The Weblog

Home for the heteronomous

Sunday Quought: Language as Progress

It’s odd to talk about progress these days when everything seems backwards. We are given every reason to become pessimists and end up like Stefan Zweig. That these reasons are given by cultural pessimists might push us to withstand only because we want to deny them that victory too. Revenge, however, is their way so    whatever victory that kind of resistance would lead to would not be really ours.

There is, then, no other option then to find a basis for our optimism in reason.

“(..) the whole (society) is prior to the part (the individual), not the part to the whole; and the part is explained in terms of the whole, not the whole in terms of the part or parts.” G.H. Mead, “Mind, Self & Society”, 1934, The University of Chicago Press, p. 7.

Society is the soil and the individuals are the flowers. The flowers are not there just to fertilize the soil but the soil isn’t something we can leave unfertilized either. Staying on-metaphor: language is the fertilizer. It’s allowing the soil to bring forth better flowers but takes, without coercion, from those flowers to make for an even better soil.

Nothing can be further removed from current opinion. If only because it is dynamic – and this world of now hates anything that is elusive; anything that can’t be decomposed in parts and reassembled in the whole we (think we) need. We live in anti-Darwinian times where we think we can make leaps without evolving.

But aren’t our cultural pessimists the ‘owners’ of the primacy of the whole (society)?

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November 22, 2015 Posted by | language, life of the mind, Tuesday Quought | , , , | Comments Off on Sunday Quought: Language as Progress

Friday Afternoon Confessional: on ‘that’

I confess I feel somewhat different. I further confess that I am different from people who are really different in not being really – perceptibly – different. If I would do my life over, I would not be be bothered to do anything different except what I will do from now onwards. What I did was all fine; what I’m going to do just doesn’t cut it. I confess I’ll continue to live in the future where I know the right thing to do is to live in the past.

It’s complicated.

What I’m going to do is to think about writing a treatise on the word ‘that’. What I’m not going to do is just that. I confess that I admire this thing called language. Mainly because it isn’t anyone’s to call ‘That’s mine!’ (or ‘ours’ for that matter because ‘ours’ is the chicken shit way of saying ‘mine’).

Language starts with ‘that’. That’s what I think at least and I confess I’d like to convince you of it.

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June 5, 2015 Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional, language, language acquisition, life of the mind | , | Comments Off on Friday Afternoon Confessional: on ‘that’

Sunday Stories: Full Gass on Being Open

I’m jealous. So jealous I’m too ashamed to write out all my a’s. Who needs a’s anyway when you’re feeling a straight b? Flat, no capitals. Jealous of Gass, jealous of not letting the bile get out. I self-labeled myself the eternal cultural optimist and one must live up to one’s label nowadays or find no place in society’s shelves; shelf or be shelved, although that sounds better than it means. Such is the story of my life that I have self-censored what probably is my only real aptitude in it: a mild inclination to sarcasm, well-founded in an all-out hatred for ‘the way things are’. I am a self-made man in being the bottle for my own bile – only releasing some of its steam at moments of social stress such as dinner parties or occasions where I’m forced to listen (to dumb people, I wanted to add but one only ever listens to dumb people because only dumb people have a tendency to speak on public occasions).

So, as a matter of self-preservation, I need to find a way to reconcile both bile and optimism, so as to avoid bliss-less eternity too. Here goes the argument. Its form is to neutralize -1 and +1 to leave just N.

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May 25, 2015 Posted by | books, life of the mind, Sunday Stories, waking up in a cold sweat, Wittgenstein | , | Comments Off on Sunday Stories: Full Gass on Being Open

Sunday Stories: the man who couldn’t sell himself

‘Sit down’, he said: ‘Sit down’. I sat down. ‘Look up’, he said: ‘Looking up projects self-confidence’. I didn’t look up. There was a silence. I looked up. He had turned sideways looking out a window. His feet were up. I looked at mine. ‘I mean well’, he said. We both did. ‘Sorry’, I said. ‘Don’t be’, he said swiveling on his chair: ‘I mean well’. ‘I know’, I said.

It was something. Just about enough for him to tell me what my problem was. I knew what my problem was. He was not it. I was it. So he told me, telling me he probably wasn’t the first to tell me. He wasn’t the first. ‘You’ll need to learn to sell yourself’, he said. I looked up. ‘Why’, I asked. He turned sideways to the window again. I looked out of it as well.  Maybe  why walked there in the streets. ‘Why not’, he asked. Why not? I was puzzled. I left another silence. Silences irritated him. ‘Why not sell yourself’, he insisted. I felt the need to answer quickly. Continue reading

December 25, 2011 Posted by | life of the mind, Sunday Stories | Comments Off on Sunday Stories: the man who couldn’t sell himself

Sunday Stories: Gravity’s Rainbow (1)

A book club it is! I guess this would imply more than 2 members, and preferably more than 4. But I’ll ignore that, as I don’t have any prior first-hand knowledge of book clubs anyway and ignorance can be bliss.

