Sunday, August 30, 2015

a repeat ("What's the secr...?" "Timing")
"Everything that constrains a man, strengthens him." de Maistre

Friday, August 28, 2015

one more
"If you say why not bomb them tomorrow, I say why not today? If you say today at 5 o'clock, I say why not one o'clock?"

At the end of Modernism, science as romance.
Galison even has a paper: "Objectivity is Romantic"
It's just stunning at this point that this could be taken seriously.

Like the beautiful boy whose perfect grace fades after he sees his own reflection, what began as idealism has become mannerism. At the end of the age of the romance of science, science is defended as romance. There's literally no attempt at contextualizing the myths of science with the record of the failures of scientism.

from ObjectivityDaston and Galison
Yet the tone of exhortation and admonition that permeates the literature of scientific instruction, biography, and autobiography from the seventeenth century to the present is hardly that of a pragmatic how-to manual. The language of these exhortations is often frankly religious, albeit in different registers the humility of the seeker, the wonder of the psalmist who praises creation, the asceticism of the saint. Much of epistemology seems to be parasitic_ upon religious impulses to discipline and sacrifice, just as much of metaphysics seems to be parasitic upon theology. But even if religious overtones are absent or missed as so much window dressing, there remains a core of ethical imperative in the literature on how to do science and become a scientist. The mastery of is inevitably linked to a certain kind of self-mastery, the assiduous cultivation of a certain kind of self. And where the self-is enlisted as both sculptor and sculpture, ethos enters willy-nilly. It is useful for our purposes to distinguish between the ethical and the moral: ethical refers to normative codes of conduct that are bound up with a way of being in the world, an ethos in the sense of the habitual disposition of an individual or group, while moral refers to specific normative rules that may be upheld or transgressed and which one may be held to account.
P 374
This is the reason for the ferociously reflexive character of objectivity, the will pitted against the will, the self against the self. This explains the power of objectivity, an epistemological therapy more radical than any other because the malady it treats is literally, the root of both knowledge and error. The paradoxical aspirations of objectivity explain both its strangeness and its stranglehold on the epistemological imagination. It is epistemology taken to the limit. Objectivity is to epistemology what extreme asceticism is to morality. Other epistemological therapies were rigorous: Plato's rejection of the senses, for example, or Descartes's radical doubt. But objectivity goes beyond rigor. The demands it makes on the knower outstrip even the most strenuous forms of self-cultivation, to the brink of self-destruction. Objectivity is not just one intellectual discipline among many. It is a sacrifice.
P 376
It is a misconception, albeit an entrenched one, that historicism and relativism stride hand in hand, that to reveal that an idea or value has a history is ipso facto to debunk it. But to show that objectivity is neither an inevitable nor an eternal part of science passes no verdict on its validity, desirability, or utility — any more than to document that the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment first emerged at a particular time and place would per se subvert that judicial principle. Conversely, to point out that certain beliefs and practices have enjoyed widespread acceptance in various cultures and epochs is not necessarily an endorsement: no one thinks better of slavery or geocentrism on learning that many people in many places at many times have subscribed to them. 
C.P. Snow, Strangelove, and The Great Gazoo.

This leads back to Kubrick and Gursky, artists who describe the meanings behind Daston and Galison's"aesthetics".

Daston and Galison at the end of the book refer to images by Marie Farge and Eric J. Heller as models for an art that combines science, romanticism and mechanism: aesthetic images of systems. It's a standard description of both Kubrick and Gursky that they make aesthetic images of systems. Critics who write about the works don't write about aesthetics; they write about the implications.

This is how art, and language, and history work. Gursky uses the language of Daston and Galison, Heller and Farge. He's from the same place and time, but he sees that language for what it is. He has an objectivity they lack. He sees the emptiness and labels it nihilism.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Art Is Good for You, Alfred Kazin
So far as I can tell, there is nobody in the great enlightened American middle class just now who is not an art lover. Truck drivers may sneer at art and old laundrywomen may be too tired even on Sundays to paint; but if you have enough money and enough leisure, it is safe to say that you would dare any heresy in America now except indifference to art. Art is the paradise of "fulfillment" and "creativity" that democracy grants each of its sons and daughters. Especially its daughters, for the confidence that an American woman has in her choice of clothes and her ability to furnish a room invariably extends to the confidence that she can paint. And why not, when the cultural humility of the hayseed American turned businessman and world traveler no longer allows him to ignore the money in painting, the cachet in painting, the splendor of museums and the tyranny of "taste"? If any wife can paint, every husband has to be artistic. These days, who cannot pay homage to art when one considers (a) how "everything else" has failed and (b) that the vague daily discontent which used to be equated with the experience of mortality has now been identified as the unrest of being "artistic"?

To perform in music, you at least have to learn the language of music, and it is manifestly more difficult to write a book than to "sketch" a picture. But painting, already allied in history with churches and palaces, with the furnishing and decoration of houses and the cultural authority of museums, has now become the principal embodiment of the "artistic," of "creativity" —all the more in that painting has now broken away from representation and seems to be as free and easy as a thought, anybody's thought. Music will always be a language, and whatever its purity of form, a book must have a subject. But the more abstract painting becomes, the more intellectualized and assimilable the nonartist's use of it becomes, the easier it is to feel "creative" in the presence of paintings rather than in the reading of books. Andre Malraux has pointed out that art now seems to be embodied not in works—objects originally made for a purpose not purely "artistic" —but in moments; works have become only moments in the experience of us who behold them. 
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The cult of art, the widespread illusion that everyone should feel creative and "artistic," has led to a literary invasion of the art of painting and of art criticism. The more we are pressured into liking what it is inherently impossible for everyone to like, especially at the same uniform pitch of enthusiastic perception, the more we are likely to take secret refuge in literary reverie. E. M. Forster once wrote a charming essay on "Not Listening to Music," and confessed that in the concert hall he often thought of "how musical" he was. Much of what I read by art critics these days seems to me merely impressionistic, reveries on how creative the experience of art makes them feel.

