Posted: July 9, 2011 in Theorizing, Uncategorized

Why I stopped writing by hand

Posted: April 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

I used to carry a notebook with me when I was at high-school. It used to be important what it looked like. It used to be from Clairefontaine, a traditional French brand. About 5 years ago, I stopped, only occasionally going back to it. Having moved to France, there was no more point in buying Clairefontaine any more. I now bought Muji, because Muji is like no brand. Why do I feel the urge to tell you what brands my notebooks where and are? Because there is some nostalgia involved. And some vanity. And some Superstition. I used to be proud and happy to use a Clairefontaine notebook while I was living in Germany. There was only one shop in my town that sold them.
France had been the country where I had discovered art. Using Clairefontaine, my own writing was affiliated with France and its culture. The famous books by Moleskine are riding on the nostalgia/superstition/affiliation wave very explicitly (I have a hunch there might always be a bit of superstition in nostalgia). And the reason why I never got one – apart from the exaggerated price – is because I want my writing to be mine, personal, actual. It is bad taste to make some things explicit. Informing potential customers that Hemingway used your notebooks is bad taste. Either the books have intrinsic value, or they don’t. Telling me that Hemingway used them is trying to artificially bestow a spirit on them. It’s, basically, for people that don’t have any imagination.
As for me, I eventually stopped writing by hand altogether because I had notebooks. Notebooks full of notes that I never used, never even looked at again. Notes that were virtually there, but practically lost. I have so many ideas, that I couldn’t see myself taking time to copy notes from my notebooks to rework them, make sense of them, develop the thoughts I planted in them.
When I found out that there was a folda

ble real-size keyboard and a Word to Go application, I started using a Palm Handheld, the cheapest Palm on the market at the time, a Palm Zire 21. I still believe that Palm missed a tremendous marketing opportunity with students. A Palm could have been what the Asus EEE PC became, the first netbook on the m

arket. They could have marketed their product to students all over the world, who wanted to have their classnotes in digital form, but found their notebooks to heavy to carry. But crowdsourcing, intelligent or other, and corporate co-creation portals didn’t exist yet – at least Palm didn’t have one – and so I couldn’t tell Palm about my idea.

In any case, the Palm would synchronize with my computer and I wouldn’t loose any of my notes any more. Did I look at the notes I had made on  the go more frequently? No. But I felt that I could. I felt that they weren’t lost in some book. I felt that with a few clicks, what I had written could circulate, be shared with anyone anywhere in the world and be published. Writing something searchable and transmittable made it worth the while to write at all. Any thought written on my Palm could enter circulation by a simple click. My feeling has hardly changed since then. I feel that to simply exist now, writing has to exist in digital form.
The only thing I use paper notebooks for is to make lists, to jot down one sentence ideas – and even these I prefer to mail to myself with my smartphone whenever possible. But reordering your thoughts by reordering the concepts you work with like what you see on the photo I took when writing an article about documents, still isn’t very easy digitally, even with mindmapping applications. But that’s just a practical frontier.

A few days ago, I talked to a friend who told me last year she had had a handwritten correspondence with a man she was in love with and who had a girlfriend. They had written pages and pages, some of her letters were 15 pages long. I was very impressed by this story. I felt like my friend had just revealed me that she was of a different species, I understood that she inhabited a different world than me. Even as gestures, penpals don’t exist in my world any more. My sole use of letters has become administrative. If I’m in love with a girl and she’s not in my town I try to catch up with her on skype – or wait for her to connect to facebook. Does this seem prosaic? It probably is. But I would find sending letters too nostalgic, and, therefore, somehow ridiculous.
I understood that for my friend and her man, it had been a way to show to each other that they inhabited the same world, a different world, beyond the world they shared with their official boy-friend/girl-friend and with most other people, people like me.
The fact that they wrote to each other, and the fact the letters were lost forever when his girlfriend eventually discovered and burned them all, ads to the appeal of their correspondence. Imagine they had written emails to each other. Do you really think the girl would have gotten any satisfaction out of the operation: “search XYZ/select all/delete”? I don’t think so. She probably wouldn’t even have done it.
Literature, Nelson Goodman says, is allographic art, it can be reproduced, it’s not about unicity or about the touch of the brush. Painting is autographic. And so is epistolary writing. There’s a deep valley separating handwritten and computer-written text. But more than the fact that the paper on which a letter is written has actually been touched by the person who wrote it, it’s the fact that a letter is unique, that it can’t be shared easily, which makes it special – and annoys me.

So, most of my posts are theory-leaden and complicated, right? Here’s a light one for a change. It’s notorious that Google is faster predicting breakouts of flu than the US Centres for Disease Control. How do they do it? Quite simply: they analyze what people search for. And by the way, they make the results available for anyone to look at. I’ve always been wondering what else you could understand by looking at what people search for. Google let’s you do so. And because Google is basically the window to the internet for most people, what people search for on Google should be very insightful. If you can read the results. Which is hard. Once it a while I play around with their “Insights for Search” trying to find something significant. I prepared a little parcours for you. It takes you from Solutions over Sex to Climate Change. Go ahead!

