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The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."





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Saturday, September 12, 2020

YOU STILL DON'T GET IT


All right, I guess I’m just going to have to talk about this. Here is Wallerstein’s comment:

“My sister worked for many years in Queens. Most of the people she worked with are Trump supporters (she's not one) and from how she described them, the implicit association in the original post between coming from Queens and misusing the English language as expressed by an ex Ivy League philosophy professor with radical politics views would just confirm them in their support of Trump whom they identify with, among other reasons, because he does not speak like an ex Ivy League philosophy professor with radical views, who they imagine looks down on them.”

This misunderstands my original post in so many different ways simultaneously that it is rather hard to sort them all out. In the first place, I was not expressing my views about the relative merits of Queens and Manhattan, which views, I might say, are virtually nonexistent. (Just to avoid yet one more misunderstanding, I am not saying there is no difference between the merits of Queens and Manhattan, simply that I have no views about those merits, such as they may be.) I was referring in my comment to what I had read about Trump’s father as a way of trying to understand Trump’s decision to give 18 tape-recorded interviews to Bob Woodward, a choice so insanely against self-interest as to cry out for explanation. When it comes to the feelings of real estate developers about one another I have, as they say, no skin in that game.

Secondly, there is absolutely nothing in that original post that has anything in the slightest to do with any sort of connection between coming from Queens and misusing the English language. I come from Queens, after all, and I don’t misuse the English language. Now if you can take a deep breath and get past whatever personal hangups you may have, it will be obvious to you that in my view Trump’s use of the word “strenuous” is not in any ordinary sense a misuse of language that has anything at all to do with whether one was or was not at some point long in the past an Ivy League professor with or without radical views.

I try very hard in these posts and elsewhere in my writing not to make points in a flat-footed, clunky, prosaic manner. I try – I leave it to others to decide whether I succeed – to write with a certain quickness of wit and lightness of touch, relying on my readers to grasp my meaning rather than trying to cram it down their throats. 

If we can leave to one side Queens, Manhattan, Trump, and politics, why do I seem to care so much about language? Well, would you be surprised if a professional musician cared about whether a performance was played in tune? Would you be surprised if a professional dancer cared about whether someone’s movements were graceful? Would you be surprised if a professional tennis player cared about whether someone served aces? Language is my art, it is my sport, it is the way in which I strive to express myself and to create things of beauty. So I am more than ordinarily sensitive to Trump’s strange misuses of language. As for the clearly implied accusation of snobbery in Wallerstein’s comment, may I remind him and the rest of you that I walked away from Manhattan and the Ivy League 49 years ago, in part because I was offended by that snobbery.

4 comments:

Michael said...

"I try very hard in these posts and elsewhere in my writing not to make points in a flat-footed, clunky, prosaic manner. I try – I leave it to others to decide whether I succeed – to write with a certain quickness of wit and lightness of touch, relying on my readers to grasp my meaning rather than trying to cram it down their throats."

Well, in my opinion, you very much succeed. :)

This phrase - "relying on my readers to grasp my meaning rather than trying to cram it down their throats" - struck a chord with me. I'm afraid you've hit on one of the principles of good writing that I struggle terribly with. Philosophers can be a bad influence in this way - it's as if they teach the aspiring writer to guard against every conceivable misinterpretation, no matter how far-fetched, and in the process to burden the reader with a heap of footnotes, parentheses, qualifications within qualifications... You get the picture. (And I'm already illustrating the very difficulty I speak of!)

Schopenhauer puts the point well, somewhere, in one of his many barbs against German philosophy. I'm a little too pressed for time to search out the exact one I have in mind. But pretty much everything Schopenhauer says about writing is very, uh...good. Check him out:

https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/03/20/schopenhauer-on-style/

jeffrey g kessen said...

Michael, hey, I'm a fan of Schopenhauer's too, though his preference for poodles over cats is suspicious. Try a good dose of early English analytical philosophy if you want to get your prose right. Start with A.J. Ayer's, "Language, truth, and logic"---nevermind (for now) the philosophy.

Danny said...

I might have supposed that it was the Trumps, who were tiresome and conceited bores, in the constant measure of status and snobbery. The Trumps and their incessant competetiveness and egomania.

Danny said...

'Now if you can take a deep breath and get past whatever personal hangups you may have, it will be obvious to you that in my view Trump’s use of the word “strenuous” is not in any ordinary sense a misuse of language that has anything at all to do with whether one was or was not at some point long in the past an Ivy League professor with or without radical views.'

Hooray, for what is obvious to me.