The Futurist Corporation

Linguistic Inflation
20 December 2010, 5:31 am
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The value of language is becoming inflated.
In economics, inflation refers to the declining buying power of money. Inflation occurs as more money is printed. When the supply of money increases, its worth decreases. Prices rise, and purchasing goods becomes increasingly difficult. It requires more labor to earn enough money to buy the same product. This causes wages to increase in response, causing an inflationary cycle. The result is the change in price that’s seen comparing a bottle of Coca Cola which was 5 cents in 1946 to a bottle today which costs ~$1.50.

When we refer to value in the field of communication we call it meaning. Inflation occurs in language in the sense it requires more and more language, and therefore more and more education to interact with the same sets of data. If we measure the proliferation of meaning the way Shannon does in his foundational text “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” we can say that the amount of language needed to enact a change in conduct has increased over the past two centuries. Communication is measured in the extent that our words can be taken seriously, rather than being dismissed as “unscholarly” or “unprofessional.”

Monetary inflation can be measured in the change in the amount of money needed to purchase a particular product over a period of time. Linguistic inflation can be measured in the amount of language needed to effectively communicate, i.e. to effect some sort of change in conduct. Measuring an amount of language measures the linguistic capital gained through educational institutions. Higher education equips one of the language needed to communicate in various discourses or in various occupational roles.

Sociologist William Ogburn predicted in 1931 that as time progressed, “the heterogeneity of material culture will mean specialists and languages that only specialists can understand.” The function of our educational system is the proliferation of such specialized language.

Specialization in the division of labor requires more and more education. But in the same way that the dollar becomes worth less and less as the money supply increases, the value of an education is worth less and less, as our language expands. Some relate the declining value of an education to the increased number of people who hold degrees, which would correspond to an increase in the supply of labor. The expansion and increased proliferation of language would symbolically correspond to an increase in the money supply. Thus the decreasing value of a college degree is not just due to changing job requirements, increased selectivity of the labor market, and increasing pool of applicants (continuing to increase as the general population increases), but also related to the expansion of knowledge itself, which requires more and more words to describe its increasing complexity.

The price of the U.S. dollar fluctuates with demand, as determined by foreign countries. Between 2008 and 2010, the price of the Chinese yuan was determined exclusively by the price of the U.S. dollar. Decried as “currency manipulation,” this caused Chinese goods to seem cheaper because the Chinese Yuan was not allowed to inflate.

In the same way, the value of knowledge in terms of the academic degree is not allowed to inflate beyond the doctorate. The doctorate is a terminal degree; any education beyond the level of the doctorate is worthless–it is similar to a cap being placed on the proliferation of education to prevent knowledge inflation from requiring more of a person’s life to be spent in graduate school.

Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner accused the Chinese exchange rate of being “artificial” and preventing “accurate valuation.” The cap on inflation benefited Chinese manufacturers because if their currency would have been inflating, but was prevented from doing so, that made their goods easier to purchase.

In the same way, the enforced cap on education at the same time that research continues being done, and knowledge continues to expand, makes data seem easier to interact with than it would be if there were no limit on the number of degrees that could be acquired. Those that have attained a terminal degree can interact with data sets even if they might be less than qualified (as in the case of interdisciplinary endeavors). This prevents academics from having to spend their entire lifetimes acquiring the linguistic capital necessary to effectively communicate in the highly specialized linguistic markets that the accelerating proliferation of information might demand.

When a country’s currency inflates, goods become more and more difficult to purchase. Consumers balance this by receiving (or demanding) higher wages. If wages do not increase at the same rate that the price of goods increase (which is often the case), it will require more and more labor-time to purchase the same amount of goods.

In terms of education, consumers of information cannot demand longer lifespans to devote to attending grad school, i.e. acquiring linguistic capital. Industrialization has, in fact, led to longer human lifespans, but this does not account for the increased amount of time needed to acquire degrees. Increased lifespan can keep you old for longer, but it can’t make a year seem any shorter.

What we have seen is that it takes more and more time spent in school to acquire the linguistic capital to effectively communicate. In order for a person’s research or job qualifications to be taken seriously, he or she must possess greater and greater amounts of linguistic capital in the form of academic degrees. During the early twentieth century, all one needed to be assured of job stability was a high school diploma. A generation later young people everywhere were being encouraged to finish college in order to be sure of a steady job. Now young people and older job-seekers are being pressured to get a graduate degree just to remain competitive.

