Gorilla gorilla gorilla
Major Major Major Major
Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus
There's a reference early on in The Sot-Weed Factor to "the elegance of a sorites"—how odd, thought I, isn't that an anachronism for a book set around the time of the publication of Pilgrim's Progress? But no: turns out that "sorites" is not, as a I thought, an eponym taken from an otherwise uncelebrated philosopher of recent days who formulated a paradoxical inference, but the name of a kind of inference which can after all be perfectly valid:
A series of propositions, in which the predicate of each is the subject of the next, the conclusion being formed of the first subject and the last predicate, whose earliest attestation in the OED is from 1551. And even the paradoxical meaning (coyly defined by the OED as
a sophistical argument turning on the definition of a ) dates from the 1760s, and the text there refers to the argument's having been used by the Hellenistics.
Wotta world. The next paragraph concludes with this sentence:
By age eighteen he had reached his full height and ungainliness; he was a nervous, clumsy youth who, though by this time he far excelled his sister in imaginativeness, was much her inferior in physical beauty, for though as twins they shared nearly identical features, Nature saw fit, by subtle alterations, to turn Anna into a lovely young woman and Ebenezer into a goggling scarecrow, just as a clever author may, by the most delicate adjustments, make a ridiculous parody of a beautiful style.
Har har, John. Aren't we precious.
Wittgenstein writes in PI 336 that
The case is similar to the one in which someone imagines that one could not think a sentence with the remarkable word order of German or Latin just as it stands. One first has to think it, and then one arranges the words in that queer order. (A French politician once wrote that it was a peculiarity of the French language that in it words occur in the order in which one thinks them.)
The parenthetical remark, of course, invites us his readers to fancy ourselves above all that; we think, oh, you silly Frenchman (or perhaps, you silly politician), perhaps that is true of your thoughts, but that is only because French is your native language, the one in which you learned to think, and had you been raised to speak a different language you would have had exactly that thought about it, no matter its word order. And of course (we continue to think) the same obtains, with what needs to be changed changed, with us ourselves; we are enticed to think ourselves above the French politician in this respect (consider, for instance, our reading material! We are much higher-minded) and not likely to be taken in by such provincial claptrap.
Nevertheless, take a not even particularly egregious example of the front-loading of participial phrases:
Niemand hat die symbolische Struktur der aus dem Zusammenhandeln von Menschen sich ergebenden Stabilisierungen durch rituelle Vergegenwärtigung besser herausgearbeitet als Gehlen.
Here I want to say, no way, anonymous publishing house scribe. No fucking way is the order in which the words occur in the text the same as the order in which you thought them. Nuh fucking uh. (Even though really it's not all that implausible. Nevertheless!)
(Of course the French politician is almost certainly wrong; at least, regarding English, a language of whose speaking there is none more native than I, words occasionally occur to me in an order that accords neither with my intent nor with grammar, and I don't see why the case should have been different with that character or, in principle, anyone else.)
"I was present at one time when someone asked the poet Sophocles: 'How are you in regard to sex, Sophocles? Can you still make love to a woman?'
'Hush, man,' the poet replied, 'I am very glad to have escaped from this, like a slave who has escaped from a mad and cruel master.'
I thought then that he was right, and I still think so, for a great peace and freedom from these things comes with old age: after the tension of one's desires relaxes and ceases, then Sophocles' words certainly apply, it is an escape from many mad masters."
We modern-day readers, when we encounter this passage, think that we understand straight off Sophocles' meaning, and think it basically akin to Socrates' interpretation. Back when he could get it up, Sophocles was ruled by a part of his soul against his own better judgment—could not rule himself. We attribute, in other words, the problem to a drive that Sophocles felt, placing the difficulty entirely within his own psychology. But we should be less hasty, and should ask why Plato has put precisely this anecdote in the Republic. Sure, it reads well, but Socrates could have made his point in any number of ways. When he wants to establish that the lover finds in the beloved something by which to be charmed, regardless of what features the beloved has, he simply asks Glaucon, is it not so that, etc, in his typical way, a strategy that would obviously work here, as well, if he were only after something as general as has been suggested. Instead he specifically brings in Sophocles; surely, since nature does nothing without cause, there must be a reason for this.
