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Finally, the “philosophy of rock music”. Rock and roll is about something, and what it is about can be discerned by considering the nature of its predecessor genre, “jump blues”. As the frenetic pace of, and instantly explicable interest of the lyrics to, “Five Guys Named Moe” indicated very clearly to the contemporary audience “jump blues” was a “full court press”: hic Rhodus, hic salta, but only if you could dance really fast. In other words, minor criminals explained the “history and theory” of the legitimate authorities engaging in what later became known as “smabbing” — a word of Oakland English (you will learn what it means).

However, the ol-fashion rou-tine ceas’ed to work circa abt. 1948, and “Jackie Brenston” (Ike Turner) taught people a new way to talk — “You’ve seen the jalopies, with the noises they make/Well, let me introduce my new Rocket 88”. Plein air, very natural and minimal lyrics to electric guitar music enabled by the sudden introduction of the solid-body guitar as something that could be bought; once Les and Mary gave up the act, Ike was free to completely not understand that Chuck Berry was “calling him out”, and the Beatles could even cede their status as technically superior rent-boys to insipid newcomers of a distinctly British hue. As things progressed beyond the “garage rock” of jobbers-to-never-be, they did not improve: people ended up learning lessons from “hard rock” they wanted to like but instead had to praise, and not enough lessons from sweet boys from various Southlands.

In the ’70s, we had “new soul”, aka funk, which had not yet reached the level of total satiety and so many were distracted from the progress of “spirits in the sky”: finally, people trapped in “programs” beyond the recognition of their families and themselves made punk rock, music good enough to justify their continued immiseration (or elevation to the status of “god”). Not good enow, but many bands from the ’80s we heard (and ones Americans didn’t hear — when Casey Kasem said of U2 “These guys are from England and who gives a shit”, he was trying to forget about The Pop Group) “smashed the mold”: garbage for people who did not need to get loose enough to work, and rap began because it needed some proving, in the city, that Man kann hier leben.

In the ’90s, indie-rock good enough to convince everyone of indubitable truths and laid-back tones asserting the “right to enjoyment”: finally indie-rock good enough to convince everyone of impossible truths (“If only I lived in Hoboken” —  it would not be as pleasant as you would think) and hip-hop forced to chronicle American history from war bucks on “up”.

However, believe Adorno was not as hard on rock and roll as “Hektor Rottweiler”, “diminuitive” pianist, was on jazz: it was going to last if anything was, and if anything was allowed to lasten (enter the trip of your German adolescent life) it would be that.

Ultimately, the “message” of the rock “star” and his or her tribulations is that of the oldest saying of philosophy, taken in widest compass:

“The bow (bios) is life, and its work is death.”

βιός τῷ τόξῳ ὄνομα βίος ἔργον δὲ θάνατος

Ike and Tina Turner Revue: Funkier than a Mosquita’s Tweeter (Check the liner notes to Workin’ Together)

Chuck Berry: Let It Rock

The Beatles: Flying/Blue Jay Way

Now, an encomium to Old Lady Alcohol. There was a time in my life when I drank hardly at all: many times, when I simply could not stand the taste, the ill effects, or after-effects. However, today I see the value to a moderate level of consumption; not “a glass of wine a day”, which is not enough to do anything since it won’t get you drunk — the way alcohol prevents heart attacks, which is not a particularly “effective” one — and you’ll feel much better if you don’t drink every day but following such a prescription will not get yinz called an “alcoholic” — but as something else.

As intimated above, the practice of the Italian autonomist “art” of autoriduzione (“self-lowering” of prices, or more properly a science joke about how single atoms can be made to lose electrons pairs naturally lose) with respect to alcohol reveals the true meaning of the expression “pleasures of the grape”: as Jello Biafra once knew not everything goes better with “Pabst Blue Ribbon at popular prices”, but thee sucessful stealing of a beer reveals yinz is a regular guy — and, unfortunately, auto-reducing wine reveals something else.

