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run pretty, run fast

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  • Trinidad Cruz
    There was in those days a general of aristocratic connections, the owner of great estates, one of those men -- somewhat exceptional, I believe, even then --
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 11, 2007
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      "There was in those days a general of aristocratic connections, the
      owner of great estates, one of those men -- somewhat exceptional, I
      believe, even then -- who, retiring from the service into a life of
      leisure, are convinced that they've earned absolute power over the
      lives of their subjects. There were such men then. So our general,
      settled on his property of two thousand souls, lives in pomp, and
      domineers over his poor neighbors as though they were dependents and
      buffoons. He has kennels of hundreds of hounds and nearly a hundred
      dog-boys -- all mounted, and in uniform. One day a serf-boy, a little
      child of eight, threw a stone in play and hurt the paw of the
      general's favorite hound. 'Why is my favorite dog lame?' He is told
      that the boy threw a stone that hurt the dog's paw. 'So you did it.'
      The general looked the child up and down. 'Take him.' He was taken --
      taken from his mother and kept shut up all night. Early that morning
      the general comes out on horseback, with the hounds, his dependents,
      dog-boys, and huntsmen, all mounted around him in full hunting parade.
      The servants are summoned for their edification, and in front of them
      all stands the mother of the child. The child is brought from the
      lock-up. It's a gloomy, cold, foggy, autumn day, a capital day for
      hunting. The general orders the child to be undressed; the child is
      stripped naked. He shivers, numb with terror, not daring to cry....
      'Make him run,' commands the general. 'Run! run!' shout the dog-boys.
      The boy runs.... 'At him!' yells the general, and he sets the whole
      pack of hounds on the child. The hounds catch him, and tear him to
      pieces before his mother's eyes!... I believe the general was
      afterwards declared incapable of administering his estates. Well --
      what did he deserve? To be shot? To be shot for the satisfaction of
      our moral feelings? Speak, Alyosha!" (FMD)

      PRDB "forever free"
      Trinidad Cruz

      "Beauty is the most discredited philosophical notion—so discredited
      that I could not even find an entry for it in the index of the many
      books in the philosophy of art I consulted in order to find it
      discredited. Even if I believe that beauty is more than the charm of a
      lovely face, the seductive grace of a Mapplethorpe photograph, the
      symmetry of the sonata form, the tight construction of a sonnet, even
      if it is, in the most general terms, aesthetic value, I am not spared.
      For it is the judgment of aesthetic value itself—the judgment of
      taste—that is embarrassing. It is embarrassing ideologically, if to be
      able to judge aesthetically you must be educated and learned and if,
      as Pierre Bourdieu claims, "it is because they are linked either to a
      bourgeois origin or to the quasi-bourgeois mode of existence
      presupposed by prolonged schooling, or (most often) to both of these
      combined, that educational qualifications come to be seen as a
      guarantee of the capacity to adopt the aesthetic disposition." And it
      is embarrassing morally, if, as Martha Nussbaum asserts, the aesthetic
      and the moral coincide, if "the activities of imagination and emotion
      that the involved reader performs during the time of reading are not
      just instrumental to moral conduct, they are also examples of moral
      conduct, in the sense that they are examples of the type of emotional
      and imaginative activity that good ethical conduct involves" and if,
      when a work of art is marred by what she calls "ethical deficiencies,"
      "we may… decide to read [it] for historical interest or for rhetorical
      and grammatical interest." The aesthetic judgment collapses into an
      instrument of political oppression or into an implement of moral
      edification. In either case, beauty disappears. It is either the
      seductive mask of evil or the attractive face of affected goodness.

      But is beauty anything on its own? Is aesthetic judgment at all
      legitimate? Do we express anything more than a purely personal opinion
      when we judge that something is beautiful or aesthetically valuable?
      That was the question Kant posed for himself in his Critique of
      Judgment, the work to which all modern philosophy of art is a
      response. Kant may have had too simple a picture of aesthetic value in
      mind—a pleasing unity, as Richard Rorty has written, adopted by the
      New Critics and contrasted to the romantic version of Harold Bloom,
      for whom "the degree of aesthetic value is the degree to which
      something is done that was never done before, the extent to which
      human imagination has been expanded." But even if these two versions
      of aesthetic value are distinct (and, in the end, I believe they are
      not), they are both suspect for the same reason.

