Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Contrarian Reading Of Wallace Steven's The Motive For Metaphor

 I like some of what you say but don't agree with the thrust of it, there being a dialogue between two speakers, the "you" of the poem and the voice of the poem. And I don't agree with what you see as irony playfully running through the end of the poem that undermines what's seemingly wanted, on your readíng, intimation against steel.

As a side note, I don't see where what you're saying is any less of a version of the poem's "argument" than mine or others. It just sees the "argument" differently. Btw, I'm not sure you've identified or approached the motive for metaphor.

I rather see the "you" as "we," a more general you, for example you as the reader.

What we "like" is the escape from what's demanding and harsh in reality. In that, we demean and lessen ourselves: 

....Where you were never quite yourself 
Nor did not want nor have to be...

So we take our eases, our comforts, our happinesses, in a weak, unchallenging, passive approach to reality, where we like things barely stirring, half dead, crippled meaningless:

...You like it under the trees in autumn,
Because everything is half dead.
The wind moves like a cripple among the leaves
And repeats words without meaning...

This could be as well, as is The Poems Of Our Cimate, a swipe at a desiccated, esthethe, minimalist art like Imagism, as Stevens saw it.

The second stanza moves back in time to the Spring preceding the first Stanza's Autumn.  Spring's aborning life is made prosaic and near lifeless.There, in the season of rebirth, just as Autumn moves us toward the death of winter--the nothing of the Snowman--we're in flight from vitality in all things, life, art, other things. We draw resigned, languid happiness from what is weak, insensible, recondite to the point of being meaningless:

...The obscure moon lighting an obscure world
Of things that would never be quite expressed,
Where you yourself were never quite yourself
And did not want nor have to be,...

This mocks the desire for "the exhilarations of changes."

So light then, in that Spring, is the moon's weak reflection, an ersatz light perhaps, keeping the world, and, so, you or we in it, safe, languid and mindless. Nothing to be clearly expressed, nothing challenging us to confront ourselves, keeping us from ourselves, all pallid, free of compulsion and obligation.

To quote the same quatrain again

...The obscure moon lighting an obscure world
Of things that would never be quite expressed,
Where you yourself were never quite yourself
And did not want nor have to be,...

I read the first line of the fourth quatrain as syntactically connected to the last lines of the third quatrain, with that first line's ending colon signalling a near to complete grammatical and thematic stop. So that, on this reading, you--under no compulsion or obligation--are essentially released from the desire for "...the exhilarations of changes." But, says Stevens elsewhere: 

....Still one would want more, one would need more,
More than a world of white and snowy scents.
III
There would still remain the never-resting mind,
So that one would want to escape, come back
To what had been long composed...

These lines inform, I'd argue, the point of the colon. There is a kind of suppressed continuity ranging over the stop of the colon. The motive for metaphor, for taking on imperfectly the world, shrinks to suit our happy, liking-it passivity. You, we, are overwhelmed by what's hard and ultimate, the great and terrible truths of essential being, the basics--"A B C of being"--violence, physicality, dominance, brightness and sharpness: ..."The vital, arrogant, fatal, dominant X"...resistant to meaning, but vital in its beauty and its terror. This is what the motive for metaphor shrinks from, from operating the only way we can, by metaphor, in truly taking on and taking in the world. It's imperfect. But only here is paradise: 

...The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds....

I don't see any sardonicism here or playfulness. 

Added note:

One critic argues that the Spring quatrains, the time of our youth, herald a good time, a time of becoming, with self unformed, not yet expressed, not yet understood, a time of exhilarating changes. I don't read this poem's Spring that way at all. Just the opposite: happiness is in what is so subdued and minimized and obscure, happiness is in the same way we/you like(s) it in Autumn, languid, crippled, fractionated, half dead, meaningless.

I don't see the poem turning (playfully or otherwise) on the paradox of wanting bright, clear, fiery X, fatal and vital, wanting what is as is, without metaphor but yet with that wanting and what is wanted only expressible by metaphor. The reason for that, in my view, is that metaphor for Stevens in this poem is an inescapable epistemic basic: the world can't be approached or taken in without it. So it pervades all quatrains. Escaping metaphor isn't the question. The question is the use we make of it: shrink in its use as done in the first four quatrains or use it to confront imperfectly, as best we can, what is vital and  great, what is fatal and terrible, and what is ineffable too--X. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Preliminary Note On The Blonde

4/28/16


Hey, I just got lucky.


