arcadia.

If knowledge isn´t self-knowledge it isn´t doing much, mate. Is the universe expanding? Is it contracting? Is it standing on one leg and singing `When Father Painted the Parlour´? Leave me out. I can expand my universe without you. `She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies, and all that´s best of dark and bright meet in her aspect and her eyes.´ There you are, he wrote it after coming home from a party.

Now... there's an history of notable drinker-thinkers; I'm thinking not just of Byron supra, Joyce, Fitzgerald and Ben Jonson; but also of Plato, Hume and Diderot. There's a study that connotes that drinking 17 beers a day is in one aspect healthy. Lately I've been drinking closer to 17 than really is necessary, good medicine notwithstanding. But what all my point is is that the life of the mind is a bookish, solitude one--or is it? I guess I don't think that Byron, upon drinking 15 beers, blowing an eightball of coke and staying out until noon the next day, returned to his chambers to write beautiful poetry. Maybe he did, but there seems to be grounds to doubt it. I believe the answer to this question is for one to find patronage: It's the best of both worlds in that you get to write all day and party all night. Does anyone want to start beleaguered junior philosophers' fund?

14 June 2006

Plato's academy in a funhouse mirror

A college based on the teachings of philosopher-author Ayn Rand might come to Oxford -- if Maine doesn't get it first.

And up next: A military academy based on GI Joe.

Donald Hall, poet laureate

Summarizing somewhat how I feel or think I feel I reproduce here a poem called Villanelle, a modified villanelle, by Donald Hall. I don't know from what book it's taken, or if it's attributed to him apocryphally--but I like it and I'll stick with it until otherwise shown.

Katie could put her feet behind her head
Or do a grand plié, position two,
Her suppleness magnificent in bed.

I strained my lower back, and Katie bled,
Only a little, doing what we could do
When Katie tucked her feet behind her head.

Her torso was a C-cup'd figurehead,
Wearing below its navel a tattoo
That writhed in suppleness upon the bed.

As love led on to love, love's goddess said,
"No lovers ever fucked as fucked these two!
Katie could put her feet behind her head!"

When Katie came she never stopped. Instead,
She came, cried "God!," and came, this dancer who
Brought ballerina suppleness to bed.

She curled her legs around my neck, which led
To depths unplumbed by lovers hitherto.
Katie could tuck her feet behind her head
And by her suppleness unmake the bed.

And with regard to reproducing literary works, please see this article from the New Yorker. It's a profile of Stephen James Joyce, James Joyce qua genius writer's grandson.

Michael Groden, a scholar at the University of Western Ontario, spent seven years creating a multimedia version of “Ulysses,” only to have Stephen block the project, in 2003, with a demand for a permissions fee of one and a half million dollars. (Before Stephen controlled the Joyce estate, such fees were nominal.) Groden’s sin was to have praised Danis Rose’s edition of “Ulysses” as “confident and controversial,” in a reader’s report for Rose’s publisher; he had also helped the National Library of Ireland to evaluate some Joyce drafts prior to acquiring them. “You should consider a new career as a garbage collector in New York City, because you’ll never quote a Joyce text again,” Stephen told Groden.

To take a reductive stance, I think Stephen has taken on pugilistic vigilance as a penance for not being a genius; driven partially from jealousy and partially from spite he spews bile in all directions. Joyce might be a big industry as far as academia goes, but that's hardly any reason to impede good research. In any field there will be shoddy work and good work and the shoddy work will fall away, exfoliated by time and neglect.