You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2009.

An idle thought, as the resurrection of sociology will take a little while yet: are we to consider Max Weber’s “ideal type” construction as a transcendental argument, rather than as invoking the types as Platonic universals? Perhaps the “ideal type” used to explain a phenomenon is just the appropriate concept for ‘understandingly’ comprehending a social process, and Weber is just giving us what we should identify as the Urform of ordinary historical ‘explanation’: justified in terms of its meshing with our common-sense schemata for comprehending the historical and social world and the material facts of historical and social processes, rather than the “analytical realism” of Parsons’ interpretation.

If you’re like me (although the premise of most of your lives is that you rather aren’t), you have some trouble with foreign languages. The Rosetta Stone program, which features Sesame Street-style object/word pairings, has its fans among the gente and the expert alike: however, its cost and restrictive licensing make it an unattractive option for the cash-poor (and another premise of most of your lives is that you rather are). Following Thorstein Veblen’s advice to “look at the letters until they make sense” eventually pays off, but the time-frame may be unacceptable for someone with places to go and things to do.

Alternative choice for the “intermediate” language-learner: listenlive.eu, which has streaming web radio from various European countries (I searched around for a world counterpart, but although Internet presences for, e.g., Chinese TV exist outside of the G8 connections get sticky). Although Saussure was frequently ridiculed during the era of post-structuralism for insisting on “the only bond, the bond of sound” being the fundamental key to a language, learning the actual morphophonemic “state-space” of the language — which you can unlock by checking the foreign version of the day’s events against the version in your ever-dwindling local newspaper — can’t hoit.

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Yes you can.

As part of my enforced leisure I’ve been reading impressively priced scholarly items from the local bibliothèques (I’ve now read enough late Nietzsche to see a “Circe of philosophy” were I to see one), but also diminishing my cache of casually purchased paperbacks which had been waiting for a very idle man to become even more idle. I once owned a couple hundred of these, philosophical and sociological and literary offerings by the academy to the “man in the street”, or more properly speaking his disposable-income-rich offspring; I imagined that if I were only to plow through them, I would end up healthy and wealthy and wise, a well-integrated member of the American middle class, rather than a pleuristic and “pluralistic” member of the lumpenproletariat. But every stage of my inpatient treatment has involved heavy reading, and I’ll be damned if having read all of Being and Time (of course, not well enough) or selections from Pepys (who?) did me a lick of good.

However, I think the rather massive default on the part of booksellers and publishers with respect to “intellectual” material for the mass market is sad to see. Once upon a time certain paperback houses like Mentor, whose slogan forms the title of this post, tried hard to make high culture affordably available: now people are reduced to picking through remainders of university press trade paperbacks (which are normally outrageously priced). The booksellers are at fault as well: every Barnes and Noble or Borders outside of “college towns” sells the same fifty books of philosophy, including a lot of “pop” items which would make thought-provoking reading for high school students but are hardly adequate for their college-educated clientele. The advent of the electronic book may improve matters: Sony’s reader, a damn sight better than Amazon’s Kindle, is in stores now for $299. Perhaps it will become standard equipment for schoolchildren if it ever makes it to $99, but with the price points for consumer electronics staying more stable than the technology this is doubtful.

So, in lieu of hitting the library hard there’s not much for the book reader to do except remember, and perhaps wait.

An anecdote I related in a mini-essay about X: as I was leaving the late Great Northwest Bookstore earlier this decade, a young woman picking through the bargain bins outside looked at me and said to her friend “X wasn’t the same after Billy Zoom left”. I generally tend to agree, but earlier this decade our country also got involved in a protracted military conflict; I played a rather unheroic role in this event (I must confess my comment to another bookstore’s employee and sometime anarcho-syndicalist “They should air-drop P. Diddy and Mya to get the booties movin'” revealed a certain sense of the operation’s infelicity, but I was generally more concerned about not striking a profile as a terrorist myself in those days). In years since, I’ve often reflected on a product of the first Gulf War, the Zoom-less X’s “Country at War” (from Hey Zeus, 1993).

These days, I find my enthusiasm for a single-state solution for Israel/Palestine dampened by the fact that about half of my Facebook friends have “funny names”: I also have a hard time choosing between the outrageous wantonness of IDF destruction and the far vaster Islamic world’s overweening concern for “the little country that couldn’t”. Maybe this is a song for half of that war, too.

