Wayfaring Stranger

Queneau at work · 3 Mar 2005, 10:47 pm · Keep it

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Source: Bib. Nat.
de France
The Bibliothèque Nationale presents the Traité des Vertus démocratiques of Raymond Queneau, written in 1937 but published only in 1993. The site includes an analysis of the text and, of most interest, a facsimile of the notebook in which Queneau worked on the Traité. A section entitled “Repères” provides details on the sources and literary forms used in the Traité; information on surrealism, pataphysics, and other intellectual currents of the period; and a brief biography of Queneau. A final section, the Atelier, contains a series of exercises inspired by the Traité and the rest of Queneau’s œuvre. The presentation of the Traité is one of several dozen “explorations”, or brief surveys of literary and cultural topics, in the pedagogical section of the BNF. Others include the Four Ages of Life in medieval literature, the architectural projects of Étienne-Louis Boullée, the Paris of Zola, and the poems of Nezāmī.

The Saint Louis Corridor · 18 Feb 2005, 9:56 pm · Keep it

Following a reference in Language Hat to the Northern Cities vowel shift, which is described in some detail at a PBS site on American English,
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I’ve just spent a pleasant hour reading about vowel shifts, the quotative ‘like’ (as in “I’m like ‘What’re you doing?’”, the rising intonation (“Hi, I’m Heather? I’m in your class? I have a question?”: see Carmen Fought on dialects at the PBS site), and other idiosyncrasies of American speech. The Atlas of North American English, under the direction of William Labov, distinguishes half a dozen major regional dialects, and another half dozen smaller or more restricted dialects (not counting creoles or hybrids like Chicano English or Louisana Creole).
My own speech patterns no doubt reflect my upbringing in Cincinnati (Midland, on the border with Southern). Saint Louis is, rather strikingly, part of what Labov calls the Northern dialect, whose heartland is the big cities around the Great Lakes; a finger extends southward from Chicago through Springfield to include Saint Louis (but nothing else in Missouri: see p66 from Chapter 11 in the pdf version).

Acres of books · 13 Feb 2005, 10:07 pm

At Language Hat some remarks suggested by a New York Times article on Kathie Coblentz, a librarian at the New York Public Library who has managed to fit 3600 books into a one-bedroom apartment (Carole Braden, “A Bibliophile, 3,600 Friends and a System”, New York Times 10 Feb 2005—this link may not last). The comments, for once, are worth reading too. See Philosophical Fortnights for more.

Wafers · 27 Jan 2005, 10:43 pm · Keep it

The full Moon, fifteen degrees above the horizon, its cold light diffused by thin clouds into a corona of four moon-diameters around it, & then a strip of cloud, black by contrast, moves downward across the disk, bisecting it, & for a moment it seems suspended between the clouds, no longer celestial—or is it that the heavens have swooped down to embrace the clouds?

Technorati Profile · 8 Jan 2005, 12:19 am · Keep it

Technorati Profile. This is posted so that Technorati will recognize this weblog.

Chautauqua · 8 Jan 2005, 12:02 am

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At the Library of Congress: a collection of brochures and programs from the Redpath Lyceum Bureau, a talent agency for Chautauqua performers.
The Chautauqua movement began at Lake Chautauqua in upstate New York in 1874. Inspired by the earlier Lyceum movement, it was founded by a businessman, Lewis Miller, and a Methodist minister, John Heyl Vincent, to train Sunday school teachers; it quickly expanded to become an educational summer camp for families. Thirty years later, the Chautauqua tent circuit began, sending performers around the country for Chautauqua assemblies of three to seven days. The assemblies were a mixture of entertainment and uplift: inspirational speakers, musicians, actors, novelty acts—all of them suitable for God-fearing family folks. The circuit faded away in the first years of the Depression. The original Chautauqua continues, “a summer camp for all ages, especially for those who believe learning is a life long experience” (Debbie Porter, “Chautauqua”).
References
Chautauqua Institution. “About Chautauqua”. Chautauqua, NY: Chautauqua Institution, 2004. —The original.
Maxwell, Jeffrey C. The Complete Chautauquan. History and current Chautauquas.
Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and the term ‘Chautauqua’. In Easy Riders: on the road in American culture. Department of English and American Studies, Vienna University.
Waxahachie Chautauqua Preservation Society. [Home Page]. Waxahachie, Texas. —The Waxahachie Chautauqua Auditorium, a 2500-seat octagonal wooden assembly hall, was built in June 1902 at a cost of $2750 (about $58,000 now). Chautauqua Assemblies still go on: the 2004 Assembly, held on 25 September, was entitled “Chautauqua Celebrates Water”, and true to its tradition, it included informative addresses, music (Irish and light classics), and a bit of uplift.