      Here is a very rough picture of aesthetic judgment. I am exposed to a
      work of art; it can be as short and simple as a three-minute rock
      song, a two-stanza lyric poem, or a thirty-minute episode of Seinfeld,
      or as long and complex as Goya's Los Caprichos, Dennis Potter's The
      Singing Detective, Wagner's Ring, or Proust's Remembrance of Things
      Past. I may wallow in the work, allow it to sweep over me, or study
      and analyze it carefully over a long time. At some point, in some
      cases, the features of the work, which can range from the simplest
      elements of beat, meter, or color to the most complex combinations of
      structures, depictions of character, or views of the world, produce in
      me a feeling which, for lack of a better name, I call pleasure. That
      pleasure is the basis on which I say that the work is funny, moving,
      elegant, sweeping, passionate, unprecedented—in a word (or two)
      beautiful or aesthetically valuable.

      The trouble is that it has proved impossible to establish the
      principles that govern the production of aesthetic pleasure. We have
      never found any features that explain why things that possess them
      create aesthetic delight. That is not simply because we disagree about
      beauty with one another, that you despise what I like while I find
      your tastes disgusting. I cannot even find such reasons for myself.
      Reasons are general. If a feature explains why something attracts me
      in one case, it should do so in all. Yet whenever I appeal to
      something to explain why I like something, I know that the same
      feature may hurt a different work: the obsessive observation of social
      detail which gives such power to Remembrance of Things Past is just
      boring in the diaries of the Goncourt brothers; the long-lasting
      sexual tension between Niles and Daphne in Frasier is the subject of
      some of the series' best scenes over a number of seasons, while the
      sexual tension between Billy and Ally was deadly after two episodes of
      Ally McBeal. But if social detail or sexual tension explains why I
      like Proust or Frasier, how can it also explain why I hate the
      Goncourts and Ally McBeal? There is not in all the world's criticism a
      single descriptive statement concerning which I am willing to say in
      advance, "If it is true, I shall like that work so much the better."
      If I know that something is yellow, ductile, malleable, and soluble in
      aqua regia, then I know that it is gold. But though I know that it is
      gold, as Socrates proved to Hippias in Plato's dialogue, I still have
      no idea whether or not it is beautiful. Kant expressed this problem by
      saying that aesthetic judgment does not depend on concepts.

      Still, he insisted, it is a genuine judgment nonetheless. It is more
      than an expression of purely personal feeling, more than simply saying
      that I like a work of art. The aesthetic judgment is a normative
      claim; it says that the work should be liked. Although my reaction is
      based on a feeling, it is not beyond reason. I expect agreement. I am
      often upset when others, especially people who matter to me, withhold
      it. Kant writes that although "there can be no rule by which anyone
      should be compelled to acknowledge that something is beautiful,"
      aesthetic judgments still speak with a "universal voice…and lay claim
      to the agreement of everyone." But how can I convince you that
      something is beautiful if there is no reason for my reaction? How can
      I even expect your agreement if I have no idea how you, and the rest
      of the world, actually feel? Kant therefore concluded that we have a
      right to make aesthetic judgments only if we can answer the question,
      "How is a judgment possible which, merely from one's own feeling of
      pleasure in an object, independent of its concept, estimates a priori,
      that is, without having to wait upon the agreement of others, that
      this pleasure is connected with the representation of the object in
      every other subject?" How can I know that my feeling is right and that
      everyone should share it? The Critique of Judgment was Kant's effort
      to answer that question.

      It was a magnificent effort, but flawed; and its failure has haunted
      modern aesthetics as well as contemporary education. If we cannot
      justify aesthetic judgments, then we must either stop making them or
      show, as Bourdieu and Nussbaum try to do, that they are really about
      something else. I want to defend aesthetic judgments, but I also
      believe that Kant was bound to fail, for two reasons. One is that he
      was right to say that no features can ever explain why an object is
      beautiful. The other is that he was wrong to say that the judgment of
      taste demands everyone's agreement. That may seem like retreating to
      the starkest subjectivism, turning aesthetic judgment into a purely
      idiosyncratic reaction I have no right to impose on anyone else. I
      hope to convince you that it is not.

