Friday, July 15, 2005

Fort Kant's Anti-Anti-Aesthetic

Not really anti-anything, actually—the aesthetic doesn’t have to be.

A representation of the given social substance, the symbolic order in which we live, and a life lived pragmatically within that order:


(Note the pictorial unity, the modulations of colour (subtle and unsubtle), and the coherent design.)

P.S.: One could argue, as Benjamin does, that children's books minimize the aesthetic distance between the reader and the text (especially if the reader is a child!). The reader, not at all a disinterested and detatched observer, is absorbed in the manifest world of the book, identical to it.

Yet the child's reading is not so unlike a comportment toward things that could meaningfully be called aesthetic.

Mark Kaplan from Charlotte St. defines the aesthetic this way: a peculiar mode of appreciation that wishes to place in brackets or disavow the obvious content of a work and stress instead form and symbolism.

What about defining it like this: a mode of life that demands the freedom to become absorbed in and identical to what one wishes, and the freedom to be indifferent to the rest. A mode of life that wishes to place in brackets or disavow some presently uninteresting content of an object/event/??? and to pay attention instead to some other sort of content.

The aesthetic performs a strange alchemy whereby the obvious and literal is emptied of its content, leaving behind something numinous and pure (of which it is a mere sign), something that abstains from the world, that proposes nothing – or only the anodyne security of universal human truths.

Strange? Not at all—what could be more familiar than the experience of autonomy, than following the spontaneous movements of one's mind rather than the dictates of some other authority? (Though one may discover strange things!) Alchemical? Aestheticizing is a basic function of human intelligence, not an arcane pseudo-science. Abstention from the world? Not if learning about the world, holding an aspect of it in view, counts as abstaining from it. Yet the aesthetic mode does reserve the right to refuse the world's commands—it insists on the subject's freedom in perception and cognition. It says, along with the children of the world, "You're not the boss of me."


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