Leonard Bernstein at the Library of Congress · 5 Jan 2005, 6:33 pm · Keep it

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The Library of Congress has put the Leonard Bernstein Collection online. Included are 1100 items of correspondence, scripts from the Young People’s Concerts and the Thursday Evening Previews, and photographs, all nicely indexed. (Librarians are good at that. Software designers ought to consult them when they’re creating search engines, cross-referencing systems, and the like.)
I must admit that when I was studying composition twenty-some years ago I thought Bernstein was too commercial and too self-important. But now, when I consider that West Side Stody was a hit in 1957 and again in 1961 when it became a movie, winning ten Academy Awards,
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and compare it with the commercial successes of today—Bernstein looks better & better.
A few years ago I saw one of the Young People’s Concerts on Classic Arts Showcase (a free channel carried by some cable systems and public TV stations). I don’t remember seeing them when I was a young person, but now, in seeing how much information Bernstein managed to convey, and without talking down, I again am forced to contemplate how much is missing from American culture today. (Compare Bill Nye the Science Guy with Mr. Wizard, and ask yourself who respects kids more—who thinks they might be interested in science for its own sake, rather than having to be cajoled by adults who think it has to be nonstop fun.)

Æsopiana · 3 Jan 2005, 12:01 pm · Keep it

Why read the Times when you can read the real thing? Æsop’s Fables is an online collection of over 656 fables. Included are lesson plans and reading’s by the daughter of the website’s author. Unfortunately the sources of individual tales are not clear. Most are from George Fyler Townsend’s translation.
THE TALE, the Parable, and the Fable are all common and popular modes of conveying instruction. Each is distinguished by its own special characteristics. The Tale consists simply in the narration
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La Fontaine, Fables 9no8,
(François Chauveau)
of a story either founded on facts, or created solely by the imagination, and not necessarily associated with the teaching of any moral lesson. The Parable is the designed use of language purposely intended to convey a hidden and secret meaning other than that contained in the words themselves; and which may or may not bear a special reference to the hearer, or reader. The Fable partly agrees with, and partly differs from both of these. It will contain, like the Tale, a short but real narrative; it will seek, like the Parable, to convey a hidden meaning, and that not so much by the use of language, as by the skilful introduction of fictitious characters; and yet unlike to either Tale or Parable, it will ever keep in view,
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La Fontaine, Fables 6no12,
(François Chauveau)
as its high prerogative, and inseparable attribute, the great purpose of instruction, and will necessarily seek to inculcate some moral maxim, social duty, or political truth. The true Fable, if it rise to its high requirements, ever aims at one great end and purpose—representation of human motive, and the improvement of human conduct, and yet it so conceals its design under the disguise of fictitious characters, by clothing with speech the animals of the field, the birds of the air, the trees of the wood, or the beasts of the forest, that the reader shall receive advice without perceiving the presence of the adviser.
From the Preface by George Fyler
Townsend to Three Hundred Æsop’s
Fables
(London: George Routledge, 1867)
Gregory Carlson maintains a extensive catalogue of material on fables, mostly Æsop’s. Be sure to look at the Objects pages: this is a labor of love.