Google Insights for Search: Regional Search for “Solutions”

So India is looking for solutions. Right. But, given that the number one associated search terms are “Software Solutions”, “IT Solutions” and “Business Solutions”, India doesn’t seem to bad off. And while the US are looking for “Network Solutions”, “Business Solutions”, “Global Solutions” and “Health Solutions” (in this order), South Africa is also into IT. For the other African countries the Statistics aren’t precisely rich, as there is only one city in each of them that seems to have sufficient internet access to figure in Google’s region list (which is also a result of the search, somehow ). Well, now the real question is: who’s looking for…Problems?

Google Insights for Search: Regional Search for “Problems”

For Lesotho and all the other countries of this list, the situation is not different than for the aforementioned African ones. Each of these countries is basically one city for Google. And there are no country-specific associated search terms. On a global level, the list of the kinds of problems that people try to solve on the internet speaks for itself… .

Google Insights for Search: Global Top Searches Related to “Problems”

So, basically you are using what exactly to solve the problems you have with your computer? Oh! A computer. Sure.

Now, how the search term number one (at least it used to be when the internet started to become (in)famous, basically when I was a kid. I know you’ve been waiting. So here it goes: Sex: Yeah, not only Sex, but even better:

Google Insights for Search: Regional Interest for “Free Sex”

Not really what you’d expect here. Well, my hypothesis is that in the US, the world’s biggest porn market, people have had the internet long enough to be more precise about their interests. Much more precise…

I’d only like to mention that this doesn’t reflect interest in free sex in a country, but interest in the results for “free sex” online of those with internet access.

Comparison of Searches for “Free Sex” (blue) and “Problems” (red)

Or more generally speaking:

Comparison of Searches for “Sex” (blue) and “Problems” (red)

Well, I couldn’t say that this comes as much of a surprise…

But let’s get serious again:

Google Insights for Search: Regional Interest for “Climate Change”

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest for the issue in what is called the “developed” countries. After all, there are more important things, like … iphone problems. Or maybe I’m doing the ESDW (English Speaking Developed World) wrong? Maybe the reason why the U.S. has a hard time signing protocols is just because – while they can well understand “CHANGE!” – they still don’t really know what that weird foreign word “climate” means! On the following chart, “What is Climate” a top related search for “Climate Change”, Australia comes forth, and the US sixth, closely followed by New Zealand, the UK, and … Canada. Wonder if this is an inverted scheme of the success of their education systems… .

Google Insights for Search: Regional Interest for “What is Climate”

Okay. That’s enough playing with Google Insights for Search. Now go ahead yourself: http://www.google.com/insights/search – and don’t forget to share your results with me!

Posted: December 9, 2010 in Webtheory
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

What I like about Spotify Premium is the fact that you have a mobile version, you can get instant access to basically any song you think of. It was terribly cold in Paris today and suddenly there was this line of a song popping up in my head. This often happens to me, and in many cases the line is such an ironic comment on my current situation that I burst out in laughter. Anyway, so while I took my bike, I heard « All the leaves are brown… » in my head. And searched for it on Spotify.


When I found an album by this name, I remembered the real name of the song I was looking for: « California Dreaming ». The perfect song for a cold winter day, it started playing while – my headphones under my warm Peruvian bonnet – I pushed my bike off to ride home. The song starts « All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray. I go for a walk on a winter’s day. » and it goes on « I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A. ». After the first version of the song had ended, another one started and while I sit and write, I’m still playing versions of the same song. There are many of them, a David Hasselrock version, latin versions, chorus versions, ones with predominantly female or male voices, instrumental ones, versions that start like medieval motets, new age versions, a techno/rap version by Beverly Hills, a slow and soulful piano version by Pat Dinizio, fast running rock versions… . I guess I can now be considered an expert in California Dreaming, but that’s not what I wanted to tell you about.

At about the third version, I first heard the sentence that inspired this post (supposed to be a first one in a series about my favourite lines in pop songs). It says: « If I didn’t tell her, I could leave today. » I had never noticed this line before. Two versions later it came back with a variation that I haven’t heared in any of the other versions. It was a female voice, and instead of « If I didn’t tell him, I could leave today » she sang « If I didn’t have to tell him, I could leave today. » It’s the version by The River City People that you are currently listening to. It intrigued me and I thought about it over dinner. There seems to be something more guilty to her way of putting it. As if she didn’t feel comfortable with the original line. She seems to be saying to herself: « I’d have to tell him. I couldn’t probably just leave. » Strikingly, the chorus is the same as in all other versions: « If I didn’t tell him, I could leave today. ». It nearly seems like it had been a spontaneous variation by the singer. This sentence is pretty much a summary of why I ended up leaving my last girlfriend after six years. I didn’t want to have to tell her – or anyone. My friend Thomas says that my desire for freedom is romantic. And coming from someone who would probably agree with Goethe that « the Romantic is the sick. », this is not a compliment. Thomas thinks that my quest for freedom is bound to end in disappointment. Maybe he’s right. Maybe there are tradeoffs. But as for now, I’m stuck with the belief that there’s at least relative freedom and that you can be more or less free. In the end, the freedom we have in a country like France, essentially depends on how free we are mentally. In my relationship, and given the way I was, having to tell her would have meant that I don’t leave.

The original version of the sentence is actually much bolder: « If I didn’t tell her, I could leave today. » It doesn’t presuppose the obligation to tell. Not telling her becomes a way to leave, today. This version of the song has the libertarian imprint of the hippie age. But what seems like hippie lightness considered in this context, becomes very dark if you transfer the idea to a contemporary couple’s common city life. It’s only in my darkest moments that I actually told myself that going to get cigarettes and not coming back was an issue that would always be there if I wanted to leave (well, if I started smoking before).