As knowledge continues to proliferate, but a limit being placed on the amount of linguistic capital one can acquire (a PhD), we will see more and more people deciding to get a PhD rather than entering the workforce. The accelerating rate at which information enters the realm of public accessibility combined with the increasing percentage of the population who will have doctorate degrees, will continue to drive down their value. As this linguistic inflation continues it is only a matter of time before our society must find a new way of institutionalizing knowledge. The use value of staying in graduate school for so long can only depreciate for so long. If knowledge continues to proliferate along the anachronistic criteria our educational system has concretized, the distribution of knowledge in our society will become increasingly polarized. Those willing to spend one half to one third of their lives just acquiring the accreditation required to perform their desired role in society will become the only people allowed to interact with information along socially recognized platforms. On the other end will be those without the time or financial resources to complete the years of education needed to get a terminal degree, and thus dropping out altogether, since anything less than a PhD would worthless.


Google Ngrams
18 December 2010, 12:29 am
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The ability to track data this way is a huge deal.
Google now allows anyone to search through its entire collection of digitized books for the frequency of word use. Google trends ( itself was a big deal when it came out–opening up new ways of tracking human thought. I still believe that Google trends has a ton of untapped potential, from Sociological data, diffusion of knowledge to marketing strategies, demographic trends and data about the way people think. Google trends only lets you go back about seven years though. And its data set is restricted Google users. Google’s new service Ngrams allows anyone to search through the entire record of digitized books in English, Spanish French, German, simplified Chinese and Russian and examine knowledge trends across the whole spectrum of all publicly published data.

Google books itself is a culture-changing endeavor. Google has now digitized almost 12 percent of all the books that have ever been published, ever. The ability to archive and organize that information has the potential to affect so many different fields. The ability to quantify and empirically examine what entire societies have been thinking about is a huge leap forward for our whole culture.

Here is an article from the Economist detailing one way in which this has already transformed our knowledge. (”)
The possibilities for this tool are not even conceivable right now. It has the potential to transform our knowledge in so many different ways, from sociology to anthropology to the history of ideas, into market strategy, academic research, religion, interdisciplinary theorizing, philosophy, human geography–entirely new disciplines could spawn out of this. The possibilities for this tool may not become fully apparent for years, but the ability access knowledge this way has the potential to completely transform the way information is processed, and thus our entire culture. Google books, Google trends, and Google ngrams have the potential to completely alter the way knowledge is diffused through our whole civilization.

17 December 2010, 11:55 pm
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It is a quality of experience that it is affirmed socially. It is a quality of interiority that, when expressed, it cannot be affirmed, only regarded. Interiority, including the experience of having an idea, manifests itself in the world through the process we know as creativity. All experience is social or socially affirmable. The experience of having a thought is socially affirmable but thought itself is not. Thought is private–for it to become commensurable it must be expressed through experiences or language of experience. This dynamic is known is giving an example.

Notes on Interpretation
4 June 2010, 6:51 pm
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Still from Dovzhenko's Earth

I cannot prevent myself asking what comment and interpretation really mean… Can scientific investigation ever really triumph so long as men refuse to busy themselves with this question, or so long as they are content to engage themselves with amazing energy upon the work of interpretation with the most superficial understanding of what interpretation really is? For me, at any rate, the question of the true nature of interpretation is the supreme question.

–Karl Barth
The Epistle to the Romans

Susan Sontag wrote in her 1964 essay “Against Interpretation” that “Our task is not to find the maximum amount of content in a work of art, much less to squeeze more content out of the work than is already there. Our task is to cut back content so that we can see the thing at all.” Sontag’s argument was that the act of interpreting a work of art involved divesting the text with some new meaning no where to be found in the work itself. In this schema, the work itself is negated in its own-most presentation. The work is glossed over by new meaning that detracts from the work as it stands. Sontag describes interpretation as “the compliment mediocrity pays to genius.”

This essay will outline a new interpretive model. Not only will we see the importance of interpretation, but we will also show that the act of interpretation is an inevitable part of meeting a work. This essay will critique the idea that some forms of interpretation are permissible while others are suspect. The purpose of this paper is to open up a new freedom to the interpreter and vindicate him as a creative agent.

