In discussing aesthetics and the interpretation of art on Tuesday, I left off with Friedrich Nietzsche’s assertion that in the judgement of art one must take into account the power relationships between the institutions that define art – those could include art museums, government, universities and organized religion or even some group of cohorts like the circle of artists that lived in Paris in the 1930s. He thought that these power relationships could create encourage and recommend less than great art for their political ends. Not necessarily politics in terms of voters and representatives, but cultural politics. Thus these players in creating standards might muzzle the “vitality” of art. When mentioning Nietzsche there is always the possibility of invoking a negative response just because of the reputation and historical associations. When someone talks about preserving the “Canon” of western literature, of the necessity for standards, they are not invoking every breath of what Nietzsche meant, but they are in the same ballpark. Where Rorty saw thoughtful criticism as a pursuit that unraveled standards over time and dependent on the strengths of multiple courses of insight, Nietzsche saw an ongoing cultural war between those who would drag down the best for the sake of an average and community pleasing standard. Many writers, artists and scholars clearly prefer the battle. Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal being one of the more famous public warriors over what constituted good literature. While Rorty might be the most egalitarian of the two philosophers, they both believed in a form of the standards model. While that model might have plenty of subjectivity it does provide a filter through which the best survives and, the mediocre and bad parish. Why have a model or standards. While the modern era provides consumers of art historically unprecedented levels of power especially in regards what literature sales, the same is not true for paintings or even for literature in terms of longevity. Who ultimately provides the longevity and scholarly esteem of a work is determined by scholars – some purely academic and others religious. Whether those academics adhere to Rorty, Nietzsche, Michel Foucault, Edward Said or any other philosophers who has studied esthetics and how we come to our judgements we are using self-confirming categories and assumptions based on standard methods of teaching. Thus there is a circle in which evaluation becomes a subjective circle that is inherent in how we pass down knowledge. That circle can be, according to Said, vicious and part of the will-to-power. The very human desire to have, not always the last word, but to have one’s opinion carry respected weight. One answer to that is to embrace everything that moves us. That might seem a bridge too far for some, while being the ultimate in freedom and egalitarian spirit represented by some art and artists. Susan Sontag wrote a famous essay on this point of view called “Against interpretation”. Sontag wrote, “the effusion of interpretations of art . . . poisons our sensibilities”. The everyday version of this is I liked it – the book, movie, photograph and I don’t care what the critics think. A very popular point of view. It also gives the person saying it the pleasure of being seen, hopefully anyway, as a rugged individualist who is immune to the opinions of what is seen, not as thoughtful examiners of art, but as the educated elite. These are the people who gave us Guns and Roses back in 1980s, best sellers by pulp master Harold Robbins and pastel water colors of kittens in a basket. Sontag continues about the professional class on art interpretations that they are responsible for “the hypertrophy of the intellect at the expense of energy and sensual capacity”. Process and sensation should rule our judgments, which are subjective anyway, and that according to some of the brightest philosophers in history who spent the requisite ten thousand hours plus mastering the subject. Since we’re running in circles according to Sontag she concluded, “In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art”. Sontag wrote that in the 1960s when even among academics there was an everything is groovy in its way way strain running through some art criticism. Though that view was not particularly new. In the 1940s literary critic and scholar Cleanth Brooks wrote an essay called “The heresy of paraphrase” in which he asserted that understanding thus interpretation – paraphrasing – could not do justice to or capture the very subtle meanings of the poet’s thoughts. In some ways the reader ends up with a new poem which now has a light varnish of the interpretation’s imagination rather than the raw thoughts of the original. In his own way, remember Rorty’s recommendation to embrace irony, Brooks was reinterpreting the thoughts of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment. Kant made the case that beauty is defined by its self-sufficient nature. For an inquiry into reason(I’m a fan of Kant, especially his thoughts on morality, but he did have plenty of logical flaws in his arguments.) Kant makes clear appeals to something humanity has in its heart, a mythical quality, stating that beauty is “purposefulness without purpose” and “lawfulness without a law”. One of many circles which Kant found himself toward the end of an argument. Though his words do capture aesthetic feelings, aesthetic moments of realization that are difficult to quantify. Even combined the two posts on interpreting art in no way do justice to the subject and I have no recommendation. I find that I have a tendency towards Rortyism, but while hurting others feeling is unavoidable, being contentious does not suit me as a permanent state in everyday life – see The Invention of Lying – I am often publicly of the Sontag/Kant school. Moments which require my opinion or yours, frequently requires a choice between being honest and cruel, or being kind or at least neutral. That is another dilemma, are you being kind when you lie in some circumstances. Is your honesty really the last word in truth or is that ultimately some transitory belief that you later regret for being so blunt and judgmental.
Today’s biology lesson courtesy Megan Carpentier, Uteruses, how do they work? – Arizona lawmakers think pregnancy starts before conception. The religious right needs to get the facts right on reproduction
Of course, some religious conservatives believe that ovulation is a vast leftwing conspiracy anyway: despite the fact that birth control pills prevent ovulation by regulating the hormones that normally trigger it, some on the religious right have declared the pill an abortifacient, claiming that women taking the pill nonetheless ovulate, inadvertently fertilise their eggs and discard their precious offspring when the demon pill flushes the baby from their magical reproductive system. I mean, it’s all so weird up in there, with those internal genitals from which life eventually springs forth, who can really be expected to understand it but God?
In the 21st century USA do we really want to have the moral standards and contempt for humanism displayed by the 15th century Inquisitors who burned Joan of Arc. They later apologized and made her a saint, but just a tad too late for that essential moment of rational enlightenment.
Quote of the day: “Nothing like that rushing through the water at what seemed to you a speed of about 200 miles an hour; all the way in from the far distant raft, until you arrived, gently slowing down, on the beach, and foundered among the soft flowing waves.” – mystery write Agatha Christie on the pleasures of surfing (15 September 1890 – 12 January 1976).
Vetiver – Blue Driver- swing blues.