However, alcohol consumption within the limits designed by the human liver and the difficulties absorbing calories alcohol consumption causes is an equilibrating force better than movies: drinking up robs you, and others, of illusions — including those of inadequacy for various kinds of social commerce. And, if you actually feel really bad, no contradiction exists in a “central nervous system depressant” that elevates mood in senso strictu helping considerably — in psychoses so intense I could not even cry out, I found that the old practice of moderate alcohol consumption in birra form helped more than any phony pill. Don’t overdo it, but someone already thought you were.

Now on to the actual, classical purpose of philosophy. As its Greek name “love of wisdom” indicates, philosophy is a propaedeutic to rhetoric: the purpose of “Socratic” or any other kind of philosophical method is to teach you how to discourse, not opine or ordinate. Philosophers are often very talented writers, but actual philosophy always fails to satisfy the reading eye: there is never enough to it, one wishes it was better, more understandable, more “practical” — and then out of the reading-room, and on to the street. This is, shall we say, intentional: as a result of attempting to gain “absolute knowledge”, the experienced philosopher learns to have a taste for quotidian life (though the parameters of this may vary with political affiliation).

In fact, if we must have a “logical theory of philosophy”, we might begin by categorically rejecting Nietzsche’s dictum “We shall never get rid of God as long as we believe in grammar”. Philosophy is both practised and practicing atheism, and a great work of philosophy is a model of a new grammar for ordinary speech: right down to orthography, the lessons taught by a standing work of philosophy (!) inform the discourse of the succeeding period to a great degree. Unfortunately, one cannot always be an enthusiast for the lessons taught: I myself have rather less respect for Schopenhauer and Nietzsche than Simmel, and rather more respect for Simmel’s “Kantian Marxism” than his respect for them has allowed for some time, but worse cases do exist.

I would say that, from a “grammatological” perspective, the worst philosopher of all time was the German Counter-Enlightenment *Denker* Johann Georg Hamann, the “Magus of the North”. Part of Hamann’s magic was getting you not to notice that his written German was atrocious: the scansion of his pages is painful, indicating modesty forbids he reveal the hidden wellsprings of his wisdom — however, when you begin to consider his disgusting anti-humanist values, you forget all about the fact his philosophical “targets” had something other than logical proofs to treat as love letters (Although Schopenhauer himself perfected the art of the “philosophical takedown”, his extensive sentences contain something of an “implicit parody” of Hamann’s pro lix).

Second worst “philosophical grammar”? That of Pascal, whose Franzh fails to be, as per modern standards, “ironized for your protection” and which can simply break off in midthought because the true reality and aim of the Church is just such a pressing concern for all. Since Pascal was such an important social and scientific figure, We all would like to consider his theological philosophy of theology of philosophy something more than a “self-swallowing snake of reason”: however, really the truth of the matter is that Pascal’s philosophical inadequacy reveals that bad philosophers teach us about the need for new science: if all is so occluded that new concepts of probability (i.e. modern statistics) have to be invented, the lessons learnable from “J-C.” and the crew will perhaps not be the only ones necessary for life: and maybe Hamann “jump-started” the modern science of linguistics, even as a puzzled attempt to find out just what he was saying.

The third worst philosophical writer of modern times is the German mystic Jakob Boehme (the name was once written this way in America, since republican Germans tended to use the umlaut and scharfes s as little as possible). Boehme is absolutely unphilosophical: Christianity, the experience of God in all its stages and phases, is absolutely going to be enough for the Boehmian and any consideration of classical legacies like “nature or creature” is not necessary. A “popular favorite” among the piet here in the U.S. of A: however, perhaps its “failure to thrive” worldwide led to something quite wonderful — the establishment of the modern science of medicine, a realization that saying “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be drunk with the Spirit” and other, lesser homilies do not cure every ill and a promise of something more for some.