An excellent example of the need for interpretation is in Upton Sinclair’s social realist novel The Jungle. In this case we know what the author’s intentions were. Sinclair was a socialist, and he wanted his novel to reveal the appalling labor conditions in the meatpacking industry so that working standards for laborers in all industries could be improved. The work’s reception provoked an entirely different reaction. The book lead to widespread reforms in government industrial regulation and prompted the creation of the Food and Drug Administration to regulate food production.

The author was horrified that popular interpretation of his text departed so radically from his own. Sinclair famously lamented, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”

In this case, the meaning of the book extended beyond what the author originally had in mind. If politicians and literary critics had not separated the author’s intentions from the text, and formed a new interpretation of the text, those reforms may not have taken place. By giving the text an interpretation not supported by the author’s intention, the work inspired lasting reform.

The fact that no definition conclusively can be reached as to what interpretation really entails indicates that interpretation itself must be interpreted. The sundry discursive accounts of numerous other aesthetes and legal scholars as to the true nature of interpretation indicate that interpretation itself must be interpreted. How can a single interpretive model ever be decided upon? That perfect model would enter into a relation to the critic who reads about it, and the model creates itself anew in this interpreter’s brain. The same human subjectivity that “prevents” us from reaching a universal conclusion as to the correct account of constitutional authority or the authentic reading of a Haydn fugue, acts upon us in our attempt to apprehend interpretation itself. To announce naïvely that a single interpretive model is the authentic one shows the same sort of myopia that the Freudian or the Marxist reveal when they announce their philosophical schema illuminates the “true” meaning of an artistic text.

Arthur C. Danto presents an interpretive model in which interpretation is broken down into “surface interpretation,” and “deep interpretation.” In surface interpretation, the reader analyzes only those aspects of the work that the author himself would have known. (Though this move of trying to get inside someone else’s head may be pretty psychologically suspect, we persist). Surface interpretation involves, the author’s “clear” intentions for how the work is to be read, it’s technical considerations, and the basic, substance of the text which requires little elucidation. Deep interpretation considers the way in which the reader understands the work. This type of interpretation considers the meaning of the text, its implications, and its meaning. Whether this is the meaning the author had in mind or if it is applied to the text from some other standpoint is irrelevant.

Danto admits that deep interpretation can leads to a plethora of conclusions about a particular work. However, he maintains, this can only be done after a surface interpretation of the work is established. This surface interpretation should remain relatively fixed no matter what other schema one wishes to apply to the work in a (later) deep interpretation.

Danto defines these forms of interpretation as loosely correlative of the distinctions inner and outer—a distinction he all the while admits is itself problematic. Danto’s model then becomes suspect when we examine the implications of separating what can “easily” be said about a work, and what can only be found “deeply” in the work.

When we look at the painting of Francisco Goya, Carlos IV of Spain and His Family, the title clearly indicates that the subject matter is Carlos IV of Spain and his family. It is a fairly straightforward group portrait, commissioned by the royal family. When we look at the painting, we can recognize a group of men and women of various ages standing together in royal-looking attire. Thus, a concession that this painting is, in fact, about Carlos IV of Spain and his family, seems not at all unreasonable.

A surface interpretation of this painting then would say it is a portrait depicting Carlos IV of Spain and his family. A deep interpretation of this work might argue that this painting is actually an indictment about royal abuses of power, or a subversive mockery of royal excess or incompetence. This interpretation might even be justified by historical evidence, such as Goya’s later politically skeptical works or his written feelings towards the monarchy.

This interpretation invokes historical knowledge about Francisco Goya to arrive at a “deep” conclusion. Such evidence is not necessary to make such a claim. A deep interpretation might refrain from invoking such historical documents and external points of reference. The same sort of reading of Carlos IV of Spain and His Family as a subversive political statement might be reached from an examination of the uneasy body postures of the subjects, the uncomfortable amount of space above and below the figures, or the brooding darkness that creeps in from the left canvas space.

If the reader notices the dark tones on the left before noticing, “Oh, it’s a portrait,” his surface interpretation would differ from the critic who sees that the painting is portrait and then examines the artist’s use of color.

In this example we are not forcing the painting into a schema as the argument from historical context does. It is only the immediacy of the work itself that is being referenced. And yet, we still find it possible to reach a conclusion of dubious veracity (that is while still in surface interpretation mode). That is to say, even when interpretation brackets out concerns that Danto would consider “deep,” the reading may still be considered contentious. This blurs the line between a deep interpretation and a surface interpretation.