Too many years ago that might've meant one thing.


Now it means something else: namely that I bought a remaindered book on spec and it turns out to be a beautifully, precisely written corker.


It's called The Blonde by an Anna Godbersen, a seemingly thirtyish writer who lives--where else?-in Brooklyn, and who I'd never heard of.


It's a re-imagination of Marilyn Monroe's life from 1959-1963. I'm about 1/3 along in it. It puts MM in a plot to spy on JFK while her marriage to Arthur Miller is coming apart and during the shooting of the stolid The Misfits. 


The novel is authoritatively rooted in her life but her life is believably reworked in the telling of the story. I find the psychological insights acute and the capturing of her, both the inner and outer her, so precise and accurate that sometimes I forget I'm reading fiction. Too, the re-imagining has the advantage of the reader seeing in their mind's eye the actual person, Marilyn Monroe as we know her, but then so added to in the writing. 


Godbersen has deeply researched what she writes about.


And so I have utter confidence in the prose, which does double duty in being precise, concrete and factual but, too, suggestive and at times aptly metaphoric within the range of its verisimilitude. I.E. the metaphors don't strain against the dominant realism by being fanciful and poetic.


It's a compelling, page turning read.

Monday, April 11, 2016

More On Whether Nozick Is A Social Contactarian

Him:

....You clearly do not understand how weasel words function. They permit the writer so say something while enabling him do deny saying it if called on it. And you clearly do not understand Nozick's purpose in discussing social contract in Rawls. It is to make the point that the legitimacy of the State does not depend on the consent if the citizens, but only on the State's protection of the entitlements of the citizens. Nozick is not interested in how a State might have come into existence; he is interested only in legitimacy. He is attacking Rawls's account of how the State could come into existence as the rational agreement of people behind the Veil of ignorance. Unless you understand that context, you cannot possibly understand what Nozick is up to. You cannot understand any philosopher at all if you do not understand how and why contexts motivate him....

Me:

....You're simply repeating your assertions over and over again while failing, totally failing, to confront the analytical point about ascending associations. 

I'm not in the least impressed, let alone persuaded.

You may not understand this: but to associate as a conscious act associates must *AGREE* to associate. (I trust the caps and the asterisks help drive home the point.)

Here's more help for you: 

...Nozick

Evolution Of State Without Rights Violations

State of Nature------------>Inefficent------->Mutual Protective Associations-----

----->Natural Monopoly Of Force--------->Dominant Protective Association---------

----->Incorporation of Independents--->MinimalState

And still more: 

Association: ....(often in names) a group of people organized for a joint purpose.
"the National Association of Broadcasters" synonyms: alliance, consortium, union, league, guild, syndicate, federation, cooperative, partnership, organization...

I take it you get the point.

Nozick attacks Rawls because he, Nozick, fundamentally rejects redistribution. Among a  number of grounds for objecting to Rawls's thought experiment are: it's too rarified and abstract; consent must be seen in how people more actually behave; and justice doesn't inhere in the violation of people innate's liberty to keep the fruits of their own labour and enterprise (within a legal framework) for the benefit of others. 

None of this vitiates the agreement at the heart of Nozick's account of the state, just sketched. And so the context you proclaim as making clear that Nozick isn't a modern social contract thinker does no such thing. Context rather is a means of you rationalizing your ever-repeated position.

You either implicitly or explicitly, depending on which communication it is, I've lost track of them all, keep saying that a natural law belief in preexisting rights negates the social contract. I've shown you that that's horseshit, particularly with the example of Locke. And you keep separating legitimacy--the fulfillment and protection, indeed vindication, of those rights--from citizens agreeing to live the best, most effective, most efficient   lives, as Nozick sees it, in having their greatest liberty in proportion to the limits on the state they consent minimally to submit to. 

Finally, a different point: your notion that philosophers can't be understood--even as I understand Nozick's context vis a vis Rawls--without understanding their context is bizarre. It sounds post modern, like saying a literary text can't be understood outside of its context. I'm surprised you'd say that.

Fact Value Distinction


Me:

...The second point confuses me: is it a value judgment to say no ought from is, or is it, for some at least, a pure question of logical entailment? 

I'd think there's a difference between saying in one case: 

person A is drowning, we therefore ought to save him;

and in another case: 

Person A is drowning, but that doesn't entail our obligation to save him.

The first is an assertion of a logical consequence as a moral imperative. 