A flagrant example is this book by Alexander Eliot, the art editor of Time. It is the most unabashedly literary self-dramatization in the presence of painting that I have read in years. Mr. Eliot explains that art is really a "city," and that all sorts of people are treating the city as if they owned it, "and they do," But some of us are still afraid of art, which is why we need a guide through "battlements" that seem to be "walls" but are really "gates." (Surely no one who cares deeply about painting is this much worried that everybody should love painting.) Mr. Eliot, in order to sanction his own literary emotions, is careful to explain away the philistine specialist, the coldly destructive critic, and to establish what he calls the "personal" point of view:
...The only way to begin to understand art is to accept it whole- heartedly on one's own, and then to enjoy it. The Spanish peasant drink- ing from a wineskin . . . never sips; he lets the wine spurt right down his gullet. Only afterwards will he reflect on its satisfying taste, the warm feeling in his belly and the new beauty of things round about. That is the way to enjoy art. Let questions of taste and scholarship ...come later.
So much depends on the "personal" interpreter:
Perhaps the path of free enjoyment and personal interpretation can help lead men back to the city. At least it demonstrates that art be- longs to them. To all who have eyes, art offers a flashing multitude of insights. Some of these insights the interpreter shapes into words and offers over again. He does not work dogmatically but as a friend in conversation, exactly as if he were describing people or landscapes that had inspired him.
But Mr. Eliot's own conversation is confusing. The book consists of very short orphic chapters — "The Children of Light," "What Do Artists See?" "The Birth of the Invisible," "Mirrors of Death and Life," "How to Just Imagine," etc., which have no visible connection with each other; free-association phrases that sound as if they had come out of a notebook alternately with random reflections that sometimes, not very often, express shrewd remarks about differences of style. And Mr. Eliot's own style is marked chiefly by the lack of any sustained argument. He writes about paintings by Caravaggio: "A black clamor threads the stillness of these canvases, as comets thread the cold of outer space." He says that "at his easel Monet was a frenzied athlete holding back the dusk. He begged mankind to witness a beauty on the edge of being lost. Not that he lacked faith in the morning: he knew the sun would arise again —and set again —but not for every man, not forever for any man, not very long for anyone." Does this say anything about pictures? Mr. Eliot's cult of the artist follows logically from his relative un- concern with the work itself, and at one point he even claims that great artists don't feel death as the tragedy that other human beings do:
To pretend that artists of Titian's size are doomed to the same disappointments and eventual usefulness as other men is to deny the saving grace of art itself. The great creators are not momentary, white-capped waves, however towering upon the seas of history, but sailors, admirals indeed, masters of their voyages. They sail upon history, including the history of thought and style, as upon the ocean sea.
In short, anybody who is lucky enough to be a great artist has, it turns out, an easier time of it than other people. "Artists come into the world not to fill their own bellies but to bring new nourishment to mankind." I wonder, however, if even artists know why "artists come into the world." Admittedly, good artists are people who have the ability to create works of art that are more coherent and lasting than they themselves are; but despite the pleasure we take in these works or the quickening of our lives through them, we do not actually know much about artists and cannot actually learn anything from their lives about art itself. In the despair of politics and the inadequacy of romantic love as the solution to every personal problem, we have put the whole burden of our salvation on art. But we press art too hard, we are too greedy for it to perform miracles in our personal lives, and it is for this reason that it is now possible to despise people who do not seem to love art as much as "we" do: they threaten the theoretical foundations of our happiness. Actually, if there were more intimate experience of art and less self-conscious use of art, we might see that none of us can fully explain the effect of art, or correct it when it is unsatisfactory, or keep it up as an ecstatic experience all the time. If we in this country had an honest sense of the limits of art, we would have a more grateful sense of its power. 
The obvious is become undeniable.
The no-holds-barred intramural war between liberal Zionists and anti Zionists that we have called for has arrived in full bloom in the pages of Haaretz. In a gloves-off debate with Labor party chairman Isaac Herzog, leading critic of Israeli apartheid Gideon Levy assails the injustice and oppression inherent in the very fabric of so-called ‘liberal’ Zionism. In unequivocally advocating for equal rights and genuine democracy, Levy lays bare the naked racism of not only Herzog’s politics, but the entirety of the militarily enforced Jewish-majority state, both as a concept and as practiced. By the end of the debate (which may not be over), Levy brilliantly rope-a-dopes the failed prime ministerial candidate into an ideological battle the morally-bankrupt politician cannot possibly win.

The entire five-part exchange is well worth reading, which starts with Levy condemning Herzog’s foolish and counter-productive threats to use massive, unrelenting, violent force as a matter of policy, and evolves into a meta debate about Zionism.
As the logic of Zionism falls, the logic of Modernism falls with it. The logic of "Enlightenment" and "value free" science should fall with it.
"Montaigne had no very high opinion of the faculties and achievements of mankind. His attitude found ample confirmation in the work of Sextus Empiricus whose motto "Que sais-je" ("What do I know?") Montaigne adopted to himself."
"Erasmus had little confidence that the unaided powers of men were capable of forging new utopias.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Daston, Galison and Grant McCracken.
"Trust us. We're experts." Victor Frankenstein 

