Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tractations IV

Things are what they are.

They appear to be what they are.

It is thought that makes them possible, i.e., objective.

As objects, things present us with chances.

The object occupies a space of possibilities.

The image is what can be seen without strain.

The image is easy.

The image is what can be done without effort.

The subject occupies a time of necessities.

As subjects, people present us with needs.

It is feeling that makes them necessary, i.e., subjective.

They surface to become who they will.

People become who they are.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Best Answer, Chosen by Asker

If I want to be a lion, I asked, can I be a lion?
You can be, someone said, anything you want.
And I thought that was the best answer.
(Yay, I said, I am a lion!) But there were others.
One said, No, you cannot be a lion. Another said,
You can join a Lions Club. And one said,
Sure, why not? Be a lion. And then there was
this one girl, Regina. She said, Yes you can.
Go to a costume store and buy a lion costume.
Everyone will laugh at you but that's okay
because you are now a lion and you can eat them.
Three people, seriously, rated that answer as good.

(Source: Yahoo! Answers.)

Tractations III: Ostension

This is the World.

That's how it is.

This is the case.

These are my views.

These are my eyes.

[This is my body.]

This is my mind.

This is the image.

This is my heart.

[This is my body.]

These are my hands.

These are my deeds.

This is the story.

That's what happened.

This is History.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tractations II

Everything is the case.

The world is the totality of facts, not things.

Science represents the facts (not things).

Philosophy presents concepts, not thoughts.

Art renders the image.*

Poetry presents emotions, not feelings.

Politics represents the acts (not people).

History is the totality of acts, not people.

Everyone is on my case.

*Added March 24, 2012.

Tractations I

The world is everything that is the case, the totality of facts.

Science is the attempt to construct true propositions about the facts (assertions).

Politics is the attempt to construct just propositions about the acts (injunctions).

History is everyone that is on my case, the totality of acts.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Political Actvities

Over at my other blog, I've been discussing Heidegger's interpretation of modern science as "ongoing activity" (Betrieb) and the danger of letting it degenerate into "mere busyness" (des blossen Betriebs). I think it is the task of the philosopher precisely to keep science "open" in the sense Heidegger suggests: "Ongoing activity becomes mere busyness whenever, in the pursuing of its methodology, it no longer keeps itself open on the basis of an ever-new accomplishing of its projection plan..."

Well, the same can be said of poetry and politics. The poet works to keep politics open in the pursuit of its mandate. Obviously, the philosopher has to keep the scientist thinking. The poet, likewise, has to keep the politician feeling. Without this, politics degenerates into mere busyness (and becomes a business) and, just as science can succumb to it and "never again confirms and verifies its own self-accumulating results and the calculation of them, but simply chases after such results and calculations", so too can politics fail to ratify and justify its results and simply chase after ballots and opinion polls.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ontics Optics Haptics Ethics

Maybe McGinn, an onticist, a proper philosopher, looks very carefully at things to inquire into their being. The ethicist, properly speaking a poet, should touch people very daringly to govern their becoming.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


In his piece in the New York Times, Colin McGinn is probably not being entirely serious. Nor am I being entirely serious in responding to it. I do so mainly because I agree with the underlying idea that there is a sense in which philosophy is "ontics".

What I want to stress is that his proposal is as odd as one in which, say, Jerome Rothenberg might propose to stop calling it "poetry" and call it "ethnics" instead. Here, too, I'd sort of agree. All poetry is about "the people", the broader culture of "the subject", just as philosophy is about the underlying nature of "the thing" and "the object". We can approach any poem in terms of its ethnography, implicit or explicit, just as we can approach any philosophy in terms of its ontology.

Strangely, I'm even with him on an implication of his argument that he might not endorse, namely, that "ethics" isn't really a philosophical activity (it is, properly speaking, a poetic one). Let alone political philosophy! I'd banish both. But not by changing the name.

What I object to is the idea that philosophy is more like a science than an art.