And the reason is as follows. Sophocles' living situation was a bit unusual; he didn't have a wife, but did have an arrangement of sorts with what you might call a courtesan, I guess. He was absolutely wild about her; she somewhat indifferent towards him, and exploited this imbalance by keeping him at her beck and call, having him do things for her that she didn't even really need or want done, just as an exercise of power. Only when he finally became impotent did she tire of him, and it's to this that he refers in the anecdote quoted in the Republic. The problem, then, has long been misunderstood, even by Socrates (though not, presumably, by Plato, who is probably twitting S here): it's not the lack of autonomy, it's the hetaeranomy.
A post in two parts.
On How to Dream of a Lady Whom you Loved yet never Possessed
Avail yourself of and give heartfelt praise to your solitude, since the fleshliness of your dreams seeks the solitary and ethereal. Prepare your couch upon an open veranda, facing south, that you may clearly survey all the constellations in the firmament, the commonplace Pleiades together with the radiant Alektor. Betake yourself to bed at the eleventh hour or thereabouts, having previously sprinkled your pillow with five or six droplets of aromatic liquid known as the tears of Christ (lacrimae Christi), for He too loved yet possessed not. Whereupon, see to it that you sleep undisturbed and soundly for at least four hours.
When four hours have thus passed, move slightly and assume the position of the embryo in the belly, viz. place your right hand as your pillow and draw up your legs like wings enfolded. Thereafter, reflect, though sleeping still, on all that you possessed and lost, all you possess and are losing, not so to grieve, but on the vanity of it. Whereupon, once you feel a rush of tears sweeping you out to sea, take from within you a musical instrument, no matter whether lute, mandolin or drum, and strike up most passionately and rhythmically as in a dream. And set the melodious paths of the verses that become you all around indiscriminately as garlands to safeguard you, yet neglect not the melodious path of Lethe and play this unfailingly twice and thrice. Whereat, shining before you will appear trails of dreams, some black as pitch, some of reddish hue and others the colour of saffron. WIthout more ado yet with no little awe, take the one dream path that leads you to your heart's desire and follow it with utmost care for at least fifty miles. For here is the place that deep in the night you will find her sitting all alone upon a rock, or in her master's dwelling, or wedded to another and busy with her household and content.
Then come up to her most softly that she may not awaken and be alarmed and call to her within you, as only you know, O Irene, O Lucy, O Elspeth, O Christina. And, if she still hearkens and feels for you, she will turn towards you, as in dreaming, and you will say to her in the Romaic tongue, "Regard how because of you I am alone and my tears rejoice in you, for you have gladdened me this night, my Sweetest." Say to her no more than this since it is not expedient, given that time is pressing, but turn back once more and make your return. Yet should she not hearken to you when you address her and no longer feel for you on account of the length apart, do not be embittered or grieve overly much, for you were worthy of her shade and image. Whereupon, collect yourself and seek another more amenable.
If you would employ dreams in such a manner, take care not to exceed two or three each year. The most propitious time is August, on the sixth day, the feast of the first fruits and our Saviour's Transfiguration, or on the morrow of the Assumption, feast of the Holy Shroud, unless, that is, this falls on a Sunday. Otherwise, do this in August, on the twenty-ninth day, fest of the Precursor's Beheading.
Part two is located infra.
One can find it exhibited in Nehamas' new book, and when he came to Stanford to
flogtalk about it I even asked him about it, but for naught; anyway, it's also in an essay of Pippin's on Proust in The Persistence of Subjectivity, and I just read that, so, you know, gabba gabba hey. Let's start with a footnote, numbered 38, and coming forth on p 328:
As Walter Benjamin has pointed out, the significance of Proust's snobs extends far beyond French society. They are avatars of that deadly modern type, the consumer, who wants to be flattered for his discriminating taste but whose taste amounts to nothing more than liking what will get him flattered, taking refuge in brand names and high-end merchandise, much as the snob does in supposedly high-end people. A whole society looms where no one is or even wants any more to be "who one is"—another Nietzschean nightmare.
One the one hand, one can read this the same criticism that Aristotle in the Nic Eth makes of those who set honor as the chief good in life: you have to be honored by someone, after all, and so you'll always be haring after whatever it is that they think honorable, even if it's (to take an example from the Gorgias) being a catamite. On the other hand, Benjamin's claim, or anyway Pippin's summary of it, is amusingly applicable to just about any disfavored group; simply replace "the consumer" with, say, "the hipster", "the trixie", &c.; "brand names and high-end merchandise" will have to be mutated as well depending on the interpolated demographic, but the analysis will still basically work. On the third and final hand, though, it's not exactly hard to understand what motivates the snob, and someone sufficiently uncharitable might be inclined to say that the snob's real failing couldn't possibly be what Benjamin and Pippin claim it is, but is rather that everyone does that and the snob just doesn't do it very well. After all, Pippin is prepared to say something like this (in fact, exactly this):
[T]here are clearly people whose self-image, whose practical identity, has been formed so extensively by the expectations and demands and reactions of others that, while their own self-image does circulate successfully in society, their view of themselves is indeed very well mirrored in how they are regarded and treated; it has to be said that they have become the person whom "they" want one to be, that one does not have one's own identity, has not become who one is. As noted above, this type of slavish conformism has to count as just as much a failure to become who one is as the action of the fantasy-indulging narcissist we just discussed. (p 319)
That "clearly" has got to be doing a lot of work there, because it looks a lot as if Pippin's saying that one can read off someone's inner selflessness (er, in the sense of not having a self, of course, not in the sense of being generous) from their outward conformity to societal convention. This isn't prima facie true, though; it's perfectly possible that the person "who one is" just happens (unluckily, perhaps!) to be the person whom others would have one be—in fact one could be the only person of whom that was true. Nehamas actually seems to think that isn't possible, but I don't recall him giving any sort of argument to that effect. Pippin might also think that it isn't possible, but the reasons that I would expect him to give would also push one towards the general structure of consumerism as described supra. These would take off from the case of the "fantasy-indulging narcissist": "A self-image never realized in social space, never expressed in public action, has to count as more a fantasy than a piece of self-knowledge, even though when expressed in such action, the public deed cannot be said to be exclusively owned by the subject, to have the meaning that the subject insists on … This is, of course, exactly why many people forever postpone such action, never write that book, send off that manuscript, finish that dissertation" (318–9)—such postponers might say "I'm a poet", but if they never actually produce a poem, the claim is going to ring increasingly empty and self-deceived.
But if being what one is (to say nothing of becoming what one is) is the sort of thing that has to be recognizable in the social sphere, then in general it's going to have to be carried out in the terms recognized in the social sphere. That explains why the person who is, in the strong sense, what happens to be utterly conventional gets castigated as not having realized himself: to all observation he's a creature of das Man. But it also explains, and excuses, the tendency to consumerism. "Becoming who one is" is a game you play in society, and to count as playing that game, you have to make certain moves, and in many cases those are moves you'll be able to learn about through the observation of successful players and mimicry. Someone who really did have discriminating taste but whose discriminations made no sense to anyone else in society, not even the smallest subgroup, would be just as badly off as the fantasy-indulging narcissist. At least some of your discriminations will have to compete in the established marketplace. If the claim is merely this, that the consumer is aware that he's playing the game and does so strategically while the true man of discrimination wants only to become who he is and doesn't care a fig for the opinions of others, that both goes against many of Pippin's other points in the article and makes the ideal out to be some kind of social idiot savant.