In Schubert’s Winterreise there’s another dreamer (there’s definitely something about winter dreaming). After telling us about the flowers he sees on the window, he sings: « Ihr lacht wohl über den Träumer, der Blumen im Winter sah. » (« You are certainly laughing about the dreamer who saw flowers blossom in winter! ») This line first made me realize that there was something ridiculous about the (melancholic) dreamer. But I’m not sure if this is still the same topic…

 —  Posted: November 30, 2010 in Conceptualizing the Ordinary, Lines in Songs
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Intro

Dirty theory is theory mixed up with accounts of experiences or – at least – mixed up with real-life story-telling. Not every theory is rooted in experience. Many pieces of theorizing are theoretical inbreed. They are rooted in pieces of theorizing, in reading other theorists. inbreeding is what most philosophers do today. They write texts about texts about texts and lose touch with the reality that the first text originated in (and which the first writer had probably already eliminated). If philosophy has a poor reputation with the larger public, it’s exactly because of this tendency. If you haven’t read all the texts about which the text you are reading is, you don’t see why what the 13th theorist says is relevant. Maybe you don’t even understand. It’s not always your fault.

I’m thinking about renaming my blog.

The idea has been spinning around in my head for a few days. This usually precedes a blog post. I’ve got an idea I’d like to develop. I try not to forget about it. It then comes back to me all the time until I open my laptop and start writing (sometimes in online, sometimes in offline mode, this time in quick press).

Dirty vs. Pure Theory

Now, to get it out of my head: here’s the pitch of “Dirty Theory”. I love theory, that’s for sure. I think theorizing and reading theory are pleasures in themselves. And grasping conceptual differences makes your experience richer: where you saw one, you’ll see two if you found a new distinction.
For me theorizing is about creating, introducing or modifying concepts, but I think I mentioned that before.
I oppose Dirty Theory to Pure Theory.

I think I knew about this difference long before, I even wrote about it (all my quotes are excerpts I used in my Master Thesis about fragmented, Discontinuous Thinking and Writing, Aphorisms, Maximes). But it’s my last blog post that made me realize that Dirty Theory was really what I wanted to produce. In that post, I only slightly camouflaged the occasion of the distinction between memories as experience and as stories, ie. my having met an ex-girlfriend I was very much in love with 10 years ago for the first time after 8 years.

N.B. One of the reasons of doing theory of art and art-criticism where works and pictures play an essential role is that I wanted to get out of producing texts about texts about texts… . This is probably also one of the reasons why I co-founded a start-up.

So is pure theory always theory-based theory? No. You can write an original piece of pure theory that’s not dependent upon another piece of theory. It’s pure theory if you don’t account for the real-world experience from which it arouse. Pure theory is theory where the theorist only makes theoretical statements, sometimes complimenting them with invented examples.

Purity is gradual. Something can be more or less pure. If you use real examples remote from your own experience – like when you quote historical examples – is less pure than only using invented examples, like most analytical philosophers. If you don’t use any examples in theorizing, you practice totally pure theory. If you only talk about experiences and only hint at some concept, you are usually not doing theory at all. In fact, most of our stories (whoever the teller) include some theorizing, i.e. abstraction, conceptualization, generalization.

Examples

In terms of concision, the minimal form of pure theory is what the French call “La Maxime”. Something like the following is a typical Maxime:

« Comme c’est le caractère des grands esprits de faire entendre en peu de paroles beaucoup de choses, les petits esprits au contraire ont le don de beaucoup parler, et de ne rien dire. »

As it is proper of great minds to let you understand a lot with few words, small minds have the gift of talking a lot and to say very little. (La Rochefoucauld, François de : Maximes et Réflexions diverses, Gallimard Folio, 2002, Maxime 142)

N.B. This is a meta-maxime, a maxime about maximes.

Notice that La Rochefoucault – who made the expression and the genre popular – isn’t the only one to write Maximes, and that you’ll find Maximes with writers where you didn’t quite expect them, like here:

« On n’est jamais excusable d’être méchant, mais il y a quelque mérite à savoir qu’on l’est ; et le plus irréparable des vices est de faire le mal par bêtise. »

There’s no excuse for being evil, but there’s some merit in knowing that you are, the most uncorrectible vice is to hurt by sillyness.

This was written by Baudelaire (Baudelaire, Charles : « La fausse monnaie », Le spleen de Paris, XXVIII, Mille et une nuits, Paris, 2000, 58), who is not usually a pure theorist in any sense. In most of his texts, the proportion of story-telling (accounts of personal experience) is extremely high.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, like Robert Musil, was critical of maxims (his “aphorism” is my “maxime”), but he himself wasn’t usually much better than the Karl Kraus he criticizes. Like most philosophers , he was somehow (strangely) trapped with the idea that his ideas had to be formulated in the most general and abstract form to be worth of reading.

He wrote some maxims like this one:

„Laß Dich nicht von dem Beispiel anderen führen, sondern von der Natur“ (Vermischte Bemerkungen, 53)

Don’t let yourself be guided by the example of others, but by nature. (Wittgenstein, Ludwig : Mixed Remarks/Vermischte Bemerkungen, 53, all translations are mine)

Now look how different the following remark ends:

“Es ist für unsere Betrachtung wichtig, daß es Menschen gibt, von denen jemand fühlt, er werde nie wissen, was in ihnen vorgeht. Er werde sie nie verstehen. (Engländerinnen für Europäer.)”

