Sunday, August 21, 2011

I've been wanting to write more on connoisseurship, as the defining element of the intellectual as opposed to technical imagination and as central to politics, or the ability to handle political questions. I've written about it but never in such a way as to clarify the point to people who would not want to agree. I haven't attacked it.
note taking. posted elsewhere Serendipity I guess
It's a side effect of the preference for metrics over questions is that you're lost without your yardstick. Political scientists are skeptical of cultural historians because working outside metrics they work without a net. Read the last paragraph here [Peter Frase - 8/18 on this page] and tell me if makes any sense at all.

Numbers and concepts make life easier. If you take for granted they define the most important questions then you're free to indulge whatever preferences you have that don't get in the way. Here it's Brazilian music, and punk rock (however it's defined ) professional wrestling and recently, food. I'm not surprised that chemists, engineers, and mathematicians are fans of "speculative" fictions and otherwise naive in their enthusiasms. I don't expect scientists to be intellectuals. But the fact remains that the articulation -public speaking- of a concept marks the end as much or more than the beginning. Whatever it may be, by the time someone announces it, it's been around for awhile. Philosophers prefer to see it otherwise, but historians prove them wrong.

A utilitarian would say an unexamined idea is not worth having. Ideas are metrics. A philosopher should ask what life is worth living: a question without a metric.

I have no problem with The Rock. It's interesting watching a ham actor coming to terms with the work of becoming a real one. Johnson's speaking about that is why I like him.

"I never know what to say when I meet celebrities."

What's a celebrity? That's not a glib question, I know recognize the category but it's a category worth examining, without a net.
We live our lives as actors improvising on a stage shared by our audience of other actors. We can choose to ignore the context of our gestures and focus on technical questions removed or so we imagine from performance; but you're no less of an actor for pretending otherwise.

Policemen and mathematicians are rule-followers by choice, and they tend to see that as obviating any need to look beyond the metrics which each see as objectively defined and universal. There are two responses to this. One is that even "universal" metrics are only tools: if you want to measure something with a yardstick you have to find the place to put one end of the stick. You have to find a beginning, end or border. That's not always easy to do, and in discussions of culture it's impossible. Historians accept this, social scientists and partisans of theory tend not to, focusing on only what their metrics can make clear. But clarity is not the same as representation and historians are the ones left to pick through the rubble left by those who claimed to see things clearly. The other response is to point out that yardsticks are are no more or less universal than the rule that says both policemen and mathematicians are actors among actors. The central question for society is how actors should get along with one another, and other people are not numbers to your personhood.

"But the fact remains that the articulation -public speaking- of a concept marks the end as much or more than the beginning. Whatever it may be, by the time someone announces it, it's been around for awhile."

Discoveries are not concepts. Great scientists like great artists, unlike journeymen in either field, are great observers. Discoveries too have their time, but tropes come to "fruition", and that's the moment we remember; they're born in obscurity. That's something else historians know but others forget.

Einstein isn't remembered for coining concepts but for observing relations.
Concepts that have proven useful in ordering things easily achieve such an authority over us that we forget their earthly origins and accept them as unalterable givens. Thus they come to be stamped as “necessities of thought,” “a priori givens,” etc. The path of scientific advance is often made impassable for a long time through such errors. For that reason, it is by no means an idle game if we become practiced in analyzing the long commonplace concepts and exhibiting those circumstances upon which their justification and usefulness depend, how they have grown up, individually, out of the givens of experience. By this means, their all-too-great authority will be broken. They will be removed if they cannot be properly legitimated, corrected if their correlation with given things be far too superfluous, replaced by others if a new system can be established that we prefer for whatever reason.

No comments: