Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Meaning Of Hamlet: Why He Can't Act


So, here's one way to see the meaning of Hamlet.

He's to avenge his father's killing and so must kill Claudius. But for Shakespeare, in this play at least,  murderous revenge is barbaric bloodletting. Hamlet intuits this but can't bring his intuition to consciousness. He's bound by his time. And so he's ripped apart between what he's obliged to do but unwittingly strains against. So, he can't act and, famously, procrastinates, but doesn't understand why. For a much fuller setting out of this idea see:

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Short Note On Whether The Merchant Of Venice Is Anti Semitic

My note to a few guys on the question of whether The Merchant Of Venice is an anti Semitic play:

....My view of this play is that Shakespeare meant to create Shylock as the times' stock figure of the reviled Jew, avaricious, a character of ridicule, even Satanic in his way, but his great dramatic instincts would not let him simply settle on such a character. 

So as is his wont, he created complexity in Shylock, gave him instances of profound and powerful moral bearing and righteousness, and showed him as terribly prevailed upon. But Shylock, a brilliantly created character who dominates the play even though he only appears occasionally, got away from Shakespeare, which results, finally, in a flawed play. 

The ending in which Shylock is reduced to a pathetic, abject, clown of a figure, to be sneered at and mocked is at flawed, friction-laden odds with the previous Shylock. And the final scenes of romantic comic resolution fall terribly flat and are completely unmoving, almost as if created by Shakespeare merely going through dramatic motions. 

This falling flat accords with the big dramatic let down at the end of the play with Shylock, and which itself results, as noted, from the dignity and profundity Shakespeare invests in his earlier Shylock.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

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


Our difference is clear.  I think Stevens doesn't side with the harder view, the tough-minded.  The speaker does.  Your need to change "you" to "we" is crucial, for that makes the poem champion the tougher, which I don't think it does.  My main argument for the irony is that the speaker says metaphor is an evasion but uses it throughout.  The speaker, in effect, is contra "poesy" and in favor of hard reality, but I think Stevens thinks the opposition is bogus.  He doesn't argue for that but expresses his negative view of the simple opposition view by portraying a proponent of it forcefully via metaphor.  The motive for metaphor is the need (now I think of it) forcefully and subtley express one's attitude toward something.  We must all perforce be poets. 


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.
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


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


....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....


....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: 


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


...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


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:


....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.)