The Probabilistic argument.
On the other hand, the implication that mere passing of time in some cases may even create some luck sounds doubtful. One may object that consideration of time intervals and S’s actions involves even more implicit assumptions. Especially, the question is still not clarified in the light of obvious intuition that someone could be “gettiered” by Russell’s clock, in principle. It seems we have to do better.
If a statement makes sense then this can be translated from one language to another. In order to answer on a possible objection I will try to draw an analogy between the forms of Gettier’s and lottery’s cases and the mathematical language of the Theory of probability. If this attempt is success we’ll get the corresponding consistent statements.
Note that a probability P is a measure of the chance that an event will occur. The P is a priori prognosis, before the fact. If an event happened then we may ask what was the probability of the event in past? Same characteristic has conditional probability. The probability of an event A given that the event B occurred is the forward probability. We can determine the a posteriori reversed probability P (B given A) as if the event A occurred then P is the probability that one of possible condition B had place. Thus, this issue is also about past events and therefore this can be expressed in terms of forward probabilities using Bayes’s Rule.
Next, I will consider possible interpretations of three probabilistic cases: P (A), P (A and B), P (A given that B).
The simple case P (A) shows the chance that an event A will occur. It is the form of the lottery’s case, for example. Can we ask about degree of cognoscibility of possible future results of a throw of the dice and tossing the coin? Can I know more authentically that tomorrow I will see a car accident than a fall of a meteorite? Since we are discussing that “S knows that p” and “p is truth” these events are equally unknowable despite the fact that the probabilities are not equal. The prognosis is not the fact exclude only one possibility when P (A) = 1. The probability of a future single event does not indicate that it is knowable if P (A) < 1. But iff P (A) = 1 we can assert that the event will definitely happen and therefore we know it now. Note that the case P (A) = 1 does not depend from a degree of luck rather from the presence some sort of luck.
Because of that the version of the safety principle proposed by Duncan Pritchard, (SP**), seems to work properly in lottery’s style cases:
S’s belief is safe iff in most nearby possible worlds in which S continues to form her belief about the target proposition in the same way as in the actual world, and in all very close nearby possible worlds in which S continues to form her belief about the target proposition in the same way as in the actual, the belief continues to be true (see Pritchard (2007: 290-2)).
Indeed, if we take the set of all very close nearby possible worlds as a sample space comprised of the collection of all possible outcomes then we get the certain event, P (A) = 1. Here the event A is “that p is true”. Moreover, there is no vagueness about “very close nearby possible worlds”. They differ from the actual world only in the results of the experiment “that p”.
Can we draw some information about events then P (A) <1? We saw that they are likely epistemic unknowable but we can estimate the chance of S to be involved in the process of cognition of the event A in future. It will play important role in next cases.
There is some kind of coincidence in the Gettier’s cases or using Zagzebski’s account there is the coincidence of “good luck” and “bad luck” (see Zagzebski 1994, 66 p). We may describe that in two ways. Either there is conjunction of two events A and B or there is the event A given the condition event B. Implicitly we tend to look on those situations as indistinguishable. But if we take an event B as a condition then the other event A occurs either simultaneously or later. As we saw conditioning can work in an unexpected way. We have by definition of conditioning probability that P (A given that B) = P (A and B) / P (B), 0 < P (B) < or = 1. Therefore, always P (A given that B) = or > P (A and B). Note, that the probability here rather describes the chance for S to be “gettiered”. Certainly, it is more likely that S is “gettiered” by already stopped clock than the coincidence that S consults clock in a very same moment of stop. The participant of the Gettier’s cases operates in time and consequently the estimation of probability helps us to assess the likely degree of friendliness of epistemic environment.
We can assert that in some Gettier’s cases the mere passing of time makes the environment epistemic risky or unsafe. Moreover, we can strictly say that if there is a Gettier’s case as the coincidence a good luck event and a bad luck event then it is more likely that the one event occurred earlier than the other. This statement corresponds with the Bayes’s Rule for reversed probability as well.
Thus, we show from the probabilistic point of view that in some cases the mere passing of time keeps the degree of epistemic luck; in the others it even arises this degree.
There may still be an objection. Why we don’t care about epistemic environment in a lottery’s style case? The answer can be given as follows: we have limited class of cases by the restriction that P (A) =1. It eliminates the influence of the circumstances because there are certain events.
The other class of cases includes more possibilities. In the case of coincidence, events could not happen but they happened by describing of case. This class of cases include also events that happened certainly but coincidence with another event doesn’t occur necessarily. For example, I know that tomorrow will be sunrise. I don’t know that I will see it for sure. On the other hand, today I saw sunrise and I knew that there was sunrise and I saw it. In addition there is another case that today was sunrise even if I didn’t see it because I was sleeping.
The scheme for constructing definition.
As we’ve seen, the parameter “a moment of time t” has deep and counterintuitive connection with luck in some important cases and it can be taken as the boundary condition for the definition of knowledge. Thus, all situations that “S knows that p” are divided into two types. Either S knows in the moment t that p (t) or S knows in the moment t that it will be that p (t + dt), dt > 0.
In order to establish the working model which can be diagnosed we draw two principles. One is modification of Prtchard’s safety principle: S’s belief is safe iff in all nearby possible worlds in which S continues to form her belief about target proposition in the same way as in the actual world the belief continues to be true. As the consequence of this principle there is safety condition (SC): S knows that p if S’s belief is safe.
The second useful principle lies at the base of the argument of the creditable approach to the account of knowledge and follow variation of ability conditions (AC): S knows that p if S believes the truth because of the exercise of S’s relevant cognitive abilities.
Thus, the scheme for definition of knowledge is formed in a following way:
If S knows that p (t) then apply ability condition (AC)
If S knows that will be p (t + dt), dt > 0 then apply safety condition (SC).
In addition, note that there are several types of epistemic luck: content-, capacity-, evidential- and doxastic epistemic luck. Despite the fact that some of them contain coincidences they are all compatible with knowledge (see Pritchard (2005), p. 140). But veritic epistemic luck is only one bad sort of luck for knowledge. It may be worth to consider two types of veritic luck. The probabilistic veritic luck overtime and afflicts future events. The coincidental veritic luck afflicts the current events. As we’ve seen, it is not at all easy to make proper intuitive evaluation of the sort and degree of those types of luck.
The consideration of proposing frame for definition depends on our attitude towards to the understanding of the word “know”. If we tend that one cannot know about wining in the fair lottery even though the chances to win could be either 1% or 99% then safety condition has advance in the lottery case and in the case of superstitiously unreliably formed belief. In recent literature is reviewed in detail.
We have to pay attention to the cases that S in the moment t knows that p (t). By way of illustration, consider the case of Henry in Barn Façade Country but using pervious methodological intuitions about describing of case. Let’s suppose that Henry is at the border of Barn Façade Country which consist 99 fake barns and one real barn. The real barn placed randomly somewhere along the Henry’s road and the probability for every position is 1/100. If Henry will take a look randomly only one time on one of barn façades what are the chance for him to be “gettiered”? Note that if Henry will normally look at a barn façade and form a false belief that he is looking at the barn this is nothing to worry about. We want to evaluate the chance that he will look at the one real barn. Suppose that probability that Henry will look at the façade number N is 1/100 for every N then we have situation with two random value and the chance for Henry to be “gettiered” is 1/100 * 1/100 or 0,0001. Let’s change the circumstances that this country consists 50 fake barns and 50 real barns distributed randomly and equiprobably and probability for any position has a real barn or fake barn is ½. In this case the chance for Henry to be “gettiered” is 1/100 * ½ or 0,002. So, despite of friendliness of environment where fake barns are less common the chance to be involved in Gettier’s case is even higher. Those chances will change dramatically if we change slightly any probability. So, different describing or understanding of case can implicitly change the chances. This illustration demonstrates that the safety condition has a strong claim that p has to be true in all nearby possible worlds. This claim put us immediately in position that we cannot know about any uncertain event even if it happened already or happens right now before us.
So, we need abandon the safety condition to other alternatives. It can be ability condition or may be someone can propose more precise developing of definition in case of S knows that p (t). Indeed, if Henry deserved the credit by getting out from his car and taking precise consideration of his environment then we can account him as a knower. It seems as very strong demand to form researching strategy for a knower but really we know only a little using usual cognitive patterns in supposing of existence of unusual circumstances.
Of course, still many objections could be imagined. There are cases as meeting of a protagonist of a case with “epistemic demon” who changes any circumstances. The demon set a clock, change a data and equipment and so forth. I cannot provide entire consideration of “demon’s cases” exclude one notation that methodologic intuition appeals to be careful in the possible degree of idealization in counterexamples because it easy put us before a row of infinite sceptic demands. Anyway, further I will discuss one counterexample proposed by Pritchard which can be associated with the safety condition or ability condition as well.
Archie is a professional archer. He goes to the shooting range, picks a target, and takes a shot. Suppose that unbeknownst to Archie, he is shooting at the only target at the shooting range that is not equipped with a hidden forcefield that would repel any arrow fired at it. There are two events in this case. The first event is “Archie in the moment t chooses the right target”. The second event is “Archie is shooting the target”. At the first event Archie didn’t use properly his cognitive ability because he didn’t check the shooting range. If we suppose that it is a sports qualification with special service at the field and the service makes possible the sabotaged targets then we are in a situation where “an epistemic demon” has able to eliminate any our knowledge. If Archie just came with friends into forest to take some fun by shooting targets then it is acceptable for him to prepare carefully the shooting range. The second event is considering easily. Archie knows that he will hit the target iff from that location (relevant initial conditions) he will do it in all nearby possible worlds. Actually, even it is counterintuitive Archie’s arching ability doesn’t need to be explore deeply in this case.
Eventually, we can assert that common intuition about sort and degree of luck is misleading in some important cases. There are crucial distinctions in degree of luck in cases of coincidence of events and conditioned events. It is not always obvious how they can be detected in descriptions of counterexamples. One of the methods for detecting degree of luck is to consider the passing of time and thus to be able to form the scheme for definition of knowledge by using the time axis. Therefore it is possible to make noncontradictory definition consisting of different epistemic intuitions.
In this paper, I will argue that a definition of knowledge may require a complex scheme involving several wide classes of knowable situation where the definition can be form quite certainly. In the development of what Duncan Pritchard argued that anti-luck virtue epistemology which consistent connects an anti-luck intuition and an ability intuition can avoid crucial problems I will provide a very simple base for decision how we can properly use the different intuitions. A difficult but necessary work is to offer some formal characteristics allowing to refer a particular case to one or another area of the definition.
The problem of an accurate scientific definition.
I will begin with the consideration of the point of view proposed by Russian philosopher Mikhail Rozov. It aims to pull out some of methodological intuitions, so we take a look briefly on his thoughts by considering one example shown in his papers. It is the definition of a material spot or dot in the physics. One way of definition is that a material spot is an object which has a mass and has not size or dimensions. Other way is to say that, for instance, planets could be considering as material spots in case of the calculation of the orbits. More abstractly, Rozov asserted that if we make a verbal definition of an object we use necessarily some idealizing concepts, which do not exist in reality as an object with mass and without size. If we define an object by using certain samples then it becomes depend from the relevant context and this context represents boundaries of the usefulness of the definition. Further Rozov tried to show that describing the events by using certain samples relate to the precise verbal definition as complementary properties. This properties can be analyzing as the application of the uncertainty principle in the philosophy. But we needn’t go so far. It is permissible to form the first methodological intuition that using certain samples or counterexamples for a definition needs the consideration of degree of idealization of the objects and following infers about zone where the definition works properly. It isn’t an approach to a contextualist account rather it is the methodological claim for building counterexamples.
Does anti-luck intuition fail?
There are some sharp cases in the Theory of chances that put us in suspicion about sufficiency of common epistemological intuition for rooted statements concerning luck and knowledge. Let’s consider the tosses of a coin. If the coin is flipped repeatedly fifty times and we got the observed sequence of outcomes. What is the chance that one will see at least five consecutive heads somewhere in a sequence of a fair coin? What are the chances of encountering such a success run of length five if there are 100 tosses?
The answer for the first question is 55% and for the second is 81%. It seems counterintuitive due obvious result that probability to get success run of length five through first five tosses is just about 3%. So, does repetition change the degree of luck? There is a famous “hot hand” phenomenon. For example, a basketball player who typically makes one in two shots makes five shots in a row in a game in which he took vary many shots. Conventional wisdom asserts that the player has a “hot hand” where his chances of making a shot are much higher than normal. The team should give him the ball as much as possible. But there is a counterintuitive alternative. It is not unlikely that the player will have a run of successes in a long sequence of efforts. The observance of a run of successes in hence to be expected and does not indicate any unusual temporary state of affairs. The “hot hand” phenomenon is a widespread cognitive illusion.
There are many other probabilistic paradoxes as the Bertrand’s paradox, “the Two Envelopes Problem”, the Monty Hall problem, “the Three Prisoners’ Problem”, and so forth. For instance, the Bertrand’s paradox is the problem that probabilities may not be well defined if the method that produces the random variable is vague. Some frame for the solution in that case may consist the principle of maximum ignorance that we should not use any information that is not given clearly. All these problems show a gap in our intuition about degree of luck because the correct results are so counterintuitive that it can seem absurd.
The explanation some of Gettier’s cases involves assumptions that we can exclude or include circumstances in aim to form counterexamples. Especially, it looks acceptable then the events seem to have no influence on the agent’s way to come to belief that p because they often seem to be independent. But from pairwise independence does not follow mutual or total independence of system events. Three coins are tossed. Event A1: coins 1 and 2 fell heads up. Event A2: coins 2 and 3 fell heads up. Event A3: coins 3 and 1 fell heads up. There are all pairwise independent events but probability P (A3) = 1 given that events A1 and A2 have occurred. Here we have same system as in the case “a sheep on the field” where a farmer is associated with the sheep given that a hairy dog and the sheep have the definite positions. Apparently, we must to decide to what extent it is possible to change conditions and does it entail crucial impact in the degree or sort of luck.
Another question about epistemological intuition occurs in cases of conditional probability. A family with two children is known to have at least one boy. What are the chance the other child is a boy? May be intuitive answer is 50% or 25%? The correct answer is 33% due the condition (to have at least one boy) restricts the sample space of the possible events. Thus, conditioning provides information that can effect degree of luck in much unexpected ways.
On the other hand, we cannot ignore the total consent among epistemologists about whether or not an event consists some luck. It brings us to the second methodological intuition that using certain cases as counterexamples for a definition of knowledge needs to get distrust towards intuitive grasping of the degree of luck. In the time of that we can still trust our sense of presence or absence of luck itself in a case.
The key case.
Consider Russell’s famous clock example. S wants to know what time it is and looks at a clock which indicates the correct time, say 13:19. So, S comes to believe that it is 13:19. Unbeknownst to S the clock has stopped and, as a matter of luck, just happened to indicate the correct time when S checked it. By detailed discussion of this case I will argue here that we can draw a clear criterion for prototype development of an account of knowledge containing features of different epistemological approaches.
Using the abovementioned methodological intuitions, it is plausible to ask which entities are involved in Russell’s case. Do we mean the ideal subject S with perfect cognitive agency? Does the time flow continuously? And the crucial question is next. What does it mean that a clock is stopped or the clock is working? What is the accuracy with which the clock works? It appears relevant to say that the time flows continuously and S has excellent perception. Can we idealize the situation that the clock shows absolutely correct moment of time? If we can it means that the clock has, for example, a dial with infinite countable sequence of digits. Thus, it turns us to the reality situation where any clock shows a time with certain accuracy. In other words, there are clock’s dials with discrete intervals. Thus, a protagonist of the time-case can come to believe that time is 13:19 < or = t < 13:20 if a clock faces 13:19. I will consider further the clock face with minute intervals. Intervals of different duration could be all similarly discussed in light of S’s ability to grasp the information. Thus, the problem of someone “gettiered” by Russell’s clock sounds as S comes to believe that time is greater than or equal to 13:19 and less to 13:20 and it is truth by matter of luck if S consults the clock in that interval.
Let’s consider now what does it mean that a clock doesn’t work anymore? Could it be that we use some implicit premises as existence of the exact moment of stop of continuously working clock? If we consider an electronic clock where there is no mechanical movement then the moment of stop could be identified only in 13:20. It is the very moment when dial should show 13:20 but it doesn’t. Imagine that S looks at the working clock for a while. S properly sees 13:17, after that 13:18 and 13:19. So, she concludes that time now is in the interval [13:19 ; 13:20) and she knows it until exactly 13:20. If the clock face will not show 13:20 due the brake then S couldn’t be “gettiered” in the moment 13:20 that time is 13:20.