As will be shown, Danto’s interpretive model breaks down when we move beyond texts that appear representational. Let us now consider Jackson Pollock’s 1950 painting Number 32. Pollock’s paintings depart so entirely from form that any critic who attempts to pin down an absolute subject that is represented could only be ridiculed. The critic who looks at Number 32 and says the painting clearly represents a band of spiders tearing each other limb from limb over a few bread crumbs, would be just as open to skepticism as the critic who claims this painting presents the artist’s disgust with the complacency of bourgeois society.

In the latter of these examples, Pollock’s paintings are much further removed from a representational counterpart in the phenomenal world than Goya’s. And yet, a reading of Goya’s Carlos IV of Spain and His Family that identifies a clear subject matter is considered less contentious under Danto’s interpretive model than a reading of Pollock’s Number 32 that identifies a clear subject matter. Pollock had an intent and a vision to express just the same as Goya did. His visual language is just denser, and less clear than Goya’s. A surface interpretation of Goya’s painting would have to include the sense one gets that this a portrait, but the surface interpretation of Pollock’s painting could not include such a judgment. The surface interpretation of one does not contain the same elements as a surface interpretation of another.

In the case of Goya and in the case of Pollock, both used paint (different kinds to be sure). Both titled their works. Both used stretching boards of a particular size stretched with a particular type of canvas. But even these technical considerations are not made clear to the viewer immediately. I know Pollock used house paint because have accounts of his technique. But the viewer only has the immediacy of the visual impact. Even if one states a seemingly objective fact, such as the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the painting, this information becomes another discursive consideration. It comes after the painting is critically examined (with a ruler), not from a surface investigation of the painting’s immediacy. Even the colors one sees in each of these paintings would differ depending on the lighting of the room in which the paintings are displayed.

To separate out interpretations of artistic works that seem to present overly radical accounts of the text from straightforward accounts is an error. To distinguish between surface interpretation and deep interpretation is to say that one reading of the text can easily be agreed upon, and indeed must be agreed upon, and another reading of text requires heavier speculation. This model presents a particular norm of experience as universal. One could infer from such an argument that not only must there be universal way of reading a text, but that there is also a universal way of experiencing reality.

True story: A critic views Aleksandr Dovzhenko’s film Earth, and concludes that the film is a piece of medical realism, raising awareness for a fatal health condition known as dance-itis. A serious film scholar reads this interpretation and contends that this is an error. The film in fact promotes a move towards a more socialist Russia through dark pastoral portraits, he explains. The shot in which Vasili dies while performing a joyful dance is later clarified as the result of a deadly gunshot. Nowhere in the Russian or the English translation can be found a word that even approximates a condition that could be called dance-itis. Nevertheless, the first critic maintains, the theme of death that haunts this film is directly related to the parallel theme of dancing.

The medical realist interpretation of the film is not a result of deep interpretation—it is in fact Critic A’s immediate reaction upon seeing the shot. Vasili falls—the critic thinks, “Dance-itis strikes again.” The later sequence in which the entire village dances with joy at their renewed commitment to the soil only confirms this critic’s diagnosis.

The same sort of consideration goes for any of the seven deadly critical schemata: Deleuzian Rhizome Theory, Freudian critique, Lacanian critique, Feminist critique, Marxist critique, Social constructionism, or Deconstruction. The classic example of interpretation gone awry is the Freudian screaming about phallic symbols, or the Marxist crying about the plight of the working class after reading a text that most would agree is about neither.

The argument against such wild interpretations is that they force the text into an interpretive schema rather than allowing the text to speak for itself or to be “just what it is.” Sontag’s famous essay is one such instance, but her feelings have become well respected in critical debates.

If we compare Nude Descending a Staircase by Marcel Duchamp and Olympia by Edouard Manet, both show a female nude of pale skin contrasted against a darker background. Manet’s image as not at all difficult to make out. If a critic were to suggest a reading in which Olympia actually shows an empty bed in front of a Venetian lamp, he would be mocked. This is because Manet’s style is clear and fairly representational. However, it is less easy to disprove the critic who claims that Duchamp’s Nude Descending is not nude at all but is actually wearing a bracelet on her right wrist. This is because Duchamp paints less representationally than abstractly (I mean only that his works abstract further from visual forms than Manet’s. I do not intend to associate Duchamp with the American Abstractionists).

