Tuesday 20 September 2016

What Happens When You Live To 98

Everyone forgets you, that's what - even if you had a bit of a name in your time.

Also on the noticeboard at the weekend was this sad offering:

(I feel they might have spared her the tack through the skull.)  I hadn't heard she'd died, and so rushed back to find an obituary or three.  But there were none to be had from google this side of the Times paywall.

So who was Jean Austin?  A fairly well-known philosophy don: OK, second-rate, and (if we're being honest) trading a bit off the name of her illustrious husband, J.L.Austin; Then again, he's all-but-forgotten, too - and he was a titan in his day.

It was said of Jean that in one epic year she got a First, married John, and had twins.   Otherwise, she plugged a variety of the post-Wittgenstein 'ordinary language philosophy' which helped elevate Oxford's standing to pre-eminence in the 50's and 60's, before US linguists and logicians started to become a dominant force in analytic philosophy.

John Austin was a phenomenon, even if thoroughly out of fashion today.  In his day he was up there with Strawson, Ryle and Ayer, with a distinct brand of his own, summed up in wittily-titled books like Sense and Sensibilia (Austin ... geddit?).  All preceded by a deeply impressive wartime career in intelligence.   Just as Cambridge specialised in traitors in the mid 1900's, as Mr R said in comments yesterday, Oxford has been quite the other way around.
Austin had been recruited to set up, and ended up heading, the "order of battle" section of what became SHAEF (the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force) under Eisenhower. The section was responsible for collecting and analysing information from a variety of sources, including the top-secret Enigma at Bletchley Park, but also through the developing art of aerial reconnaissance (which later became satellite imaging) and human intelligence from the resistance across Europe, in support of the war effort generally and to prepare for the D-Day landing. It is said that when the German army surrendered at Frankfurt, Austin was the only person amongst the Allies who knew where all of the German army was actually located
That passage is from an interesting philosophical book review of earlier this year, which goes on to look at Austin in the Ordinary Language Philosophy movement - and draws on analogies between linguistic reasoning and military intelligence.  For anyone even slightly interested, that is!  You can readily guess that I am.  (And if you are, you can even check out the 'philosophy' tag below ...)



James Higham said...

This happens the whole time, especially as they become shy and retiring. The world moves busily the other side of the wall.

Electro-Kevin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Electro-Kevin said...

It's shocking when you find out that someone from an old Carry On film (who was old-ish in the '70s) is being fed soup in a care home this day.

The old lady next door is 90 and I'm the only person she sees now. She tells me her life used to be such a social whirl, people in and out of her house all the time... parties everywhere. All those people are either dead or in geriatric care now. (She was secretary to the war time Lord Mayor of London and was eye candy in her time.)

She says the worst thing about ageing is being left behind and it is not better than the alternative, as some say.

Roll on death !

dearieme said...

"before US linguists and logicians started to become a dominant force": anyone who thinks that money doesn't matter should look at the rise of the American universities from the 50s onwards. Anyone who thinks that only money matters should look at the unreversed decline of what was for more than century the world's outstanding university system - Germany's.

Electro-Kevin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thud said...

Just back from visiting family in Utah, as Mormons they have huge families and from what I've seen over the years the old do not go without company of all ages same for my Chinese family here too...cultural?

Eman sherkawy said...

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