The second is a judgment or argument about whether as a matter of logic that consequence follows.

Does that difference make sense to you? 

Him, brilliant as usual:

....I don't think the fact value distinction is actually a rule derived from logic. None of the classic logicians, like Aristotle, used it.

Rather, as I understand it, it is a distinction drawn first by the empiricists (like Hume), and then more recently by behaviourists, like Skinner, and  stems from their view that a statement of fact and a judgment about value are different orders of statement.  

For them, statements of fact are the only reliable ones, because facts are observable,  verifiable and can be replicated in laboratories, etc.  Judgments about good and bad are, for them, none of those things. They are opinions, feelings, subjective, etc. So they can't be true or false the way a factual assertion is. And in this sense they cannot be derived from facts, because that would suggest they occupy the same status as  facts, which for these thinkers is false.

The knock against the fact value distinction as a matter of  internal consistency is this. The behaviourist asserts that the only statement that can be true or false is a statement of fact--one that is verifiable, observable, etc. All other statements are opinions, subjective, and neither right nor wrong.   But the statement "one cannot derive a judgment of value from an assertion of fact" is not a factual statement in the sense of one  observable in nature, verifiable and replicable in a laboratory or other scientific setting. 

So why treat it as anything other than the subjective feeling of the behaviourist, just like the behaviourist treats the statement "we should save a drowning person"?

Of course this argument is more of a gotcha than a full disproof. I suspect the disproof turns on the inaccuracy of the supposition that underlies the fact value distinction in the first place...

Saturday, April 9, 2016

More On Nozick As Within The Social Contract Tradition

4/9/16

I've been battling hammer and thongs with a guy over the proposition that Robert Nozick can be seen within the social contract tradition. It's actually gotten quite testy, my testiness like Bernie Sanders's: the other guy went testy first.

I need a new thong.

My last to him:

....Bingo:

....Nozick's conception of the origins of the state is reminiscent of the social contract tradition in political thought represented by Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and, in contemporary thought, Rawls. For insofar as the state arises out of a process that begins with the voluntary retention by individuals of the services of an agency that will inevitably take on the features of a state, it can be seen to be the result of a kind of contract. The details of the state-originating process in Nozick's account are very different from those of other social contract accounts, however; and, most importantly, for Nozick, unlike other social contract theorists, individual rights do not result from, but exist prior to, any social contract, and put severe constraints on the shape such a contract can take. Furthermore, the parties to the contract in Nozick's conception are to be imagined very much on the model of human beings as we know them in "real life," rather than along the lines of the highly abstractly conceived rational agents deliberating behind a "veil of ignorance" in Rawls's "original position" thought experiment....

All this harrumphing by you over a proposition that's at a minimum arguable. 

(And btw, Locke also posited natural rights preexisting the state, which isn't to say whatever Locke says, Nozick says, which you say I say, but I don't and didn't.)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Letter To Camille Paglia On Abortion


4/7/16


My letter to the divine Ms P on her abortion piece in Salon, linked below: 


Dear Ms Paglia:


I love your journalism.


I read, enjoyed and am provoked by your recent Salon piece about the abortion mistakes of Trump and Clinton, then your brief tour through feminist thought on abortion and your contrast between the Catholic Church's invocations for life as against the rigid, somewhat lifeless reasoning  of pro abortion activist/fanatics.


Where I fall off the train is your proclamation of favouring unrestricted abortion on demand even as you recognize the the "higher moral ground" of the pro life position.


I'd start from the likely unusual case of an abortion in the last trimester where there is no danger to the life of the mother, where incest or rape aren't the facts, and there is no devastating physical problem with the fetus-- all wrenching exceptions. In that case, I cannot see the grounds of your argument--women being more than mere child bearers, women not being necessarily subservient to nature, women's bodily autonomy--prevailing over the fact that there's near to a completely formed life at stake, whereas in the first trimester, or up to the point of independent fetal viability, that weighing and balancing comes out 180 degrees differently. 


For me, those two examples form end points of a spectrum of moral reckoning. And what seems utterly grey to me, barring the usual wrenching exceptions to a pro life insistence, is the second trimester when at some point, difficult to be precise about, the aborning baby has too much of formed life about it to allow the case for abortion to prevail. 


So, all that said, I can't understand an absolute position of unrestricted abortion on demand for the reasons you give, if I'm understanding your position correctly. And I find that in your holding that position, your recognition of how compelling the pro life arguments are doesn't make your position more admirably hard fought, tougher, more nuanced or more capacious. Rather, I sense in that recognition a quality of trying to avoid the untenable hook that an absolute case for unrestricted abortion on demand lands you on. 