Daston and Galison. Trained Judgment
This judging, unconscious-intuitive scientific self is a long way from a self built around the imperious will. Nor was it a return to the fragmented self of the eighteenth-century savants. Though expert trained judgment, like truth-to-nature, stood in opposition to mechanical objectivity, trained judgment and truth-to-nature are far from identical. The atlas author of the twentieth century is a more adept version of the reader — a trained expert —not a debased echo of the sage. To the reader-apprentice of the twentieth century, there was no need to rely on the guiding genius's qualitatively different sensibility. The Gibbses may have been more familiar with the erratic markings of an electroencephalogram than the advanced medical student or up-to-date physician, but the aspiring electro-encephalogram reader is promised 98 percent reading accuracy in twelve short weeks. No part of the self-confidence displayed here is grounded in genius. The trained expert (doctor, physicist, astronomer) grounds his or her knowledge in guided experience, not special access to reality. (Imagine Goethe promising his readers the ability to construct the ur-forms of nature after a Gibbs-like high-intensity training course.) Nor are the interpreted images that judgment produces to be likened to the metaphysical images of an earlier age. Explicitly "theoretical," the new depictions not only invited interpretation once they were in place but also built interpretation into the very fabric of the image — but they did so as an epistemic matter. Theirs were exaggerations meant to teach, to communicate, to summarize knowledge, for only through exaggeration (advocates of the interpreted image argued) could the salient be extracted from the otherwise obscuring "naturalized" representation. The extremism of iconography generated by expert judgment exists not to display the ideal world behind the real one but to allow the initiate to learn how to see and to know.

Along with this conjoint history of scientific self and image comes a reshaping of the presupposed audience for the scientific work itself. For different reasons, both the reasoned and the objective images took for granted an epistemic passivity on the part of those who viewed them. The reasoned image is authoritative because it depicts an otherwise hidden truth, and the objective image is authoritative because it "speaks for itself" (or for nature). But the interpreted image demands more from its recipient, explicitly so. The oft-repeated refrain that one needs to learn to read the image actively (with all the complexity that reading implies) also transforms an assumed spectator into an assumed reader. Both the maker and the reader of images have become more active, more dynamic, drawing on unconscious as well as conscious faculties to effect something far more complex than a simple Manichaean struggle of the will between (good) receptivity and (dangerous) intervention.
"The atlas author of the twentieth century is a more adept version of the reader — a trained expert —not a debased echo of the sage. To the reader-apprentice of the twentieth century, there was no need to rely on the guiding genius's qualitatively different sensibility."

endless fucking repeats. Marcus Stanley etc.
"The sociology of modern knowledge production empowers the scholar over the humanist, and the collective / communal enterprise of scholarship over the inspiration of the individual thinker."
You have that precisely backwards. The humanist is embedded in culture by calling, the mathematician only by default, while embedded by choice in a private world of universals. 
I'd forgotten Stanley cites Galison.
...what united the Logical Positivists and the members of Bauhaus was a desire to create an alternative vision of social relations than the one promulgated by Volkisch thought – the intellectual representative of National Socialism.
Daston and Galison can't imagine life outside the bubble of technocratic reason. They can't imagine the history of empire, of people screaming to be heard, ignored by reasonable enlightened white society. Their arguments cannot explain the changing attitudes towards Palestinians in the western imagination.

Immigration and mass communication are the proximate causes of the turn against Zionism, the realization -on the part of westerners and Jews- of what in fact it always was. The experts led no more this time than last, or ever. They've been pushed by events, from outside and below, by the new fact of Palestinians and Muslims, as human beings, in the news and in their lives.

The book is blurbed by Bruno Latour.

Modernism was the fantasy of writing with the assumption that from then on there would be only reading with and no reading against. To read tale against teller or to read against the grain would be gross error. Rebellion against this has always taken the form of the rebellion of youth against their parents, with the more sympathetic elders caught in the middle, trying to justify the revolt while trying to make it fit with what they know and what they are. So we get the obscurantist poeticizing of Derrida -the philosopher magistrate as wise old fool- and the blandness of Rorty and Nussbaum, struggling to find a way beyond technocracy while being mocked for the attempt by professional technocrats and lionized by amateur enthusiasts. The model of the Continental philosopher was as Pope and Antipope combined, a philosophical self that could contain an other, in a sense obviating the need for actual democracy. And now that Continental and Anglo-American philosophy are joining out of necessity and the need for survival, we see parallels in Bruno Latour's Collective and David Chalmers' Extended Mind.
Galison began with the fantasies of the Bauhaus, the founding fantasies of Israel.

one more

Monday, August 24, 2015

sympathy for the devil

"My older brother is in charge of finding lower income housing in London for people that need it and my sister is involved in supporting farmers' rights in Latin-America. My younger brother is the political editor of The Guardian. He is very successful, very brilliant… And my two brothers and my sister… I think…they are very amused by what I do… they... they...  They're amused."
The above and the few minutes before and after remind you that everyone around her fears her except those that matter. Even her daughter laughs at her. The interview is shot at the breakfast room table; as Wintour is leaving it cuts to a shot of dog looking down at her from the top of the stairs. The newly introduced mood music continues in the next scene. At the office an assistant is talking about a facialist about to open a new boutique in London. Wintour's expression is dead. The scenes are cut to cut her for slumming.

I watched the documentary for this scene. It goes to the question of why a Brit or an American could never write The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and why Alexander McQueen was a costume designer not a couturier. To be in fashion and to take it seriously you have to begin by not taking anything seriously, then you can choose to take the frivolous seriously and even be a genius.

I went to a funeral for a minor, female, gay icon. The two people who spoke who brought tears to everyone's eyes were the among the most willfully shallow people in the room, but each in simple precise language described small moments on a beach or in a park with their late friend that could stand for anyone's perfect moments of happiness.