Not better, just bigger · 27 Dec 2004, 8:44 am · Keep it

It’s sad to see an important publishing house wrecked when some corporate empire or pirate acquires it. One of the latest is Seuil, publisher of Badiou, Barthes, Genette, Greimas, Jakobson, Kristeva, Lacan, Todorov, and other figures in French literary theory & philosophy. Chloé Delaume has a summary of the current troubles, which have followed upon the acquisition of Seuil by Hervé de la Martinière. Misgivings expressed when the acquisition took place have been confirmed by the departure of one CEO for having secretly profited from the sale of shares before the acquisition and of another this fall. Editors and authors too have been leaving. L’Observateur has (for the time being) a list of items concerning La Martinière-Le Seuil; see also La machine à lire, an open letter to Martinière from independent booksellers at Librairie Compagnie, and a pessimistic report by Jacob Epstein, “Independent publishers: becoming their own worst enemy?” at The Book & the Computer.
Similar things have been happening, of course, in the English-language publishing world. Why should this matter to philosophers? Taylor & Francis (which owns Routledge and many journals), Springer (which now owns Kluwer, which owns Reidel), and three or four university presses publish the bulk of work in analytic philosophy, philosophy of science, and logic. Trade presses that used to include contemporary philosophy in their lists no longer do, or publish only textbooks and reference works. University presses like Chicago have for some time had to be self-supporting, which means, among other things, that large editorial projects (like the publication of the papers of Peirce and Russell), unless they are subsidized, have less chance of being undertaken. Increasingly the major university presses operate as if they were upmarket trade presses, and choose the manuscripts to be published accordingly.
As Epstein writes, “Trade book publishing is by nature a cottage industry, decentralized, improvisational, personal”. The force of ‘by nature’ is to indicate not that trade publishing has an essence but that it has an end, which is the publication of good and occasionally of great works. It is not obvious that unchecked market forces serve that end (as one small German publisher notes, the conglomerates expect 10 to 15 per cent returns in an industry that traditionally yields closer to 5 per cent). The Internet may alleviate some of the problems noted by Schiffrin and Epstein, by altering the economics of publication and distribution. But that will require a revision of attitudes toward electronic publishing (e.g., for purposes of tenure review) and an enlightened attitude on the part of the universities on whom the burden of supporting academic publication will fall.
Philosophy journals and books remain relatively cheap. In the sciences it’s another matter. On the situation in mathematics, see Rob Kirby, “Fleeced?”, Notices of the AMS, Feb 2004, p181 (also available here), his letter to Elsevier in the Newsletter on Serial Pricing Issues 199 (21 Jan 1998), and followups in 202 (12 Mar 1998). The cumulative price increase in mathematics journals from 1993 to 2002 was 256% (source: ALA Serial Prices, 2002); the US inflation index over the same period was 23%.
Reading:
EPSTEIN, Jacob. Book business (Norton, 2002). —A chronicle of the consolidation of the trade publishing industry. See Michael Wolff, “Epstein unbound”, New York Metro 1 Nov 1999.
SCHIFFRIN, André. The business of books (Verso, 2001). —How international media conglomerates have taken over the publishing industry.
“Publier, diffuser, et distribuer”. Transcription of a discussion organized by the Syndicat National de l’Édition (France), 9 Mar 2004. At L’Observateur.

