Friday, July 17, 2015

writing, rewriting.
When I was young I chased a girl. I said: “I love you.” She said: “No, you don’t.”
 How did she know? She couldn’t read my mind; she had no way to prove she was right. And now I think she was, but I didn’t at the time. She made her decision by following not just my words but my performance of them. She listened and watched for subtext and saw conflict. Meanings are private, locked in, we negotiate decision-making processes by interpreting form. Debates over the definition of abstract truths in language are not only useless, they’re counterproductive: they’re based on a misunderstanding and as models for intellectual activity they set a bad example. This is what humanists find so annoying about debates over the truth or falsity of religion. I have no interest in god or gods but I can’t prove they don’t exist any more than I could have proved my love existed for the girl. And I can’t prove people believe what they say they believe, or for the reasons they claim. Truths are unavailable to us. And now I think the girl had a better grasp of reality than I did.

If you can’t know the truth of what’s going on in other people’s minds, you also can’t teach the skills to read their gestures. You can teach rules but not judgment, the ability to read the space between assumptions. You can’t teach things that are learned primarily through experience. And connoisseurship as observer is tied to connoisseurship as producer: you can teach techniques but not craft. A violin teacher is a coach; the students teach themselves the distinctions necessary to improve their playing. Connoisseurship is empiricism, and in a world where objective reality is unknowable, it’s a necessity.

The history of modern intellectual life, more even than the history of modernity itself, if it were to be written now would need to need to be written by a historian from Mars, someone so far removed from the events of the past century that their biases are wholly other. Objectivity does not exist; the sociological history of the present describes the present no more than cognitive science describes the mind. You can’t pretend to describe
yourself and call it science. Skinner was right to call cognitive science “the creation science of psychology”. There’s no scientific study of ideas as ideas; there’s no scientific study of metaphysics. They’re what we are as persons, as people with experiences, desires, and names. Once you’ve acknowledged yourself as “Rudolf Carnap” any hope of the end of metaphysics is gone. It was never there to begin with.
Perceptions precede ideas and together they’re the first tools in our study of facts, but since our tools are our enchantments science is no more than comparative enchantment. The more formal the technics the more the enchantments are shared, and being shared they seem to fade. But they don't fade. The culture of technics qua technics is the sociality of elision, at this point known as the culture of geeks. The culture of shared enchantment in public life is the conversation of polite racists and earnest liberals about “the Jews”, “the Negro problem”, “the strangeness of foreigners”, and “what women want”.

The history of modern Germany cannot be understood without the history written by Jews. The history of modern Judaism cannot be understood without the history written by Palestinians. There’s no end to it. Absent that the best we’ll get is the equivalent of the feminism of men. Philosophers now imagine a gender neutral feminism but even if that’s true, or “true”, neutrality is the result not the cause.
The recorded descriptions of modernity are voluminous, if only because of the technological advances in recording. We have a record of ourselves greater by scale of thousands than of any time in history. But the operative term again is description. The failures of modern criticism are greatest when description becomes positivism and prescription. The philosophy of empiricism is still the practice of rationalism; empiricism itself is something else. Quine was a logician. The philosophy of biology is not biology. And I will argue here that the arts, not as idea but as activity, are the most intimate description, the most intimate empiricism that we have. If you want to understand the Vienna Circle, Plato, Kant, or Wittgenstein, you need to read their works as logic, as documents of history, as desire, and as form.

The Oxbridge Marxist G.A. Cohen could have been a character in someone else's novel. He was raised a Stalinist and died a maudlin sentimentalist. He was the product of his time who was unwilling or unable to model his own relation to it. He wanted people to be nice to one another but there was no sense that anything beyond the individual actor was constitutive of our world of experience. In the middle of his career he was a proponent of “Rational Choice” Marxism, or as he also called it “Non-Bullshit” Marxism. At the end of his career he was an ex-Marxist. ...

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