Saturday, February 26, 2011

C.L.R. James, Beyond a Boundary: Chapter 2, "Against the Current"

30-31, on the primordial struggle of his youth:
We know nothing, nothing at all, of the results of what we do to children. My father had given me a bat and ball, I had learnt to play and at eighteen was a good cricketer. What a fiction! In reality my life up to ten had laid the powder for a war that lasted without respite for eight years, and intermittently for some time afterwards -- a war between English Puritanism, English literature and cricket, and the realism of West Indian life. On one side was my father, my mother (no mean pair), my two aunts and my grandmother, my uncle and his wife, all the family friends (which included a number of headmasters from all over the island), some eight or nine Englishmen who taught at the Queen's Royal College, all graduates of Oxford or Cambridge, the Director of Education and the Board of Education, which directed the educational system of the whole island. On the other side was me, just ten years old when it began.
They had on their side parental, scholastic, governmental,and many other kinds of authority and, less tangible but perhaps more powerful, the prevailing sentiment that, in as much as the coloured people on the island, and in fact all over the world, had such limited opportunities, it was my duty, my moral and religious duty, to make the best use of the opportunities which all these good people and the Trinidad Government had provided for me. I had nothing to start with but my pile of clippings about W. G. Grace and Ranjitsinhji, my Vanity Fair and my Puritan instincts, though as yet these were undeveloped. I fought and won.
This was the battleground. The Trinidad Government offered yearly free exhibitions from the elementary schools of the islands to either of the two secondary schools, the government Queen's Royal College and the Catholic college, St. Mary's. The number today is over four hundred, but in those days it was only four. Through this narrow gate boys, poor and bright, could get a secondary education and in the end a Cambridge Senior Certificate, a useful passport to a good job. There were even more glittering prizes. Every year the two schools competed for three island scholarships worth £600 each. With one of these a boy could study law or medicine and return to the island with a profession and therefore independence. There were at that time few other roads to independence for a black man who started without means. The higher posts in the government, in engineering and other scientific professions were monopolized by white people, and, as practically all big business was also in their hands, the coloured people were, as a rule, limited to the lower posts. Thus law and medicine were the only ways out. Lawyers and doctors made large fees and enjoyed great social prestige. The final achievement was when the Governor nominated one of these coloured men to the Legislative Council to represent the people. To what degree he represented them should not distract us here. We must keep our eye on the course: exhibition, scholarship, profession, wealth, Legislative Council and the title of Honourable. Whenever someone brought it off the local people were very proud of him.
That was the course marked out for me.

Exhibition winner at nine and island schoolboy essay contest runner-up soon after, James seemed destined for the hallowed path to the Legislative Council. He had the ability to do it. But he didn't try. He was pulled away by cricket and English literature. But while cricket was a distraction, it also helped instill the Puritan, public school ethic in him.

I had been brought up in the public school code.
It came doctrinally from the masters, who for two generations, from the foundation of the school, had been Oxford and Cambridge men. The striking thing is that inside the classrooms the code had little success...
But as soon as we stepped on to the cricket or football field, more particularly the cricket field, all was changed. We were a motley crew... Yet rapidly we learned to obey the umpire's decision without question, however irrational it was. We learned to play with the team, which meant subordinating your personal inclinations, and even interests, to the good of the whole. We kept a stiff upper lip in that we did not complain about ill-fortune. We did not denounce failures, but 'Well tried' or 'Hard luck' came easily to our lips. We were generous to opponents and congratulated them on victories, even when we knew they did not deserve it. We lived in two worlds. Inside the classrooms the heterogeneous jumble of Trinidad was battered and jostled and shaken down into some sort of order. On the playing field we did what ought to be done.

The school was an artificial oasis from national agitation and racial struggle. Mr. Burslem, the selfless, decent headmaster, represented Britain at its best. The other teachers also behaved fairly and generously, regardless of the color of their pupils, at least to a very great degree. But an education that took Britain as the source and measure of all values, knowledge, accomplishment was ultimately stunting nevertheless. In any case, James found that in Trinidad outside the school, race still mattered a great deal. James was refused admission to merchants' contingent of soldiers to fight in the Great War because of his color. The school, however, where the masters were all outraged at the slight he had suffered, sheltered him from any mental trauma from the incident.

