Tuesday, March 16, 2010


This is my first entry into what is for me the rather new world of blogging. I will keep this brief and offer a list of themes that will be intrinsic to it and constitutive of its meaning, its purpose, and journey.


Much of this blog will involve serious questions about aesthetic objects. Like Camille Paglia, I take the world of art to be a most inclusive one, a category that includes Rembrandt paintings and Hustler centerfolds, architecture, the most immoral reality show, as well as a Henry James story or Balanchine classic like Rubies. Unlike most commentators today (and indeed unlike Paglia who is indiscriminate in her enthusiasms), however, I will be the most exclusive in my evaluations. It may all be art-popular, or rarefied-but it is far from all good. (I have problems with calling it "culture" which I will make clearer at another post). Moreover, I take evaluation to be a process which should strive for objectivity, rather than remain mired in topicality and fashion. I use the word art not merely to refer to high culture of either the canonical sort but as a placeholder word for acts and objects of representation that humans make in order that they may express things in a way not realizable in the daily life of work and leisure. Art is Pound's news that stays news and it is irreducible in a way quite contrary to, say, science.
I will ask a lot of hard questions about a work's quality, whether it is worthy of our attentions, but above all I will be concerned with questions of STYLE. As Nabokov pointed out, the manner is the matter. I take style and form to be essential in understanding what humans make and why. Another "man and woman in the street", commonsensical way of putting it is to say that "it's not what you do, its how you do it". For example, the film Crazy Heart is always discussed in a generic way, as another version of The Wrestler. But if we consider, form and style, that is, the details of how each narrative unfolds we realize that what is important are the differences, even if it is the seemingly trivial difference of the the 1970s styled Southern motels and bars of Crazy Heart versus the more cold interiors of The Wrestler, or more importantly, the difference between the long sustained relations between Bridges and Gyllenhal in the former and the bombastic and disconnected relations of Rourke and the people he interacts with in the latter. Talking about plots and genres is easy, and it actually has little to do with how we FEEL when we experience a work. (Whether that work is pictorial, documented, or recorded in prose matters little because the principle of style holds for all of these mediums). What is difficult is talking as the old phenomenologists did, about texture and tone. But this difficulty is where the truth lies. In this sense I am a formalist because I shall argue that the form trumps other considerations, though form should be understood here as a concept that in no way is emptied of content, ethical or otherwise.

I will spend little time on political questions. The focus will be not trying to convert anyone to any particular idea but rather on trying to reach or touch things in us that are out of reach by politics and politicians even if they are have the supreme gifts of an Obama. The focus will be on matters of some mystery, in the end, on matters of individual consciousness rather than group forces, though considerations of classes, races, and sexed humans will be important where appropriate to the discussion. In general, however, I take individual human subjectivity to still be the final frontier, and I plead guilty to some rather quaint humanist notions in this regard if I am interrogated by those with a more collective and sociological emphasis. I believe personal and individual temperaments are more important than collective concerns. "There is no history, only biography".

Having said that, we must take note of the discontinuity in history, of how collective sea changes in sensibility are important, all the while remembering that we are individuals and transcend the contingencies of tribal identity and loyalty, and mass movements. This is true whether we want it to be or not, however much we take from the commons, from the whole, however proud we are of our particular tribe and however little we think of our unique contribution. (As every parent of more than one child knows there is something irreducibly stubbornly INDIVIDUAL about each of the children). In general little will be off limits in this blog and my interests will be wide. Indeed my first post will be largely abstract and not about art at all. The abstract questions that have little to do with aesthetics will involve a bit of sociology because I will want to ask questions about why humans now or in the past, behave as they do, and, finally, why they like or dislike the particular works of art they see. Ways of life and lifestyle are important and all too often they are taken for granted; either they are defended as the best way for all by initiates into a particular lifestyle, or they are decried by detractors from the uncomprehending outsider. Rarely are ways of life actually examined and evaluated.

That is all for now, for the hour is late and this is but my toes in shallow water.

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