It's interesting the number of people in the fashion industry who say that fashion isn't art. Some fashion photographers say the same thing about their work. What would they say? "We're just pretending!" "We're just pretentious!"  Fashion photography is less pretentious than war photography. Fashion is art, but so is gardening. It's deeply problematic, but so is ballet. Ballet has maintained a level of seriousness because for all the glamour there's no money in it.

Grace Coddington
Anna saw the celebrity thing coming, way before everybody else jumped on that bandwagon, and whilst I hated it I'm afraid I have to admit she was right. You can't stay behind. You  know, you have to go charging ahead, and she did and the magazine is very successful because of it. And... whilst I wouldn't really care if I never saw another celebrity, obviously if a magazine doesn't sell I don't have a job so it would be silly... You've got to have something to put your work in otherwise it's not valid.
Coddington is from the other side of the UK class system, a convent girl from Wales, rising up into sophistication rather than down. She makes the most of it.

It's too bad Wiseman didn't make the film. It would've been much better.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Carolyn A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg's Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses, 2005,  544 pages
Daston and Galison, Objectivity, 2007, 501 pages

Two door-stoppers, one written in scholarly but earnest and too informal prose, the other written in the language of scholarly romanticism; one the result -or maybe the cause- of a schoolmarmish crush on an arrogant and insecure former student, pointing out his errors, the other the product of two students' congratulatory self-love.  Jones refers to Galison and credits reading and talking to him as crucial to her understanding of logical positivism. Her book should stand as a blistering attack on everything he and Daston stand for, love, and indulge. It isn't. Everyone involved is much too polite, committed to the scholarly collaborative reason and to the bureaucracy of the church, the modern academy.
Objectivity is published by Zone.

Jones edited a book with Galison: Picturing Science, Producing Art
The first sentence of the blurb: "The boundaries between science and art will not hold."
The cognitive dissonance is beyond belief.
Still writing. Just picked up the book. It's a fucking obscenity.
You make an argument and then you realize you have another bigger target.
writing, rewriting, writing, rewriting
I’m not sure what you say to a historian of science who writes about The Vienna Circle and its relation to the Bauhaus. Peter Galison won a MacArthur fellowship six years after publishing “Aufbau/Bauhaus: Logical Positivism and Architectural Modernism”. By writing a history he’s undermined the arguments of the philosophers, but they did so themselves through their interest in art. And then by relating the art to the philosophy he’s undermining the art. I’ll return to Galison later with his more recent publications with Lorraine Daston -he’s made the same mistake throughout- but for now a brief response to his claims about the Bauhaus will do.

Very few people study the art of the Renaissance because they’re interested in furthering Catholic doctrine. In contemporary terminology, few people are interested in the Sistine Chapel as “illustration”. Works that interest us help us to understand the desires of the people who made them to the point that we understand them better than they understood themselves, and we can do so only because the record they’ve left us is so rich. Art is illusion and subtext, the description and observation (or analysis) of the sensibilities and desires of its makers. A description of a desire is not a desire; a desire for utopia is not utopia. Art has the relation to truth that walking around in a hair shirt is to proof that you’re predestined to salvation. It’s rhetoric. An actor playing a character screaming in pain is not in pain; he’s mimicking and making a reference to pain. The greatest examples of modernist architecture function in the world that exists while describing a desire for something more, as manifest in concrete and glass. If the buildings didn’t function as examples of anti-philosophical worldly sophistication they’d simply fail. If Tatlin’s monument were ever built it would have become a monument to kitsch. As a building it’s absurd. But as a model it’s still a dream each of us can build in our own minds.

The Bauhaus at its best was not a monument to science but to contradiction, to German academicism as ideal and as seen in von Sternberg’s Der blaue Engel. The image that best suits it would be Paul Klee painting his brilliant parti-colored doodles in a spotless lab coat. But we’d remember Klee if the Bauhaus had never existed. The Bauhaus itself is first and foremost in our memories as theater, as a theatrical performance of utopia in the years just before an actually existing hell on earth. Beyond that it’s furniture and dinnerware. The best art made there transcended it. It was better. The philosophers of the Vienna Circle would be unable to make the distinction between their model of the Bauhaus as illustration of a fantasy and its reality as a minor tragic episode in history, evidenced by the tchotchkes left behind.

How do we describe bureaucratic reason as poetry? “Design” as its come to be known is inseparable from aesthetics, which is again, an invention of the 18th century, and a theory that says theories come first. In the beginning was the Word; acts come after, the opposite of historian’s understanding that retrospective intelligence is key; and the opposite of art, that the act of making and the logic of craft is key. “The logic of craft” is the logic of Klee at work, making decisions based on what he thought was, right, proper, fitting, or appropriate, and changing them when he thought they were wrong, or inappropriate, according to a logic connecting his preoccupations with his materials. “Art” is the difference between Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy, and the identical arguments under the same title, written by the famous logician, Norman Mailer. To a logician they might be the same book, but to a historian and the rest of us they’re very different, because we know that in both cases the author spent a good deal of effort choosing his words, in the same way Paul Klee chose paints. I’m not interested in Bertrand Russell’s intent or Mill’s. If I’m interested at all, I’m interested in the words on the page, which mean more than what they meant to the men who wrote them. Anyone following the ideas of the Vienna Circle knows that they opposed metaphysics. Anyone simply reading the words on the page knows that any idealism is metaphysics. I’ve said I would return later to Galison and I will, but it should be clear already that his definition of art is the Paris Salon, Greenbergian formalism, Madison Avenue, -the contemporary model of "creatives"- and the return to the Gothic unity of art and science that Panofsky, writing in 1939 called “a Middle Ages in reverse”.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Russell's History of Western Philosophy