Thus, if a clock worked properly in the recent past then at the time of first moment of stop it is impossible to show correct time due the clock shows the lower boundary of the time interval. But the situation will change completely 11 hours and 59 minutes later. We can assert that S knows in the first interval of stop clock and S doesn’t know later because it is possible to come to believe that time is in the interval [13:19 ; 13:20) when the clock faces 13:19 and the clock undoubtedly stopped 11 hours 59 minutes earlier. Perhaps our intuition fails here. The only difference between two situations that the time has passed. The mere passing of time cannot turn non-knowers into knowers (see Reed 2000, 66-67) but return process is possible. So we can form the thesis: a mere passing of time either transfers the degree of luck or increases it.
There may be the objection which turns to the opposing view (see forthcoming Baumann). Suppose, S owns an exquisite and expensive Swiss watch. It is the Kind of watch which need not to be set for decades. Whenever she consults it for the time it shows the correct time. But neither she nor anyone else has any clue that the watch was set after a Russell’s clock, exactly one year ago. So, it seems that she is the knower. Let’s take a careful look on the degree of idealization in this case. If someone set the watch using another clock without any verification then precisely we can assert that the watch is accurate to within plus or minus 2 minutes. It is a case if we don’t mean the instant absolutely accurate clock setting. Therefore, if watch shows correct time it is a matter of luck in the moment when S consults it.
We can slightly modify the case. For example, unbeknownst to S, a friend of S set the stopped clock accidentally very precisely even if he didn’t want to care about accuracy. After that S consults the clock and comes to truly believe about the time. Remember that the original Russell’s case has an implicit premise about reliability of the clock. It makes S’s belief justified. In both last cases the process of setting violates the premise of the reliability of the clock. The added conditions effect the degree of luck. Even if it can seem counterintuitive we cannot count S as a knower rather S doesn’t know about crucial conditions as it often happens in Gettier’s cases. Moreover, the degree of luck not only transfers here but, by passing of time (given added conditions), S is more likely to be “gettiered”.
Ethics Are Not Real
If Moral Philosophy is founded upon or based on choices – along with their rightness, wrongnesss, appropriateness, necessity, etcetera – how can they be real or even legitimate when (in fact) no one can ever know what their choices will ultimately entail?
Choice is of great, vital concern to the issue of Free Will. It is a Metaphysical question. So, as choice remains compromised by both environment and predisposition, ethics are furthermore proven to be of little merit as an area of philosophical enquiry.
Thus, Ethics are null and fully sterile because of the Epistemological impossibility raised by Metaphysical Determinism.
The Universal Inquiry
The most timeless and quintessentially philosophical question is one that, I maintain, cannot be answered. It’s a most unfortunate reality that many of us do not give the universe the thought and theorizing its very existence demands. Perhaps this is why it is ignored; hard questions require quite a bit of rigorous cogitation – and not everyone has a fondness for challenging the mind.
It would be an understatement to call this concern God or to otherwise regard it as inherently singular. The question – as I refer to it – is not really just one; it is so great that it contains component analyses and different modes of inquiry. So perhaps I should more accurately call our concern a line of questioning.
Why is there something (the cosmos) rather than nothing? Why does material exist – I mean, wouldn’t the absence of complexity and matter be favored? It seems that there has been some effort to overcome non-existence. What kind of force is this? Is it sentient in nature? How did galaxies and physical dimensions come to be? When did space-time start? Is there a purpose to life and the astronomical powers that govern and contain it? Who, if anybody is behind all of this?
Human comprehension has its limits, and I believe one understanding we plainly cannot grasp is the size and enormity of all that there is. There are planets, stars, black holes, quasars, and entire galaxies – and that’s just to give name to some of the phenomena we share space with. Just as the concept of infinity or endless being escapes our minds’ capacities, it’s likely that we cannot fathom the size of the universe.
But like these questions I’ve laid out may not be answerable – forever nebulous and mysterious – well, that doesn’t mean that such thinking and mental power should not be devoted to the pursuit of greater ideas and cogitations. That’s just nihilistic and ignorant. Just why some lack such curiosity is something that escapes my explanation. But then again, many things escape explanation; that’s what this is all about, after all.
It has been posited that space-time had a definite start – the big bang – and that, furthermore, our Universe is still expanding (beyond the infinite?). As a consequence of such belief, some hold that all that exists will have a definite end: that as expansion continues, binding physical forces will become impotent and therefore cease to exert influence, these fundamental forces of physics may themselves simply die out, putting an end to all that is. It seems that the universe would then be dead. But then what?