The various oracles in ancient Greece were, as everyone knows, elevated to that status from a humbler; in many cases nothing is known about the profane life which preceded investiture with the god's trust. However, in one case we know a little bit about both someone who was to become the Sybil at Cumae, and someone who was to become the Delphic oracle, in their early lives, in an incident which was storied in the ancient world but is today known only to specialists. My present aim is to increase its currency in the general populace. Since their given names do remain unknown, I'll refer to the future Sybil as Amaltheia and the future Delphic oracle as Pythia, using the names by which they would have been referred to after assuming their respective mantles.
We know about both people because they were lovers for a spell; the anecdote concerns how their relationship ended: in, if you can believe it, a dispute about food. Cumae, whence they hailed, is part of what is now Italy, and even then pasta formed an important part of the local cuisine. Amaltheia and Pythia, as is not uncommon, had established a division of household duties whereby the former, who was generally accounted a good cook, prepared the food, and the latter, who was generally accounted lazy and critical, ate it and bitched about it. (Nobody said it was an ideal division.) Despite her being generally talented, however, Amaltheia could never quite get the hang of Pythia's favorite dish, and came in for endless criticism—always arriving too late or, on the rare occasions when it was offered in a timely fashion, arriving too cryptically to be of any use. (
It would probably help if you roasted the squash instead of boiling it;
You used way too much flour; these are inedible, etc.) It got to the point that Pythia would take one bite and simply refuse to eat any more, giving nothing but a curt assessment of the failings of the latest attempt. Things finally reached a head, and the last time Pythia acted that way Amaltheia announced,
I've had enough: I'd rather hang in a cage for the rest of my life than deal with you one more night. Gnocchi seauton, 'cause I sure as hell won't. And that was that.
I've mentioned this on facebook and in private! email!, but I always meant to tell it to you first, baby, you know that, right? You know I love you. C'mere—I got something to tell you.
Somewhat into the action, such as it is, of Springer's Progress, Springer (I gather, still not having, you know, read the book) attempts to goad himself into resuming work on his novel by exhorting himself to "Play a little. With luck a phrase or three worth a lonely pretty girl's midnight underlining.". And somewhat into his essay on Markson and allusion, which I cannot quote because the g-ddamn library would only check out the relevant volume of the Review of Contemporary Fiction to me for a week at a time and would only renew it twice (what is this, communist Russia?), Steven Moore implies or perhaps says outright that this is a somewhat modest, even trivial, ambition for a writer to have. But I disagree; I think that's a fine ambition and not to be belittled. But I am more easily satisfied with such surface pleasures than your average professional hermeneut, I suspect, and this is perhaps one reason I am not a professional hermeneut.
I have read as much as the first page and thereon are many delightful phrases to be found but most of all the last of the below, whose precedents are included only because I feel they are necessary to set it up:
There's Springer, sauntering through the wilderness of the world.
Lurking anent the maidens' shittery, more the truth of it. Eye out for this wench who's just ducked inside, this clodhopper Jessica Cornford.
Girl's a horse, stomps instead of walking. Most sedulously ill-dressed creature's ever wandered into the place also. Remorseless. Blouse tonight's all archaic frill, remnant from a misadvised Winslow Homer.
Paradox there, however. Catch her in repose and that profile's patrician. Unendurable cheekbones. When she's not lurching after that cow.
Tall, she is, and Springer's particularly enamored of her neck as well. Springer's a writer. Neck's sensuously cartilaginous.
Springer also sanguine about good boobs?
(Entire book's so written. Telegraphic prolixity abounds.) There's so much that's so great about that last sentence, from the incongruity of "boobs" (though is "boobs" ever congruous?) to the hesitancy with which the proposition's put forward. Like, you know, don't hold me to it, or anything, but I've got half a notion that Springer's not entirely titwise displeased. Just testing the waters here. (Funny how I always want to turn to "querulous" when I want something that means "with a questioning tone" (where "questioning" simpliciter wouldn't work, as no question's actually being put forward), as it were formed from "query". But of course it isn't.)