"Two men, Erasmus and Sir Thomas More, will serve as exemplars of the northern Renaissance. They were close friends, and had much in common. Both were learned, though More less so than Erasmus; both despised the scholastic philosophy;... Neither Erasmus nor More was a philosopher in the strict sense of the word"
He was for a time at the University of Paris, but found nothing there that was of profit to himself. The university had had its great days, from the beginning of scholasticism to Gerson and the conciliar movement, but now the old disputes had become arid. Thomists and Scotists, who jointly were called the Ancients, disputed against Occamists, who were called the Terminists, or Moderns. At last, in 1482, they were reconciled, and made common cause against the humanists, who were making headway in Paris outside university circles. Erasmus hated the scholastics, whom he regarded as superannuated and antiquated. He mentioned in a letter that, as he wanted to obtain the doctor's degree, he tried to say nothing either graceful or witty. He did not really like any philosophy, not even Plato and Aristotle, though they, being ancients, had to be spoken of with respect....

The men of the Renaissance had an immense curiosity; "these minds," says Huizinga, "never had their desired share of striking incidents, curious details, rarities and anomalies." But at first they sought these things, not in the world, but in old books. Erasmus was interested in the world, but could not digest it in the raw: it had to be dished up in Latin or Greek before he could assimilate it. Travellers' tales were discounted, but any marvel in Pliny was believed. Gradually, however, curiosity became transferred from books to the real world; men became interested in the savages and strange animals that were actually discovered, rather than in those described by classical authors. Caliban comes from Montaigne, and Montaigne's cannibals come from travellers. "The anthropophagi and men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders" had been seen by Othello, not derived from antiquity....

And so the curiosity of the Renaissance, from having been literary, gradually became scientific. Such a cataract of new facts overwhelmed men that they could, at first, only be swept along with the current. The old systems were evidently wrong; Aristotle's physics and Ptolemy's astronomy and Galen's medicine could not be stretched to include the discoveries that had been made. Montaigne and Shakespeare are content with confusion: discovery is delightful, and system is its enemy. It was not till the seventeenth century that the system building faculty caught up with the new knowledge of matters of fact. All this, however, has taken us far from Erasmus, to whom Columbus was less interesting than the Argonauts.

Erasmus was incurably and unashamedly literary. He wrote a book, Enchiridion militis christiani, giving advice to illiterate soldiers: they were to read the Bible, but also Plato, Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine. He made a vast collection of Latin proverbs, to which, in later editions, he added many in Greek; his original purpose was to enable people to write Latin idiomatically. He wrote an immensely successful book of Colloquies, to teach people how to talk in Latin about every-day matters, such as a game of bowls. This was, perhaps, more useful than it seems now. Latin was the only international language, and students at the University of Paris came from all over Western Europe. It may have often happened that Latin was the only language in which two students could converse.
And in a footnote: “As regards the life of Erasmus, I have mainly followed the excellent biography by Huizinga.”

Monday, August 17, 2015

More from Falafel and the Mirror of Hummus. Rorty misreading Charles Taylor, or at the very least being stupid.
the third and most fundamental reason for the impossibility of hard prediction is that man is a self-defining animal. With changes in his self-definition go changes in what man is, such that he has to be understood in different terms. But the conceptual mutations in human history can and frequently do produce conceptual webs which are incommensurable, that is, where the terms can't be defined in relation to a common stratum of ex- pressions. (p. 49) [Taylor, "Interpretation and the Sciences of Man", 1971]
The point that what interferes with predicting the behavior of inhabitants of the unfamiliar culture is simply the incommensurability of their language seems to me exactly right, but I think Taylor proceeds to obscure his own point when he goes on to say:
The success of prediction in the natural sciences is bound up with the fact that all states of the system, past and future, can be described in the same range of concepts, as values, say, of the same variables. Hence all future states of the solar system can be characterized, as past ones are, in the language of Newtonian mechanics. . . . Only if past and future are brought under the same conceptual net can one understand the states of the latter as some function of the states of the former, and hence predict. 
This conceptual unity is vitiated in the sciences of man by the fact of conceptual innovation which in turn alters human reality. (P.49)
Here Taylor reinstates the notion of man as a being who changes from the inside by finding better (or, at least, novel) ways of describing, predicting, and explaining himself. Nonhuman beings, as mere etres-en-soi, do not get changed from inside but are simply described, predicted, and explained in a better vocabulary. This way of putting it leads us back into the bad old metaphysical notion that the universe is made up of two kinds of things. The sense in which human beings alter themselves by redescribing themselves is no more metaphysically exciting or mysterious than the sense in which they alter themselves by changing their diet, their sexual partners, or their habitation.
Human beings redescribe themselves by developing a taste for democracy and no longer behaving as they have in the past. There's no feedback loop in geology.

There are no references to Santayana in A Secular Age.  I downloaded but haven't yet read the essay Rorty quotes. No reason to bring god into this shit.

A footnote on the response to Kuhn:
The ferocity was found, however, mainly among professional philosophers. Kuhn's description of how science works was no shock to the scientists whose rationality the philosophers were concerned to protect. 
A non-religious Jewish particle physicist may see irreconcilable differences between fermions and Alexander Portnoy; my sympathies will be with his wife.
Another reason to hate political "science".
One way to understand this is as a manifestation of what political scientists call the expressive, as opposed to the instrumental, theory of voting. If voting is instrumental then it’s presumed that voters are primarily motivated by the results they hope to achieve: leaders and parties who can deliver real benefits. If it’s expressive then voters are more interested in signalling who they are and what they value. The case for expressive voting is partly driven by the thought that instrumental voting is a waste of time, since in any significant election no one’s vote ever decides the outcome (if your candidate wins or loses it is always by more than one vote, making your contribution incidental). But it also seems to chime with the world of social media and online communication, where self-expression rules and echo chambers proliferate.
Are social movements expressive, or instrumental?
See also "propositional" and "high-value" speech.