The fact is that neither image shows a nude at all. They are both merely paint on a canvas. If I see a woman or a display of bourgeois excess or a Venetian lamp, all these are only my own mental constructs and all are products of interpretation. There is no difference. I must use interpretation to reach any of these conclusions. A critic often will not notice this dynamic since he has become culturally accustomed to seeing an image and directly categorizing it. Even if there is not any moment of apprehension between when I see the Manet and when I know that it is a nude woman, the critic still uses his brain to turn the paint on canvas into art.

To give preponderance to a noncontentious interpretation over a less appreciated one is to deny interpretation altogether.

Schemata that argue to the contrary often, but not always, will suffer from the same problematic notion of ontology. A reading of any of these texts as existing in an objective state out in the world will inevitably fall into the problem of assuming that the painting looks “just so.”

Each viewer forms his own relationship to the text. To make claims about the state of this text outside of one’s own relationship to it leads to interpretive bigotry. When the interpreter forgets his position as viewer, he denies that nay relationship exists and insists that this reading or that reading is “reasonable.” The assumption that the work’s properties bear an overwhelming weight towards a single reading, even if it is a broad one, can come only from the critic who fails to see the limits of his subjective position as a viewer. The music of a concerto will change every time it is performed. The listener experience differs depending on where one sits in the concert hall.

A work’s identifiable properties ultimately reflect the state of the critic as much as the state of the work of art. We cannot say that a symphony evokes a certain mood unless we know what this mood is like before listening to the work. We cannot call Mahler’s symphonies “triumphant” unless we know what triumph feels like. We can now understand John Cage’s comment that the function of music is “to help people attain a more intense awareness of their own lives rather than to express a conceit of the composer.” Interpretation is a conversation, and both the work of art and the critic must bring whatever they can to exchange.

One fear with such an open approach to textual interpretation is that a critic could potentially claim to be interpreting a work of art and instead describe something wholly else. Imagine the film critic who describes his day leading up to the film, arrives a half hour late, and writes his review about the popcorn. The critic in this instance could claim that he is reviewing the film when in fact he is just reviewing his own stupid life, and leaves the reader with no idea whether to see this movie or not.

If we have an open interpretive model, there truly would be no way to prevent such an interpretation, or even to prevent its being called an interpretation. For even a piece written thusly could be executed well. Indeed almost every article Hunter S. Thompson ever wrote for Rolling Stone did exactly this. Hunter S. Thompson may not have given a very clear picture of the 1970 Kentucky Derby, or even who the winner was. But in “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved” he does give a clear picture of what Hunter S. Thompson does at the races. If I wanted to know the winner of this race, I probably should have read someone else’s account.

In the performance of a piece, say an opera, a gnawing urge remains. It may seem that some sort of homage ought to be given to the original writer. If I were to perform Wagner’s Parsifal it would seem that some manner of respect to the authorial intent or SOMETHING ought to influence the way I present the show. A historicist model of interpretation might examine how the opera was performed at the Second Bayreuth Festival in 1882. A literalist interpretation might look at the near-complete lack of stage directions and production specifications and conclude that a complete absence of set or elaborate costumes must result. A contextualist model might change the setting from Arthurian Spain to the Wild West. But if we are to allow an open contextualist model, how can the snobby opera critic prevent some upstart director from altering the dialogue? Or the score itself?

The answer again is that this cannot be done. It would remain a directorial task to decide if the director’s own dialogue would serve the director’s purposes better than the author’s original words. If such a brazen interpretation causes a riot on opening night, then so be it–good art sparks riots.

Each interpretation is a completely new work. No matter how near or far the performer stays to the original text, it will always be filtered through the performer. The author can make clear that the purpose of this work is to illuminate the genius of Wagner or Gershwin or whomever, but it will always be the director’s creative output. Wagner may have written the script and the score, but someone must still direct the opera. If Wagner’s genius is the theme of the performance, one ought to credit him as such. To do otherwise would be a breach of copyright laws. If the director’s own “genius” is the focus, then that director should take credit for his own ideas. An intercourse between the director’s hand and the author’s cannot be forbidden any more than any other legal, ethical artistic endeavor.