The longest French novel · 25 Dec 2004, 11:01 pm · Keep it

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Source: Artamène
Madeleine de Scudéry’s Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus (1649–1653) is said to be the longest novel in French. The original edition was 13,095 pages. It has now been published on line, both in facsimile and in HTML/XML. The editors promise an “encyclopédie critique” entitled « Le Monde d’Artamène »” by next fall. It promises to be very useful, not only for students of French literature, but perhaps also for philosophers working in the period who would like to see how love and jealousy or appearance and evidence figure in the literature of the period.
A sample:
Mais Seigneur, interrompit cette Princesse, cét Artamene que vous aimiez avec tant de tendresse, non seulement estoit dans le party de vos Ennemis, mais il vous arrachoit ta victoire d’entre les mains, et s’opposoit mesme à vostre amour en vous surmontant : cependant quoy qu’il vous disputast la gloire, et qu’il vous fist perdre des batailles, vous l’aimiez jusques à l’envoyer advertir des conjurations que l’on faisoit contre sa vie, et jusques à commander que l’on ne tirast point contre luy quand on le connoistroit. Depuis cela, Seigneur, il vous a redonné la liberté ; il vous a rendu ce qu’il avoit conquesté dans vos Estats, il vous a fait donner des Troupes pour vous opposer à ceux qui s’estoient sous levez contre vous ; et il vous offre un Royaume presentement, pourveû que vous luy rendiez la Princesse Mandane, dont vous ne serez jamais aimé, Tout ce que vous dites là ma Soeur, repliqua-t’il, paroist sans doute raisonnable : et il j’avois plus d’ambition que d’amour, ou pour mieux dire encore si mon amour n’estoit pas plus sorte que ma raison : il est certain que je devrois et par generosité, et par politique, et par ambition, écouter la proposition que vous me faites. Mais en l’estat où est : mon ame, il ne m’est pas possible d’y songer seulement : et je m’estonne comment la Princesse Araminte peut s’imaginer, que l’on puisse quitter si facilement ce que l’on aime : elle, dis-je, qui a eu l’équité d’aimer un Prince de qui le Pere estoit devenu ennemy declaré de sa maison.*
This beautifully-designed site even generates citations.
*Texte en ligne :
Scudéry, Madeleine. Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus, p. 2307. In site Artamene. Institut de Littérature Française Moderne. Université de Neuchâtel. [En ligne]. http://www.artamene.org/cyrus.xml?page=2307 (page consultée le 26 Decembre 2004)
Edition de 1656 :
Scudéry, Madeleine. Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus, Paris, Augustin Courbé, 1656, partie 4, livre 2, p. 220.

Lewis Hine · 20 Dec 2004, 11:55 pm · Keep it

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A striking photograph in Michel Serres’ Variations sur le corps* led me to Lewis Hine (1874–1940). M found a biography, a collection of his photographs of people at work (the photo from Serres’ is the one here), and a notice at the Virginia Historical Society on his contribution to the abolition of child labor in the US. Anyone sanguine about the humanity of capitalism in the absence of regulation ought to look at his work.
Hine worked for the National Child Labor Committee from 1907 to 1917, travelling around the country taking pictures of children, some as young as six, in factories and on the streets. During the twenties, he did commercial work; in 1930, he was hired to photograph the construction of the Empire State Building, from which his best-known photographs come. A book, Men at work, was published in 1932. In the last years of his life Hine worked for the WPA and exhibited in New York and elsewhere.
*s.l. [Paris]: Pommier, 2000, 2002. See the interview with Serres at the Strasbourg Webmag and the “dossier” at the Encyclopédie de l’Agora).
On Hine
FREEDMAN, Russell. Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor. New York: Clarion Books, 1994.
GOLDBERG, Vicki and Lewis Hine. Children at Work. Prestel USA, 1999.
GUTMAN, Judith. Lewis Hine and the American Social Conscience. New York: Walker, 1967.
HINE, Lewis Wickes, and Gutman, Judith Mara. Lewis W. Hine, 1874-1940: Two Perspectives. ICP Library of Photographers, vol. 4.

Cities in Ruins · 15 Dec 2004, 9:22 am · Keep it

Every city has its ruins. Even a city which has never seen war, even a thriving city, will have its wastelands—areas once developed that, having served their purpose, are left behind by change, waiting, like fallow fields, to be cultivated once more.
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In Saint Louis there are the remains of industry along what once was a stream valley; on the north side, once luxurious mansions crumble; on some blocks of our neighborhood, newly rehabbed houses coexist with boarded-up hulks. Money ebbs & flows; at high tide, buildings are cleaned up, reconstructed from the inside out, or (what is usually worse) torn down and replaced; at low tide, they serve less & less lucrative purposes until finally no-one thinks it worthwhile to occupy or maintain them; and then the elements take over, or the wrecking balls and bulldozers. Built Saint Louis, from which these links were taken, is a well-designed, comprehensive site detailing what remains and what has been lost. Other sites:

