18 August 2006

Manhattan + Wittgenstein + Pop

The sweet, sweet sensation of burning in the back of your throat. Bulemia? Crack? No, silly: Drinking a Manhattan. Blogging from the patio, drinking a Manhattan and working on my thesis. Fridays do not get much better. I haven't made any signifant leaps. I think, maybe, that I understanding Wittgenstein perfectly. I'm going in circles and confusing myself.

Wittgenstein puts it well when he says, “The difficulty is to realize the groundlessness of our believing” (166). This isn’t to say that our beliefs are unjustified; but they may appear unjustified if we keep asking for justification on top of justification. Such an interrogation of justification leads inevitably to an infinite regress. When we set out to test an empirical proposition there must be something that is not justified. Wittgenstein asks,

Now am I to say that the experiment which perhaps I make in order to test the truth of a proposition presupposes the truth of the proposition that the apparatus I believe I see is really there (and the like)? (163).

and I believe the answer must be, “No.” It’s not a criticism to say that “scientific disinterest” or the “scientific method” is itself a presupposition. To criticize the scientific method, say, in such a manner—i.e., to say that the scientific method itself presupposes the validity of its methods and that there is such a thing as the outside world—is to share similar presuppositions. Such a critic shares, for instance, the presupposition that the world exists. He shares the presupposition that a method must be valid to have value. He shares the presupposition of the criterion of truth. He is already within “our system,” so to speak. To have such an argument makes manifest a shared system of discourse, a shared culture. This point answers in affirmative Wittgenstein’s question, “Doesn’t testing come to an end” (164)? In a way, a person sacrifices his good faith facility for doubting when he acts with certainty. If you can ask a question, such as “How do you know you’re not dreaming?” I wouldn’t know how to respond. For if I am dreaming, then I’m also dreaming your question—it would seem that this state of affairs would render your criticism senseless. (If I have a dream in which someone tells me that I’m the President, should I expect to be President upon waking?) On the other hand, shouldn’t your questioning whether I’m dreaming be proof enough that I’m not dreaming; that is, unless you happen to be dreaming. (I don’t know what it would be to exist as a figment in someone’s dream.) The clich├ęd response to a situation in which one thinks she may be dreaming is to pinch herself. The underlying assumption behind the act, I think, is to give oneself a painful enough stimulus to awaken from any sleep. It’s conceivable that one would then awaken into another dream. But even in dreams, one would eventually start acting, doing things. If you went through your whole day in a dream, and as you went to bed that night you woke up to the real world—faced with another day to go through—your two days would be indiscernible.

This situation is a fine analogy for the kind of phenomenon that Wittgenstein describes. Our everyday action is as ungrounded as a dream action. This isn’t a criticism, because criticism seems to imply a higher standard than what’s actually before us. A potential critic our system of action, certainty, belief and knowledge comes from one of two places—a higher vantage or a different system altogether. Wittgenstein’s point is that there is nothing higher. The system that he sees everyone using is, simply put, a human system. A god would be higher, but it would be neither wrong nor right; for, “In order to make a mistake, a man must already judge in conformity with mankind” (156). There must already exist a practice to which to compare any given thing.

* * *

I've rediscovered the Kings of Leon. I was in London when the hype landed, which, after thudding, had little impact anywhere else. I guess America had had enough of CCR. But the Kings manage to compress, say, the greatness of Proud Mary into 2.5 minute pop songs. Their second album, Aha Shake Heartbreak got such a bad rap; but I think it's significantly better than their debut. The song structures are weird! They're like the southern Bob Pollard (sometimes) with songs that last well under 3 minutes. Some of them are just a hook, or a chorus. For this the were rewarded how??

Their music is often referred to as Southern Rock, although it doesn't rock at all-- it lacks force, velocity, and power.

Well, then. You know what--fuck Pitchfork. Forget I namechecked CCR. Forget how critics overuse words like 'damaged' when describing unconventional genre-fuckers. The Kings are awesome. They make damaged pop songs. They seem to have fabricated their backstory, but that shows they were on the cutting edge of American Art. (C.f. LeRoi, JT; Frey, James; Blair, Jayson.)

Oh yeah, how's about this. I couldn't remember that Blair guy's name. (Popmatters had a great story on him, though; I shoulda remembered.) So I Googled searched in Google's portal for "ny times disgraced journalist" and the first hit was a bingo! I feel so lucky.