Monday, July 26, 2004

Let the erudition begin..

Jus' testing the waters...

16 Comments:

Blogger Kaiser Gestalt said...

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10:13 AM  
Blogger Kaiser Gestalt said...

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11:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today's Sunday Times has a story (page 3) headlined 'Cult director Tarantino in Muppets film'.

The opening paragraph reads as follows: "Film director Quentin Tarantino, famous for his cult blood-and-guts movies, is to star alongside the Muppets in a new film."

Presumably it is supposed to be surprising that a purveyor of action flicks would be appearing in a children's film. How strange that a 'blood-and-guts' director is mucking about with the Muppets.

This level of cultural illiteracy should be borne in mind when the press makes pronouncements (moral or otherwise) on the state of popular culture.

Thanks Hectic Blog!

1:55 PM  
Blogger Kaiser Gestalt said...

The TLS sent me a letter the other day.

Well, I received some junk mail asking me to subscribe to the TLS. I wish it were possible for me to reproduce the entire letter here, but I really don’t feel like it. So here are some salient bits:

“Dear Reader

For over 100 years, the Times Literary Supplement has set the tone for the intellectual debates shaping our times.



A TLS subscription, perhaps more than any other, denotes a certain intellectual feistiness. A confidence in one’s own opinions tempered with a willingness to entertain the views of one’s peers.

On the subject of ideas, much has been written (some of it even in grammatically correct English) about the supremacy of the Internet and the corresponding demise of the printed word. But you and I know something the pundits appear to have forgotten.

Books are still the primary source of new thinking. To keep you abreast of the intellectual currents flowing through our culture, the TLS reviews the most important books published each week… These closely argued essays are just one of the reasons why I feel so strongly that you will enjoy receiving the TLS each week. For you are someone to whom books mean much more than just light reading. You are [I am?] engaged with the world of ideas, and nowhere will you find a more stimulating, enthralling and critically acclaimed guide to that world than the TLS.”

Clearly these people are not to be trusted. But why?

I think there is an important but undervalued epistemic principle that can help clarify what may be wrong with the above passage: hipness as a truth-satisfying condition. There is much work to be done regarding hipness generally – not least a satisfactory working definition – but it is in terms of knowledge that I think the most valuable contributions can be made, and where, ironically, there is a so little work done.

These comments are suggestive rather than proposing any systematic account. My aim is to invite and encourage debate. But I think it is important to mention what I think will be constraints on where this discussion can take us, and outline some basic ideas.

The term ‘truth-satisfying condition’ is misleading here. But this is the historical usage and I think it presumptuous at this point to modify it. It seems to imply that hipness is a necessary condition for truth, which I am sceptical about. Certainly hipness is not sufficient for truth (just look at Naomi Klein et al ) (1). My assertion is more modest: hipness (in the relevant sense and appropriate quantity – whatever these may be) will make something (epistemically) more probably true. A lack of hipness will make something more probably untrue (or less true) (2).

Another constraint is on when it is appropriate to employ the principle. Not, loosely speaking, with regard to ‘matters of fact’. Empirical facts and logical statements are the most obvious cases (3). The principle is appropriate where truth-values are ambiguous and murkier (forgive my imprecision, again this is suggestive). Arguments of rhetoric, aesthetic values and so on. Not arguments where a statement is either true or false but (really) ‘more true’ or ‘less true’ (4).

It may also be useful briefly to sketch the most useful sense of hipness and see some reasons why it may be so important. This is the area in which I expect the most exciting research will be done. I look forward to readers’ submissions.

First (firstly?), hipness seems to accompany (/be extensionally equivalent with/is entailed by?) the elusive quality of ‘getting it’. Some people get it, many don’t. They just don’t get it.

Listing those who do get it is a useful exercise, and this is a project we should probably undertake. But the primary aim should be to try and define and understand what getting it really is, and what it involves.

Second, hipness seems to indicate a degree of sensitivity to the times. This can sometimes actually be reason for wariness. An argument may have a very transitory appeal, its force derived merely from a brief cultural whim. Or a text may be very much ‘of its time’, piggybacking on the social mood rather than meaningfully commenting or reflecting on the social order. To do this successfully is itself not an insignificant feat (think of all those embarrassing adverts trying to emulate youth culture) but is liable to be superficial at best (those slick teen ad campaigns that do work). What is relevant here is keenness of observation, a feel (I like this word, I think it is key) for what is going on.

The third is that hipness indicates creativity, inventiveness, originality and (at best) a groundbreaking sensibility, a genuine avant-gardeness.

Of these, I think the first is both the most difficult to pin down, and the most important. One may fulfil conditions two and three, and still just not get it. This happens not infrequently with ‘public intellectuals’. There are many smart, sensitive, original intellectuals who just don’t get it. Here, perhaps more than anywhere, the hipness principle is more important than ever. In some such cases, it may even be our only reliable discriminating tool.

There are thus two basic categories of enquiry: what are the logical relationships between truth and hipness (and knowledge); and how are these manifested, how do we recognise and understand these values, how are these values instantiated, who possesses them, and so on.

Over to you. Its time to reset the tone for debates.



NOTES:
1. I have never actually read Naomi Klein. This would never happen in a rigorous and careful publication like, say, the TLS, where reviewers are required at least to have read the reviewed book. But I think this supports my point. Some may dispute the counter-example by denying these works actually do posses hipness, or hipness in the relevant sense. I think this is plausible, but am convinced other suitable examples exist. This may make for interesting debate.
2. I have slight qualms about using the term ‘probably’. I may modify this at some later time. Note that this does not refer to any strict technical account of probability.
3. The author assumes there are some objective values.
4. Perhaps I am being overcautious. Science has precise truth criteria. But how are scientists to choose amongst competing theories that are likely to be true, or may turn out to be successful. Often they do so by reference to elegance and simplicity, or even beauty (in a sense related to the other terms). But there are various ways to go about doing this. Suffice, for now, to say that Richard Feynman was way cooler than Murray Gell-Mann.

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

kaiser, you loveable old fule, why the fitzgerald are you posting your posts in *comments* and not on the blog itself?? i am reasonably confident this is why they are not appearing.

11:48 PM  
Blogger jermaine noble said...

a blog post with footnotes, how perfectly absurd. i have not yet read your post, but my eyes happened upon the phrase "genuine avant gardeness", which i found suspicious in my knee-jerky way.

11:57 PM  
Blogger jermaine noble said...

Of these, I think the first is both the most difficult to pin down, and the most important. One may fulfil conditions two and three, and still just not get it.so.. in order to have fulfilled the first condition (wherein "get it"), you first have to "get it"? i don't get it.

12:04 AM  
Blogger jermaine noble said...

i have a feeling this depends on what my definition of "it" is.

12:07 AM  
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