Appearance and reality · 11 Dec 2004, 6:21 am · Keep it

Bush at his press conference with Allawi, 23 Sep 2004:
There is much more work to be done. We've already spent more than a billion dollars on urgent reconstruction projects in areas threatened by the insurgency. In the next several months, over $9 billion will be spent on contracts that will help Iraqis rebuild schools, refurbish hospitals and health clinics, repair bridges, upgrade the electricity grid, and modernize the communications system. Prime Minister Allawi and I both agree that the pace of reconstruction should be accelerated. We're working toward that goal.
From Dahr Jamail’s Iraq Dispatches, 9 Dec 2004:
While billions of US taxpayer dollars have been awarded in lucrative contracts to companies such as Bechtel and Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root, there are few signs that any reconstruction has actually taken place in war torn Iraq.
The infrastructure is in a state of collapse, with 70% unemployment.
One reason for this incredibly high rate is that out of $1.5 Billion in contracts paid out of Iraq’s funds, 85% has gone to US and British companies who rarely hire Iraqis.
Iraqi firms, by contrast, have received 2% of the contracts paid for with the same Iraqi funds.
Fadl Abid Oda, 30 years old, has taken it upon himself to do something that western companies in Iraq have failed to do.
In a tiny room off a busy street in the Orfali district of Baghdad, Fadl stands in his small library.
“Anyone can take a book from here,” he says, “People can take smaller books for three days, six days for larger books. But anyone who wants to read here in the library, it’s ok, he can get any book he wants.”
There is a shelf of tattered books on one of the walls. The front of the library, which is actually an old vegetable stall, opens to the street. The 8 chairs which line the 12’x12’ room are filled with people reading books.
While companies like KBR have been investigated for overcharging the US government $61 million for importing fuel into Iraq, Fadl is pleased with his project.
“We are working on very little finances, so we are trying to connect with anyone who can get us any book,” he says while waving his hand across the small bookshelf, “The budget for this project is now $200. We do this by taking 75 cents per month from people who read here. We try to bring even CD’s for computers, and anything else that is cheap.”
Hashim Ashure, a 24 year-old who regularly visits the tiny library, sits in one of the old chairs with a book in his hand.
“My reading is not that good, but we are learning about reading and writing and how useful it is. Before I was a soldier and it was a very difficult life and I didn’t have any time to read,” he says while shifting an old book back and forth in his hands, “But now it is very useful for me, and I like to come here everyday at night to read. I find it is very fun and it’s beautiful to learn. I feel like I was blind before.”
Last January Bechtel Corporation was awarded another contract which included repairing Iraq’s electricity grids. While the contract is valued at up to $1.8 Billion, most of Baghdad averages less than 6 hours of electricity per day.
Fadl bends over to light the two small candles on his table.
“We can’t really call this a library, but this is the best we can do. Somebody has to do it,” he says while holding out his arms. “It is a small place with a few chairs, with one table, and we have a little bit of books. We wish that our library will help educate people. We want to educate all the youth in my neighborhood.”