Objectivity is neutrality and passivity; you can only refuse to participate when participation is an option. Refusal plays a role in the outcome of events: it is still participation.

Saturday, August 15, 2015


Kuhn, quibbling over the meaning of words
At the start a new candidate for paradigm may have few supporters, and on occasions the supporters’ motives may be suspect. Nevertheless, if they are competent, they will improve it, explore its possibilities, and show what it would be like to belong to the community guided by it. And as that goes on, if the paradigm is one destined to win its fight, the number and strength of the persuasive arguments in its favor will increase. More scientists will then be converted, and the exploration of the new paradigm will go on. Gradually the number of experiments, instruments, articles, and books based upon the paradigm will multiply. Still more men, convinced of the new view’s fruitfulness, will adopt the new mode of practicing normal science, until at last only a few elderly hold-outs remain. And even they, we cannot say, are wrong. Though the historian can always find men -Priestley, for instance- who were unreasonable to resist for as long as they did, he will not find a point at which resistance becomes illogical or unscientific. At most he may wish to say that the man who continues to resist after his whole profession has been converted has ipso facto ceased to be a scientist.
"No one in my tradition believes that the words are very important."

go here

The unfailingly earnest "discover" the universal fact of politics, and the absurdity of life.

I was raised in a bubble, familiar with the criminality of the 20th century, but insulated from the mediocrity.

Rorty, Falafel and the Mirror of Hummus
Though the historian can always find men -Priestley, for instance- who were unreasonable to resist for as long as they did, he will not find a point at which resistance becomes illogical or unscientific. 
But can we then find a way of saying that the considerations advanced against the Copernican theory by Cardinal Bellarmine -the scriptural descriptions of the fabric of the heavens- were "illogical or unscientific?" This, perhaps, is the point at which the battle lines between Kuhn and his critics can be drawn most sharply.

Kuhn does not give an explicit answer to the question, but his writings provide an arsenal of argument in favor of a negatIve answer. In any case, a negative answer is implied by the argument of the present book. The crucial consideration is whether we know how to draw a line between science and theology such that getting the heavens right is a "scientific" value, and preserving the church, and the general cultural structure of Europe, is an "unscientific" value.[footnote]
Rorty is a creep. The defense of "the general cultural structure of Europe" is the subtext of -or pretext for- the theological argument; the discussion itself is a discussion of text. If the unscientific argument is proffered for Machiavellian ends, as subterfuge, then its use becomes scientific. On its own, it is not. "Beyond a reasonable doubt" is enough. The philosophical pedantry is mind-numbing. He's finding ways to avoid the technical because the technical is merely mechanical, and he wants life to be more than mechanical.  He's like a man who thinks he has to be weak and ineffectual in order to fit the role of feminist. His reference to heritability of intelligence below implies that he believes it as science.
[Footnote] Another example of the same sort is the question raised about "objectivity" by Marxist critics of the traditional distinctions between areas of culture. See, for example, Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man (Boston, 1964), chaps. 6-7· More concretely, we can ask whether there is a clear way of separating out the "scientific" value of getting the heritability of intelligence right from the "political" value of discouraging racism. I think that Marcuse is right in saying that most of the ("bourgeois") intellectual apparatus of the Enlightenment is required to make this distinction. Unlike Marcuse, however, I would hope that we might retain the distinction even after discarding one piece of the apparatus-epistemologically centered "foundational" philosophy.
Like Marcuse and the rest, he can't separate the capacity for computation from a telos. But he wants to find a way. He can't recognize that the triumph of Reason as he defines it, and how his opponents define it as well, is triumph of hard determinism.  None of them can separate science as a tool from those who use it.

In the social reality, despite all change, the domination of man by man is still the historical continuum that links pre-technological and technological Reason. However, the society which projects and undertakes the technological transformation of nature alters the base of domination by gradually replacing personal dependence (of the slave on the master, the serf on the lord of the manor, the lord on the donor of the fief, etc.) with dependence on the “objective order of things” (on economic laws, the market etc.). To be sure, the “objective order of things” is itself the result of domination, but it is nevertheless true that domination now generates a higher rationality -- that of a society which sustains its hierarchic structure while exploiting ever more efficiently the natural and mental resources, and distributing the benefits of this exploitation on an ever-larger scale. The limits of this rationality, and its sinister force, appear in the progressive enslavement of man by a productive apparatus which perpetuates the struggle for existence and extends it to a total international struggle which ruins the lives of those who build and use this apparatus. 
...Outside this rationality, one lives in a world of values, and values separated out from the objective reality become subjective. The only war to rescue same abstract and harmless validity for them seems to be a metaphysical sanction (divine and natural law). But such sanction is not verifiable and thus not really objective. Values may have a higher dignity (morally and spiritually), but they are not real and thus count less in the real business of life -- the less so the higher they are elevated above reality.
Outside this rationality, one lives in a world of choice: to go to the movies or go to the beach. Is that a problem?

The difference between  pre-technological and technological Reason, is not the “objective order of things”.  The difference was that what had been seen as under the command of God, now  -seemingly- was under the command of man.

Modern philosophers are unwilling to accept the fact of an un-universal view (both subjective and fragmentary) of an objectively existing world. Their options are to see the universal view as absolute and true; to see it as true and somehow morally wrong, with the need to make room for eros, or humanity, or art; or to see the world itself as nothing but subjective.