“It’s important for our investigations that there are people of whom someone feels that he’ll never know what’s happening in them. He will never understand them. (English women for Europeans).” (Wittgenstein, Ludwig : Mixed Remarks/Vermischte Bemerkungen, 88)

This (very touching remark) is a minimal example of dirty theory for me. But this is Wittgenstein writing for himself. The Mixed Remarks have been published after Wittgenstein’s death. Looking at the works he actually published or prepared for publication, I’m positive that Wittgenstein would have eliminated the parenthesis had he wanted to publish this maxime (which is, once more, a meta-maxime, where he gives himself indications about the mindset that should guide his writing). Why the parenthesis? Well, I think Wittgenstein wanted to make sure he’d be able to go back to the occasion of his thought to check if the general principle he had extracted had been correct or if there would be alternative principles, maybe also to be able to develop an ambivalent statement in the right direction. I use this kind of notes myself.

There are writers that tend to be dirty theorists, others that don’t. Botho Strauss and Baudelaire are very dirty theorists, Paul Valéry and Marcel Proust are rather dirty theorists (but not always), Karl Kraus is a pure theorist in his aphorisms, a dirty theorist in his essays… . Wittgenstein? Even though he criticizes the aphoristic form, he is as pure a theorist as you can get (in his published works). Most of the Tractatus could be called a caricature of Pure Theory.

Why write Dirty rather than Pure Theory?

Now, what’s the point of Dirty Theory? Well, I think one of the main points is the one Kant (rather a pure theorist most of the times, but not always) famously made: Concepts without observations are empty.

This is not what Kant meant it to be, but it could be a principle for writing. Use observation and not only concept. Why? Because it will clarify your concept. It will show where it can be applied. And what observation could be better than the observation which gave you the idea of the concept?

Well, actually it seems like a fictive one  – from which all the contingent aspects of reality and the private implications have been removed -could be better. This is how most theorists (implicitly) answer this question. But there is something hypocritical to making up examples instead of just using the experience where your thought originated, and something doubtful too. In Musil’s Man without Qualities, this is one of the topics. I also tend to think that there’s a richness in your initial experience which the concept doesn’t necessarily account for entirely.

Like Musil, I also feel like it was somehow unethical to pretend that theory adopts the point of view from nowhere. And it’s much less fun. Obviously, for theory inbreed the question doesn’t really arise. But theory inbreed is not what I’m interested in.

As what I want to practice is Dirty Theory, well, I believe that renaming this blog is quite appropriate.

So I’ve got 45 minutes before I need to run off to my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class. I wonder if I can make this a blogpost by then. For your notice and just appreciation: some of my earlier posts took me about 8 hours to write. With an average readership of 25, this makes 20 minutes of my time for each of you. I think that this is a very high ratio for a writer.

Anyway, time’s running, here goes my idea. Each of my posts is about two or, sometimes three to five, or maybe seven ideas – and most of them should be developed in a book rather than a blogpost. But I find it boring to write a book, while I find it fun to write a blogpost. This post exceptionally only consists of one idea, which, like most of my ideas, is based on a distinction:

Things we’ve lived have two ways to exist for us:

1. in experience mode

2. in story mode

These two modes follow each other and are never synchronously active.

While they are still in mode 1, the experiences are active, i.e. they can be modified by new events, we are emotionally affected by thinking of them. When they move to mode 2, they are closed. For many theorists of narration, one of the defining qualities of stories is their “closure”. They are “round”, not open-ended. An open-ended story is not fully a story (which is why we coined a specific term for it).

When you can say “Oh yes, I went to Mexico once, when I was still with my mexican girlfriend. You know, the engineer I told you about” and you don’t smell the Enchiladas, don’t hear the cats screaming that woke you up at night, don’t long to touch her skin any more, and if your ego doesn’t hurt any more because she left you at Christmas, then you know you’re done. The episode you lived, the experience has turned into a story.

You can even talk about the cats, the caguamas, the lonely Christmas you spent waiting for her to call you, and it still doesn’t hurt. All this is just part of a story. Something that happened, for sure. But that might just as well be fiction. It just happens to have happened to you, and you know more details about it than if it hadn’t happened to you, but it could could also have happened to someone else.

In experience mode, things are different. It’s essential that it’s your experience. Any thought or evokation of the time, the person or even smelling something or hearing cats scream will bring you right back to the experience. You are then still part of the events, it’s still happening in you. The story isn’t written.

In some cases, if we don’t understand some of the elements of our experience, we won’t be able to move into story mode. As long as we don’t know why she really left us at Christmas, as long as it just doesn’t make sense that she left us, we can’t move into story mode. We are like those lost souls that need justice, before they can rest in peace. We are still in experience mode – and we’ll try to get the answers we want.

It’s only when we have the answers, when the ending is written, that the story exists. I think that in many cases where people suffer because of something they’ve experienced, it’s because they can’t make sense of it. Because they don’t understand why this or that happened to them. Stories make sense, experiences simply are.