In the same way, the discursive interpretation of an artistic work is also itself a type of creative production. The critic who writes a fuming review of my Wild West version of Parsifal is writing to reveal the lack of genius of the opera’s director, in the same way that I directed the play to reveal the genius of Wagner. Wagner, it might be noted, would not have written this opera at all except that he felt free to give his own liberal interpretation of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s 13th century poem Parzival. If this is the case, then perhaps Jean-Luc Godard was right in saying that the best way to criticize someone else’s film is to answer it with a film of your own.

To interpret is to create. Reading a text is to enter into a relation with that text and all one’s individual nuances and background research may come out as one decides how to respond to that text. If one is a Freudian, this will be revealed in one’s review, but if one sees cigars only as cigars, this to will be reflected in one’s response.

One’s interpretation may be a written review of the piece or a straightforward performance of that piece or an avant-garde one. Or one may be inspired to generate a new piece that professes no ties to the original work. One would not be enabled to do any of these things if it were not for those individualizing aspects of human subjectivity. To say privilege a single reading of a text as normative, or clear, is to misunderstand one’s role as an interpreter and to misunderstand one’s position as a human being.

Every act of interpretation is an achievement of the soul.

The difference between a poetic argument and a logical one
25 May 2010, 8:08 am
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Logical systems will vary based on who you ask. The codification of technical form has necessitated several alien languages for logical structure, but the classical structure of a logical argument remains the same at its core.

Premise 1
Premise 2
Premise 3

A logical argument will lay out the truth conditions for the conclusion to be reached, and then explain why the stated premises do one of two things:

A) The argument forces the reader to accept the conclusion
B) The argument shows that a specific conclusion cannot be reached if we are forced to work within the stated premises
(this latter form is called a critique)

Here is an example of a logical argument put forth by Kevin Stack in his textbook The Regulatory State:

P1. To become a statute, a legal measure needs bicameralism and presentment.
P2. The authorial intent of the legislature has not passed through bicameralism and presentment.
C. Therefore, the authorial intent of a statute should not included in what is considered the statute.

This simplified summary of logical form is presented here to separate the logical argument from the poetic argument. While the logical argument makes its point within the bounds of linguistic argumentation, the poetic argument is one step removed from argumentation. The poetic argument is burdened by the constraints of language and instead reaches its conclusion intuitively. The poetic argument relies on paradox or hyperbole to reach its conclusion. In some cases, a semblance of logical argumentation may be maintained in the poetic argument. The poetical argument knows that it cannot compete against the airtight resistance to dissent of which the logical structure can boast. Instead the logical argument relies on another method of resisting sophistry.

The poetic argument usually follows two structures.

1) It is easily refutable if its purely literal interpretation is taken.
2) It is impossible to refute because the claims it makes are unverifiable.

Here is an example of a poetic argument from the sixth chapter of Matthew. I use an example from the Bible here, but Shakespeare and Pynchon are just as guilty of employing such a structure.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Here we have the simulation of logical structure. We have premises here, and we might even accept these premises if we are giving the apostle a charitable reading. The argument is not valid though because the conclusion is a non sequitur, not forced by the premises. Here is the breakdown of the argument.

P1. If one stockpiles treasures on earth, these treasures will decay.
P2. If one stockpiles treasures in not-earth (heaven), these treasures will not decay. (Note this is treated as premise, not the conclusion)
C. Whether one chooses to stockpile treasures on earth, or whether one chooses to stockpile treasures on not-earth (heaven), one’s heart will be there also.

A traditional Thomist interpretation of this passage would say, “the writer here means that if one focuses on accumulating worldly possessions, one will have a worldly frame-of-mind. Whereas if one focuses on heavenly achievement, one will have a more heavenly (and therefore godly) frame-of mind.” That is a particular interpretation of the text, one informed by centuries of precedent. However, it is not contained in the text itself.

Close inspection of the text shows not only that the conclusion is not forced by the premises, but also that it is no conclusion at all (and barely even a sensible statement). The distinction between earthly accumulation and heavenly accumulation is being drawn out in verse 19 and 20. A logical conclusion might make some claim about the difference between earth and heaven, or perhaps a procedural account of stockpiling (or “laying up for oneself”). Instead we have the introduction of a new element–that of the heart–which the reader is forced to reconcile with the first two premises.