      Cicero's De Oratore, the founding text of humanism, discusses the
      question whether reading the works of the Greeks (the equivalent of a
      humanistic education in Rome) makes one a better citizen. Cicero had
      his doubts, and so have I. But the work shows that a fundamental
      assumption of Roman education still governs our own. Roman children
      reading Greek texts went through four stages: lectio, elementary
      reading, dividing words, inserting punctuation, and memorizing;
      emendatio, deciding the authenticity of the parts of the text, making
      corrections, and exercising their critical skills; enarratio, during
      which critical activity extended to commentary on words, lines, and
      longer passages; and finally judicium, when they determined the text's
      aesthetic and literary value. Those who avoid evaluation and limit
      criticism to interpretation do so because they do not see, with Kant,
      how interpretation can justify a judgment of value. And though
      everyone agrees that interpretation and evaluation cannot be clearly
      distinguished, I know almost no one who would reject the commonplace
      that "an evaluation can only be argued for by means of a detailed
      description and interpretation of a work." The final end of criticism
      is agreement in judicium, in the aesthetic judgment of value.
      Criticism is complete when critic and audience, teacher and student,
      reach a communion of vision, a unity of feeling, a shared assessment
      of value.

      The moment we put the point this way we see that it cannot be right. A
      shared assessment of value has never stopped criticism. On the
      contrary, if you and I agree that The Magic Mountain is a great novel,
      we will go on discussing it in greater and greater detail, often
      disagreeing precisely about what is great about it. And if agreement
      on value is not the end of criticism, we can also see why Kant was
      right that the judgment of taste is not governed by concepts. That was
      not because the concept of the beautiful or the nature of the judgment
      is peculiar, but because, I want to suggest to you, the judgment of
      taste is simply not a conclusion we draw from interacting with,
      describing, or interpreting works of art.

      I want to turn our common picture around. The judgment of beauty is
      not the result of a mysterious inference on the basis of features of a
      work which we already know. It is a guess, a suspicion, a dim
      awareness that there is more in the work that it would be valuable to
      learn. To find something beautiful is to believe that making it a
      larger part of our life is worthwhile, that our life will be better if
      we spend part of it with that work. But a guess is just that: unlike a
      conclusion, it obeys no principles; it is not governed by concepts. It
      goes beyond all the evidence, which cannot therefore justify it, and
      points to the future. Beauty, just as Stendhal said, is a promise of
      happiness. We love, as Plato saw, what we do not possess. Aesthetic
      pleasure is the pleasure of anticipation, and therefore of
      imagination, not of accomplishment. The judgment of taste is
      prospective, not retrospective; the beginning, the middle, but never
      the end of criticism. If you really feel you have exhausted a work,
      you are bound to be disappointed. A piece that has no more surprises
      left—a piece you really feel you know "inside and out"—has no more
      claim on you. You may still call it beautiful because it once gave you
      the pleasure of its promise or because you think that it may have
      something to give to someone else. But it will have lost its hold on
      you. Beauty beckons.

      What you come to see as a result of such beckoning you come to see for
      yourself. Odysseus had to listen to the sirens' song on his own, not
      through the ears of one of his sailors. I can talk to you forever—or
      close to it—about Socrates, Proust, The Magic Mountain, Pale Fire,
      Wagner's Ring, Don Giovanni, Los Caprichos, St. Elsewhere, or Frasier,
      but even if you learn my account perfectly, it will never be yours
      unless you work it out for yourself, directly interacting with the work.

      An aesthetic feature cannot be reproduced unless the whole work whose
      feature it is is itself reproduced. Unlike some of the endless
      philosophical conversations of Socrates in Plato's dialogues, the
      endless philosophical disquisitions of Naphta and Settembrini in The
      Magic Mountain cannot be detached from the novel and appreciated for
      what they are because they are what they are only within the novel
      itself. That is another way of saying that the more we love it for
      itself, the more we know it in itself, in its own particularity. That
      is the only truth in Matthew Arnold's formula that the object of
      criticism is "to see the object as in itself it really is." The point
      has nothing to do with objectivity or reality: it has everything to do
      with individuality. Aesthetic features are so specific that they only
      belong to one work. That's what it means to say that it is not any
      sexual tension that makes Frasier delectable, but "the particular"
      tension that binds Niles and Daphne to one another—a tension you have
      to see for yourself, although of course there is much more to it than
      meets the eye.

