2 July 2023, around 4.56.
I felt a downright fear of mathematics class. The teacher pretended that algebra was a perfectly natural affair, to be taken for granted, whereas I didn’t know what numbers really were. They were not flowers, not animals, not fossils; they were nothing that could be imagined, mere quantities that resulted from counting. To my confusion these quantities were now represented by letters, which signified sounds, so that it became possible to hear them, so to speak. Oddly enough, my classmates could handle these things and found them self-evident. No one could tell me what numbers were, and I was unable even to formulate the question. To my horror I found that no one understood my difficulty. The teacher, I must admit, went to great lengths to explain to me the purpose of this curious operation of translating understandable quantities into sounds. I finally grasped that what was aimed at was a kind of system of abbreviation, with the help of which many quantities could be put in a short formula. But this did not interest me in the least. I thought the whole business was entirely arbitrary. Why should numbers be expressed by sounds? One might just as well express a by apple tree, b by box, and x by a question mark. a, b, c, x, y, z were not concrete and did not explain to me anything about the essence of numbers, any more than an apple tree did. But the thing that exasperated me most of all was the proposition: If a = b and b = c, then a = c, even though by definition a means something other than b, and being different, could therefore not be equated with b, let alone with c. Whenever it was a question of an equivalence, then it was said that a = a, b = b, and so on. This I could accept, whereas a = b seemed to me a downright lie or fraud. I was equally outraged when the teacher stated in the teeth of his own definition of parallel lines that they met at infinity. This seemed to me no better than a stupid trick to catch peasants with, and I could not and would not have anything to do with it. My intellectual morality fought against these whimsical inconsistencies, which have forever debarred me from understanding mathematics.
—Carl Jung (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, trans. Richard and Clara Winston, p. 28)
* * *
Why do we call something a “number”? Well, perhaps because it has a – direct – relationship with several things that have hitherto been called “number”; and this can be said to give it an indirect affinity with other things that we also call “numbers”. And we extend our concept of number as in spinning a thread we twist fibre on fibre. And the strength of the thread resides not in the fact that some one fibre runs through its whole length, but in the overlapping of many fibres.
—Ludwig Wittgenstein (Philosophical Investigations, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe et al., §67)
haven’t a clew
5 July 2023, around 4.27.
Like anyone who is capable of some introspection, I had early taken it for granted that the split in my personality was my own purely personal affair and responsibility.
—Carl Jung (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, trans. Richard and Clara Winston, p. 234)
1. Things that I liked about David Kishik’s Self Study: the form, the idiosyncratic organization of topics (i.e., the combination of autobiographical detail with belletristic philosophizing), the sneaky incorporation of pop culture buzzwords (spark joy, etc.).
The aphorism, the paragraph, the gobbet – oh how I admire these pleasant chunks of text that are, if not digestible, at least of a size for chawing.1 Kishik uses the daily approach (clearly with the hope of not appearing too quotidian) in much the same way Dylan Riley does in Microverses, another collection (to call it a book is to ascribe it a coherence it does not [quite] possess) that sparks an uneasy combination of interest, appreciation, and truculence. There is something sticky about these volumes, something that implicates the reader and makes the audience complicit in the author’s project, such as it is2; this stickiness is perhaps the source of the interest – and the irritation.3
I requested a waiter who had been staring at the coach like a man who had never seen such a thing in his life, to show us a private sitting-room. Upon that, he pulled out a napkin, as if it were a magic clue without which he couldn’t find the way upstairs, and led us to the black hole of the establishment, fitted up with a diminishing mirror…
—Dickens (Great Expectations, ch. 33)
2. Things that I did not like: the overall tone, including the navel-gazing, the whining, the lack of humor, and lack of humility (or perhaps the presence of a soft-pedaled arrogance); the idiosyncratic organization of topics (sign-posting was weak, so one experiences occasional whiplash at the turn in subject matter if one is reading it all in one go); the name-dropping (or perhaps merely the unctuous bowing at the shrine of Agamben); the misrepresentation of Stoicism (§26f.); the joyless fornication; the uninstructive discontent.
Kishik notes most of these faults himself – for which, bravo; however, he takes no responsibility for them and is content to pathologize them – for which, boo. Overall, it reminded me of one of the things that stood out in, for example, L.S. Dugdale’s rather charming book The Lost Art of Dying, which is the increasing medicalization and pathologization of normal experiences: for Dugdale, dying; for Kishik, living. A diagnosis is not the answer: it is an answer – but there are also other questions.4 The cold fish of your mind sometimes needs to make peace with the soft animal of your body. But I guess you feed the wolf (or fish) you want to win. Silly goose.
Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.