The most striking ambiguity of the account is the failure of the Apostle to adequately define his terms. The concept of heaven, admittedly, is defined several other places in the book Matthew. Therefore I have given it the charitably non-contentious operative definition of “not-earth” in my summary of the argument. The introduction of the “heart” in this passage, warrants skepticism though.

First of all, it seems apparent that if I stockpile goods for myself in, say, a storage facility (on earth), my heart will not literally enter the pile of goods no matter how large the stockpile grows–it will always remain in my body. It appears that Matthew uses some mystical definition of “heart” in this passage. This is not without precedent. This peculiar use of the word “heart” is not isolated. It used in a similar way in other places in the book, but each of these is equally confusing, and do not serve to strengthen one’s understanding of the use of “heart.” I do not know the Aramaic word used here; I shall have to ask one of my biblical scholar friends when I get a chance. Suffice to say, that the word is translated as “heart” just the same in the King James Version, the New International Version, the New Living Translation, and Young’s Literal Translation of the passage.

So we could easily say, by logical argumentation, that Jesus of Nazareth (who is being quoted here) is remiss in giving us such an account. His conclusion is not supported by his arguments, and he fails to adequately define his terms. However, the argument has not been discarded as a lapse of clear reasoning or some textual ambiguity by any serious student of the book Matthew. I make no attempt to do so either. The reason for this argument’s continued relevance is that Matthew does not give us a logical argument but a poetic one.

A poetic argument is not the same as a poem. A poem makes an appeal to aesthetics for its relevance. A poem is beautiful in its emotionality, its lived experience, or its honesty. Poetry is a subset of art, properly considered. A poetic argument is not a work of art (according to a strict definition of art). A poetic argument does not have beauty as its goal. Like the logical argument, it reaches for truth. The difference between the poetic argument and the logical one is that the poetic argument bypasses the formalism that the logical argument requires.

So when Matthew argues that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” he is not arguing at all. If he had given reasons that this mystical sense of one’s heart becomes associated with the space in which one’s powers for accumulation engage themselves, then he would open himself up to discourse. He gives no reasons it should be so, he merely says “it is so” and allows the reader to interpret this as he will.

By putting himself outside of a discursive circuit, the speaker insulates himself from critique (remember the definition from the beginning of this section?) because there is no conclusion to critique, properly anyways.

So the poetic argument is both easily refuted (the heart is in the body, not in one’s treasures) and impossible to refute (what is “heart?” what are “treasures?” can earth and heaven be spatially compared anyway?).

The logical argument addresses ambiguities and resolves them–the poetical argument turns ambiguities into paradoxes and reallocates them towards the impact of the argument.

The poetic argument gives an account of being that relies on the reader to fill in the blanks in his mind. That is not to say that the poetic argument assumes the reader to supply the causal or rhetorical cues that argument skips over. Quite the contrary. It instead appeals to a precognitive understanding of being. It bases the conditions for its reception on the assumption that the reader shares an understanding of these precognitive structures. Whether or not these precognitive understandings reflect a normative sense of the world is irrelevant. The relevance lies in the popular appeal of an account of being that does not require tireless explanation and extrapolation. What a poetic argument lacks in refinement, it recovers in directness.

Ok so that’s a poetic argument. Perhaps better examples later. Just had to lay out my definition so I can use this term in future posts

A critical response to a celebration of Eliza Doolittle Day
22 May 2010, 4:59 am
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If you listen to NPR as much as I do, you may have run into this story.

In accordance with the rituals of musical theatre celebrants, yesterday, May 20, was Eliza Doolittle Day. In My Fair Lady, the film adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle, a cockney British girl with an atrocious accent is trained to refine her diction to the more aesthetically pleasing cultural conventions. In the film, Eliza battles off an invading army of giant interplanetary insects to impress the King of England, and in the meantime, learns that the rain in Spain falls only on the poor and illiterate. Actually, the premise of this entire film is that proper annunciation and speechmanship amount to the difference between wealth, friends and lots of attention, and life-long failure.

In the above NPR story, Marc Acito has proposed that renewed attention be given to the premise behind this film. He encourages a renewed cultural interest in 19th cnetury pronunciatory tendencies so that aesthetically pleasing word sounds can be reintegrated into what is considered laudable. Acito’s premises seem to be that culture finds itself in a “fallen” state, in which vocal maleability has strectched itself to a point of overcoming workable vowel and consonant distinctions.