Time comes in to question now, because the opposite theory has its strong adherents too – the idea that all will eventually collapse back down to a point of unfathomable density, at which point another big bang of creation will give rise to a subsequent universe. This idea would mean that time, matter, and existence is cyclical – but even then we tend to believe that such a cycle had to have a beginning. When? Perhaps no one can know – but further scientific discoveries driven by these mind-bending inquiries can indeed get us closer to the truth(s) of being.
Sentience is a fun one. We have self-awareness, allowing us to dispassionately examine mental states, behavior, and causality. Can we prove ourselves to be self-aware? I think we can safely say its empirically provable. So that raises the tantalizing idea of cosmological sentience or the possibility that a transcendent entity (whether we refer to it as God or not) is an answer to why and how all this is, is. Believing this is not illogical; at least I think it isn’t.
What is illogical is accepting a creator as the ultimate answer and stopping there, not going further in theorizing the cosmological origins and any comprehensible nature of God. Like I’ve said, this end-all answer enjoys its popularity because it eliminates deep, difficult thought – effectively a form of surrender. Inquiry becomes discounted and unappreciated as a focus within life and our being. This should never be the case.
Many have claimed that a universal and constant property (or quality) belonging to the human race, demonstrated by all its members, is that of creating. That is somewhat poetic; we are creators within a grand creation, maybe put here by (an) intelligence far beyond our own, capable of actions on a cosmological scale. What a being this would be!
An examination of specific and proven forces of nature can only get us further. The laws of thermodynamics are interesting. It is nice to know of certainties and quantifiable phenomena. This is one of the obvious lures of science, a reason people become scientists, why organizations such as NASA exist; science should give us all a sense of satisfaction – nullifying the depressing emotion of purposelessness and the frustration with knowledge that nihilistic, defeatist thought finds its underlying force, explaining its unfortunate prevalence. Well, that got tangential quickly. Anyhow, on to the fundamental forces of physics and thermodynamic laws…
Electromagnetism, gravity, the strong and weak nuclear forces, and the most contemporary property, as far as research goes – quantum mechanics – make up the central concerns of known material (or, more precisely, matter). Thermodynamic laws are far more compatible with philosophical inquiry than these hard and fast established phenomena, but they’re very much related and intertwined. The most pertinent principle at this point is that of entropy, the force described by the second law of thermodynamics. Formally, entropy is the measure of disorder within a closed/isolated system.
Philosophically, this should be considered as some kind of rule that dictates all material and matter inherently favors chaos and decay. It makes sense; nothing lasts forever; things fall apart and mechanical systems break down; structures (buildings, consumer goods) within our world eventually wear out and construction, likewise, gives way to destruction. That means that all within our universe should eventually lose their binding properties – definitional qualities – and that, ultimately, everything will stop being that which it once was. This is compatible with the dead universe theory. The functionality of closed systems, when disorder has rendered them unrecognizable, will cease – and it should follow that all life will die and galactic phenomena (planets, stars) will disintegrate.
What’s worse is that this law reinforces the thought that existence is unlikely and matter shouldn’t be a part of anything – simply put, that nothingness is far more logically probable than is our observable material and matter, in all its manifestations. This points to some kind of order-giving entity governing the cosmos – and so, again, the God question makes itself front and center.
I think that the diversity of interpretations and selectivity of perception are what explain so much of our chosen beliefs that influence our actions. This is getting psychological, and therefore, we seem to be arriving back at the curiosity that is sentience. Fairly equal a term – our definition of consciousness – is inseparable from the sentience under examination. And don’t forget self-awareness. The three, when considered in terms of one another, elucidate just what we are talking about. And, thankfully, why we have the pretty awesome ability to talk about it.
"If I bend my knee, I feel pain" is a fine implication, but it is not necessary (at least one would hope not when going to the doctor to make it so it's not true). How would one go about formalizing statements like this?
Continental or analytical philosophy?
I know everyone's dead here, but I thought I'd post this anyway. (Also posted on my personal blog.) I've been bashing my head a lot recently against the suggestion I've had insisted to me that the literary tradition has singularly failed to respond to Finnegans Wake (with the exception, perhaps, of Beckett's late prose works, but I haven't read them).
The natural response, that I've been in the habit of making, is that not everyone has to be up to the kind of thing that Joyce is up to, all the formal experimentation, self-reflection, universal scope, musicality/poetry, density of meaning and so on that make the Wake so miraculous and important. One thing Joyce is doing is telling a story - does that mean all stories now have to 'respond' to the Wake? Surely not; so why then is it supposed to be different with regard to another thing Joyce is doing, viz., writing a novel?