I once read a dissertation of a friend of mine. It was about how art always preempted scientific discovery & philosophical insights. At least that’s what I think it is about; neither he nor I ever discussed it, mostly because neither of us were willing to risk to discuss it and disagree. Our children are friends, you see. And that’s just one good reason. Whatever it is about, it is the reason I read Gadamer and on that basis I gladly forgive all the references to Kuhn. I also had, by the way, a friend who was called Kuhn. He spoke a lot about paradigm-shifts in the context of technology. Stuff about how the type of communication that was at that time underground (literally!) would evolve to over-the-air, and vice versa. I am sure he got it from somebody else but that somebody else wasn’t even called Kuhn.

Giving I know nothing about Gravity’s Rainbow, let alone about how it should be read, I will read it as preempting some scientific or societal advance that is – as of yet – not permitting to be fully articulated. Continue reading

August 14, 2011 Posted by | life of the mind, Sunday Stories | , | 8 Comments

Adam Kotsko e-mail: akotsko (at) gmail (dot) com

I apologize for using the blog for this, but I have been regularly receiving e-mails out of the blue at my K College address, presumably because that’s the one that comes up in search engines. That e-mail will soon be expiring. If you wish to contact me, use the following: akotsko (at) gmail (dot) com.

April 1, 2011 Posted by | life of the mind | Comments Off on Adam Kotsko e-mail: akotsko (at) gmail (dot) com

Airport security and aesthetics

One guy tried to set off a bomb in his shoe, and now millions of shoes have been taken off and put through X-ray machines as a result. A couple of guys had a hare-brained scheme to mix deadly chemicals in the plane’s bathroom — which wouldn’t even have worked, as I understand it — and now we have millions of little plastic bags with little travel-sized toiletries.

Some might admittedly view these new practices as over-reactions. Indeed, some might even mourn the fact that there is no foreseeable way out of these stupid practices, as no politician wants to be the one who loosens up the rules and then gets blamed for the next terrorist attack.

But I think we need to look at the bright side — this is an opportunity for the greatest performance-art piece in the history of the world. All we need is a truly dedicated artist to stage an attempted attack and a new bizarre practice can be imposed upon millions of travellers for years to come. (Perhaps we could brainstorm in comments.) This heroic artist would need to be selfless enough not only to risk jail time, but to be willing to forego claiming credit for the piece, as the confession that it was merely a prank might endanger the new practice’s continuation (though who knows?). Only years later could the artist finally come forward and “sign” their massive work, which had played out for years on a stage the size of the entire nation, perhaps adding a note explaining that the project was meant as a commentary on our security-obsessed age, etc.

In a further twist, perhaps next time you’re unlacing your shoes in order to put them through an X-ray machine along with hundreds of your fellow citizens, you should ask yourself, “Has this already happened? Was the shoe-bomber just a performance artist?”

November 9, 2009 Posted by | life of the mind | 1 Comment


One of the major challenges in my life since getting a job has been coming up with new things to worry about. I realized that worry was necessary to my life the last time I visited The Girlfriend, when it became clear that in the absence of anything concrete to worry about, I began to experience full-fledged existential angst, which is not very compatible with a pleasant Sunday brunch.

In a major setback, this morning two worries — whether my direct deposit had been changed to my new bank and whether the laundry service was going to actually pick up my 45 pounds of dirty laundry — were solved when I made the mistake of actually inquiring about the issues and having my questions answered. Right now I’m really scraping the bottom of the barrel, as the best I can come up with are as follows:

  1. When I’m going to get my deposit back from my old landlord
  2. How to schedule my meals so that I get through the pasta sauce I made this weekend (artichoke-heart-based and not too great, sadly) and the leftover pizza from last week as quickly as possible while also avoiding pizza overload (there’s a meeting at lunch time tomorrow, featuring pizza)

Larger issues are the looming task of my Agamben translation and the question of whether I’m going to get an interview for AAR, but it’s still too early to do any serious worrying about the latter and the former will take care of itself by means of the “slow and steady wins the race” approach. Then there’s the general worry about conference papers and proposals still to write, but they’re factored into my “time management” already. All the other main candidates for worry are so vague that they would likely give way to existential angst — which only becomes a serious issue when I visit The Girlfriend again on Friday. Hopefully something will come up before then.

October 26, 2009 Posted by | life of the mind | 12 Comments

It’s official

I’ve written to professors other than my advisor to ask for letters of recommendation — my first major step in “hitting the job market.” I may also draft a letter of application today for a particularly promising opening that has an early deadline. Prep work up to this point has included going through the AAR job listings, requesting friends to get me APA and MLA job listings, and creating both a Word document and a spreadsheet tracking the jobs that seem plausible to apply for.

A note: If anyone would like to simply give me a tenure-track job without any kind of application, interview, etc., please let me know before I get too far into this process.

August 31, 2008 Posted by | life of the mind | 10 Comments