In fact, the tendency Mr. Acito has noted is one aspect of the tendency for languages to evolve over time. Since the invention of the dictionary by Sam Webster at the beginning of the 18th century, the English language has not been able to evolve  in the way it has for the centuries prior. Note here that the first dictionary generally appeared in 1538 under the auspices of Sir Thomas Elyot, surveying the Latin language. Webster’s dictionary gave a sort of foundation to written literary conventions, where individual preference had reigned before.

If you have ever seen 17th or 18th century prose, you may have noticed the whimsically broad spelling possibilities employed. For example, rake, might have been spelled raike, raeke, raek, or even reike. The mobilization of the English language was at the discretion of its employer. The rules that governed spelling tendencies did not seize the general population, or even the educated public fully until the 1790s. It took nearly a century for written language to be considered as a stationary stricture. This is not to say that language itself was not fixed already in a different dimension. The dictionary did not solidify the English language. English expression maintained a rigidity not within writing but in pronunciation. As can be seen in My Fair Lady, high society maintained such strong opinions on word pronunciation that deviations became clear indications of stupidity, undesirability, and a lack of refinement.

The shift to today’s cultural climate in which the opposite can be considered true can be understood when we allow that pronunciation has been forced to allow for a certain freedom that spelling once did and no longer does.

It is as if the English language could be considered generally to have a constant solid component and an organic component. Until the 18th century, the solid component, or the independent variable, to put it algebraicly, had been the language’s pronunciation. Since this component was held in check by social norms and linguisitc emphasis, the ways in which words were expressed on the page became more important.

When the spellings of words became fixed, the conditions were laid for a shift in cultural consciousness. Of course shifts in social frames of reference do not happen overnight. Over a period of about a century, from the beginning of the 19th century to the end of the 19th century, the written component of language became considered more the dependent variable, while the spoken component of language slowly took on the role of independent variable. So speech took on the structural flexibility that writing once had.

This new direction of growth for the English language moved towards a centralization of mannerisms. In the same way that spelling variations gravitated towards the most easily accessible choices, so speech conventions gravitated toward the most easily accessible vowel forms. Of course, this had always been the case in linguistic evolution, but the breakdown of the social structures that mandated its maintenace, facilitated this shift under more passive conditions.

Pygmalion was wirtten in 1913, Shaw capture his experiences with the tail end of this phenomenon.

Lacan says that the unconscious is structured like a language, but an analysis such as this might suggest that languages are structured with an unconscious within their own natures. Languages need both structured analytical components, like grammatical rules and punctuation to be considered a language by any definition of the word. This might be homologous with the conscious mind. It would appear that languages also need room for organic motion, evolution, flexibility, and eros. This component of language works outside of the conscious minds of its speakers. Its motions do not revolve around the everyday of signs and signifiers. Instead, it imposes superegotic demands and extra-communicative currents on its speakers based on past traumas or events, such as the invention of a standardized dictionary. Perhaps this takes the metaphor too far.

Regardless, it becomes clear that the motion of the English towards more rustic pronunciations seems to indicate some sort of cultural break from the conditions of Pygmalion, in which culture prevented these shifts rather than encouraged them.

Part I of an Argument Against a Particular Sense of God
11 May 2010, 6:48 am
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A certain conception of theology may lead one to believe that the concept of God can roughly be understood as the collection of physical laws that affect reality–in the Greek sense of the word, the kosmos. The reference to God as a perticular individual would in this sense arise from the anthropomorphising of these physical laws. To know God, in this sense, would be to paint a face on gravity or perhaps the Newton’s laws of motion. God as the personality of order–Mr. Universe, even.

Levinas argues however that one’s identity is constituted in the face of the Other. In other words, as one is perceived, the perception of identity becomes identity itself. Levinas of course is working in phenomenological terms, so he uses Heidegger’s idea of the fragmented self, the complete reworking of the concept of self (Dasein is at its heart a nullity), and says that a whole self only arises in the face-to-face encounter. A whole self identity is only how one is perceived.

If we use Levinas as a lens for examine the above understanding of divinity, we reach a contradiction. By unifying and naming the “kosmic” elements of experience under the name God, we ultimately are reducing human understanding. Just as Moses was never allowed to look into the face of God, so by making the divine encounter a personal one, that of man to this-being-who-is-God, one’s possibilities of understanding the numinous are radically restricted. Thus by even construing a God-form, complexity is forfeit.