Impressions of Pittsburgh · 6 Dec 2004, 9:15 pm · Keep it

I’ve just been to Pittsburgh to give a talk at the Center for Philosophy of Science (courtesy of an invitation by James Lennox). I was struck by how much bigger Pittsburgh seems than Saint Louis. The populations are comparable: the metro areas differ by 300,000 in favor of Saint Louis, the cities themselves only by a few thousand. The difference seems to be that Pittsburgh, bounded by the two rivers, is in hill country.
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On the south bank of the Monongahela and the north bank of the Allegheny there are steep unbuildable cliffs. Land is at a premium compared with relatively flat Saint Louis, which has spread west and east without effort. In Pittsburgh, as in Manhattan and San Francisco, it seems that building up, not out, made economic sense.
The area around the Universities (Pitt and Carnegie-Mellon) is called Oakland. It was once the cultural center, built away from the congested, dirty downtown area in the twenties and thirties. Since then the symphony and the opera have moved downtown, but the buildings remain (the link is to an informative essay by Walter Kidney). Looking up from halfway down the ridge, one imagines that a century ago planners might have envisioned an Acropolis. As it is the intrusion of mostly undistinguished modern buildings gives the area the jumbled look of most American cities.
Like buildings of the same era in Saint Louis, those in Pittsburgh express civic pride and civic memory. They impress upon you the permanence of the institutions they housed; they display, in forms sanctified by tradition, the wealth of those who funded them. We had a better class of rich folks then, who, having gathered their filthy lucre, regarded it as their duty, and no doubt as in their interest also, to improve the lot of the “worker” or the “masses”.
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Regional centers like Saint Louis and Pittsburgh, with their local magnates, their boosters, were confident of their importance. The city center was the material sign of that confidence. Seventy-five or a hundred years on, we still benefit from their largesse (during his career as a philanthropist, Carnegie gave away about $380 million dollars, which would be roughly $8 billion now).
Does good fortune by itself confer upon those who are fortunate an obligation to philanthropize? No-one but God is truly self-made. Everyone has benefited along the way, if not by specific instances of aid, then at least by living in something other than the state of nature. Each of us begins from a material and intellectual culture made by many. Now suppose you have an income of $5 million (which would be the return on an “endowment” of $100 million, taken at the typical rate of 5%). You have left the FDIC maximum far behind; your insurance is paid for with one or two percent of your income; and since it’s likely much of your income is from investments, which in the reign of Bush II are being taxed less and less, most of that $5 million is yours to spend.
You spend a generous $1 million to maintain your household (you can pay two or three executive assistants handsomely to tend to all the details and still have plenty left over). You probably own your house outright or will soon, unless there’s an advantage in not owning it. The same goes for your car and all the other items most people buy on installment. There is $4 million left over. I suppose someone with that kind of money can find ways to spend it (save a while and buy a Picasso? buy yourself a Senate seat? gamble your millions away like Bill Bennett?).
Some might argue that there can be no obligation not to attempt to satisfy desires whose satisfaction does not harm anyone else. But framing the issue in terms of the curtailment of acting on desire may be a mistake. Kant would say that, insofar as you are rational, you will that certain benevolent ends be fulfilled. That may entail that some of your “pathological” desires go unsatisfied; but being rational you recognize that those desires are for things of no real worth. Hence although you may have those desires (‘you undergo them’ would be a better way to put it from Kant’s point of view) you have no will that they be satisfied. Kant, and Hume too, hold that the rational agent will only restrain certain of his or her desires but also acquire or reinforce others—in particular, benevolence.

Just like the first time · 23 Nov 2004, 5:17 pm · Keep it

On Philosophical Fortnights: a post on the doctrine of continual re-creation (or “continuous creation”) imputed to Descartes.
Also: a list of philosophical weblogs.

Leonardo DiCaprio, World-Historical Figure · 21 Nov 2004, 8:56 pm

Leonardo DiCaprio is, it would seem, wiser than he was ten years ago. According to the Guardian, he “admitted to developing a gargantuan ego after the success of What's Eating Gilbert Grape in 1994, for which he was nominated for an Oscar and compared to a young Marlon Brando. He said his ego was once so big he believed his acting had ‘altered the course of history’.”
So the portrait in Celebrity wasn’t too far from the truth. Give DiCaprio credit for honesty on this point. Doesn’t every author aim at “altering the course of history” just a little?* At least in that little portion of the human universe in which the work will be noticed? Who would bother in the absence of ambition? I don’t mean the desire for celebrity of the sort that Woody Allen so memorably dissects, but what the Greeks called kleios,** or what once was quaintly referred to as posterity, that invisible audience whose judgments eventually decide the true worth of our productions.
Shakespeare had ambition in spades. “Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong, / My love shall in my verse ever live young.” (Sonnet 19). The notion of Posterity itself has seen hard times lately. It has no doubt always been the case that some authors, in seeking their spot on Parnassus, had other, less exalted aims too. But the fashion in biography and criticism has become to emphasize the sordid, the self-seeking, the immediate advantages to be gained by writing. The conceptual habitation of Posterity is not far from that of the heavenly choir singing its eternal praises; the Deity of the author resides in this world, but like that other Deity it promises immortality. To the author it says “You will not be forgotten: write well enough and you will live”, you and those dear to you, in words “which eyes not yet created shall o’er read” (Sonnet 81, which in fourteen lines compiles virtually all the tropes of survival through art).
To secure the approbation of posterity is, on the face of it, a flagrantly non-economic motive. The economist can, I’m sure, explain even this. If nothing else the anticipation of praise, even praise tendered “when all the breathers of this world are dead”, is a payoff of sorts. All ideals are vulnerable to that sort of analysis. They subsist on the credence we give them; their pull rests upon a mutual conviction, a reciprocal consent to observe them. In my pessimistic moments I wonder what a world in which only celebrity existed—in which Parnassus has been razed to make way for American Idol—would be worth living in. For those who shun celebrity, what remains is the satisfactions of daily life; the attitude of the Stoic or the Buddhist becomes most reasonable. The rest is as nothing, a momentary flatus.
*Actually, no. Sometimes one writes for profit, Muses be damned. Samuel Johnson once said that “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money” (Boswell, Life of Johnson (1776) 6c3. I thought that Rasselas might be a counterexample, but Johnson wrote it to defray the expenses of his mother’s funeral.
**On kleios, see Marcel Detienne, Les Maîtres de la vérité.

