Wednesday, October 15, 2003
You could take it back to Kant, and how much the old German valued detachment as the measure of aesthetic enjoyment -- appreciation without desire or sensuality, the sublimation of the individual, messy I WANT into something transcendent and universal, objective.
This quote really leapt out at me: "Social equilibrium is the equalization of the strong and the weak. So long as the strong and the weak are not equal, they are strangers, they cannot form an alliance, they are enemies..."
Should art (any kind of art, really, poetry, painting, music, take yr pick) strive for that kind of social equlibrium? Forming alliances?
I read, pretty recently, (although not recent enough to be able to include it in CA's "What Poets Are Reading" survey - wait till you see my contribution to THAT), Wendy Steiner's _Venus in Exile_, a book-length musing on how beauty (yes indeed, associated with The Feminine) has been devalued, nay vilified, in modern and postmodern art -- abstracted, uber-objectified, subjected to violence -- most often in the defacement or super-abstraction of the female form. (Compare Manet's "Olympe" to Picasso's "Demoiselles d'Avignon.") But beauty (if you follow her argument, and probably Elaine Scarry's _On Beauty and Being Just_, although Steiner isn't exactly a fan of Scarry, she probably wouldn't be all that happy about me including them both in the same sentence, and don't take my word for it, look at both and make your own conclusion) is associated with desire, what connects people together, for better or for worse (conscious use of marriage-language, there!). The sociable-aesthetic category. What fuels intersubjective interactions -- the ability to form alliances, to (dare I say it) relate to others. Makes the other less other. Recognition rather than alienation. Scarry would say it makes us more just towards one another. But it's a little messier than objectification and the achievement of distance. "Aesthetic appreciation" didn't really solidify into that kind of meaning (distant, divorced from desire) till the late nineteenth century anyway. A means for artists to maintain their own distance from the bourgeoisie, I guess.
I don't know if this counts as a response to your post - more like a report on what it raised in my own mind. I'd like to see the Duchamps you're talking about (I'm an art nincompoop after 1900, mostly).
And many, many thanks for ferrying me around on Friday night -