Respectfully,

Itzik Basman...
http://www.salon.com/2016/04/07/camille_paglia_feminists_have_abortion_wrong_trump_and_hillary_miscues_highlight_a_frozen_national_debate/

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Nozick As Social Contractualist


Me:

....Nozick argues that independents are to be forcibly incorporated into society. Even if their rejection of it is their right, they pose a danger to what they reject (thus on a utilitarian basis decreasing the happiness of those accepting society by increasing their fear.) They can live in society obeying its laws or be dealt with by the monopolizer of force if their rejection leads to law breaking and worse. Since ought entails can, there is no moral duty to do the impossible. On this basis, the state does not lose legitimacy by that forcible incorporation: it is impossible to deal with the independents otherwise. In one way of understanding this, that incorporation comes down to the sheer power of the state compared to the relative powerlessness of the independents. 


Now, to take this one step further, what if a majority in the state want national health insurance. (Getting it increases their happiness.) What position can the minority take who oppose but are perforce required to help fund it through their taxes, or, even more pervasive, the welfare state? Does the state lose its legitimacy by forcing those opposed to support them by making them pay their taxes? Does the reasoning for the forcible incorporation of the independents without sacrificing legitimacy lose its force in relation to forcing dissenters from welfarism without, the argument is, by analogy, losing legitimacy? I'd think that those who oppose welfarism would continue to insist on their opposition but would do so conceding legitimacy. 


So if Nozick is:


as I understand he is, a social contract theorist;


and if he agrees that the basis of social contract theory is consent;


and if he rejects any proposition, as I understand he does, advanced by some that since unanimous consent in any state is impossible the state, any state premised on deep individual pluralism is therefore necessarily illegitimate;


then his notions of consent and legitimacy necessarily brook majorities that hold to policies that he stands fundamentally against.


If so, then what exactly is the core of his notion of  legitimacy, and what does that core do to the illegitimacy of the welfare project you argue against? Arguments pro and con specific policies on the basis of legitimacy run up against the concession of legitimacy to the state even as majority policies breach libertarians' central thesis of deep pluralism not to be trenched upon. And so, finally, arguments against say welfare policy can cite that central thesis, but can't with consistency, I don't think, assert the illegitimacy of that policy. Or can they?...

Don: 

....      I can recognize nothing of Nozik in what you write here. Right from the start you couch things in terms of 'independents" vs the State, and I cannot recognize this language  as Nozik's. I am admittedly not any kind of expert on Nozik, and I have absolutely no sympathy for Nozik's views. I do not find them in the least bit interesting, and he is no longer discussed in the intellectual circles with which I have contact. So you are forewarned that what I have to say here may be seriously distorted. 

       I can see no good reason for classifying Nozik as a social contract theorist, and I have never seen him discussed in those terms, and this despite the fact that he springs out of Locke, who was a social contract theorist. Nozik was perfectly aware that social contract theories are only analytic conceits sometimes providing us models for thinking about political/social issues;  Every social contract theory I am familiar with postulates an original state of nature and give different accounts of it, but in every account, individuals in a state of nature have absolutely no rights whatever. They have only interests and needs, Rights are always treated as social constructs arising out of the establishment of the social contract for purely utilitarian reasons. Rights enable people to perform utilitarian calculations that will maximize the individual and the social good, so that, e.g., society can tax people unequally if that policy will maximize the public good, even if it falls more heavily on some rather than others. 

     You will find none of that in Nozik, although he discusses social contract theory and utilitarianism at length, mostly, but not exclusively, in criticism of John Rawls. So what was Nozik up to? This is where things get messy. In the first place you have to understand who his targets are. Rawls is obviously a big one. But early in his career, Nozik was a socialist/social democrat, and after his quick abandonment of that, he embraced the cranky views of Murray Rothbard, the campus guru of young right-wing extremists, viz., individualistic anarchism. 

Nozik, sensibly enough, came to reject anarchism, and so undertook to construct a theory in which the State could be intrinsically legitimate, requiring no justification, utilitarian or otherwise. In this, I agree with him and with Aristotle from whom it originally derives. 