Dive into the Sea of Talmud · 20 Nov 2004, 8:57 pm · Keep it

Here’s what the Random Talmud Server told me today: “Ben Damah the son of R. Ishmael’s sister once asked R. Ishmael, May one such as I who have studied the whole of the Torah learn Greek wisdom? He thereupon read to him the following verse, This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night. Go then and find a time that is neither day nor night and learn then Greek wisdom.” (B. Menachoth 99b).

Efficient Frightening · 20 Nov 2004, 8:47 pm · Keep it

Halloween has come & gone. Haunted Attraction’s work goes on. Learn how to make your own tombstones, study Throughput Logic, and confront the spectre of Ghostism.

Tools to fit people, what an idea · 29 Oct 2004, 4:43 pm · Keep it

From Language Log via Language Hat, a post on Translate.org.za, a nonprofit organization which is translating software into the 11 official languages of South Africa (isiZulu, Afrikaans, South African English, Venda, Tsonga, Xhosa, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Tswana, Ndebele and Swati). When asked “Why bother translating software into isiZulu?” Dwayne Bailey replied,
Izixhobo kufuneka zisebenzele abantu, hayi abantu izixhobo. Isoftware sisixhobo ngoko ke kumele sisebenzele abantu ngolwimi lwabo lwasemzini!
Translation (courtesy Language Log):
Tools adapt to people not people to tools. Software is a tool, so it must adapt to people and their language.
The original article in the Globe and Mail, available only through subscription, can be found by way of translate.org.

Derrida qui passe · 18 Oct 2004, 4:49 pm

Three posts on Derrida at Philosophical Fortnights:
Hume’s probably dead too.
On philistinism, intolerance, and wasting time.
Is Derrida a philosopher?
All signs point to yes.
The infinite ante.
On method.

Conventionally Bad Spelling · 16 Oct 2004, 12:46 pm

At Panda’s Thumb (scroll down to Comment #8803) I came across a nice respelling of “comeuppance”:
Yes, the Behe and Snoke paper should get its cummuppins. 
I think I like this better than the spelling sanctioned by dictionaries. Note that in keeping with English orthographical conventions the “short” vowels in the first two syllables are followed by doubled consonants. Even misspellings tend to follow those conventions. The misspeller knows how to spell the word so that it will be pronounced as he hears it. The speller’s pronunciation of the ending is /nz/, not /ns/ as the dictionary would have it, and so we get ‘ns’ and not ‘nce’ (or ‘nts’). It may be that the word is analyzed as the plural of a noun ‘cummuppin’, with ‘get his c.s’ plural on the model of ‘just deserts’.
Some “bad” spellers (roughly, educated people who nevertheless misspell quite a few words) have learned enough about spelling to produce plausible misspellings. English orthography, notoriously irregular, is yet regular enough for that.
The article I’ve linked to, by the way, is a detailed refutation of a paper (Behe & Snoke 2004) whose conclusion would imply that mutation and selection take much too long to account for certain biological features. The authors (Ian F. Musgrave, Steve Reuland, and Reed A. Cartwright) show that even granting some of the questionable assumptions made by Behe and Snoke, their own method of calculation shows that “the probability of small multi-residue features evolving is extremely high, given the types of organisms that Behe and Snoke’s model applies to”.
Reference: BEHE & SNOKE, “Simulating evolution by gene duplication of protein features that require multiple amino acid residues”, Protein science 2004. Prepublication abstract. The article itself is accessible only by subscription.