      I am afraid that my description of the particularity of aesthetic
      pleasure may have left you with an image of Odysseus tied to his mast,
      isolated from his deaf comrades, listening to the sirens, who make the
      only sound in that isolated world. Each one of us comes to each work
      alone, drawing a line between ourselves and the work on one side and
      the rest of the world on the other. Harold Bloom sometimes seems to
      have such an image in mind:


      The reception of aesthetic power enables us to learn how to talk to
      ourselves and how to endure ourselves. The true use of Shakespeare or
      of Cervantes, of Homer or of Dante, of Chaucer or of Rabelais, is to
      augment one's own growing inner self. Reading deeply in the Canon will
      not make one a better or a worse person, a more useful or more harmful
      citizen. The mind's dialogue with itself is not primarily a social
      reality. All that the Western Canon can bring one is the proper use of
      one's own solitude, that solitude whose final form is one's
      confrontation with one's own mortality.


      Aesthetic power has nothing to do with citizenship and morality in any
      art. But must we think, therefore, that art requires that sort of
      isolation? Must we contrast the public and the private so starkly that
      we can only choose between society as a whole and the single
      individual? Earlier, I rejected Kant's view that the judgment of taste
      demands that everyone agree with it; I still denied that this was
      subjectivism. For when I say that The Magic Mountain is beautiful,
      that my life would be more worthwhile if it were to include it, I also
      say that the lives of some at least of the people I care for would be
      more worthwhile on its account. And, further, I say that there are
      people I don't know, whose lives are made more worthwhile by that
      book, and that I would care for them if I knew them. To find The Magic
      Mountain beautiful is to imagine that the novel is the focus of a
      community to which I want to belong, a community I want partially to
      form by my interpretation of the work and by whose views I want in
      turn to be formed. That is certainly not society as a whole—no one
      would want the whole world to like the same things even if that were
      possible. Its concerns are not social but personal, something between
      the strictly private and the fully public. Beauty requires
      communication. Harold Bloom describes a solitary encounter, but like
      everyone who is in love with a book or a picture, he can't wait to
      tell us about it. In telling us about it, he participates in a
      community he is in the very process of creating. And those who are
      moved by his sense of the beautiful will respond in turn, in a
      never-ending conversation.

      The conversation is never-ending partly because beauty, as I said, is
      a promise, an anticipation, a hope as yet unfulfilled. To find
      something beautiful is, precisely, not yet to have finished with it,
      to think it has something further to offer. But also because the more
      we come to know the beautiful thing itself, the more we come to know
      other things as well. Bloom talks of reading "deeply": I distrust that
      word, with its suggestion that there is a rock-bottom. Think instead
      of reading, or looking, or listening, as a broadening of vision. The
      better you come to know something you love in itself, the better you
      understand how it differs from everything else, how it does something
      that has never been done before. But the better you understand that,
      the more other things you need to know in order to compare them to
      what you love and to distinguish it from them. And the better you know
      those things, the more likely you are to find that some of them, too,
      are beautiful, which will start you all over again in an ever-widening
      circle of new communities and new things to say. It is a dangerous
      game, pursuing the beautiful. You may never be able to stop.

      Kant is famous for believing that you must never break a promise,
      whatever the consequences. Beauty has no such compunctions. Like
      everything that beckons, beauty is risky and dangerous. It may
      disappoint and hurt. Worse, it may cause harm by fulfilling its
      promise. I may find beautiful what others consider disgusting and
      ugly; I may be tempted to find beauty in something about which I am
      myself of two minds; or I may just have made the wrong choice.
      Spending time with such a thing, with other things like it, with other
      people who like it as well will have an effect on me which I cannot
      predict in advance. Once that effect is in place, I may have changed
      into someone I would not have wanted to be before I began. But I may
      now no longer be able to see that what I am, perhaps, is perverted.
      How can I tell if I have followed the right course? Which standards
      should I apply to myself? Those I accepted when I believed, as I once
      did, that television is vulgar, disgusting, commercial, and boring, or
      those that now make Homicide a worthy competitor to Ian McEwan?
      Another hour with the scathing social satire of Los Caprichos or a
      look at the searing sarcasm of Garry Shandling?

