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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

Laura Carroll
Mark Bauerlein
Miriam Jones

Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

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cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Archives | The Literary Wittgenstein

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Literary Wittgenstein and Theory’s Empire

Posted by John Holbo on 05/12/05 at 04:48 AM

As mentioned a few days ago, I am planning a few Massive Multi-Thinker Online Reviews on the lines of the China Miéville event at CT. This post gives some advance detail, in case you want to do your homework early.

Continue reading "The Literary Wittgenstein and Theory’s Empire"

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Strayed Poet

Posted by John Holbo on 08/15/05 at 10:10 AM

In the early 30’s, I.A. Richards briefly attended Wittgenstein’s seminars and wrote “The Strayed Poet”:

Continue reading "The Strayed Poet"

Interpreting the Idiot

Posted by Peter Sattler, Guest Author, on 08/15/05 at 11:17 PM

This is a guest post by frequent Valve commenter Peter Sattler. - the Management

Let me get one thing straight: there is nothing wrong with doing philosophy.  And what’s more, there’s nothing wrong with exploring the creative ground that philosophy and literature might share.  Heck, in my day, I dreamed of such a union.  Perhaps I hoped that a quick injection of philosophy might juice up my scrawny lit-crit game — making it a bit heavier, a bit smarter.  Better, stronger, faster.

But things have changed.  Nowadays, I leave a book like The Literary Wittgenstein feeling little better than disappointment.  To be sure, by the book’s end I was convinced that “the literary” (more a concept than a practice or an attribute) had much to offer Wittgenstein scholars.  But what does “the literary” get in return?  What does philosophy — as philosophy — have to offer literature that it doesn’t already have?  What can philosophers tell literary critics about their jobs that critics don’t already know? 

Continue reading "Interpreting the Idiot"

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

On the Old Saw, ‘Every reading of a text is an interpretation’

Posted by John Holbo on 08/16/05 at 10:32 PM

We present, from The Literary Wittgenstein, for your downloading convenience, Martin Stone’s essay  "On the Old Saw, ‘Every reading of a text is an interpretation’: Some Remarks" (PDF). [Normally material on this site is CC by default. In this case, the author retains his full ©.]

It’s a good paper. It sets Wittgenstein against Fish, and we’ve had good discussions of Fish of late. And it relates to the Theory’s Empire stuff. (Hope that’s a good thing.) And Martin says he’s busy but he’ll try to participate. So folks should find it interesting (I hope.) It’s a long paper which I think will benefit from ... well, knowing me, it will turn out to be a quite a thick frame. Let me quote the opening paragraphs, make a few remarks. Then I’ll quote a few more bits and make more remarks, generally aimed at indicating why I find Stone interesting and important.

Continue reading "On the Old Saw, ‘Every reading of a text is an interpretation’"

Primitive Language Games

Posted by Matt Greenfield on 08/16/05 at 11:15 PM

What follows below is a slightly modified version of a passage from an article I published in 1995:

A great deal has been written about Wittgenstein, but there are curious gaps still open.  Relatively little has been written about Wittgenstein as a literary artist, and it seems to me that Wittgenstein’s affiliations to Hegel as well as to Augustine and spiritual autobiography deserve more attention.  As far as I can tell, neither Hegel nor Augustine shows up in the writings of Ayer, Cavell, or Kripke on Wittgenstein.

Wittgenstein begins the Philosophical Investigations with Augustine’s account of how, as a baby, he began to acquire language.  When Augustine’s elders named an object, at the same time they indicated the object “verbis naturalibus omnium gentium” [with the natural language of all peoples]--with facial expressions and movements of the body.  Augustine learned to associate names with objects.  This ostensive account of language acquisition, Wittgenstein proceeds to demonstrate, can account for only a subset of what we call language.  He goes on to show how complex and mysterious that process of pointing out an object or a quality of an object is, and Augustine’s account of language acquisition is soon left behind.  Wittgenstein, though, was one of the great prose artists of this century, and one whose favorite rhetorical strategy was one of implication.  The meaning of the Investigations, in a sense, emerges in the blank spaces between paragraphs.  The quotation from Augustine is particularly pregnant with hidden meaning.  It is not an accident that the quotation comes from the Confessions.  Like the Confessions, the Investigations look back over the life of their narrator as if he had died and become someone else, someone who understands the errors of that former way of life.  Wittgenstein, who generally had little interest in publishing his work, wanted to publish his first book, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, together with the Investigations, in a single volume.  Between the writing of the Tractatus and the Investigations, Wittgenstein experienced a turn away from his earlier philosophy that amounted to a conversion.

Continue reading "Primitive Language Games"

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Subliming Interpretation: Stone Frames some Issues in his Paper (and Replies To Holbo)

Posted by Martin Stone, Guest Author, on 08/17/05 at 04:21 AM

Martin Stone is a guest author and contributor to the Literary Wittgenstein. He has kindly consented to make his paper from the volume available for download here.  - the Management

I’m happy that it is John who has introduced my paper and not me. I’ll just add one general introductory remark. The paper does rather dwell a lot on Fish. But it was also the first place I articulated an idea which John doesn’t mention (yet) but which I have begun to deepen in forthcoming work of mine. Very briefly this: People sublime the term "interpretation." They forget very simple and obvious things, for example, that an interpretation is a  kind of explanation. And that explaining is an activity - an intentional activity. (I know this will sound odd to people who have Derridean and Nietzschean "active interpretation" (interpretation as a condition of the intelligibility of everything) in their heads; but it must not be forgotten that when Nietzsche, for example, uses the word like this, he is relying on our familiarity with the use of the term in other everyday contexts (not merely introducing a technical term). And an activity of explaining is what an interpretation is in the everyday sense!! (This is what Wittgenstein calls a "reminder". It’s perfectly obvious, but it becomes invisible to us.

Continue reading "Subliming Interpretation: Stone Frames some Issues in his Paper (and Replies To Holbo)"

Friday, August 19, 2005

Metaphysical MacGuffin

Posted by John Holbo on 08/19/05 at 11:35 AM

It’s Friday night. You need something not too heavy, but heavy enough to keep you from binge drinking, then driving into a thick fog, unawares.

Wittgenstein:

Now someone tells me that he knows what pain is only from his own case! - Suppose everyone had a box with something in it: we call it a “beetle”. No one can look into anyone else’s box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle. - Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might even imagine such a thing constantly changing. - But suppose the word “beetle” had a use in these people’s language? - If so if would not be used as the name of a thing. The thing in the box has no place in the language-game at all; not even as a something; for the box might even be empty. - No, one can ‘divide through’ by the thing in the box; it cancels out, whatever it is. (PI, §293)

So on a certain conception the mind is a MacGuffin. (See also this.) Hitchcock:

It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says, ‘What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?’ And the other answers, ‘Oh that’s a McGuffin.’ The first one asks ‘What’s a McGuffin?’ ‘Well’ the other man says, ‘It’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.’ The first man says, ‘But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,’ and the other one answers ‘Well, then that’s no McGuffin!’ So you see, a McGuffin is nothing at all.

The meaning of a MacGuffin is its use. If a Highlands lion could speak, we would not understand him.

What other metaphysical MacGuffins does the history of philosophy present: Plato’s Heaven? Kant’s Ding an Sich?

