Dial “e” for social practice

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 01/02/2016


Sacramentalism in the age of mercenary enchantment, or why there is no shame in my Romantic game – Imagination as the ecstasy of reason

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 12/08/2015

We Have Never Been Disenchanted – Eugene McCarraher

But is that the only way to understand the “different sense” to which Weber alluded so nebulously—that modernity marks the crossing of the Rubicon of disenchantment? Perhaps the sociologist who considered himself “religiously unmusical” heard faint notes of enchantment in modernity; perhaps, despite their wounds, the old divinities had not risen to give consent to their deaths. Were they really “disenchanted” when they assumed their “secular” form? Or do they still roam among us in the guise of “secularization”?

There are good reasons to think so, and some of them lie within one of the more tumultuous and aggressive of the allegedly “disenchanting” forces of modernity: capitalism, whose “laws of the market” Weber had identified as one refuge for the phantoms of divinity. Of course, capitalism has long been presumed to be a powerful solvent of enchantment. “All that is solid melts into air; all that is holy is profaned,” as Marx and Engels proclaimed in The Communist Manifesto. Far from being bastions of piety, the bourgeois masters of capitalism have “drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor … in the icy water of egotistical calculation.” What if those waters of pecuniary reason constituted a baptismal font, a consecration of capitalism as a covert form of enchantment, all the more beguiling on account of its apparent profanity?

…capitalism has been a form of enchantment, a metamorphosis of the sacred in the raiment of secularity. With money as its ontological marrow, it represents a moral and metaphysical imagination as well as a sublimation of our desire for the presence of divinity in the everyday world. Second, the most incisive forms of opposition to capitalist enchantment have come in the form of what I will call “the sacramental imagination,” a conviction that the material of ordinary life can mediate the supernatural.

In this view, capitalism perverts both the sacramental character of the world and our consciousness of that quality—neither of which can ever be extinguished, only assaulted, damaged, and left in ruins. As Gerard Manley Hopkins summarized it so well in the Romantic idiom of the sacramental imagination, “the world is charged with the grandeur of God…. There lies the dearest freshness deep down things”—a freshness spoiled, he ruefully added, “seared with trade, bleared, smeared with toil.” The world does not need to be re-enchanted; its enduring and ineradicable enchantment requires our belated recognition and reverence.

But as the metaphysical regime of capitalism, monetary and commodity fetishism was at least as beguiling as any previous order of enchantment, especially as all its rivals were evaporating. If the proletariat is thoroughly permeated by pecuniary enchantment, why would the oppressed ever desire the transcendence of alienation and servility? With sufficient technical and political ingenuity—mass production, consumer culture, the welfare and regulatory policies of modern liberalism and social democracy—the sacramental tokens of commodity fetishism could retard and even extinguish the growth of revolutionary consciousness.

Weil traced the failure of the Marxist revolutionary imagination to its species of materialism. Like other nineteenth-century materialists, Marx conceived of matter as an inert and lifeless ensemble of forces; however “historical” his materialism claimed to be, the inertia of matter entailed subjection to the inviolable laws of the natural—and only—world. But if matter—including historical matter—is governed only by force, then the mechanisms of capitalist matter were, on Marx’s own terms, invincible. “Marx’s revolutionary materialism,” Weil observed, “consists in positing on the one hand that everything is exclusively regulated by force, and on the other that a day will come when force will be on the side of the weak. Not that certain ones who were weak will become strong … but that the entire mass of the weak, while continuing to be such, will have force on its side.” While Weil praised Marx for his acute portrayal of the apparatus of capitalist domination, she realized that the political implications of inanimate materialism were anything but emancipatory.

Rather than reactively dismiss materialism altogether in favor of some “spiritual” ontology of politics, Weil hinted at a sacramental alternative. Shortly before her untimely death in 1943, Weil—by then what could be described as a fellow-traveler of Christianity, someone lingering in the vestibule but never entering the sanctuary—speculated that just as “yeast only makes the dough rise if it is mixed with it,” so in the same way “there exist certain material conditions for the supernatural operation of the divine that is present on earth.” The knowledge of those “material conditions” for “supernatural operation” would, Weil surmised, constitute “the true knowledge of social mechanics.” If matter is not exactly “animate,” the material world of society and history could be a conduit for divinity. Because we have “forgotten the existence of a divine order of the universe,” we fail to see that “labor, art, and science are only different ways of entering into contact with it.”

This sacramental critique of Marxist metaphysics would not be that it is “too materialist” but rather that it is not materialist enough—that is, that it does not provide an adequate account of matter itself, of its sacramental and revelatory character. Sacramentality has ontological and social implications, for the “gift” that Williams identifies is “God’s grace and the common life thus formed.”