On the artificiality of his school friendships across social and racial divides, 40-41:
My great friend was U__. He was a rather frail boy and somewhat lacking in physical confidence, but he was a left-hander. I took him under my wing. I fielded second slip to him to feeble batsmen and took catches that I never afterwards equalled. I went out to extra-cover for hitting batsmen. Caught James, bowled U__ was a regular feature of the score-sheet in our school matches. That can be a close bond, and we spent countless hours together. But there came a day when U__ left, while I remained behind. Faithful to his promise, he came back to the school to see me. He came before six o'clock to see me playing on the field and then to walk with me the mile and a half to the railway station. He told me about his new life, and I gave him some news of the school. But after the first effusion there was an awkwardness between us. The conversation would stop and we would have to search to begin it again. He came another day to see me to the station and this time it was worse. We had nothing to say to each other, our social circles were too different, and he never came again. He went to Europe to study medicine and years afterwards, when we were grown men, I met him once or twice. We greeted each other warmly, but I was always embarrassed and I think he was too. There was a guilty feeling that something had gone wrong with us. Something had. The school-tie can be transplanted, but except on annual sporting occasions the old school-tie cannot be. It is a bond of school only on the surface. The link is between family and friends, between members of the class or caste.

On bowling, 44:
The ultimate greatness of a bowler is in his head. He has a series of methods of attack at this command, but where he pitches any ball and the ball following, where he delivers one and from where he delivers another, where he quickens the pace and where he slows it down, this is the result of a psychological sensitivity and response to a particular batsman at a particular time on a particular wicket at a particular stage in the game. To watch cricket critically you have to be in good form, you must have had a lot of practice, you must have played it. There were times in our club cricket at home, or when I went round English cricket grounds reporting the matches of the Lancashire team, or when I watched all the Test matches through the season of 1938, these were times when I could sense the course of an over from the way the batsman stood waiting between balls. If you know him well you could see when he was bothered. When Jim Laker writes that he bowled Don Bradman an over and knew that he had beaten him with every ball he is talking about bowling at its highest. In the rout of the Australians in 1956 the decisive factor was not Laker's off-spin. It was that he had them on the run and kept them there.

On batting, 45-46:
Quite early I learnt that, far more than with bowling, a batsman's innings is played more in his head than on the pitch. I have believed this from the days of Wallen until George Headley told me with passion that the ball he feared most was the the loose ball which came after he had been tied down for two or three overs. 'You went at it greedily and made a stupid stroke,' he said over and again. Nor is it the response of any individual. There is a zeitgeist of cricket. A particular generation of cricketers thinks in a certain way and only a change in society, not legislation, will change the prevailing style. More of that to come. First Wallen.
Wallen was a slow left-hander who came into the first eleven one year, opened the bowling, and had an incredible series of analyses, six for 11, eight for 17 and figures of the kind. When we talked about cricket to the girls at the High School even they would tell us: "Cricket! Wallen is the man.' but to the rest of us in the first eleven Wallen was a push-over. We had hit him all over the place for years and we continued to hit him. Our nets were open and at practice the earnest Wallen would place his field and we would drive him through the covers and as soon as he pitched short hook him round. We would go out to him and hit him from the off-stump to square-leg. The more wickets he took in competition matches, the more we hit him. Wallen complained that, contrary to practice, in matches he had a new ball, and undoubtedly he did dip in a bit while the shine was on. I was the secretary and manoeuvered to take a new ball out for practice and saw that Wallen had it just as I went in to bat. I hit him harder than ever. the climax came in the house match when Chinasing (Chinese, not Indian) and I put on 100 for the first wicket against the demon bowler, and that is a lot of runs on a matting wicket. I was a little more cautious (I didn't want him to get me out because I lived at the time in the same town as him, Arima, and we were good friends). But Chinasing drove him continuously. Came Saturday and, sure as day, Chinasing and I stood in the slips and saw Wallen mow down the opposite side.
A great military authority of the eighteenth century stood on a height one day watching his master napoleon carry out one of his audacious manoeuvers and was heard to say that he wished he had charge of the opposing army for but one half-hour. But if he had he would not have had the nerve to guess what Napoleon was doing and take the steps that seemed so easy. So it is with batting. Over and over again in every class of cricket one sees someone walking out with 'What a colossal ass I have been!' written all over him. I haven't the slightest doubt that if an unknown Wallen had played for any of the outside teams he would have got us out and taken his 7 for 15 as usual. David Buchanan, one of the destructive slow bowlers of his day, coached at Rugby and held no terrors for the boys there, who hit him about fearlessly. A great deal of cricket, and big cricket too, is wrapped up in that parcel. Sir Brian de Bois Guilbert, you remember, was slain not by the lance of Ivanhoe but by the 'violence of his own contending passions'.