      That is another reason why Platonists have always feared the new and
      transgressive. Plato, of course, was always a step ahead of his
      followers. He wrote of "the ancient quarrel between poetry and
      philosophy" precisely to mask the fact that philosophy did not even
      exist until he composed The Republic, where he first announces the
      quarrel, and that it was he who was on the side of the new and against
      the traditional. But his brilliant move has made his adherents think
      of themselves as protectors of tradition against perverse innovation.
      Compared to Milton and Shakespeare, Coleridge wrote,


      I will run the risk of asserting that where the reading of novels
      prevails as a habit, it occasions in time the entire destruction of
      the powers of the mind: it is such an utter loss to the reader, that
      it is not so much to be called pass-time as kill-time. It…provokes no
      improvement of the intellect, but fills the mind with a mawkish and
      morbid sensibility, which is directly hostile to the cultivation,
      invigoration, and enlargement of the nobler powers of the understanding.


      But as to Shakespeare himself, that is how Henry Prynne thought of the
      typical audience of Elizabethan theater:


      Adulterers, Adulteresses, Whore-masters, Whores, Bawdes, Panders,
      Ruffians, Roarers, Drunkards, Prodigals, Cheaters, idle, infamous,
      base, profane, and godlesse persons, who hate all grace, all
      goodnesse, and make a mock of piety.


      Aesthetic and moral terms are often used together in denouncing arts
      that are new, transgressive, or popular. But the moral dangers of art
      are small, and so are its benefits. That is not because the arts do
      not address situations of moral significance. But to derive a general
      lesson from those situations is to stop much too soon, before you see
      them in their full particularity; and once you do, you will not be
      able to use them. The mark of great works, in the end, may be the mark
      Nietzsche once attributed to great human beings: "One misunderstands
      [them]," he wrote, "if one views them from the miserable perspective
      of some public use. That one cannot put them to any use, that in
      itself may belong to greatness." If you believe, as I heard someone
      say in all seriousness, that Agamemnon's anguish at having to butcher
      his daughter on the altar of Artemis so that the Greek fleet can set
      sail in Euripides' Iphigeneia in Aulis illuminated her anguish over
      whether to attend a faculty meeting or her daughter's school play,
      then you stopped too early and learnt too little from tragedy. And if
      you learn more, you will learn something too special and also too
      alien to apply to your everyday life. You will have become more
      complex, subtle, nuanced, unusual, individual, more open to different
      ways of thinking and feeling—but certainly not, for those reasons, a
      better mother. Perhaps you will even be, just for those reasons, worse
      on that front. Moral behavior requires perceiving the ways in which
      people are like one another and deserve to be treated the same.
      Aesthetic perception aims to discern difference, to acknowledge
      individuality, to recognize what has never before been accomplished,
      and perhaps to produce it. As the fifth of A.J. Verdelle's Six
      Prayers, the one she calls "For Culture," says, "May we never have a
      universal language. May the lilt and trip of sister lands and brother
      lexicons cause us to lean forward, to cup our ears, to strain to
      understand."

      Beauty leads further into the individual features of things at the
      same time that it requires a constant comparison of each individual
      with everything else. It is only by seeing exactly how a work is close
      enough to the conventions of its time to be recognizable as a work in
      the first place that we can begin to see how it is also distant enough
      to stand on its own and to invite further interpretation in order to
      be seen for what it is. To stand on its own, it must have a
      discernible structure, a narrative unity that gives it its own
      character among the many things it resembles. Whatever does something
      that has never been done before also has its own unmistakable
      arrangement. That—for these two really are one—is what makes it an
      individual.

      It is possible that spending a life, or part of a life, in the pursuit
      of beauty—even if only to find it, not to produce it—gives that life a
      beauty of its own. For in the end the standard by which I can judge
      whether my choices of what to pursue were the right ones or not is
      whether they turned me into an individual in my own right. That is a
      question of style. If there is coherence in my aesthetical choices, in
      the objects I like, in the groups I belong to, in my reasons for
      choosing as I do, then I have managed to put things together in my own
      manner and form. I have developed, out of the things I have loved, my
      own style, a new way of doing things—and that is the only truth in
      Oscar Wilde's subversion of Arnold: "the primary aim of the critic,"
      he wrote, "is to see the object as in itself it really is not…To the
      critic, the work of art is simply a suggestion for a new work of his
      own, that need not necessarily bear any obvious resemblance to the
      thing it criticizes." Consider "the new work" not as a single work of
      criticism, but as the self we become as a result of all the works we
      admire and criticize, and Wilde—who thought his life was his greatest
      work of art—turns out to be less wild than he has seemed.
      (Alexander Nehamas)
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