“If you have to ask what jazz is, you ain’t never gonna know” — Louis Armstrong

At this particular time, I would like to do something other than “celebrate American tradition” by speaking of jazz music. All throughout American history, various people have dreamt of “making it new”: a new life in the New World, clean and scientific and modern and meaningless. This is, unfortunately, not the quiddity of life in the Republic: an absolute modernism that turns on the true “moment” and the involution of “projection possibilities” fails to keep faith with a history that keeps recapturing us and teaching us the lessons of every second. From the man who could not tell a lie on to “the now”, to accept the modernist charges has meant coping with a symbolic world that does not achieve “closure” in the thoughts and dreams of the concrete mind.

It is this way, too, with jazz. The story beloved of those who found records from straight out of the vaults of freedom, c. 1960-1969, unbelievable music is not quite true: Albert Ayler’s military music, like the martial dance-steps of the itinerant city youth, evokes a black musical tradition older than jazz. “Jazz” is from somewhere else, and for something else: in short order, nowhere and nothing.

No music could be more wholly other than music as it had existed up to a point where an “independent city” created a generation of people capable of, among other things, speaking of Michelangelo in straitened circumstances; as Harvey Pekar has pointed out, systematically removing the traces of functional harmony and the “theologically vaulted cosmos” predated the opening of the New York record industry: from le jazz hot on, the only things being rung were changes.

When blue eyes were smoky like an opium den, life was not always so nice: and to counterpoint Walter Benjamin, the modernism of jazz was a “disequilibrating” force — with superior musicianship to no end, a person is alone in their thoughts and their world, and the forward momentum of a “plan” becomes less than questionable. The connosieurship of jazz makes for one of the hardest truths around.

However, I would like to end the note by explaining the redemptive promise of jazz, in the spirit of the American sociologist George Herbert Mead. Mead’s signal innovation in pragmatist philosophy was a theory of “taking the attitude of the other”, the mechanism by which human beings come to have human uses for each other: systematically considering the “history and theory” of another person’s mind. The Meadian lesson of jazz is that we are not “all together in this”, we are not moving ever-upward, our most intimate familiars have thoughts we can never understand — and that one ought not to “exterminate all the brutes”.

Presto: those who use the expression “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” to mean, straight off, that you can’t get something for nothing are missing something. The expression is American 19c, and it refers to the standing institution of the “free lunch counter”: a place where workingmen of a particular stripe could receive a rather sumptuous repast — or more often a sandwich — for the “price” of a drink.

The sense in which the free-lunch counter was not free is not that of the inexpensive alcohol served to accompany the meal: it refers, rather, to the political patronage system one had to enter to engage in such a pastime: that of the Democratic “machine”. The existence of such a peculiar institution was offensive to many for divers reasons, but although the standing principle incarnated in the adage’s modern variant is sounder not learning the lessons of the American past is a treat reserved for the happy few.

What is not a treat reserved for the happy few is inexpensive and well-designed software, and if the people think (as I once did) that Microsoft products are overpriced this is partially because they do not remember other “sectors” of commercial computing such as CAD programs that cost $10,000 a copy, and the competing products which would teach us the true virtues of, e.g., Microsoft Word — as opposed to its reliability and “ease of use” — are not around, perhaps on account of the Department of Justice.

“Open-source” software teaches valuable lessons about computing, such as its historical structure (earlier software cleaner and simpler and more likely to be available today) and the reliance of the “cooperative commonwealth” on the good will of programmers and other IT professionals, including those for rather powerful and “cutting-edge” companies. Sun is no “greenhorn”, and there are features in OpenOffice which they may not ultimately “know what they do”, at least yet.

If it is really worth doing quickly, precisely, and worldwide — such that the digital computer is an essential tool for accomplishing your task — open-source products incorporated in the free POSIX systems available for fifteen years are a good deal: however, if what is being done is more or less a “reflection” of the ends of a particular “man”, Microsoft products are as I said six years ago very good indeed: if one must “smash the mold” at any price, I guess the very best technology and the very least access “under the hood” would be all right.