A practicing scientist can accept without conflict the propositions that there is no universal view, and that the world itself is not entirely subjective; that we can say rocks exist without saying that we can see rocks from every angle simultaneously or that my experience of rocks is the same as yours.  To discount the experience of rocks is to see rocks not as absolute but as generalization.  The Reason feared by Marcuse and Adorno is bureaucratic not Platonic. And the political decision to discount the experience of rocks ends only in discounting the experience of rocks for the majority, since the rule of reason is the rule of an elite minority, and the elite will indulge the experience of rocks, and champagne, and caviar, as elites do. To value the experience of rocks is not to say that rocks are nothing but subjective, but to value the multiplicity of subjective experience of universally available things.

Philosophers as rationalists and pedants are concern trolls.  Actual scientists as practicing empiricists can appreciate both generalizations and specifics. Science geeks are scientists after the model of philosophers, giving us John von Neumann and Strangelove.

Philosophy as a discipline thus sees itself as the attempt to underwrite or debunk claims to knowledge made by science, morality, art, or religion.
Philosophy claims to be able to correct the mistakes of science and therefore everything else.  The claim is absurd on its face. The next question is whether it can be placed above art; that question reduces whether it can be placed above other forms of art. The answer's no.

The "epistemological" as opposed to "hermeneutic" reading of the Canadian constitution is forbidden in Canadian legal argument.

Friday, August 14, 2015

reading idiot philosophers talking about art and aesthetics.  A fucking waste of time.

I never stop repeating myself.
Something can be judged a work of it art if its arguments are rendered with an idiosyncratic subtlety beyond what is necessary to communicate its ideas, and which may even oppose them, but which so colors our perceptions that we can not separate the sensibility from the idea without feeling a loss. 
Subtlety beyond necessity but not without purpose.
Art is made by loving something so much you see it honestly or hating something so much you see it in its complexity. 
What makes it more complex again is that theologians and legal scholars are literary critics. The rule of law is the rule of words and their interpretation. Both exist to ensure against the rule of "reason".

Still fucking basic.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

work, work, work
Democracy can seem to empower the masses without regard for the quality of the political decisions that will result. Concern for the quality of decisions can seem to lead in an antidemocratic direction, toward identifying and empowering those who know best. Partly for these reasons, philosophical treatments of democracy’s value have often tried to explain why politics should be democratic even though democracy has no particular tendency to produce good decisions. I believe these ac- counts are weak, and I want to put democratic convictions on more secure footing. My goal is to show how a concern for the quality of political decisions, properly constrained by other principles, supports democratic political arrangements. 
...Before turning to democracy, I begin with the idea of a philosophical framework. Political philosophy, as with some areas of ethics, is easily distorted by the ever-present thought that it might be of practical importance. Practical applications of philosophical ideas require engagement with a lot of nonphilosophy, and the danger is not just that philosophers are not normally especially good at the relevant nonphilosophical areas of inquiry. Even if they were, there are risks involved in trying to treat both kinds of questions in the same work. In the hurry to make a practical proposal it is easy to lose sight of the philosophical problems, and so to lose sight of whether and how they have been solved. Since even long-standing problems have, so often, not been solved (philosophy seems to be harder than science in this way), the idea that something is gained if political philosophers explain how to put their ideas into practice is hard to understand. 
...There is a second aspect to the limitation I have in mind by providing only a philosophical framework: detailed factual information, while occasionally useful, is far from the center of our concerns.
The second section of the chapter is titled “Making Truth Safe for Democracy”, but without recourse to facts.

All the examples I’ve given of engaged participation in debate, over art, and politics, and social life and sex, -“I love you”, “No you don’t”- has been the documentation of game playing and reciprocal adversarial exchange. Every example of pedantry and gross error has been predicated on the refusal to participate, the claim to be above in the cloistered realm of collaborative, private reason, free of the possibility of subtexts or contexts beyond the elite, individual or collective, imagination. The indifference to subtext and context is the first rule, the raison d'être of political philosophy, predicated on the formalism of mathematics. The result is the formalism of the Nouveau roman and dime store science fiction: anti-politics as style. The end is as artifact. That a student of Rawls and Cohen claims now to have put democracy on a firm foundation has less cultural and historical significance than Saint Laurent’s, Le Smoking, the first dress suit for women, in 1966.

Monday, August 10, 2015

In the work of Rawls, Dworkin,  Arneson, and Cohen, a central example that clinches the case against equality of welfare as the ethically correct kind of egalitarianism is the required treatment of a person with voluntarily cultivated expensive tastes. Under welfare egalitarianism, such a person must receive a larger-than-normal bundle of scarce resources, which appears to render him a kind of exploiter of others with more frugal tastes. In the model I have presented, a person who has a high rate of time discount (r) or who views education as very costly (low value of s) has expensive tastes, for he will choose a low level of education (ceteris paribus) will consequently have low expected future income, and will have a low expected welfare. 
To take a the classic example, consider the person who derives satisfaction from a drink only If it is a pre-phylloxera claret. Such a person requires more money to derive the same satisfaction that a beer lover derives from her brew. Here is how Dworkin, Arneson, and I would differ in the treatment of a person. Dworkin would not compensate the one who could derive satisfaction only front pre-phylloxera claret if she identifies with those tastes. Arneson would not compensate her if it had been prudent for her to learn to like beer: presumably, if she knew that she would not have the income to purchase the ancient claret, and if she had the opportunity to develop frugal tastes, then it would have been prudent for her to do so. I propose that the decision whether to compensate her depends on how the median person of her type behaved. Let us say that her type is "child of impoverished aristocrats." If the "median preferences" of persons of that type are for pre-phylloxera claret, then she is entitled to compensation to increase her level of welfare to what the person of frugal tastes, who exercised a median degree of responsibility in other circumstances can experience with his resources. 
You have no obligation to raise your kids not to be greedy, because it would be unfair to make that demand.  The state will fix it later.