I think that we developed the capacity to tell ourselves stories about ourselves and what we lived, because it’s the only way to not get lost. With too many things in experience mode, we are heavily affected by all sorts of things, everything brings us back to that thing we lived and continue to live within. The fact that we can make it a story and thus close it, allows us to remember without being paralyzed by our memories.

In some cases, we run the risk of being pulled back into experience mode: for example because we see the girl again, after 8 years. If we are lucky, we still have some choices:

1.open up the story again and move back into experience mode

2. write a sequal

3. write a post scriptum

4. pretend nothing happened

I’m sure my list isn’t complete (nothing that isn’t based on logics is).

But, well, what would you choose?

Disclusure: I’m German. While I like to be sophisticated in many respects, there are some where I’m pretty simple. Sex is one of them, food’s another. Now, I know what you’ll say: “Sure. You looove it simple. Like everyone who tries to be sophisticated.” Check out Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt’s Twitter Profile Pic, as an example.

But that’s not what I mean. I’m really simple. I don’t wear my business shirt and a tie under my loincloth. Actually, I don’t wear a loincloth at all, but an I ❤ New York T-Shirt. But I’m getting off track.

What I want to talk about is how to handle your culinary needs as a German eater in Paris.

Don’t get me wrong, I love foie gras and magret de canard, I eat my steak saignant, my canard rosé, I know where I get the best steak tartare, I’m an amateur of Ile Flottante, I can tell apart Crème Caramel and Crème Brûlé (well, okay, I don’t need bread when I eat pasta – mais passons). But sometimes I need some Sauerkraut, Rotkraut mit Kartoffelpuree, Bretzeln (that’s the REAL plural of one Bretzel), Saussages, Schwäbischer Kartoffelsalat, Maultaschen, Schupfnudeln (or Buabaspitzla for amateurs), not to forget my love for Spätzle (Discloser 2: I’m Swabian), etc. to be happy.

I love Weissbeer to be brewed according to the Deutsche Reinheitsgebot, and usually call it Weizenbier, no sugar or conservatives or artificial colors add. I like my beer to come from Germany and not only alluding to my country (Bavaria) while actually being Dutch or pretending to be German while being who-knows-from-where and containing who-knows-what (Edelweiss, and Bavaria, by the way). I like beer to contain nothing but Hop, Malt, Water. There’s not much, but beer is one thing I’m chauvinistic about. It’s just, if concepts can have sex, they also can have nationality and, hell, beer is a German concept. Btw. I’m waiting for Heineken to publish a statics of how many people think it’s a German beer. Ever asked yourself why Dutch breweries give it a German name whenever they launch a new beer?

So for those who share a few of these passions and who also share my beautiful fate of living in Paris, they’ll know the trouble of importations. And I thought I’d share some of my insights with them (in English, because I still hope to convince one or the other non-german of the value of German food – Oh yes, I have a mission!).

So where to start? Sauerkraut. Who-knows-why, but the French call it choucroûte. The thing is “sauer” means “sour” in German and “chou” doesn’t. My hypothesis is that that’s why the French (even those from Strasbourg) didn’t figure out that Sauerkraut had to be sour not to taste lame. I haven’t been able to find any French brand of Sauerkraut that was actually making a sour kraut (I’m still looking, so feel free to comment here – as on anything else I’m saying or seeking, feel free to comment in German or French). In case of despair, you can buy a French sourkraut and cook it in the juice you get out of your glass of sour cornichons. I had to do it. It works okay.

The other option is this place. Well, I’m positive that there are some people who will love me for this recommendation. It’s a small shop held by a French dude, who’s a bit annoying, but who sells about everything from Germany, and sells it for high, but not undecent prices (he drives his transporter to Germany once a week and gets stuff – so you can also order). He’s got Tannenzäpfle beer, Erdinger Alkoholfrei, Becks Gold, Weihenstephaner, and everything else that it’s impossible to understand how the French can live without.

You need to go to the market behind la mairie du 10ième to get all this. And while you’re in the corner you might also go to Schmid Traiteur, 76 Boulevard de Strasbourg, to get some Bretzels. But they are not the best I know. At least they are not as dry as the American Bretzels and you can stuff butter in  (how the Alsaciens could have imported Brezeln without importing the concept of Butterbrezel is one of the great enigma of history)

Apart from that, I just discovered Bretzels can also be found here and are supposed to be amazing.

But going to the Dixième Arrondissement each time you have an urgent need for German food might be difficult. So here’s where to get stuff more easily:

Lidl. Is a German supermarket chain that pushed its way into France and is “Lidelizing Paris”, i.e. you can now find empty cheap cans of Lidl beer everywhere. Diese Bierdosen sind ein Stück Heimat, das mich an meine Schulzeit erinnert und auf das ich gerne verzichtet hätte. What CAN you do? But guess what! The Lidl beer is German beer, brewed as it should be. And it’s pretty good. Same for the beer “premier prix” at Franprix, which comes from Rheinland, Königswinter or Siegburg or so. Lidl is also one of the few places where you find decent sausages, real Wiener Würstchen. The problem with the average French sausage made for cooking it yourself (not the dry ones, they are amazing, as good as it gets in terms of sausage culture!), is that it’s uniform, it tastes the same from the surface right to the core, and that’s like…nothing.  The Wiener is, well, “cracky”. Another decdent beer is the Mosel Beer at Franprix – I like it alcohol-free too. But I think it’s of American origin.