As the doyen of scholars of Romanticism, M. H. Abrams, explained, secularization has not been “the deletion and replacement of religious ideas” but rather their “assimilation and reinterpretation.” Romantics, in his view, provided an aesthetic asylum for the spirits of pre-modern enchantment. Like Thomas Carlyle’s Professor Teufelsdröckh, the philosopher-prophet of Sartor Resartus (1831), they longed to “embody the divine Spirit” of the gospel “in a new Mythus, in a new vehicle and vesture, that our Souls … may live.” But Romanticism did more than preserve an interior enclave for the supernatural; as Bernard Reardon perceived, it also named “the inexpungeable feeling that the finite is not self-explaining and self-justifying” and that “there is always an infinite ‘beyond’”—a beyond that lived in the midst of us, leaving numinous traces in the world of appearance. In other words, Romanticism is the modern heir to the Christian sacramental imagination.

Although divorced from orthodox theology, Romantic humanism echoed the traditional harmony of reason, love, and reality. When Romantics praised “enthusiasm,” “reverence,” and “imagination,” they restated the venerable Christian wisdom that reason is rooted in love, that full and genuine understanding precludes a desire to possess and control. Against the imperious claims of “Urizen”—Blake’s fallen “Prince of Light” and your reason reduced to measurement and calculation—Blake countered that “Enthusiastic Admiration is the First Principle of Knowledge & its last.” “To know a thing, what we can call knowing,” Carlyle surmised in Heroes and Hero-Worship (1840), we “must first love the thing, sympathise with it.” Arising from a sacramental sense of the world as a “region of the Wonderful,” Carlyle’s incessant admonitions to “reverence” and “wonder” were, at bottom, exhortations to love.

“Imagination” was the name Romantics gave to this erotic and sacramental consciousness. Yet imagination was not only a subjective enchantment; in the Romantic sensibility, imagination was the most perspicuous form of vision—the ability to see what is really there, behind the illusion or obscurity produced by our will to dissect and dominate. To Samuel Taylor Coleridge, if reason is “the power of universal and necessary convictions, the source and substance of truths above sense,” then imagination is its vibrant sacramental partner, “the living Power and prime Agent of all human perception … a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM.” For Romantics, imagination did not annul but rather completed rationality. During the French Revolution, Wordsworth observed, reason seemed “most intent on making of herself / A prime Enchantress.” Though warning of the brutality of instrumental reason—“our meddling intellect / Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things; / We murder to dissect”—Wordsworth described imagination as “Reason in her most exalted mood.” Imagination was, for the Romantics, the ecstasy of reason.

…Theodore Roszak praised the Romantics for their “sacramental consciousness,” which he hoped to enlist against a technocratic capitalism that now enjoyed a perverse “monopoly of the sacramental powers.” Consigning Marxism and other secular revolutionary theories to the dustbin of disenchantment, Roszak called on a new generation of radicals who knew that “politics is metaphysically grounded” to draw upon “primordial energies greater than the power of our bombs.”

As the Trappist monk Thomas Merton realized, those “primordial energies” could be as gentle as the rain. In “Rain and the Rhinoceros,” a haunting essay in Raids on the Unspeakable (1966), Merton imagined the sad perversity of a world reduced to inventory. As he listened to showers in the forest near Gethsemani, the Kentucky abbey where he lived, Merton hastened to convey the beauty of the rain before it “becomes a utility that they can plan and distribute for money”—they meaning business, determined to take everything free and incalculable and make it a paying proposition.

To Merton, this insatiable avarice indicated an evil much deeper than moral perversion; it emanated from a capitalist enchantment that only masqueraded as secularity. Business was launching an ontological regime in which “what has no price has no value, that what cannot be sold is not real”; in the cosmology of capital, “the only way to make something actual is to place it on the market.” Graphing the rain on the commercial axis of effective demand and scarcity of supply, the alchemists of commerce cannot “appreciate its gratuity.” Yet for those who saw the world as the lavish largesse of a loving and prodigal God, “rain is a festival,” a celebration of its own gifted and gloriously pointless existence. “Every plant that stands in the light of the sun is a saint and an outlaw,” he exulted. “Every blade of grass is an angel in a shower of glory.”

Who are the acolytes of Romantic sacramentalism in our own age of mercenary enchantment, when the specter of ecological catastrophe forms a global storm-cloud of the twenty-first century? Pope Francis I, for one, who in his recent encyclical, Laudato Si’ (2015), provides an erudite and often moving manifesto of the sacramental imagination. Opening with his namesake’s “Canticle to the Creatures,” the Pope proceeds to excoriate the economic system for pillaging the earth and its inhabitants; the biosphere “groans in travail,” as he cites Paul’s warning to the Romans.