Mind reading: "Dworkin would not compensate the one who could derive satisfaction only front pre-phylloxera claret if she identifies with those tastes."

"Arneson would not compensate her if it had been prudent for her to learn to like beer"

One more fucking time. Analytical Marxists vs German bankers
“The kids were able to choose between seven different lunches: sushi and macrobiotics and whatever,” Ms. Rengier recalled. “And I said, ‘What if I don’t want my son to choose from seven different lunches?’ And she looked at me like I was an idiot.”

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Maria Farrell [the past] has written a long post defending "literary fiction" as description of the world.

Laurie Paul, known as an expert on mereology, is now studying "transformative experience"

And we're back, once again to Zadie Smith, and Hannah Arendt

Henry Farrell,
John Gray on the disappearance of utopian dreams of social reform in science fiction here. His taste in SF is excellent and he has several good lines.
The role of science has been to gauge the limits of the species, with new technologies and extra-planetary environments being used as virtual laboratories for an ongoing thought experiment. If the mainstream novel employs the lens of the commonplace career – birth and education, marriage and divorce, ambition and failure – SF has pursued the inquiry by abducting the human animal and placing it in alien environments.
is particularly nice. It captures real (if not universal) differences without fetishizing the one as better than the other.
read my additional comments at the link.

The fading of scholasticism begins in the family.

history/related.  Following the Arendt link, and another, will get you here.
"I think a major consequence of the lack of reading non-fiction other than textbooks is that when in late high school or college teachers want research paper type things, the students have a lot of trouble largely because they've never read any."

"lots of Americans read very poorly and schools teach reading almost exclusively through fiction"

Friday, August 07, 2015

Leiter (on Salaita):  "This is a very good day for tenure, for contracts, and for free speech."

Leiter on free speech

how many times have I done this?

Thursday, August 06, 2015

August 6 1945

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

"A controlling, conscious self is an illusion" 
Philosopher Peter Carruthers (Maryland) comments. (I'm always happy to see cognitive science catching up with Nietzsche!)
My comment didn't make the cut. I wonder why.
"Influenced by the discoveries of cognitive science, many of us will now accept that much of our mental life is unconscious"

"Cognitive science" presumes the self. It's the creation science of psychology.

Neuroscience -actual science- has confirmed what the the arts have described since the dawn of recorded irony, first under the noses of theologians, priests, philosophers, and kings, and then in open mockery of them, and all other pedants: that our actions are driven by causes under the surface.  "I deny free will". Whaddya mean "I", Kemosabe?

"Postmodern" philosophers write bad poetry and analytics spout oxymorons. The underlying melodrama is the same.
fucking idiots.

Monday, August 03, 2015

A line I missed years ago. I added it to a recent post but it deserves its own.

Alex Rosenberg, naturalist
I dismiss no phenomenon, I dismiss attempts to reconcile naturalism with intentionality, human agency, free will and finally the enduring self.
"I... I dismiss the... self"

Cogito ergo delenda sum
Roy Lichtenstein interviewed in 1963, not recognizing visual narrative as form.
Antagonistic critics say that Pop Art does not transform its model. Does it? 
Transformation is a strange word to use. It implies that art transforms. It doesn’t, it just plain forms. Artists have never worked with the model—just with the painting. What you’re really saying is that an artist like Cézanne transforms what we think the painting ought to look like into something he thinks it ought to look like. He’s working with paint, not nature; he’s making a painting, he’s forming. I think my work is different from comic strips—but I wouldn’t call it transformation; I don’t think that whatever is meant by it is important to art. What I do is form, whereas the comic strip is not formed in the sense I’m using the word; the comics have shapes, but there has been no effort to make them intensely unified. The purpose is different, one intends to depict and I intend to unify. And my work is actually different from comic strips in that every mark is really in a different place, however slight the difference seems to some. The difference is often not great, but it is crucial. People also consider my work to be anti-art in the same way they consider it pure depiction, “not transformed.” I don’t feel it is anti-art.
Political science means never having to doubt your own politics.
(Clichés of the future)

Farrell: "Being Tom Friedman Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry."
The mistakes of political scientists are only mistakes of science, not of politics. There's no need to apologize, right?

Saturday, August 01, 2015

This time the Washington Post: "Israel wrecked my home. Now it wants my land".

Pay attention to the form: a first person narrative, written by a Palestinian and published in a major American newspaper.

It's not the first, and there are more and more. I don't give a fuck about ideas as ideas; ideas are for college professors. The Palestinians are part of our social world and 30 years ago they weren't. People are changing their opinions; their opinions are being changed by social contact. People who spend their lives in the library or with very narrow social groups are the last to know.
a repeat to remind myself.

Rationalism is predicted on taking people at their word:  "I believe in God"/ "I'm a nice guy"/ "I'm a liberal Zionist".  Empiricism is looking for confirmation in the world: interrogating, examining form, subtext, context, history.

Rationalists see their rationalism as a model of social interaction, and would say that empiricism in the context of social interaction is disrespectful or rude. "You don't believe me?" "Pretentious, Moi?"

Rationalism is earnest and collaborative. Empiricism is adversarial, but with self-doubt a requirement works through a wide-ranging reciprocal skepticism; interaction by necessity becomes debate and game and theater, an ongoing negotiation of self among friends and strangers.

Americans in their relation to the world around them, are rationalists. As a Greek man said to me today over coffee, "They're not social. They don't know how to talk to other people".