As for Spätzle, I’ve found some of the best Spätzle I ever tasted ever, here in Paris, at Monoprix. They are fresh, which means that they are kept refrigerated, and they are often gone, because, apparently, I’m not the only one who knows about them. The funny thing is: they come from Trochtelfingen, a small village about 10 km from where I grew up, they are called Zahner Traiteur Gourmet Eierspätzle, Alb Gold just bought the company and I hope they’ll push some more of their products into Monoprix soon.

Oh and while you are at Monoprix get some cans of Paulaner Weissbier.

Oh yes! They do have it.

I also know there is a German Bar in Paris. It’s called Café Titon and is in rue … Titon. The legend goes that they have Currywurst. But I never managed to get in. For the worldcup-matches it was too crowded and in August it was closed for renovation.

Here an important cooking advice for cooking Sauerkraut:

Cook it for 10-20 minutes (according to the indications on the bag or can) with water (use some vegetable- or meat-cube to give it more taste), then take the water out and pour the Sauerkraut into a frying pan, where you’ve already prepared and fryied some onions. They don’t say it on the package, but it’s very important: you have to fry Sauerkraut to make it real tasty and mixing the Sauerkraut with onions is another important thing to do. Then you serve it with potatoes, which you can also fry in the same pan (but obviously you have to cook them before, and fry them before you put in the Sauerkraut, or else they’ll attract the water of the kraut and get soaky.

Serve it with the better kind of the French sausage if you don’t have Bratwurst. The smoked sausage (Saucisse Fumée à cuire) that’s refrigerated at Franprix is pretty good to go with it.

Enjoy!

A little update:

Things have moved a little on the German food front since I first wrote this post. There are mainly two updates : there now is a small chain of German snack bars. It’s called “Le Stube” (http://www.lestube.fr/). And there are Spätzle in the amazing Reflets de France brand at  Carrefour, which curates great regional specialites from France (Spätzle are obviously from “Alsace” for them) and at Leader Price  which recently created a brand competing with Reflets de France (couldn’t find any Spätzle at my local Franprix so far). They are not in the “Rayon Frais”, but in the past section as they are dry. They are both very good and only cost around 1 Euro. Oh, and at Dia (yes, at Dia) there is both a good variety of “Wiener Würstchen” and a very tasty Schwarzwälder Schinken (Jambon cru de la Forêt Noire). As Schwarzwald is a Domain d’Origine Protégé, the Schinken really comes from the Black Forest.

There’s more to telling a story than the story.

According to some theorists of narrative or story-telling, tellability is one of the criteria of narrativity. To be narrative, they hold, the content of a discourse has to be tellable. Tellability is what makes a story worth the telling, usually the extraordinariness of the events being told.

I don’t agree on the idea that tellability is a criteria for narrativity, or else there wouldn’t be boring stories. If a story is boring because the events being told are not of an extraordinary kind, this doesn’t imply that it’s not a story at all. But rather than getting deeper into this issue, I’d like to use the concept of tellability in a different sense to better understand the social phenomenon of story-telling.

Theorists of narrative tend to treat tellability as an absolute – if not objective – criteria on the level of the story. Either a story is tellable. Fullstop. Or a story isn’t tellable. Fullstop. I’m not quite sure if there really is something like universal tellability. I tend to think that tellability depends on context (audience+situation). And for each and every story, boring as it may seem, there’s an appropriate context. (N.B. I must admit that I only just discovered that Seymour Chatman in his fantastic classic of narratology Story and Discourse also holds the view that tellability is relative)

Relative tellability is far more important in our everyday experience than some supposed absolute tellability. What matters most in our lives is not a story per se, but a story in context – and so we often wonder

Should I tell this story here?

What’s tellable within the context of a bull session with my buddies isn’t usually tellable at Sunday lunch with my grand-parents – and vice-versa. A story is usually a good fit for the bull session for the features that make it a bad fit for Sunday lunch. So tellability is relative to situation and – I would like to add – the teller. More precisely we have to ask ourselves:

Is it appropriate for me and interesting to tell this story to this audience in this context?

Being appropriate is so-to-speak the upper limit of tellability in everyday life. The lower limit is to be interesting. The ideal story is both appropriate for the teller in the context and interesting for the given audience in the context.

So even if we supposed that it was clear what it means for a story to be tellable per se, the narrativists’ tellability would not be sufficient – or essential – for our decisions to tell a story or not.

I hope that these few remarks make it clear that there is more to tellability than the story itself. When we think about telling a story, we quite naturally evaluate its tellabilityin-context.

However, the idea of tellability per se (as a story) may stay if we subjectivize it. There might be stories that I just don’t find tellable at all, maybe because I find them gross, or because they oppose my ethics.

Think of a story that glorifies Nazism. This is a story that I won’t find tellable even if I happen to be stuck with a bunch of Neo-Nazis, where both the situation and the audience would be convenient. But this means that tellability of a story comes down to tellability as seen by the teller, which is far less than tellability of the story per se.

For the remainder of this post, I will try to explain my idea of tellability more precisely.

I identified four levels of tellability:

1. The tellability of the story (its interest as a story)), i.e. the tellability for the teller as seen from within (his or her perspective)

2. The tellability for the teller (a. appropriateness/ b. interest) as seen from without

3. The tellability for the audience (a. appropriateness/ b. interest)

4. The tellability in the situation (a. appropriateness/b. focus)

There’s potential for misjudgment of tellability at least on levels 2-4.