According to Aristotle, living in political societies is as natural for us as can be. Unlike other social animals, such as ants, bees, and various pack animals such as wolves etc who have no political organizations, we are endowed by nature with rationality in a high degree, and it is reason that makes it possible for us to transcend merely animal sociality. 

Noziks view is, that if there were a pre-political state of nature for us, we would in that state itself have certain absolute natural rights, the most important of which are the right to the life and security of the person, and the right to the ownership and transfer of private property. These rights do not derive from the State, in Nozik's view, and are not social constructs. In order to defend this view he needs a theory of property acquisition, and he has one, deriving straightforwardly from Locke. Property comes into existence (in a state of nature, if there is one) by mixing one's labour into resources found in nature - you chop down a tree, cut it into planks and build yourself a house, and it is by right of nature your property and yours alone, and nobody else is entitled to claim it. His view of rights is that they are all entitlements, not concessions others might make to you for utilitarian reasons. 

That is why Nozik is frequently referred to as an absolute Entitlement theorist, rather than a social contract theorist; property rights (and the others) are existentially prior to all possible contracts, and the State exists legitimately only to enforce acceptance and respect for property or other natural rights. No utilitarian calculations are involved, and Nozik rejects utilitarianism precisely because it can easily be used to justify modifications of absolute property rights. 

Nozik's State is Locke's "night watchman State", and is legitimate only insofar as it performs that role. In these ways, Nozik is able promote consistently both an absolutist libertarianism and a legitimate State using coercive enforcement of entitlements, i.e., force preventing some people from attempts to nullify or qualify our absolute entitlements. Applied to practical social/political life, Nozik's views forbid any kind of redistributivist programs whatsoever. 

The way wealth is acquired is what justifies it according to Nozik, so that even if a single honest individual working hard and using his natural talents etc. were able to acquire all of the wealth in the world, thereby reducing absolutely everybody else to dire poverty, he is entitled to his wealth, and any effort to use the powers of the State to relieve the suffering of the others would be unjust, rejecting as he does Rawls' (and our) intuition that 'Justice is Fairness' in favour of his own view that Justice is the protection and enforcement of entitlements. My own view is that Nozik's theories are their own Reductio ad Absurdum. 

    I do not wish to get into any discussions of Nozik's views. I am too old and I do not regard them as worth my efforts at this time of my life. There is no doubt that he was a very clever philosopher, but not a deep one, I think. Your best bet among modern thinkers is Rawls, I think....

Me:

....Don, again I thank you for the time and effort you took to set  out your views at my request. I'm not sure how to respond since you don't want discuss Nozick but I'll try.

What follows isn't to get into the good or bad or much of the substance of Nozick's views but just to say why I think he's rightly called a social contract theorist. The big point I see emerging from your comments, if I'm understanding them, is the incompatibility of social contract account and a natural law account, the inclusion of any aspect of the latter vitiating the former.  That doesn't seem right to me.

In Nozick's theoretical account of state formation the independents are a rump group who refuse to join the state after all others have associated with others of like interest and have all agreed to submit themselves to a "night watchman" state of limited power over them save to provide security and the most essential services. The issue then becomes the justification for how the state deals with the independents in its midst given their innate, inalienable (natural law) liberty. The argument about the independents cuts against the notion of Nozick as theorist of absolute entitlement and leads to what I try to sketch as a deep contradiction in his system.

Nozick classifies himself as a social contract theorist and so do a couple of Yale and Harvard political and gov't theorists who've lectured on him. Since consent is at the heart of social contract theory, I can see on Nozick's account of state formation how he is one, though one where consent is sharply defined and limited. 

And in your terms, Nozick also posits an "analytical conceit" at the base of his theorizing. He also in his account delineates interests, rights and needs. But he also, as does Locke, hold to a natural law account of inalienable rights. That does not, as I read you to suggest, their social contractualism. Hobbes's account is closer to what you sketch in your third paragraph. But he's different from Locke in his emphasis and Nozick falls in the tradition of Locke. If he's not a social contractualist for the reasons you say, then Locke isn't one either. Both hold to rights pre-existing states. 

Rawls tries to provide a justification for the redistributionist state and Nozick stands foursquare against him. Both proceed from a notion of consent but have antithetical ideas of what comprises that consent when seen what each thinks man is, what comprises justice and what comprises legitimacy.

Whether what I point to is a good way of disassembling Nozick or not, and without wanting to appear presumptuous since I'm strictly an amateur in all this, I do agree, and for many of the reasons you say, that in what I understand of what he argues, it's finally incoherent.