Monday, February 21, 2011

C.L.R. James, Beyond a Boundary: Chapter 1, "The Window"

Childhood. Books on top of the wardrobe and watching cricket through the bedroom window. Landmark experiences: watching the dissolute Matthew Bondman bat and seeing Arthur Jones' cut shot caught at deep point. Puritan spirit of the family sustained by a fear of sinking into impoverished degradation. Family influences. Both grandfathers self-made immigrants from other islands. Convent raised mother, who absorbed puritanism and an indiscriminate love of reading novels. Schoolteacher father, who knew enough of the world to know what was worth reading. Cricket articles from magazines. Vanity Fair (from the age of eight). Bible stories and the the Bible.

James is at his best sketching pen portraits of members of the extended family who peopled his childhood, like Cousin Cudjoe, his aunt Judith, and his maternal grandfather Josh Rudder. James's vivid short profiles not only bring these personalities to life but also illustrate the larger struggles of black West Indians against racism and poverty.

19: "When I did spend time with my parents my father told me about cricket and his own prowess. But now I was older and my interest became tinged with skepticism, chiefly because my mother often interrupted to say that whenever she went to see him play he was always caught in the long field for very little."

28: "Me and my clippings and magazines on W.G. Grace, Victor Trumper and Ranjitsinhji, and my Vanity Fair and my puritanical view of the world. I look back at the little eccentric and would like to have listened to him, nod affirmatively and pat him on the shoulder. A British intellectual long before I was ten, already an alien in my own environment among my own people, even my own family. Somehow from around me I had selected and fastened on to the things that made a whole. As will soon appear, to that little boy I owe a debt of gratitude."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Chapter 2, "Metaphorics of Truth and Pragmatics of Knowledge"

Blumenberg starts by thematizing the truth value of absolute metaphors. This truth, Blumenberg claims, is pragmatic: absolute metaphors have historically provided a guiding or orienting function with respect to the world as a whole.

Blumenberg suggests that absolute metaphors can no longer perform this function adequately in an era like ours which is conscious of them, and that their function has been increasingly taken up instead by art.

14: "Absolute metaphors 'answer' the supposedly naive, in principle unanswerable questions whose relevance lies quite simply in the fact that they cannot be brushed aside, since we do not pose them ourselves but find them already posed in the ground of our existence."

14: "[W]e ask once again about the relevance of absolute metaphors, their historical truth. This truth is pragmatic in a very broad sense. By providing a point of orientation, the content of absolute metaphors determines a particular attitude or conduct [Verhalten]; they give structure to a world, representing the nonexperienceable, nonapprehensible totality of the real. To the historically trained eye, they therefore indicate the fundamental certainties, conjectures, and judgments in relation to which the attitudes and expectations, actions and inactions, longings and disappointments, interests and indifferences, of an epoch are regulated."

Cosmos is an answer to the question of what the world as a whole is that has proved enormously durable.

Blumenberg's turns to the metaphor of the mightiness of truth to see what a pragmatic approach to its meaning can uncover. He notes first that the power which is attributed to truth is related to an expectation that it is easy to find. He goes on to note that historically the metaphor emerged in the context of a concern with salvation. It is a characteristic first of all of Hellenistic thought and its therapeutic deployment of truth. Blumenberg argues that this new attitude toward the function of truth is the key to the divergence of Classical and Hellenistic thought. Where truth was the goal and consummation of human existence for Classical philosophy, it becomes a corrective in Hellenistic philosophy. Where Classical philosophy had an expansive agenda for truth , Hellenistic philosophy seeks to create a protected sanctuary for those truths which are necessary for salvation. Although Blumenberg does not make this explicit, the classical idea that truth reveals itself does not seem far off from the ease of finding truth implied by the mightiness of truth. The key change is that perspicuous truth is no longer assumed to be universal, but instead is understood to be restricted to a small set of truths.

Patristic thought takes up this economy of truth, and puts out of bounds as unnatural any inquiry which leads neither to salvation or any practical application. These restrictions on theoretical curiosity lent an air of the forbidden and unnatural to the pursuit of new research. With truth robbed of its naturalness, an explicit consciousness of method involved in acquiring truth comes to the fore.

With Francis Bacon, we get the metaphor of the world as a tribunal where the truth is found out and the association of the concepts of truth and labor.

Aristotelean pure reality -> Medieval pure activity -> world possesses truth because of God's creation -> modern conception of the truth as a product of human effort, and the concomitant valorization of the artificial in art and research.

Blumenberg traces the metaphor of knowledge as work in Descartes, d'Alembert, and Montesquieu. Among the consequences of the metaphor is the valorization of the machines and methods used for investigation. Blumenberg claims this drove development of apparatus and technique ahead even of the actual demands for them -- in a sense, new tools and methods created their own demand for use.