1. We’ll usually know if a story is tellable for us as we see us, because we know our values.

2. This level is tricky and misjudgments are easy.

a. Appropriateness will depend on our role within a given context. For example, it may be appropriate for a student or employee to tell a story about a professor or executive that it wouldn’t be appropriate for a professor or executive to tell.

b. Interest is tricky, because we move away from the story to the telling: in fact, some people are able to tell any story in such a way that it becomes interesting, and, thus, tellable.

3. It may or may not be difficult to determine tellability on the audience level.

a. In general, it is pretty easy to grasp what it means for a story to be inappropriate for a certain audience. For example, we usually won’t tell a priest a sex story. However, it may be difficult to determine in a given situation if a story is appropriate for a given audience. The main problematic issues are sex, illness and crime. And if we don’t have enough information about an audience, we will usually avoid stories that imply these elements.

b. The interest of a story for an audience is much more difficult to determine. But fortunately the consequences of telling a story that our audience doesn’t find interesting aren’t usually very serious and painful – unless, of course, we are doing an elevator pitch and have little time to grasp a person’s attention to, for example, sell or promote something. (N.B. Before you launch the first video: the videos are only very loose illustrations of the points made in the post. They mostly show story-tellings as imagined by script-writers or movie-makers. In general the points made will be good points if you can validate them based on your experience of real-world story-telling. And if not, I’d be happy to hear from you in the comments).

4. It is a bit easier to judge situation-tellability than audience-tellability, because if we’ve been there at the moment of situation-establishment, all the elements about the situation are (in principle) available to us. It’s more tricky if we enter the situation in medias res, all of a sudden, as when joining an ongoing conversation.

In such situations it’s particularly difficult to judge tellability.

Obviously, the most tricky cases are those where, for example at a conference, we don’t know the people in the group we are joining (audience) and have not been there at situation-establishment. Whether or not we will be able to participate actively in the dialogue will then depend on how risk-averse we are.

a. situation-appropriateness: in extreme cases, this is particularly easy to judge, mainly if the geo-localization of a situation is an indicator. For example, a hospital or a graveyard usually won’t be appropriate places for funny stories (which, in a sort of weird twist, can make them particularly appropriate places for funny stories being told by people working there to people working there).

Places like a bar or a bowling-place will tend to be appropriate places. But if the place is more neutral, like a street or a school, it will be more difficult to establish tellability.

b. situation-focus: in extreme cases, like formal meetings which tend to have specific topics, it’s usually clear what’s interesting given the focus of the meeting. In cases of more casual meetings it may be more difficult to determine what’s interesting given the situation. But again: being wrong about interest is not as bad as being wrong about appropriateness.

Extreme cases of tellers:

Extraordinary tellers make every story tellable by their telling

(Now, you could obviously point out to me that the main part of this is not really a story, but an argumentative discourse, that the only story being told here is a story being retold with an alternative plot in order to support the argument, while the passage ends with an analysis and a comment on Hollywood-style story-telling, all this, of course, being part of a Hollywood movie. And you would be quite right, but, hell, isn’t it a good telling?)

Food-in-mouth tellers regularly misjudge appropriateness of their story (which may, in movies where story-telling is presented, be the whole point – but rarely a good one)

Terrible tellers are able to kill story with good substance by their telling, thus making them uninteresting for their audience (which may, in exceptional cases, be the whole point of, say, a youtube video)

Terrible tellers regularly misjudge the relative interest of the story they relate

(63 views? But it shows something: self-awareness is not enough. In the bits of discourse of this video, the young protagonist actually shows good intuitive understanding of the basic functionning of real user-generated content and exemplifies the over-stated importance of self-awareness in low-quality productionn, which seems to be one of the most influential wrong post-modernist ideas. Or to be more concise: Knowing it’s bad doesn’t stop it from being bad.)

To finish, I’d like to show you a short video about a terrible teller which quotes a paradigmatic utterance of terrible tellers. The video ends by the video’s author stating the traditional view according to which it’s the situation that makes for a good story, which is a view which I hope to have proved wrong:

On reading and publishing of older philosophers

I personally like to read books or essays written by older philosophers. Having proved that they are able to comply with the rules of traditional philosophical publishing, they don’t feel that annoying urge to spell out every detail any more and thus they leave more room for my own thoughts.  This seems tremendously important to me not because I’m so vain, but because I firmly believe Schopenhauer is right to say that “in reading, our head is […] really only the arena of some one else’s thoughts. And so it happens that the person who reads a great deal — that is to say, almost the whole day, and recreates himself by spending the intervals in thoughtless diversion, gradually loses the ability to think for himself; just as a man who is always riding at last forgets how to walk. Such, however, is the case with many men of learning: they have read themselves stupid. […] Just as a spring, through the continual pressure of a foreign body, at last loses its elasticity, so does the mind if it has another person’s thoughts continually forced upon it.” Books by older philosophers leave, I say, more space for your own thoughts, they are less obstinate, less eager to convince the whole world that they are right and thus more inspiring and, usually, their subjects are of higher interest to me.