But as Francis insists in his own epistle to the disenchanted, the root of the violence wrought upon the planet lies in an ontological blindness. Divine love is “the fundamental moving force in all created things,” Francis writes; the world is “illuminated by the love which calls us together into universal communion.” No doubt this will all seem foolish to the shamans and magicians of neoliberal capitalism, whose own imaginations are lavishly imprisoned in the gaudy cage of disenchantment. The Romantics would remind us that our capacity to act well relies on our capacity to see what is really there. For there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley.

Understanding Gregory Bateson Chapter 5 – “Aesthetics, Ecology, and the Path Toward Grace

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/18/2015

Understanding Gregory Bateson: Mind, Beauty, and the Sacred Earth – Noel G. Charlton

…Firstly, he [Bateson] was linking the aesthetic, the beautiful, in “nature,” and in human art, with the possibility of enlightened ways of living.

…For him, life is a matter of patterns within patterns, all beautiful and hence aesthetic, arranged in levels and differentiated into logical types of lesser and greater generality.

…the aesthetic dimension of living, is able to enhance the possibility of our refinding grace, specifically *because* art is not subject to purposeful, language-bound, conscious rationality.

Poetry, he says, is not distorted prose. It is the reverse of that: prose is poetry that has been subjected to logic…We cannot expect to bring artistic or creative process wholly within the world of conscious purpose and description.

…Our limited, language-mediated consciousness, unaided by art, dreams, poetry, and other aesthetic practice, can no longer appreciate the systemic nature of mental process…As societies and individuals, *we* are dynamic patterns within the patterned world. *Love* can only survive if *wisdom* (recognition of the fact of circuitry) has an effective voice. Engagement with the aesthetic and the beautiful is a way to reclaim such wisdom

Later in the week, he was asking whether any social system could be viable “with only laws and ethical principles and no play, no art, no totemism, no religion, and no humor”

An “ecology of ideas” may be a close synonym for aesthetic sensibility.

…”Gradually the realization came that they were choosing their integrity over their existence.” It would be nonsense to sacrifice integrity in order to save a religion “whose only validity – whose only point and purpose- is the cultivation of integrity.: Bateson’s point is that the validity of our mental processes is imperiled if we breach “the fine lines dividing the sacred from the secular, the aesthetic from the appetitive, , the deliberative from the unconscious, and thought from feeling.”

…to experience an aesthetic response is to recognize a fellow mental process.

…It is, claimed Bateson, the organism *in relationship with its environment* that is the unit of survival [rather than a mere individual organism or a species]. From his earlier statements, it is clear that he sees aesthetic recognition of relationship as a necessary aspect of survival.

…Here he is beginning to emphasize that aesthetic process – the production and recognition of beauty – *is a feature of evolution.* Evolutionary creativity is mental in kind. it is analogous to, and is a special case of, mental creativity and artistic process. The products of evolution become examples of art. The artistic products of humans are similarly “marked by the evidences of that mental creativity.” We can now search for the “criteria of mind” among all the products of mind: evolutionary, environmental, natural, and artefactual.

…[re: Wordsworth] “This something more is self-reflexive recognition. The primrose resembles the poem and both poem and primrose resemble the poet. He learns about himself as a creator when he looks at the primrose. His pride is enhanced to see himself as a contributor to the vast processes which the primrose exemplifies. And his humility is exercised and made valid by recognizing himself as a tiny product of those processes.”

…As explained earlier, information is not, for Bateson, just data or words about facts or things in the world. It is any “difference which makes a difference,” [cf. Derrida’s “différance”] any item of “news” – novelty, change, contrast, comparison, growth, evolution, symmetry, asymmetry, similarity, or dissimilarity – that is relevant to the relationship in which it is perceived. Bateson says that the understanding of the “deeper symmetry of formal relations” is basic: “Never quantities, always shapes, forms and relationships..” There is always connectedness.

…It’s not a new idea that living things have immanent beauty, but it is revolutionary to assert *as a scientist*, that matters of beauty are really highly formal, very real, and crucial to the entire political and ethical system in which we live.

…Mind, learning, evolution, rigorous art, and loving science are one.

grace as that which enables the recognition of our relational embeddedness in the living world

all organisms, not just art critics and philosophers, rely on aesthetics all the time.

In pursuit of meaning – eudaimonia expanded

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/17/2015

Happiness, and all that crap – Clive Hamilton

The pleasant life, or life of pleasure, is one motivated by hedonism – the desire to maximise the number of emotional and physical “highs”. This is the signature of modern consumer capitalism. Within constraints, it is possible to learn the skills necessary to foster the pleasant life, including techniques for amassing income, giving greater access to hedonistic pursuits. Although self-centered, for people committed to the pleasant life the focus of activity is always outwards – looking to the external world to provide sources of satisfaction. Status seeking through career success, for example, can be counted as a feature of the pleasant life because of its emphasis on external reward.