Goethe's attempt to revive the Classical harmony of man and nature involves a commitment to truth as open and self-revealing.

(An epilogue from LTG describing the Classical view: "Truth is there and you just have to look at it.")

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Chapter 1, "Metaphorics of the 'Mighty' Truth"

Blumenberg begins by noting the thinness of the conceptual history of truth, which he relates to the parsimony of its definition within the Western philosophical tradition. He suggests that the metaphors associated with the concept of truth are contrastingly rich and supple. He notes that the metaphor of light is most closely associated with the concept of truth, and then he claims that this metaphor must be seen in relation to the unstated but foundational questions regarding the status of truth. 7: "The metaphorics of light cannot be translated back into concepts; analysis seeks to disclose the questions to which answers are sought and risked, questions of a presystematic nature whose intentional fullness 'provoked' the metaphors, as it were." (This insistence that there is a dialogical, question-answer underpinning to concepts reminds me of Blumenberg's approach to historical systems of thought in The Legitimacy of the Modern Age). Some of these "naive" questions regarding truth: how much truth can we have? how easy is it to get? how much is it good for us to have? 7: "These are all questions that barely a philosophical school has attempted to answer with systematic means; we nonetheless maintain that everywhere in the language of philosophy, indications can be found that answers to these questions have always already been given in a subterranean stratum of thought, answers that, although they may not be contained in the systems in propositional form, have never ceased to pervade, tincture, and structure them."

Blumenberg contrasts the metaphors of truth that forces itself on one to the metaphors of truth that must be forced to reveal itself. The former is characteristic of ancient thought up to the time of Aristotle, and is associated with metaphors of light, openness, and transparency. The latter is associated with the Stoics and their doctrine of cataleptic presentation -- an argument which presents evidence so overwhelming that the hearer is compelled to assent (with the presumption being that one would be wary of granting assent). This is associated with the metaphor of imprinting.

The classical metaphorics of powerful, self-activating truth was taken up later in patristic thought and scholasticism. It survives even into the modern era, but more often in a subsidiary function. The force of truth is an assumption, for instance, of Vico's theory of error, but his focus is on the linguistic means by which human beings resist that force. For Hume, there is a skeptical reversal, in which whatever idea compels us most strongly is what we call true (although his view is made palatable by a rather benign teleology of nature).

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Introduction

The Cartesian goal for philosophy -- obtaining truth that is both perspicuous and expressed in unambiguous concepts -- implies the twin redundancy of figurative language and the history of concepts. There is no longer a use for them in a system of thought whose concepts provide a complete and definitive account of the world. But the superfluity of metaphor had been a premise of philosophy from Plato onward. Philosophy has seen metaphor as an a mere adjunct, as a tool used to make an argument more persuasive without changing its content, so that, in principle, a metaphor could be replaced by explicit argument. Blumenberg posits the existence of (and will seek evidence for) metaphors that cannot be replaced in this way, because they provide a foundation for philosophical language. He calls these absolute metaphors. He sees them as akin to the symbols of the ideas of reason in Kant's Critique of Judgment. He notes that calling these metaphors absolute does not mean that they are fixed and their functions cannot be replaced by other metaphors; it only signifies that they cannot be reduced to concepts. This fungibility of absolute metaphors means that they can have a history, and that this history underlies the history of concepts.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power: Chapter 6, "Two Matters of Choice"

Since presidential power depends on the president's ability to make choices, preserving that power means not getting boxed in by previous choices. (This is not Neustadt's metaphor, but I think it is apt.) Neustadt analyzes two presidential choices that went bad in this way: Eisenhower's decision to allow his own Treasury Secretary, George Humphrey, to speak against the budget plan of 1957 and Truman's acceptance of complete conquest of the North as a war aim of the Korean War in the fall on 1950. Eisenhower's decision robbed him of bargaining power because his own budget couldn't be taken seriously as a starting point. Truman's decision undermined his ability to persuade the public that a lesser war aim -- cease fire on a defensible line -- was acceptable.

Neustadt contends that the burden of seeing the stakes of presidential choices for his future power falls on the president alone. The way that his power could be restricted later by his choice may not be obvious from the situation, and his advisers will be of no help because they will see things only from the perspective of their expertise. I think Neustadt overstates this. First, at least some of every president's advisers are not policy specialists, and hence not prone towards blindness to consequences outside a narrow domain of expertise. Second, a president's lost leeway for action on any issue will affect the interests policy specialists in that area, so they would have some reason to be aware of the stakes of decisions for presidential power.