There was a time when « to publish » was still a success-verb in a more interesting than the grammarians’ sense. At that time, philosophers would usually have to write a lot of highly technical or highly historical papers before they got to publish deep thoughts of their own. In the « Analytic »tradition, the « rite de passage » seems to have been (and within some contexts still is) the publication of very technical papers, in the « Continental » tradition, it was the historical kind which would give an author the credibility to think some thoughts of his own. It would be easy to illustrate this, but it’s not my point. You could pick nearly any philosopher who’s as famous as you can get being a philosopher in the 20th century. I just let you check Bertrand Russell’s and Martin Heidegger’s biographies to see what I mean.

After some purely historical or technical papers, wich were obviously philosophical enough to be accepted as philosophical works by those endowed with the power to accept or reject works for publication, they would write a few more of each kind, and fifteen years after they first sat in a philosophy lecture, they would start to express a few thoughts of their own.

Apart from the approach (technical vs. historical), there was (and still is) also a limited choice of subject matter that was (and still is) automatically admitted as being philosophical: with very few exceptions, if you wrote about Hegel, nobody would have contested that you were doing (Continental) philosophy and it was the same if you wrote about knowing that and knowing how if you were after a chair in Analytic philosophy.

And as you grew older, had written a couple of difficult books, been published (you used to be published, really!) in a couple of important journals, and held a couple of chairs, you would start to think about Art or Religion, or about more ordinary questions, like bullshitting. Maybe you would hold some lecture and eventually have it published in a book or you’d write an essay on a subject you had never treated before for a book edited in your honor.

You wouldn’t be as strict (with yourself), or as precise as in the first 30 years of your career. But you would be more fun and insightful, your books would presuppose less interest in history and less technical skills and your (at least potential) readership would grow. In terms of potential reader (or viewer-ship), the ideal would probably be to be interviewed, like Deleuze, because videos have the highest chance of having high impacts today. Videos also seem to allow for the lowest imaginable standard for philosophical comment, and are ideal places for bullshitting as when Deleuze “argues”: “My fundamental reproach to dogs is that they bark. Barking seems to be the most stupid cry I know.” This quote happens to exemplify Harry Frankfurt’s definition of bullshit, which he takes to be characterized by a speaker “not caring about the truth or falsity of his assertions”.

Now the good thing about being an older philosopher is that you would be happy spelling out some good idea, not feeling you needed to develop each and every one  of them into an academic paper. Most of the times this is actually very nice to read for the reasons stated at the very beginning.

Nelson Goodman’s later essays like « Twisted Tales » or « How Buildings Mean » or Harry Frankfurt’s little book On Bullshit itself are some of the works of older philosophers that I like. And even so: had Frankfurt written On Bullshit when he was still young, before Writing On Truth and on Descartes, he might have ended being a popular, but probably not an academically successful philosopher. As opposed to writing on bullshit when you are young, writing on bullshit when you are old is pretty cool. And probably this makes book a little famous, and definitely more so then it’s content. In this sense, it is different from “What is it like to be a bat?” – which could have been, but isn’t an old philosophers essay – which unites coolness and philosophical relevance.

Or wait! Harry Frankfurt would not have published On Bullshit, because nobody would have published young Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit – or so we can suppose. To be published was a sign of success when Harry Frankfurt (born 1929) was young. On Bullshit is fun to read, but it’s not as systematic or as dense as it would have to be to live up to the high academic standards of publishable-from-a-young-philosopher. But now, as publishing is not a success verb (« as being a sign of success ») any more, I can publish an essay on bullshit – or bullshitting – myself. I can do it here and soon. And so I will.

N.B. I cheated a little. I quite consciously mixed up being a young philosopher and being young when Frankfurt was young, which is, say, until 1969. In 2005, it might actually have been possible for a young philosopher to publish a book on bullshit and the very same book Harry Frankfurt published, just because it’s subject matter was fancy enough. But it would have been much harder to do for me than for him. Now, one could ask if that’s rightly so, as when Karl Kraus says (something like) « The quote was supposed to be from Hofmannsthal and it was bad, but it finally turned out that it was from Goethe and quite good. »

These are three of my favourite logos .Is it obvious why I like them and think they are about as good as it get’s in logo design? It’s got something to do with how they minimalistically exemplifiy what they are about.

More precisely, the Focus Features logo visually exemplifies the opposite of what the word means, i.e. it exemplifies being out of focus. A visual effect troubles the reading and visually generates a meaning that is opposed to the meaning of the word it constitutes together with the other letters. It suggests difference and opposition. And Focus features was indeed involved in some of the best and surprising movies that I know.

The Desigual [Inequal] logo exemplifies inequality (of one among many), and suggests that this is what their apparel procures, which might well be true.

As for the Palomar5 logo it doesen’t really exemplify anything it means, but it shows that seeing as can exist for signs as well as pictures. That there’s not only visual seeing as, but that it also exists for conventional signs, or symbols. In a very large sense, one could say that it exemplifies creatively using what pre-exists, but that’s only part of what the project was about.

I find it interesting because of its relation to the seeing of aspects as theorized by Wittgenstein, which apparently doesn’t only exist for pictures like the famous duck-rabbit, but also for signs like the LO5 above.

Seeing as (or “seeing of aspects”) is a phenomenon I’ve been exploring for a while and I wrote about it before.

N.B. (There’s a fourth I couldn’t find. It’s from a American artist-founded house-painting company called “That’s paint” (the curator Steven Wright showed me some pictures of it) and a fifth I don’t find too bad for an engineering competition in problem-solving (or something like that). I would be interested in other suggestions along the same lines…