Blue Book Family Likenesses–Craving Generality?

There it is.  In every photo in which I am pictured standing empty-handed.  (I am nearly always empty-handed.)  I stand as my dad stands–or stood when he was younger.  I don’t mind that, even if I find it eerie, even if it provokes me to distances–from my picture and from my body at the moment of viewing the picture….

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I mention this because I have been teaching the Blue Book and talking with my students about family likeness (BlBk) or family resemblances (PI).  It is remarkable, given the clarity (at least here) of Wittgenstein’s rhetorical construction, that so many come away from the section thinking that Wittgenstein’s revolution consists in replacing a quixotic quest for commonalities with a promising quest for family resemblances.  –As if the attack on the question “What is the meaning of a word?” really reduced to a shift in quest.

Not that there’s anything wrong with family resemblances.  Or with commonalities for that matter.  Except deciding that one or the other is the philosophical desideratum, the fated form of philosophical finality.

The family resemblances bit is a way of reminding us that ‘unity’ is said in many (at least two) ways.  It is not the replacement of one unity-prey with a different unity-prey.  Be wary of going a-hunting for commonalities.  Be wary likewise of going a-hunting for family likenesses.  Throttle back that craving for generality:  don’t just change gears.

Chuck vs. Buffy?

In my Chuck book, I mention that my other favorite show is Buffy.  I ran across this paragraph in a ‘cuts’ section of my manuscript.  It needs elaboration, sure, but I thought it of interest.

Comparing Chuck to Buffy is useful in a variety of ways.  Let me mention a few, briefly:  (1) We might say that Buffy takes the ordinary, hurtful experiences of high school and college–the anxieties, fears and frustrations–and incarnates them as monsters, demons, vampires, ancient evils.  Chuck takes the ordinary, hurtful experiences of our lives with ourselves and with others–the doubts, hesitations, confusions, and alienations–and amplifies them into exercises of spy-craft.  (2) Buffy’s characters have a special lingo, an idiolect, all their own. The dialogue is often quotable for its own sake.  Chuck’s characters, although they use the guild language of the intelligence community, have no special idiolect that is all their own.  Appreciating Chuck’s  dialogue turns almost wholly on the keeping track of (what J. L. Austin called) “the total speech act in the total speech situation”.  That is a technical way of saying that we have to keep careful track of the context of what the speaker is doing with his or her words, both in their immediate conversational context and their context in the life of the speaker.  We must attend to the full circumstances in which the words are said.  This is true of Buffy too, but the point is that its dialogue achieves a kind of stand-alone significance that Chuck’s does not, and that can make Chuck’s dialogue seem less crafty and careful.  But Chuck’s dialogue is crafty, although it does not exhibit all the dimensions of craftiness that the dialogue of Buffy does–and Chuck’s dialogue certainly is careful.  (3) Whereas Buffy centers on no one single couple across its run, Chuck does.  It follows the various ways in which its central couple, Chuck and Sarah, are together.  The show is a grammar of togetherness, declining its inflections–its tenses and moods.  If we consider Buffy’s many couples, including those in which Buffy is one half, but also those of other characters, we could say something similar of it.  But Buffy assembles its grammar more loosely, less obsessively.  Buffy, at the end of the day, concentrates on Buffy in a way that Chuck does not concentrate on Chuck.   

 

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