3. Key takeaway: Using Sesame Street’s version of the fort/da problem as an illustration of your reason for getting into philosophy (§82) is kind of weird. Walling yourself off from meaningful human connections (fort) to protect against the possibilities of parenthood (da) due to inter-generational trauma (passim) is also deeply weird, if more understandable. As has long been suggested, however, character may perhaps be destiny.5
- The spirit of my response here is perhaps in line with the following familiar quotation: ‘At the same minute came Portrait of a Lady, which the author kindly sent me. It’s very nice, and charming things in it, but I’m ageing fast and prefer what Sir Walter called the “big bow-wow style.” I shall suggest to Mr. James to name his next novel “Ann Eliza.” It’s not that he “bites off more than he can chaw,” as T.G. Appleton said of Nathan, but he chaws more than he bites off.’ —Marian ‘Clover’ Adams, letter to her father, December 4, 1881. There is something to be said for the ‘big bow-wow style’, but ‘but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me’ (Scott’s Journals, March 14, 1826). [↩]
- What, after all, is a project but a Brocken spectre on the slopes of time? [↩]
- It also makes me curious about (and wary of) Christina Sharpe’s Ordinary Notes, which appears to settle into a similar genre. [↩]
- Being born, after all, is invariably fatal, so one must do the best one can with the time available, and being proud of being a Gloomy Gus – or constantly airing one’s psychic wounds – is not the choice I would like to think that I would make, but to each their own. Analytical philosophy might be contraindicated for certain ills. [↩]
- One is at once Minotaur, labyrinth, Ariadne, and Theseus – and there is no contradiction in this, but one still needs to get a clew (see esp. OED entries 3 & 4). [↩]
A view (58)
8 July 2023, around 15.33.
13 July 2023, around 4.42.
…scarce appeareth any calamity, but if time be taken and opportunitie laid holde on, helpe and release doth as readely present it selfe, to the comforte of such as trauaile vnder the burthen, as affliction is readie to charge them…
—Timothie Bright (A treatise of melancholie)
19 July 2023, around 10.05.
Quis est enim tam conpositae felicitatis ut non aliqua ex parte cum status sui qualitate rixetur?
For who is so completely happy that he does not find something to quarrel with in his own condition?
—Boethius (Consolation…, trans. S.J. Tester, II.iv.41ff.)
30 July 2023, around 9.05.
…this selective blindness that is vital for decision making also means that there has to be a certain amount of looseness, of mess, illogical procedure, dead weight, and so on, in any given system. It will not be noticeable as long as the system is working; it might become more obvious in crisis, or it may emerge clearly when you delve into how any institution has operated at an earlier moment in its history. In combing through historical systems, a certain amount of detritus becomes visible, broken links, old information that was taken for granted, that smelled real at the time but turned out later not to be.
—Claire Fanger (Rewriting Magic, p. 164)
31 July 2023, around 4.19.
‘At this point the dialogue with myself became uncomfortable, and I stopped thinking. I had reached a dead end’ —Carl Jung (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, trans. Richard and Clara Winston, p. 171)
‘…psycho-analysis brings out the worst in everyone.’ —Sigmund Freud (The History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement [in the Standard edition, vol. 14], p. 39)
‘The best part of life are the hours we spend in bed. The ego has a marvelous faculty for finding its way around in the dark. Trust the ego and not your flash-light.’ —Henry Miller (The Book of Conversations with David Edgar, p. 17)
‘We forget, nowadays, the scarcity of treats that made a piece of self-made toast extraordinarily exciting: something you would spend your whole teens striving towards.’ —Ysenda Maxtone Graham (Terms and Conditions, p. 198)
‘“Polk-Mowbray was a perfectly normal well-balanced Englishman then. He had all the fashionable weaknesses of the eighteenth-century gentleman. He fenced, he played the recorder.” […] Antrobus leaned forward and said with portentous triumph: “He wrote good English in those days.” Then he sat back and stared impressively at me down the long bony incline of his nose. He allowed the idea to soak in. Of course what he meant by good English was the vaguely orotund and ornamental eighteenth-century stuff which was then so much in vogue. A sort of mental copperplate prose’ —Lawrence Durrell (Esprit de Corps, p. 21)
There was a chest of drawers under the window with a label gummed to the top: worthless sentimental souvenirs. I opened the top drawer. It was crammed to the brim and covered with a piece of sewing, on which Grand had pinned another notice: it is dangerous to open this drawer! I shut it quickly and pulled out the next. It was extremely heavy and revealed yet another notice: beware! open this drawer at your peril.
I drew back breathing deeply with frustration. […] Beware, indeed! It was all tommyrot. Of course I must unpack.
—Diana Holman-Hunt (My Grandmothers and I, p. 131)
‘Finally, and this is highly significant, he sent out a staff circular saying that any of the secretaries caught using phrases like quid pro quo, sine qua non, ad hoc, ab initio, ab ovo and status quo would be transferred. This was a bombshell. We were deprived at a blow of practically our whole official vocabulary.’ —Lawrence Durrell (Esprit de Corps, p. 23)
‘I really ought to say a good deal more, or a great deal less. It is an improvisation, like everything I am writing here. It is born of the moment’ —Carl Jung (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, trans. Richard and Clara Winston, p. 171)
‘…he had been very subdued that winter and apart from confessing that he was clairvoyant at parties and dabbling in astrology he had lived an exemplary life of restraint.’ —Lawrence Durrell (Esprit de Corps, p. 79)