Well, the maximum leader-to-be explained today how tax cuts and infrastructural improvements will help solve the “recession”: color me unimpressed by this nuevo-Chicago approach to the economic crisis. Although a “personalistic” approach to the causes of recession (investors were scared of Obama) may not fall too wide of the mark, surely the solution requires a massive and impersonal readjustment of the American economy: it’s perfectly all right if some American company happens to be a “global innovator”, but playing that particular language-game (part of the Democratic dream of a Euro-Canadian “prestige economy” for the US) is not necessarily going to produce the necessary “jobs here now”.

However, since the votes are in my position as informal advisor to the ticket has been replaced by a status as threat to the forthcoming trust between “the taxpayer” and the government, so I’m going to switch over to what I did, if not best, at least first: formalized social theory. I was embarassed by the state of the “Logic and Politics” essays from half a decade ago, so I removed them from the blog; now they’re back. I haven’t rewritten them from top to bottom: I would certainly not take certain flights of fancy today (trying to get a verstehende grasp of Gentzen’s SA worldview as expressed in his presentation of logical formalisms, e.g.) but the idea of actually tethering the infamous “double hermeneutic” – explaining the social in terms of the individual and the individual in terms of the social — to “games of truth” with precise boundaries and rules still seems like a good one to me.

Along those lines, I have a few new conjectures (an equivalence between forcing and the Gentzen proof of consistency for PA rendering Tarski’s distrust of the latter “deprecated”, the game-theoretical character of truth theories containing their own truth predicate and the accompanying covert “aletheism” of nonzero-sum games) that I’d like to fold into the usual considerations of the usual suspects; but on occasion I do think before speaking, or writing, so it may be a while before I lay those out. I also will be finishing the Montague Grammar exposition, although the tree diagrams necessary to explain disambiguated sentences may necessitate making the finished product a PDF or DJVU rather than individual posts; furthermore, I plan to do some selective translation of Nietzsche and Luhmann. (If this all strikes you as ludicrous, let me say I’m glad to be one of your best entertainment values.)

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Short note: I recently went to see Synechdoche, New York — an enthralling experience in its own right, but perhaps even more notable as a culmination of a trend in moviemaking I’ll call (with some right, I think) schizoid cinema. The narratives of movies like The Royal Tenenbaums, The Science of Sleep and Kaufman’s pictures just don’t hold up, absurdly so: anyone with half a mind will laugh at the “375th Street Y”, but the visual signatures are just as strange, mixtures of “technologies for living” that never coexisted and impossible spatialities. Compared to this intentional nonsense, the Coen brothers’ jerking-around of film theorists (the “letter that never arrives at its destination” in The Hudsucker Proxy) is tame, and yet people of the very best mental equilibrium enjoy the movies: which makes me wonder what, exactly, is being said about real mental illness by their circulation.

2009 is here. What is there to say? We have a brand new president coming in, and I’m gradually recapitulating the bourgeois learning curve from earlier in the decade (I got a laptop for the first time, which is something like the information-technology equivalent of an electric blanket: getting a mellow groove on with some old California soul whilst writing makes you forget you are “putting yourself out there” in various areas of life without much to show for it).

In theory-land, we will soon have Alain Badiou’s Theory of the Subject and Logics of Worlds available in English. The appearance of Being and Event was quite an event; the previous Badiou works could easily be assimilated to the extant ethic-mongering of the ’80s and ’90s, but lots of people realized they were finally going to have to put some hard yards in to “get” what Badiou was trying to say about set theory and the like. Those of us who had our noses in yellow books already were glad to be of assistance, perhaps more glad than the Badiouians were really comfortable with: perhaps the further researches of Badiou into category theory and logic categorially construed will broaden the established conjuncture to include something like a consideration of the “spontaneous philosophy of the logicians”, why logical works actually exist as a genre separate from philosophy of mathematics or even mathematics proper. (In analytic philosophy, expect “domestic” Meisterstücke revealed to be fatally flawed just as soon as they are driven off the lot.)

In the realm of praxis, we have an exciting chance to revive promising leftist strategies from the ’90s that got ground into fine powder under Bush: strategies premised on the idea that a progressive administration hardly provides all the answers, but does provide a fertile medium within which to pose questions about the historical situation of the United States and the contemporary problems of the masses. The coalition of those willing to bash W. without working together on a viable electoral alternative to him, and those who immediately saw through the weakness of a man educated in the Ivy League and reared with all the benefits money can buy, will be eclipsed by people working on real problems, even perhaps people with real problems themselves. In other words, the best fruit of the ’90s, a participatory left, is in the offing (pink slips are only the beginning of a de-centring of the yuptastic language of “accomplishment” in the nihilistic society of the recent past).