I'm curious to know what McGinn does to study "being" that gets him completely around the need to engage with culture.

Also, in the book which is perhaps most clearly “about reality”, i.e., the Tractatus, which begins with the famous sentence, “The world is everything that is the case,” Wittgenstein says (at 4.111) “Philosophy is not one of the natural sciences … Philosophy is not a body of doctrine but an activity.” (I.e., it is not a “body of knowledge” but a style of analysis.)

In my view philosophy is more like poetry than science. That’s also just one view, of course. And perhaps I’d be a happier philosopher if people like McGinn stopped calling what he does by the same name. But when I undertake to “write concepts down” (just like a poet undertakes to write emotions down), when I strive for the (non-)authority of the “perfect immanence of the presentation” (as Kierkegaard put it) of my philosophical remarks, whose only aim is to present (and not represent) a concept or set of concepts, I am not doing anything that anyone would or should call science. I am practicing an art. But this does not* make me one of "those practical sages ... that tell people how best to live". I help people think.

Perhaps better than the Rothenberg analogy: McGinn’s proposal is a bit like a proposal to rename poetry in the early 20th Century “imagics” or (!) “imagery”, just because the members of a particular movement, Imagism, at a particular time focused on a particular virtue of their particular style.

*The "not" was added on March 15, 2012, at 8:25.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Stare, Breath

"Remark and Strophe" is not so much a poem as a poem "schema". I'm going to try to write some poems using it as a form or grid. I'll also, of course, try to write some philosophical remarks.

I'm guite happy with this particular homology, these supplements: staring is to knowledge, and therefore philosophy, as breathing is to power, and therefore poetry. Much of the "profundity" of philosophy and poetry derives, I think, from this centering of the body.

I'm still committed to the idea that a poem can be traced back to the intensity implicit in the tension of a string (lyre, lyric, etc.). And that the clarity of philosophy is the clarity of a lamp. Thus, lamp/stare on the one hand, lyre/breath on the other.

I sometimes worry I am making too much of language, and especially of writing. Why should there be anything profound about marking up a page? "In what sense is a white page with black marks on it like a human body?" asks Wittgenstein. (I'm not sure he meant that to sound as profound as it does to me.) Kant said that thought may either directly, in experience, or indirectly, "by way of certain marks", relate to intuition. I've suggested a supplement from "The Critique of Pure Passion": "All feeling must, either directly, or indirectly by way of certain marks, relate ultimately to institutions, and therefore, as far as stuff is concerned, to motility, because in no other way can a subject be taken with stuff."

Intuition (Anschauung) is to reason as institution (Anstalt) is to passion. Staring is to intuition as breathing is to institution.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Remark and Strophe

She passes and

they stare.

She just stands there
and breathes.

"Remarkable," says the philosopher.
"Catastrophic," says the poet.

As they open their notebooks.

Existence and other Problems

Some thoughts lately akin to these...

Philosophy really does attempt to understand existence. Poetry really does try to obey (!) inspiration. Hence Dasein is to existence as duende is to inspiration.

Why do we exist? asks the philosopher. Or why, more simply, does it exist? Here I had a moment of lucidity.

Why do I breathe?
asks the poet.

Why does "it" breathe? he might have asked.

Exist, ex-stare, "stand out".

Inspire, in-spire, "breathe into".

(Can't teach inspiration? You can teach breathing. Said Allen Ginsberg.)

Why does it stand out?
Why does it breathe?

Why does it stand there and breathe?

Well, it does.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

What Remains

After a poem has caused its "stir" and has become "a depleted fashion", said Ezra Pound, "only emotion remains." He means that quite abstractly. The emotions of the poem itself, he says, "are those of a maître-de-café."

A work of philosophy will stand in the same (questionable) relation to its concepts. There will be much excitement about the "recent development" in philosophy and the "progress" that the work in question signals. Only concepts will remain. Concepts that no longer belong to the work.