Although psychology has supposedly been supplanted by the discipline of “neuroscience” in lieu of understanding how psychologists already very completely believed the mind to be the brain, a resolutely naturalistic approach to the study of the mind is not quite all there is to psychology. From Aristotle, who originated the thought “Let Your Brain Alone” in his searching analyses of what was present to the mind without trepanning, to Warren McCulloch, there is a “peculiar charm” to the psychologist’s writing; what he — or I suppose she — has to say to you must be presented in a very particular manner, since otherwise some of it would not be worth saying and some of it “untrue”, and in any case some of it is not worth saying on account of presence a soi and some of it frankly irrational on account of our inability to control the “progress of life”.

It is widely agreed that one of the greatest psychologists of all time was William James, and his 1900 Principles of Psychology can still be profitably read by individuals interested in the American mindset concerning the mind: as the brother of Henry James he is not without a certain sense for the verbal flourish, and as the son of a Swedenborgian he was not without a grasp of “the outer limits” of sense. Though James’ aprioristic denial of unconscious mental states does not sit well with us in an era where we must needs account for unconscious processes of great intellectual import, where he is “wrong” as per some richly and artillery “articulated” new theory of neural bases for prejudices, he is at least charming and interesting in a way someone with some sense of various back Bays circa the turn of the century can appreciate.

Really, although Freud represents a certain ne plus ultra of Versoehnung to the “way of the world”, all psychology is about what kinds of thoughts we must think in the absence of proper “mental philosophy” to justifie our ways to man and a “proper grasp” of physical science to ground us in what must be; though the bosom friend of that great “Critic” Peirce, James represents a thoroughly and completely liberalistic moment in psychology which those of us unwilling to put even the “truly deserving” though mental strife must look upon with some favor, on the pain of losing contact with one of the more universal languages, American English and its various precincts.

thewordii
Barnett Newman, The word II, 1954

Newman resumes work on his civil-service magazine, now to be titled The Answer. A handwritten draft of a column planned for The Answer outlines a list of “Books we recommend”: Spinoza’s Ethics, Plato’s Republic, and the writings of the Russian anarchist Prince Peter Kropotkin. A corresponding list of “Books we condemn” names the complete works of Hegel, Marx, and Lenin.

Chronology of the Artist’s Life, Barnett Newman, ed. Ann Temkin, Philadelphia: 2002

“Analytic philosophy” is a difficult intellectual enterprise to understand. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has this to say about “Analysis”:

Analysis has always been at the heart of philosophical method, but it has been understood and practised in many different ways. Perhaps, in its broadest sense, it might be defined as a process of isolating or working back to what is more fundamental by means of which something, initially taken as given, can be explained or reconstructed. The explanation or reconstruction is often then exhibited in a corresponding process of synthesis.

However, a focus on “rigor in logic and argument” that exceeds the resources of theoretical logic and rhetoric is, like Operation Market Garden, “A Bridge Too Far”: an impossible thing that hapless peons were made to do precisely for the purpose of studying them fail with extreme prejudice. The true character of “philosophical analysis” derives from the faint witticism present in the German word Analyse: it is to “explain away” some un-understandable pseudo-problem of intellectual life without remainder: this was an essential task in the Austria of the Vienna Circle, and although there is often some point to “synthesis” the idea has not lost all utility on account of new intellectual movements.

Let me apply the tools of analytic philosophy, such as I understand them, to the underlying Problematiken of English (both its British and “Irish” versions). The “initial conditions” for the creation of the English tongue were other than is commonly thought: rather than being a pure expression of Anglistik, Old English is actually an archaic version of Danish. Like all non-Greek, non-Indian “Indo-European” languages Danish is actually Latinate: however, it is a somewhat funny version thereof.

An excellent way to consider “Danish English” is through thinking of Kierkegaard, the great Danish philosopher. We have heard tell of many stories about the theologian and gadabout, intellectual seducer and arch-conservative: we have heard tell of them, and the real message of the Kierkegaardian work is that we know nothing of him at all. In other words, the greatest Dane relieves us of the need to understand his paramours, his finances, his enemies or his political commitment; there is only writing, writing pleasant enough to all.