I'm finding that response less convincing now, not least because I'm finding the novels I've been reading recently hamstrung by what they have not learnt from Joyce. It's most obvious in the little ways you notice in the reading: wasted words, unpleasing rhythms, meaningless names, missed jokes, etc. But what's really missing is of course deeper. I think it's that novels lie, and that Joyce uncovered this and showed us how to respond to it; and that to not respond to the Wake is to lie openeyedly, which is as bad in literature as it is in real life. I suppose the point I'm making here is close to the point Adam Kelly (in 'Dialectic of Sincerity' (2014)) says is one of the idées fixes of modernism: that the novel is trying to get deeply into something, to present it as it really is - be it someone's psychology or a social order or a conversation - but that the norms and conventions of the novel get in the way of its doing so by forcing what it's trying to capture into certain shapes, unnatural to what's being represented (and, in some cases I suppose, changing it). I agree with this, but I think there's something else too, perhaps simpler and perhaps more general. It's that everything in literature is significant; perhaps it's been so for a long time, perhaps Joyce made it so, perhaps it was always so but Joyce found new levels of significance, upset everything, so that no-one can ever again say, 'oh that's just always been that way'. Names were always significant, I suppose; but now even the language you write is significant, now even how you spell a word is significant, now even whether your writing is clear is significant.
And so I'm reading The Signature of All Things or whatever, and I'm enjoying it very much; but then something stands out at me, and I ask why it's the way it is; and time and again I'm disappointed: there's no reason for it being that way. But you can't make something insignificant once it's been made important as Joyce has so made it: now, the novel can only suggest a false significance, or can only pathetically attempt to hide a significance. Gilbert tells us that Prima shouted at Secunda, say; and that, Gilbert arrogantly or nervously insists, is final. But it's not final, because nothing is ever so simple. There's a divine iridescence to the encounter as there is to every encounter, something beyond any capturing which affects the situation and its reception by the various parties like a drug. Gilbert wants to stomp her foot and say that no there isn't - she's writing in a style or tradition that would have mentioned it if it was there, and she hasn't, so it isn't - but to say that is to lie, because the iridescence is ubiquitous. The Wake forces this question, and tried to answer it by making everything unclear and perspectival, and refraining from absolute statements, and trying to let the iridescence shine through with its multilingual dense musical punning. I won't say whether it's succeeded - I barely know what's happening most of the time - but at least it's faced up to the problem. What has since? The only thing that comes to mind is Lynda Barry's What It Is. I wonder if it's not a coincidence that this is a graphic novel: the combination of the two mediums - and such different mediums - perhaps allows for greater density.
Sometimes I can forgive the cowardice or laziness: Imogen Binnie's Nevada is just telling a story, but it's telling a story from a perspective that historically has been scandalously and tragically silent, and perhaps a perspective needs a realist novel before it can have a Wake. (Although Joyce is hardly heteronormative or even cisnormative!) And The Signature of All Things is not so bad as I've been suggesting (my choosing it as an example is perhaps slightly unfair, but it's what I'm reading at the moment): scenarios are returned to later and untold aspects told; but it's never remotely as serious or thorough as the Wake.
I wonder, by way of post-script, whether it's just novelists who have to face the Wake. I suppose poets do too, but I also get the sense (though I don't know poetry) that they've always faced it. I suppose it's the same for music; Beethoven and Bach are as rich as Joyce. How about philosophy? My feeling there is that philosophy strips away everything iridescent - 'ceteris paribus' is its cry - but whether this is legitimate or not I don't know. It is abstract enough that one might suppose that we can treat all else as equal: we don't need to imagine a world like we do in literature. But perhaps in becoming honest and accurate, philosophy that doesn't respond to Joyce also becomes irrelevant. I just don't know. I can only say that I don't feel any particular qualms in doing philosophy this way. This is unsatisfying, but I suppose one can only put one's ear to one's mind and listen as hard as one can for sounds of strain. I'll keep listening, and try to listen better.
I reproduce and translate below the key fragments of two texts accounting for the strategies that informed the tragic events of this century, from 11 September 2001, to 7 January 2015. ( Read more...Collapse )
Crossposted to larvatus and philosophy.