Of pixels and pictures 
Last month, I presented a short version of my paper on musical works as historical individuals at our department's annual video conference with philosophers in Russia. My colleague Jason D'Cruz presented a paper about Goodman's distinction between autographic and allographic works, applying the distinction to digital photographs. We got to talking afterwards and, realizing we had common interests, began to collaborate.

The result, so far, is a paper about digital pictures. It's far enough along that today I posted a draft on my website.

Are digital pictures allographic?


Abstract: The short answer to our title question is yes, but of course there are complications along the way.


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Chthonic prose 
I write like
H. P. Lovecraft

I Write Like. Analyze your writing!

According to this silly widget, my academic prose most resembles the writing of HP Lovecraft. It was he, not I, who wrote:
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

I tested the widget's algorithm for robustness. It thought I was Lovecraftian more often than not, but it sometimes said Edgar Allen Poe instead. My blog posts about the internet it unfailingly compared to Cory Doctorow, and my posts about planets to Arthur C. Clark.

So the widget is a bit wobbly. It identifies the paragraph above (which is from the beginning of Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu) as being from Lovecraft. If asked to say something about the first three paragraphs of The Call of Cthulhu altogether, however, the widget indicates that it is in the style of Arthur C Clark.

This can be taken as harmless fun, but perhaps it suggests the deep and disturbing fact that my prose is precisely as much like Lovecraft's as Lovecraft's own prose. It is as if my literary output is just the continuation of his corpus.


...or perhaps...


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Can't keep a Goodman down 
I've been thinking lately about Nelson Goodman's distinction between autographic and allographic art forms. I'll recap the distinction briefly, then blog something trivial about it!

For autographic forms like painting and print-making, the only way of characterizing what counts as an instance of a particular work is by reference to its history. For example: A painting counts as the work that it is because it was painted thusly by such-and-so painter. A woodcut print counts as the work that it is because it was produced from a particular woodcut block. A sculpture counts as the work that it is because it is chiseled thusly by such-and-so sculptor (for marble statues) or because it is cast from a mold which has the right kind of history (for a bronze statue).

For allographic forms like literature and music, we can specify formally what would count as an instance of a particular works. So there is a sense at least in which we can identify an instance without considering its history. For example: A poem can be characterized by words, punctuation, and line breaks. A traditional musical work can be characterized by notes.

Goodman suggests that all art forms begin as autographic. They can become allographic when a suitable notation is developed. Moreover, he conjectures that this will only happen under specific circumstances. He writes, "Amenability to notation depends upon a precedent practice that develops only if works of the art in question are commonly either ephemeral or not producible by one person."*

So I was reading about Nathan Sawaya's Lego sculptures. They are built out of Lego bricks, and the assembly of Lego bricks is readily expressible in a precise notation.** So, unlike marble or bronze statues, these are allographic works.

Note that the Lego sculptures are neither ephemeral nor are they team projects, making them a counterexample to Goodman's claim (which I quoted above). They are amenable to notation because they use Lego bricks, and Lego bricks are amenable notation because they were originally designed as a childrens' toy.

To gesture at the bigger picture, I think it is helpful to tease apart the autographic/allographic distinction from more specific things Goodman said about it. And I think he was right to draw the distinction.

More on that later. I'll post a draft eventually.

* Languages of Art, pages 121-2
** Some of the sculptures involve Lego bricks scattered about in imprecise ways, and that can't be fully notated. My point only applies to the sculptures in which the bricks are all snapped together.

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The professional bullet points 
A moment ago, I posted an up-to-date version of my CV on my website.

I struggle to include as much information as possible while still making the document usable. I've tweaked the formatting a bit for the PDF version. Articles and presentations are now numbered lists, but numbered in reverse because they are in reverse chronological order. Articles are all listed together, with small letters indicating features like whether they were invited or refereed.

Preening my CV is something I do, now and again. I'm not sure that the changes always make it better, but they make keeping the document up-to-date not-to-stultifying.

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Bon mots 
Via Leiter, I was led to Gerald Dworkin's recent Kindle e-book Philosophy: A Commonplace Book. It's an amalgamation of witticisms, some of which are intended to make sincere points in a funny way, some of which are meant to be funny without actually endorsing the claim superficially made by them, and some of which lack enough context to be determinately in either of those first two groups.

I was a fan of books like this when I was younger. The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes was a favourite. So I was interested enough to click the preview and (as the button says) Look Inside!

To my surprise, one of the quotations is from me! More specifically, it's from the introductory philosophy quiz that Ryan Hickerson and I wrote fifteen years ago. We posted the original on the wall of out grad student office, where it stayed for years, and I also put it on my website.

Short Answer Philosophy Test

Define reality. Give two examples.

Escape the hermeneutic circle with only a fishing line and a Swiss Army knife.

Assume solipsism is true. Why aren't more people solipsists?

Evaluate the following argument: "If conventionalism is true it must be true by convention. We do not believe in conventionalism. Therefore, we should change our beliefs because conventionalism is self-evident."

Demonstrate the validity of the fallacy of composition.

Magnus and Hickerson

Two thoughts:

First, Dworkin's attributions are not uniform. But I think that being cited as "Magnus and Hickerson" sans first names makes us sound like a comedy act, like "Abbot and Costello" or "Fry and Laurie".

Second, I wondered for a brief moment how I could list this on my CV.

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