O. K. Bouwsma Does the Forms

Imagine, for this purpose, a museum–a museum, deep in calm, fixed in breathlessness, done in silence, clothed in invisibility, awful, laid away in heaven.  And the walls thereof are purest essence, some quint-essence, some tri-essence, but none semi-essence.  If senescence is no wall, for neither is olderness nor youngerness any ness at all, all is evermore and never the less.  And of what essence and what essences are those walls?  Of all heavenlinessences are they and of brightlinessence the beaminest.  Essences participating in essence, like May-girls around May-pole enribboned, and enribboning one another, they ring-round this conjugation of hyper-supers…This is the museum of quiddities, of whatnesses in their highest nest, tucked away, ensconced, waiting for refiners defining, so fine they are.  The museum of none-such such-and-suches.

Let us enter…

John Locke Lectures, “The Flux”,

Reading Ebersole, Reading Bouwsma

(A section from an unpublished essay.)

Their pages crucially differ in animating spirits: I have talked about one
as mulish the other as sprightly. But I can say more. At an even deeper
level, Ebersole’s pages are animated by a strictness of linguistic conscience.
Bouwsma’s are animated by a spontaneity of linguistic consciousness—a lin-
guistic hilaritas libertatis. For example, there is an deep-going reason why
Bouwsma was attracted to and imitated pages of James Joyce, and self-
consciously built unacknowledged quotations or near-quotations of literary
works into the structure of his essays. Bouwsma provokes his reader ver-
bally, reminds his reader of all of the highways and byways of words, of all
the wonders of words, and of how their wonders can and should make us
marvel at them. Ebersole minces words. He was a working poet as well as a
working philosopher, but anyone who knows Ebersole’s poetry knows that in
it the same strictness of linguistic conscience is on display. I cannot imagine
Ebersole on a spree among words like Bouwsma’s in this passage of his John
Locke Lectures, a passage describing Plato’s Realm of Being:

Imagine…a museum—a museum, deep in calm, fixed in breath-
lessness, done in silence, clothed in invisibility, awful, laid away
in heaven. And the walls thereof are purest essence, some quint-
essence, some tri-essence, but none semi-essence. If senescence is
no wall, for neither is oldness nor youngerness any ness at all, all
is evermore and never the less. And of what essence and what
essences are those walls? Of all heavenlinessences are they and of
brightlinessence of the beaminest. Essences participating in one
another, they ring-round this conjugation of hyper-supers…This
is the museum of quiddities, of whatnesses in their highest nest,
tucked away, ensconced, waiting for the refiners defining, so fine
are they. The museum of none-such such-and suches.

Line up alongside that this from Ebersole’s (anticipatory-posthumous au-
tobiographical) poem, “Conversation with a Dead Philosopher” (a crow is
speaking):

The clock can’t tell you what it says
the way a human tells you.
Maybe I am just a mess of gears and wheels,
and everything I say
is just like half past two—
where I can’t tell you
what I say at all.
People stopped and puzzled when I talked,
wondered what to make of
anything I said.
And if I made them ask themselves
What of heads or tails to make
of a philosopher’s talking,
that was a good thing I did,
I would say.
Yes, I would say that.
Then he flew away,
calling “caw-caw.”

Here is another, related deep difference: it makes sense to say that Eber-
sole and Bouwsma each aims at a kind of simplicity, a philosophical sim-
plicity. But the simplicities aimed at are not the same. We can borrow
a pair of terms from French criticism in the nineteenth century: simplicité
and simplesse. The first we might call naive simplicity, the second
sophisticated simplicity.  The first is simplicity as a native endowment,
an unspoiled innocence or uncorruptedness.  The second is simplicity
as a complicated disposition, an achievement of disciplined responsiveness.
Ebersole presents himself as the simple man.  Bouwsma presents
himself as the simple wise man.  Ebersole’s mulishness, his strictness of linguistic
conscience, his simplicité mean that he is prone to be charged with failing to be a
philosopher by being a plain man. Ebersole can seem Xenophonic. Bouwsma’s
sprightliness, his spontaneity of linguistic consciousness, his simplesse mean
that he is prone to be charged with failing to be a philosopher by being a sophist.
Bouwsma can seem Protagorean.

Resolute Reading–New Paper Intro (Draft)

Below is the draft intro of my new paper, “Resolute Reading”.  I will post more as I finish the draft.

The Resolute Reading of TLP exerts a willy-nilly but mesmeric fascination. Its fans try to substantialize it; its opponents try to prevent its substantialization. We all know about food fights. But this is a recipe fight. Before the cake has been baked, indeed before the batter battered, the bakers fall on each other, rending and tearing.

Well, ok, so it is not quite as bad as all that. But it is bad, bad enough. Perhaps the worst of it is the seemingly interminable character of the debate. How is it to end? What are the (are there?) conditions of winning? What kind of debate is it, really?

I want to provide an answer to that last question. I hope that doing so will allow me to shed some light on the previous two. –When I say I want to provide an answer, I do not mean to say that I want to dogmatize about the answer. I want instead to suggest an answer that strikes me as helpful. If it turns out not to be the final answer, that is fine with me, so long as it helps us to the final answer.

Here is how I want to reach my suggestion of a helpful answer: I want to backtrack to a debate about Philosophical Investigations between O. K. Bouwsma and Gilbert Ryle. After reconstructing that debate, I will talk a bit about why it seems hopeless, why it is that Bouwsma and Ryle resemble two blindfolded fencers back-to-back, each lunging to deliver the final blow to his opponent, but each stabbing nothing but air. –Well, ok, so it is not quite as bad as all that. But it is bad, bad enough.

O. K. Bouwsma on Ecclesiastes (1958)

Consider the life of the professor.  He studies.  He reads.  “Of the reading of many books there is no end and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”  He talks.  He, fortune favoring, learns to understand a few things.   He teaches young people, who again, fortune favoring, learn to understand a few things.  He teaches young people who, again fortune favoring, praise him at lunch and quote his words, sometimes correctly.  They may think he’s bright.  He writes a book, or more than one book, and once more, fortune favoring, he receives a check for royalties, twice each year, invests this money in common stocks and eventually buys his wife a fur coat.  He makes his mark in knowledge, in praise, and some money.  He serves on committees.  He wins a prize.  He has his say at faculty meetings.  Once he gave a public lecture.  There was applause.  He is known as a solid citizen.  At sixty-five he says that he has had enough, and perhaps some others join him and say that they have had enough, too.  So he retires.  He grows old and dies.

Is there any special way of adapting the words of the Preacher to the life of the professor?  It is common, no doubt, and in the name of Aristotle to give special honor to the intellectual life.  What about that?

The point of Ecclesiastes is certainly that how you go on in life seeking to achieve distinction, the immortality, you so much set your heart upon, in this world, makes no difference.  You may leave your name in the rock, but your name in the rock will mean nothing to anyone.  How you carve it, what initials you write after it, Ph. D., will not keep it alive.  The harm in your life, your mistake, your sin, does not consist in your becoming rich, or in your being famous, or in your knowing so much.  It is in your expectations, in your esteem of any one of these, in your expecting a profit.  So we are back to the original corruption.  Why should your life, your labor, serve you?  If you look upon your life in these terms, then, of course, you must see that your labor will not serve you.  Your labor can serve only greed, to make you more greedy, insatiable you.  Must you be paid for your life, which is a gift to you?

“Your life is not your own.”

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