Tag Archives: form/content

Cannery Row (1)

“It was deeply a part of Lee’s kindness and understanding that man’s right to kill himself is inviolable, but sometimes a friend can make it unnecessary.”
John Steinbeck, The Short Novels of John Steinbeck, Penguin Books, 2009, p. 410.

Why quote a crooked sentence out of a book full of exquisitely rounded ones? Because it is the idea that counts. The formulation of the idea helps but is not the essential part of why something resonates. Formulation fetishism is probably the predominant attitude in assessing the value of writing but in the end it is a lot like preferring The Harlem Globetrotters to the Dream Team.

What is the ‘it’ in the quote? What can a friend make unnecessary? Surely not a man’s right to kill himself. It must be the desire to exercise the right. That’s what it is to be a friend: to acknowledge your friend’s autonomy without leaving him or her alone in expressing it. Everything comes back to the Principle of Charity, including applying charity to a sentence with a, let’s assume, unintended twist. It is with language as it is with the main characters of Cannery Row:

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The Right To Be Lazy

“Proletarians, brutalized by the dogma of work, listen to the voice of these philosophers, which has been concealed from you with jealous care: A citizen who gives his labor for money degrades himself to the rank of slaves, he commits a crime which deserves years of imprisonment.” Paul Lafargue, The Right To Be Lazy, 1883.
(Translation as per this site.)

[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 13-12-2008.  This post is 3 years old and quotes a text of almost 150 years old. For all of the crying out for change the truth is that everything which is happening and everything being talked about on both left and right is about The Duty To Be Industrious. Too bad, it will cost us another couple of decades before we see the new light. Read to the end of you do have the stomach for it; the language is bad but the twist at the end is nice.]

There you have it: you think you have an original idea just to find out it has been discovered a mere 150 years ago, by a rather obscure pamphlet-writer of rather more than less blackandwhitery, no less. The vice of modesty may still have its virtuous moment ūüėČ

He is right of course, for the same reasons as I was right: neither you nor I whatever our origin and whatever our talents, are really anything more than the instrument of an upper class when we sell ourselves to further the goal of others. Continue reading

Zu theoremen der Motivationskrise

“Eine prinzipielle Moral ist mithin ein System, das nur allgemeine Normen zul√§sst (d.h. Normen ohne Ausnahmen, ohne Privilegierungen und ohne Einschr√§nkung des Geltungsbereichs). (..) Formalit√§t heisst, dass keine konkreten Verpflichtungen (wie im traditionellen Naturrecht oder in der Ethik), sondern nur abstrakte Erlaubnisse rechtlich normierbar sind (Handlungen d√ľrfen nicht geboten, sondern nur freigestellt oder verboten werden).”¬† J√ľrgen
Habermas, Legitimationsprobleme im Spätkapitalismus, edition suhrkamp, 1973.

[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 14/10/2008. I will be restricted to re-posting the old material for lack of inspiration and motivation. It should get a little bit better post after post. At least that’s what I hope.]

[Amateuristic English translation: ” A principled morality is therefore a system that only allows general norms (i.e. norms without any exceptions, privileges or limts on its applicability). (..) Formalness means that there are no concrete obligations (like in natural law or in ethics) but only abstract permissions which are rightfully put as norms (actions cannot be ordered but only allowed or forbidden).”]

Not what I wanted to quote; I would have preferred something non-political, in English and preferably something linguistic. But this is what I came across, and my old fascination with the subject outweighs the less-than-lyrical Habermasian style.

So, here goes: morality and ethics or, cross-wise, content and form.
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The Winter of Our Discontent

“Men don’t get knocked out, or I mean they can fight back against big things. What kills them is erosion; they get nudged into failure. They get slowly scared. I’m scared. Long Island Lightning Company might turn off the lights. My wife needs clothes. My children – shoes and fun. And suppose they don’t get an education? And the monthly bills and the doctor and teeth and a tonsillectomy, and beyond that suppose I get sick and can’t sweep this goddam sidewalk? Course you don’t understand. It’s slow. It rots out your guts. I can’t think beyond next month’s payment on the refrigerator. I hate my job and I’m scared I’ll lose it. How could you understand that?” John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent,¬† p. 14, Penguin Books, 1961.

I started reading again; luckily I’m not a man to keep with any plan. This is great. Steinbeck is great. American lit is great. As if it feels a responsibility to make up for the lack of American history. When I read this in context I thought this is the kind of stuff capitalism generates.¬† I was wrong: this is the human condition. The problem is not hope but the lack of it. Or, seen from the other angle, the problem is not hope but the omnipresent all-pervasive fear of losing it.