The solution of philosophical problems can be compared with a gift in a fairy tale: in the magic castle it appears enchanted and if you look at it outside in the daylight it is nothing but an ordinary bit of iron (or something of the sort). (CV, p. 11)

I think Wittgenstein does see philosophers as like characters contending over something that is, oddly, not what they really end up contending over. The real problems drop out and we are left with pseudo-problems. What should be a serious matter takes on the air of a comedy of manners. I’ve been writing a lot about mannerism as an aesthetic failure that tracks philosophical failure. “I think I summed up my position on philosophy when I said: philosophy ought really to be written only as a form of poetry ... I was thereby revealing myself as someone who cannot quite do what he would like to be able to do” (CV 24). At this point I would have to say a lot about Schopenhauer; that’s too heavy for Friday night.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

When the 105th log passed, I ate dinner

Posted by John Holbo on 08/21/05 at 09:46 AM

John Emerson has a short essay up on Wittgenstein. As you may recall, John defended a charmingly indefensible account of analytic philosophy in comments to this post. (There is, by the by, an interesting article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on ‘analysis’, with an appendix that tries to make sense of ‘analytic philosophy’.) John starts this new piece by getting out from under that old rock, like so:

My backup position is that Wittgenstein was a much more complex figure than any of the other analytic philosophers, and that he had important concerns which they didn’t share.

The problem with this is that ‘complex’ is not it - not what John really means, I’m reasonably sure. (Think about it.) Also, ‘had important concerns others didn’t share’ isn’t it. (Russell had those. Frege did. I suppose all major philosophers do.) Really Emerson likes Wittgenstein because he sees him as an ethical existentialist. Fair enough. That’s why I like him, too, truthfully. But I do wish John would peel his interest in this aspect of Wittgenstein off his animus toward analytic philosophy. As I’ve said before, I don’t think John has enough familiarity with the length and breadth of analytic philosophy to be generalizing. (This sounds patronizing. I really think John is a very smart guy so I just wish he would stop overextending along this axis.) Example. He seems to think there is a “view from nowhere” position on indexicality characteristic of analytic philosophy. No. There are sides taken in a dauntingly many-sided debate. Some participants take positions more or less like those I think Emerson favors. For example, Thomas ‘view from nowhere’ Nagel himself does so. (The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an article on indexicals which, I confess, I have not read. Might be interesting.) As I’ve said before, there is a huge scholarly industry churning out papers on the ethical Wittgenstein, the religious Wittgenstein, the existential Wittgenstein ... the literary Wittgenstein. Some of this writing is good, much of it is very bad. But it has been a long time since anyone could pretend that by taking this sort of position one was bucking the scholarly establishment. (Obviously I approve of these topics, otherwise I wouldn’t be encouraging discussion of them.)

Here’s something interesting. John writes:

I think that this passage from Toulmin gives us the clue: “All that is certain is that, whatever the strict implications of his later position, the absolute dichotomy of facts and values was of great importance to him – of greater importance, indeed, than any particular philosophical argument that might have been put forward to underpin or justify it.”

Clue to what? How Wittgenstein could pass as a positivist, more or less:

Most early analytic philosophers were primarily trying to produce a pure objective philosophy uncorrupted by human desires and prejudices, in the belief that this philosophy would be truer and more scientific ... Wittgenstein, however, had a double motive. He was also trying to protect his ethical, aesthetic, and existential commitments (which in Wittgenstein are all one thing, most often simply called “ethics”) from contamination by simple-minded factual, logical, common-sense, or scientific argumentation.

There’s truth to this (although it oversimplifies. Many analytic philosophers - many members of the Vienna Circle - could and did appreciate the double motive. That old Kantian “make room for faith” move. It also distorts: analytic philosophers aren’t so toweringly hubristic and cold as all that.) I do think, however, that Wittgenstein truly gave up the sharp fact/value distinction in his later work. The point of the early work was that you could, by rigorous analysis, walk right up to the transcendental line. You could machine it down to extensionlessness. In the later philosophy, he no longer believes in all that. But this is something to argue about, frankly. Nothing obvious about it.

John has also compiled a page of tendentiously-selected citations. He includes the indeed very important category of: “Cool Kafkaesque things Wittgenstein said that don’t seem like they could come from a contemporary analytic philosopher.” It’s true. That’s one of the major reasons why there can be a volume on The Literary Wittgenstein. Sounds silly to put it so baldly. But yes. It is so.

Continue reading "When the 105th log passed, I ate dinner"

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Restlessness and the Achievement of Peace

Posted by Timothy Gould, Guest Author, on 08/25/05 at 02:30 AM

Below is an excerpt from Timothy Gould's essay, "Restlessness and the Achievement of Peace: Writing and Method in Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations". I'm working up a post discussing it. But first I'll just say: it's a good essay. I've praised it in my NDPR review of The Literary Wittgenstein:

The core of Gould's essay is a close reading of PI par. 112-138, elucidating an oft-quoted bit: "A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably" (par. 115) ... To get the details, read Gould. But the complex irony he is exploring can be appreciated in the abstract ...

But you don't need to bother with my incessant, bee-like buzzings at abstract appreciations of complex ironies. What it comes to is: it's often a mistake to read Wittgenstein as an aphorist, even when he writes what look like aphorisms. With the kind permission of the author I present ... the details (well, a substantial portion of them).

- the Management

Continue reading "Restlessness and the Achievement of Peace"

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Attraction of Imperfection

Posted by John Holbo on 08/26/05 at 01:35 AM

This post goes together with the post below, containing excerpts from Timothy Gould’s essay. (I don’t really explain how it goes together, but it does.) It relates to some other posts, and my NDPR review. (It also stitches together bits from my dissertation I never much liked, but would like to like; but that’s ancient history ...)

Gould’s title - "Restlessness and the Achievement of Peace" - is taken from Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, §133: "The real discovery is the one that makes me capable of stopping doing philosophy when I want to. - The one that gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions which bring itself in question. - Instead we now demonstrate a method, by examples; and the series of examples can be broken off. - Problems are solved (difficulties eliminated), not a single problem."

What method ?

Continue reading "The Attraction of Imperfection"

Monday, August 29, 2005

Wittgenstein in Hawaii: A Non-Philosopher’s Naive Questions About the Philosophical Investigations

Posted by Matt Greenfield on 08/29/05 at 12:11 AM

Let me begin far away from Wittgenstein - half a planet away - with the work of Derek Bickerton, a linguist who teaches at the University of Hawaii in Manoa.  My parable (or, in Kenneth Burke’s phrase, my representative anecdote) begins with a scene on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.  One day in 1897 a father of Portugese extraction discovered that his small son had somehow acquired a nickel, a large sum of money.  Asked to explain where the coin had come from, the child responded with the Hawaian Creole English sentence, “One kanaka make me one bad thing inside of house.” After questioning, the child revealed that a man had sexually molested him and given him the money as a bribe to keep silent.  No one at the time found remarkable the child’s use of the indefinite article “one,” but many years later linguists noticed that this was the first recorded use of the new article.  No previous recorded Hawaiian Creole utterance contains any indefinite article whatsoever, and for some time afterward the only recorded users of indefinite articles are small children. 

Continue reading "Wittgenstein in Hawaii: A Non-Philosopher’s Naive Questions About the Philosophical Investigations"

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Some Solid Pieces of Stone?

Posted by John Holbo on 09/08/05 at 02:32 PM

The Literary Wittgenstein rears its head again - like so: an essay (PDF) by one of the volume contributors we've had as a guest, Martin Stone. It's entitled "On Reflective Practices and 'Substituting For God'"; I gather is to be published somewhere (so I'll add that Martin retains his full ©.) The piece is a reply to a reply to a reply to a paper Martin wrote about Stanley Fish for another volume - Postmodern Sophistry and the Critical Enterprise ['Enterpise', according to Amazon] - similar in theme to the Stone-on-Fish paper we posted here.

So it's inside baseball, yes. (Go read something else, then, for heaven sake.) I find it interesting. Let me try to say why.

Continue reading "Some Solid Pieces of Stone?"