Philosopher, c’est apprendre à mourir · 10 Oct 2004, 1:17 pm

Jacques Derrida passed away yesterday (see Google France; Libération and Le Monde have made his death a front-page story).
This will no doubt be the occasion for cheap shots. Derrida had his weak moments (like the extemporaneous reply to Hyppolite that Sokal jumped on), his foibles (his controversy with Richard Wolin concerning the publication of translations over which Derrida had, in fact, no legal control), his stylistic tics (riffing on the title or the occasion of a lecture). But he is one of the few philosophers who, when I read him, always gives me something to think.
There is a vulgar Derrida just as there is a vulgar Freud and a vulgar Marx. The vulgar Derrida says that in interpretation, anything goes. The vulgar Derrida promotes something called “Deconstruction” which is both too hard to explain and too silly to worry about. The vulgar Derrida is a pretentious charlatan (see “Derrida” at WordIQ; scroll down to “Derrida and his critics”). None of those claims stands up to even a moderately attentive reading of works like L'écriture et la différence, De la grammatologie, Marges, or Psyché. It is easy to extract a sentence or two and exhibit it to those who haven’t read the work as nonsense. You can do that with many philosophers. For example:
We saw how a theory might attest to its own nameless objects, namely, by showing that some open sentence became true under all constant substitutions but false under universal quantification. […] Perhaps, when the nameless objects happen to be inseparable from the named, the quantification used in a theory cannot meaningfully be declared referential except through the medium of a background theory.
This is Quine (Ontological relativity, 66). In context it is perfectly clear. But try reading the passage to someone not versed in the philosophy of language, and see what they make of it. Derrida, of course, has helped himself at times to literary devices that analytic philosophers tend to avoid. But even the tricks have a point, and where they fail (as for me they sometimes do) the failure is rather one of taste than of incompetence, willful obscurantism, or absence of purpose.
I saw Derrida give lectures several times at Hopkins. I never spoke with him. Others who did found him congenial. To place wagers on the posterity of an author is a mug’s game, especially at the moment of their passing. But I do think that Derrida, once he has passed into history, will survive.

Bats in the … · 4 Sep 2004, 4:19 pm

…bedroom. Thursday night a bat entered one of our chimneys. The cats knew about it long before we did, & were busily nudging books off the shelves in front of the fireplace in their effort to catch a glimpse of it. Last night somehow it escaped. Again with the help of the cats we found it, hanging above one of the bedroom windows, almost invisible against the wooden frame.
I put up a ladder and climbed up with a plastic container & a sheet of cardboard (the standard bug-catching apparatus). No sooner had I reached the top than it flew off, circling the ceiling fan. We turned that off so as not to have sliced bat on our bed. Then we waited as it circumnavigated the space just below the ceiling, dozens of times, utterly silent, mixing in a occasional looping run into the corners where it would brush up against the wall before circling again.
Eventually it got tired, and came to rest hanging again above the window. This time I was able to catch it. No longer silent, it vented its displeasure with scratchy little squeaks. I’d never seen a bat, at least not a live one, up close before. This creature looked like a dark brown rag—
fusca facies et stridens vocula
as Alciati puts it—
folded up, with teeth. Those it bared, doing what it could to intimidate the gigantic spooky things that had imprisoned it.
It’s easy to understand why bats are traditionally regarded as uncanny, creepy, the stuff of gothic tales. In flight they make no noise at all, though their wings may be flapping furiously; and the wing motion is different enough from that of birds to be, disturbingly, familiar & unfamiliar at the same time. The face is ugly even by rat standards, the body ill-defined in shape when the wings are folded, like a lump of coal shrouded in chamois. No doubt the Stephen Kings of the vespertilian world have equally unflatttering things to say about us.
I handed it to M who threw it out the front window, container & all. It was gone before the container hit the ground twenty feet below. We are hoping it gives our bat motel a very bad rating.

My thoughts exactly · 30 Aug 2004, 11:15 am · Keep it

A long post on doing history of philosophy: “Your own private Plato” at Philosophical Fortnights.

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