The key word in the above, for me, is ‘refrigerator’. Continue reading

Transzendentale Methodenleere

“Freilich fand es sich, dass, ob wir zwar einen Turm im Sinne hatten, der bis an den Himmel reichen sollte, der Vorrat der Materialien doch nur zu einem Wohnhause zureichte, welches zu unserem Gesch√§ften auf der Ebene der Erfahrung gerade gera√ľmig und hoch genug war, sie zu √ľbersehen; dass aber jene k√ľhne Unternehmung aus Mangel an Stoff fehlschlagen musste, ohne einmal auf die Sprachverwirrung zu rechnen, welche die Arbeiter √ľber den Plan unvermeidlich entzweien, und sie in alle Welt zerstreuen musste, um sich, ein jeder nach seinem Entwurfe, besonders anzubauen. Jetzt ist es uns nicht sowohl um die Materialien, als vielmehr um den Plan zu tun, und, indem wir gewarnet sind, es nicht auf einem beliebigen blinden Entwurf, der vielleicht unser g√§nzes Verm√∂gen √ľbersteigen k√∂ntte, zu wagen, gleichwohl doch von der Errichtung eines festen Wohnsitzes nicht wohl abstehen k√∂nnen, dem Anschlag zu einem Geba√ľde in Verh√§ltnis auf den Vorrat, der uns gegeben und zugleich unserem Bed√ľrfnis angemessen ist, zu machen.” Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Reinen Vernunft, Reclam, 1966, p. 726.

[Re-posted from The Old Site, somewhere in April 2008. This will probably always be my all-time favourite quote and the rest of this really is rather irrelevant, in perspective. This is the origin of Quadrialectics.]

(semi-official English internet translation: “We have found, indeed, that although we had contemplated building a tower which should reach to the heavens, the supply of materials suffices only for a dwelling-house, just sufficiently commodious for our business on the level of experience, and just sufficiently high to allow our overlooking it. The bold undertaking that we had designed is thus bound to fail through lack of material – not to mention the babel of tongues, which inevitably gives rise to disputes among the workers in regard to the plan to be followed, and which must end by scattering them all over the world, leaving each to erect a separate building for himself, according to his own design. At present, however, we are concerned not so much with the materials as with the plan; and inasmuch as we have been warned not to venture at random upon a blind project which may alltogether beyond our capacities, and yet cannot well abstain from building a secure home for ourselves, we must plan our building in conformity with the material which is given to us, and which is also at the same time appropriate to our needs.”)

He may not have been a poet but he nevertheless produced via the above a sublime poetic truth.

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L’existence et le n√©ant

“Si l’on passe (consciemment ou inconsciemment) par l’id√©e du n√©ant pour arriver a celle de l’√™tre, l’√™tre auquel on aboutit est une essence logique ou math√©matique, partant intemporelle. Et, d√®s lors, une conception statique du r√©el s’impose: tout para√ģt donn√© en une seule fois, dans l’√©ternit√©.” L’√©volution cr√©atrice, Henri Bergson, Quadrige/PUF, 1941, p. 298.

“La n√©gation diff√®re donc de l’affirmation proprement dite en ce qu’elle est une affirmation du second degr√©: elle affirme quelque chose d’une affirmation qui, elle, affirme quelque chose d’un objet.” ibid., p. 288.

[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 30/03/08 – this actually is a crucial and important one, but I won’t have the time to correct it with justice. Too bad, another time – on request maybe.]

(amateuristic English translations:

“When we pass (consciously or inconscuously) from the idea of nothing to that of being, the being we end up with is a logical or mathematical essence,¬†and therefore timeless. And, from that point onwards, a static conception of reality imposes itself: everything appears given at once, for eternity.”


“Negation thus differs from what is properly called a positive assertion in that it’s an assertion of the second degree: it asserts something of an assertion that, it, asserts something of an object.”)

Things esoteric and spiritual cannot be farther removed from my grasp of reality. However, I admit (quite reluctantly) that I am attracted to the relation between pure logic/mathematics (also unavoidable in linguistics)¬†and our dirty everyday real world, specifically because of the mystery that still persists in it. It should then not be a surprise to see here a quought on where logic and reality come apart, not in the spirit of providing evidence for a ‘something more’ but rather in the thriving tradition of meeting complexities rationally but head-on.

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medway charter of the unimpressed

“garranteed basic wage
for non-werkers

the rite to bed

the rite to wank

 the rite to plentifull
supplies of good food

the rite to alcaseltzer
all the essential

the rite to raise late
retire drunk

the rite to free water
solid shoes

the rite to lack
all the rest

the rite to good women
good men
to the toothless
the ugly
the dumb

the rite to discuss
points of view
as people
not sex
or colour”

 Billy Childish*, The Deathly Flight of Angels, Hangman Books 1990, p. 38-39.
(*B. Childish is dyslexic, this poem appears as written by the author.)

[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dated 26-02-2008. No changes at all, too much respect for this memory.]

I couldn’t have put it better, &¬†I didn’t: “the right to lack ambition, religion and all the rest.” ‘Decadent!’, say the people according to the opinion conceived in them that freedom is a thing to fear, a thing to consume in small portions & at designated times. Decadent it is …

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