After a Conquest hardly deserving of the name, a Norman element was introduced into English by some people: the basic idea was this. “Hi, we’re Archie Bell and the Drells of Houston, Texas and we not only sing, we dance just as good as we want. In Houston we just started a new dance called the ‘Tighten Up’. This is the music you tighten up with.” In other words, Anglo-Norman English is resolutely unphilosophical: as can be seen in the work of Chaucer, there is no idea worth validating at the cost of one’s life. However, it is true that certain condiciouns of happinesse were set down for certain people and this resulted in manifold unhappinesses eventually solved en style radicale by

New English, whicha incorporates many concepts from other countries, literalmente through allowing their definition to be controlled by agients of foreign state power. In Britain the “neatest” form ov this was the “stock Latin phrase”, which one would never truly grasp the meaning of: in America a pastiche-parody of “confusion of tongues” in lieu of sing-song, and then a rigidified tribute to pensee republicaine in the form of What Everyone Does Unless They Don’t Care To, Dig, and then Nō English at all — a variant on the “ultramodern” elements of written French, where punctuation tells various stories about why sense must make way for art. However, why feel compelled to speak an unspeakable language instead of saying just exactly what you want since you couldn’t possibly speak it wrong, or something entirely different?

Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem (“Entities should not be multiplied before there is a reason”) — John Duns Scotus

Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate (“Never posit that there is a plurality without necessity”) — William of Ockham

A quick word about medieval philosophy. I was enthusing about old Roman times, and in scientific truth there’s quite a bit of reason to: though the sculptor who produced the recent bust of Julius Caesar was probably not talented enough, compared to other empires throughout history it was quite the equitable and “enlightened” arrangement. However, a “structural” view of the growth and spread of Christianity throughout the various parts of the Empire — leading to the “African Aquinas” Augustine, Orthodoxies “hot” and “cold”, and a certain cast of mind in the Occident — might not necessarily focus entirely on that old favorite of the Weavers, “the spirit”.

Really, that the Jewish Stoical heresy Christianity became an accepted faith throughout the Empire, and then its official creed, had something to do with falling from the grace of true Latinity but also with the successes of the empire in science, industry, engineering, and commerce: you know, some people had advantages other people didn’t have, and began to have “existential” issues old Seneca braying for your death couldna fix. And in fact, not only was ancient science in veritas something quite respectable, genuine progress continued during the period following the fall of the Western Empire: the techniques of rulership were refined during the Dark Ages, and then progress came to the incipient bourgeoisie during the Middle Ages.

With the help of new inventions like “Roger Bacon’s” eyeglasses — invented in actuality by Roger Bacon, since he wouldn’t be remembered any other way — and accounting the intellectual and other wealth could be shared much more equally: furthermore, it is in fact probable that people subjected to constant bouts of milleniarianism had a sense that something more was on the way. So I don’t personally think that the rather natural metaphor for understanding the often-tetched logic and rhetoric of the medieval philosopher, the wisdom of the grown and wise yet not resigned, is inapt: however, pace the neuzeitischer philosopher Magnus Hirschfeld the scientificity of some discourses may be in genuine doubt without their losing all educational value.

From: Jeff Rubard
To: Dominic Fox
Date: Sun May 31, 2009
Subject: The Inconsistency Theory of Shakespeare

Hey Dominic,

I was wondering if I could explain something I said a while back about
Shakespeare. My theory as regards “Shakespearean symbolism” is that
Shakespeare was just so damn mad about Elizabethan England that the
plays are roiling cauldrons of inconsistent elements, every little
“language-game” he could think of to include or imply. Consequently,
the standing (American) practice of an invocation of Shakespeare
serving to forever define you is exactly wrong; better to mix it up
any way you feel like. (On the other hand, the English works from that
master of schoolboy Latin verse Milton are steel traps: the symbolic
principles are razor-sharp, an infernal machine designed to root any
funny business.)

Say hi to Nina for me, or don’t if you judge it would be bad to.

Jeff