Friday, September 16, 2005

Rotating the Axis of Our Investigation - or - the Importance of Being Urn-est

Posted by John Holbo on 09/16/05 at 08:46 AM

Mastering a language, together with all its subtleties and turns of phrase … does not consist in logical rules, but directly in their correct application, just as one musically gifted learns the rules of harmony through merely playing the piano by ear without reading the notes and studying thorough-bass.
– Schopenhauer 

ALGERNON: Did you hear what I was playing, Lane?
LANE: I didn't think it polite to listen, sir.
ALGERNON: I'm sorry for that, for your sake. I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte.

- Wilde

I am pleased to present another selection from The Literary Wittgenstein: the final three sections of Richard Eldridge’s paper, “Rotating the Axis of Our Investigation, Wittgenstein’s investigations and Hölderlin’s poetology” (PDF). We forebear to publish the whole out of courtesy to Routledge. I praised Eldridge in my NDPR review.

This post started out as introduction, but has selfishly aggrandized itself into an essay, lightly bookended by links to Eldridge's themes. Pardon the haphazard footnoting in places. (You want references? Email me.) I'm stitching old bits together in new ways, experimentally.

Continue reading "Rotating the Axis of Our Investigation - or - the Importance of Being Urn-est"

Monday, November 14, 2005

Notes on two or three ways of reading the ordinary

Posted by Timothy Gould, Guest Author, on 11/14/05 at 06:59 PM

This is a post by guest author Timothy Gould, one of the contributors to The Literary Wittgestein. So this is a late contribution to our book event. Tim wants me to tell you he regards this as a paper draft and so would like to attach the standard "do not cite without permission" caveat, should the thing - as Plato frets - roll around and end up somewhere surprising, nay scholarly, etc.

Let me say a few more words, because I find Gould's piece interesting but fear it is not written up in a way that invites the non-specialist to share the view. First, Gould is responding to Stone and Eldridge, responding to Wittgenstein (see links below); so if you haven't been following the thread, you may have trouble picking it up. Second, I think Gould buries the lede, as the journos say. (Is it possible to discuss Cavell and not?) Let me have a go. Wittgenstein says 'the philosopher subsists on a one-sided diet of examples'. That means, at a minimum: you have a few cases where your account seems to work, and your interest in these cases charms you into overlooking what should be quite obvious counter-examples. Gould is diagnosing dueling one-sided diet plans, you might say. Stone looks at Fish and sees him missing obvious counter-examples. Gould then looks at Stone, looking at Fish, and sees him - not as saying anything that is clearly wrong, but as saying too little about the very cases that loom too large in Fish's account. A balance needs striking.

So that's the lede, and it is of broader interest than it might seem because, to a no doubt limited degree, Fish and Stone typify different cultures of thinking about 'interpretation'. It's too crude to say Fish thinks like an English professor, Stone like an Anglo-American philosophy prof. Yet that may be a helpful ladder, so long as you dispose of it promptly. It's meant to draw attention to the question of: what sorts of cases interest people? Bafflement at the wrong-headedness of others - about interpretation, about many matters - is often connected to divergent taste in problems. I'm going well beyond Gould in letting Fish and Stone stand approximate proxy for their respective departments. If anyone wishes to make me regret that overextension, it wouldn't be hard. - the Management

Continue reading "Notes on two or three ways of reading the ordinary"

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Metaphysical Life of Paper

Posted by John Holbo on 11/22/05 at 02:03 AM

Let me extend our series on lust and decrepitude, i.e. the advantages and disadvantages of paper for life. if:book linked a few days ago to a Malcolm Gladwell New Yorker piece, “The Social Life of Paper". I agree with this critique, in particular; which pretty much strips the Gladwell piece back to some interesting anecdotes. (If I were to add anything, it might be: ‘the paperless office’ is a slogan, hence not really a worthy target for sustained analytic assault to begin with.)

Continue reading "The Metaphysical Life of Paper"