Sunday, February 25, 2007

Hal Duncan: The Art of Life

(I've been thinking about the intertwining themes of aesthetics/politics in my film classes and this essay by Duncan gave me much to think about--I came across it b/c I am currently reading his novel Vellum: The Book of All Hours... highly recommended, challenging and rewarding. So in light of this my question is always... can aesthetics be divorced from politics? Is not our appreciation of what is beautiful, what is pleasing, what is sensible, always a political statement? As I navigate my neighborhood, my workplace, my community, my society, my world--I make asumptions, distinctions, conclusion... all based upon my understanding of the proper order of things, what is pleasing to me, what is beautiful--now I may stretch your common understanding of these terms... but if you relax for a moment and think... is not beauty/pleasure/sense-of-order [aesthetics] a political concept?)

The Art of Life
by Hal Duncan
Notes From the Geek Show


Aesthetics can adopt pragmatics as an aesthetic. We might find logic quite fascinating, heuristics quite intriguing. Our senses are structurings of symbols, symbolisations of structures, our attention drawn to raw material that comes with ready-made symbols or structures to make sense of, or that is ripe with perhaps random relationships that can be teased into pattern. When order and complexity in and of itself inspires affects of joy, when disorder disturbs us and making sense of it is satisfying, it's no surprise these tastes develop into principles, into an aesthetic where what we care about most is those systems of ordering the world with the modalities of must and must not, should and should not, could and could not, the informal logic of a suppositional calculus. Still, it is the fact that we care about this that really matters, the fact that it is an aesthetic judgement. At heart, with all our attempts to make sense of the world in this manner, the goal is still to make sense. The valuation of pragmatics is an aesthetic valuation.

In the end it's all about making sense, in all meanings of the term. We make sense of the world with sentience -- or rather, we should say, sentience is the act of making sense of the world. And the world, of course, includes ourselves, as beings living and breathing in it, so we make sense of ourselves also, with affect -- or rather, we should say, affect is the act of making sense of ourselves. And our sentience and our affect, being also features of the world, must also be made sense of. Like any art form, sentience works by creating patterns, points of tension and moments of release. Every sentient being is a composition of affects, its elements in conflict or balance, a fragmented unity. Making sense of that composition is like finding a title for a book, a story, or a section of an essay, finding a phrase or even just a word that can stand in for it, not summarizing it but symbolising it. That's where sentience becomes identity, in the sense of all that sensation being a whole, in the aestheme of self. And this, to me, is why aesthetic(s) means far more than just a "set of principles of good taste and appreciation of beauty" or the branch of philosophy which concerns itself with the questions of what constitutes art and beauty. Bullshit. What we're dealing with here is the very nature of identity, the self, what it means to be human. And the tools for investigating that from the ground up are right there in front of us, in our affect as aesthemes and the relationships between them. Not so much in front of us, actually, as within us.

To Read the Entire Essay

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