Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Title: Title

The name of this blog comes from a poem by Philip Larkin, the conclusion of which Virginia Heffernan reproduces here. As Ginny points out (does anyone call her Ginny? I don't know; I don't know her. But "Virginia" sounds too formal for a blogospheric cross reference, to say nothing of "Heffernan".), Richard Rorty made much of the phrase "blind impress" in his book Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, which is why it lodged in my mind (although I had my own Larkin fixation before I started reading Rorty, thank you very much). Before my band, the Hopeful Monsters, fell apart recently, we had planned to cut a new album, and I'd been secretly scheming to call it Blind Impress. Maybe I'll still use that title if I ever make another CD, but in the meantime, thanks to my friend Tim, I guess I've found another way to use it as a personal slogan.

Rorty used "blind impress" to describe collections of his titular contingencies -- the biases, beliefs, obsessions, and convictions that a person acquires over a lifetime. His point in using the word "contingency" is that the forces that shape us are arbitrary and historically conditioned; he hoped the idea of a "blind impress" would replace that of an "intrinsic nature", just as the notion of a "historically conditioned bias" would replace that of "apprehension of ahistorical truth/virtue through the uniquely human faculty of reason".

So there are several reasons that I think Blind Impress makes a good title for my blog. The first, obvious one is that I'm going to be writing about, among other things, philosophy and literature, and I'm sympathetic to both Rorty's philosophical stance and Larkin's aesthetics. Another is that Rorty's notion of contingency spares me the trouble of trying to find something common to music, literature, film, and philosophy that lets me rope them off from the rest of culture -- from, say, painting and economics. There is no such common feature: these just happen to be the things I'm interested in. (Actually, I'm interested in painting and economics, too. I just don't feel I have the authority to address them. In the four areas I'm restricting myself to, I think I know what I'm talking about.)

Another reason is that I want to emphasize that, in making the aesthetic and philosophical judgments that I am surely going to make, I am aware that I'm simply indicating my own historically conditioned biases. (If I hadn't wanted to be thought smart, I probably wouldn't have fought my way through Ulysses for the first time; if I'd been better at sports in junior high, I probably wouldn't have placed so much value on being thought smart; etc.) That of course raises the question of why I would consider it worthwhile to attempt to broadcast those judgments in the first place. All I can say is, I've profited from engaging with other people's attempts to justify their own arbitrary biases, and I hope other people will profit from engaging with mine.

Finally, there's the reason that I wanted to use "Blind Impress" as an album title in the first place. This may not end up having a lot to do with this blog, but the songs that I've been writing for the last couple years adopt, I think, a slightly removed perspective on their subjects. They pull back a little from the immediate passions or contending systems of values that they describe and attempt to locate them in a larger ecosystem of contingencies. Some people may consider that a defect, but whatever. It's the stance that I've been historically conditioned to adopt.

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