The second approach is the good life. It can be thought of as a life devoted to developing and refining one’s capabilities and thereby fulfilling one’s potential, an orientation adopted by Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen in their work on development and wellbeing. Whereas the pleasant life borrows from the future in order to enjoy the present, the good life invests in the present in order to augment the future. Among the characteristics of the good life are purposeful engagement, positive self-regard, high-quality relationships, environmental mastery and continued personal growth.

Aristotle argued that each of us has a daemon, or spirit, and that the purpose of life is to discover and honour it, so the “good life” approach is close to the idea of eudaimonism. The contrast between the pleasant life and the good life reflects the ancient dispute between the Epicureans and the Stoics, and there is now a body of psychological research supporting the distinction. The former is an intensely subjective idea of wellbeing explored through notions of positive affect (or emotion). It is easily, but not very reliably, measured by surveys of subjective wellbeing.

The meaningful life, the third approach to living, is similar to the good life insofar as it may require the development of one’s “signature strengths”. But whereas the pursuit of the good life can be self-focused – the athlete or musician perfecting their skills through years of training and achieving “flow” – the meaningful life entails a commitment to something greater than oneself, a higher cause. Those committed to a meaningful life are not, in fact, committed to their own lives, but to social improvement, or to living in a register that transcends the personal.

For those who pursue the meaningful life, the boundary between the self and the other is permeable. The meaningful life corresponds to what the philosophers of the past understood to be the pursuit of virtue, or selfless moral principles.

Scott Stroud’s “John Dewey and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality” – Chapters Seven and Eight

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/05/2015

…I think the heart of the Deweyan challenge strikes deeper. How can we render everyday communication, such as that experienced in mundane conversations with friends, cashiers, and so on, aesthetic?

[Dewey] “The highest and most difficult kind of inquiry and a subtle, delicate, vivid and responsive art of communication must take possession of the physical machinery of transmission and circulation and breathe life into it…Democracy will come into its own, for democracy is a name for a life of free and enriching communion…It will have its consummation when free social inquiry is indissolubly wedded to the art of full and moving communication.”

…vivid, live, and qualitatively enhanced experience **is** aesthetic experience.

…[Dewey believed] aesthetic experience could be realized in any type of experience in life…[Dewey considered art] as indicative of human processes and activities **at a certain pitch of experiential quality.**

[Dewey] “Art is a quality of doing and of what is done…When we say that tennis-playing, singing, acting, and a multitude of other activities are arts, we engage in an elliptical way of saying that there is art **in** the conduct of these activities and that this art so qualifies what is done and made as to induce activities in those who perceive them in which there is also art.” The vital point here is not so much the objective features of some object [or experience/activity], but instead in the sort of experience it required in its production and the sort of experience it engenders in its reception by some audience.

…if one cultivates a way of attending to and valuing the present communicative activities, then that process can be rendered aesthetic…

…Instantiating aesthetic or artful forms of communication now is not only a way to help create desired forms of enlivened community in the future, it is also the creation of the desired goal **now.** Aesthetic or artful communication is seeing, using, and experiencing utterance as not merely a statement, not merely as a means toward coordinated action; it sees the activity of discourse as the sort of coordinated, valuable action we want to maintain in future states of affairs. In other words, the process of communication **is** the end of communicating – individuals attentively responding to each other and the situation in such a way as to truly instantiate a community of interacting beings. [<—this seems as useful and sufficiently broad an argument for social practice as any…]

The artful life is one that is finely adapted to particular demands of the situation, which includes the inner needs and drives of the subject as well as the outer demands imposed by one’s station, other individuals, and the social and natural environment itself. Finely attending to the properties of an art object is what makes it expressive and artful, and the fine-tuned and attentive focus on meeting the demands of the present situation is what makes our present activity most adapted and immediately valuable, as well as most instrumentally valuable for reaching consequent states of affairs that hinge on how we handle the here and now.

…the present is more real than either the past or the future.

…even in everyday affairs such as cooking and conversing with others, there is the opportunity for meaning, unity, and absorption.

…artful living concerns how one engages one’s situation…

…Moral cultivation, like aesthetic experience, involves a certain live and absorbing interpenetration of the organism with the situation at hand. Such a quality of experience is not only higher in terms of subjective satisfaction, but also in terms of the likelihood of growing, adjusting, or thriving in light of that situation’s demands and opportunities.

Thus, the overall goal of a life well lived would be one that is attentively engaged in as many lived presents as possible.

The artful life is the life that is lived in the present, the life that instantiates engaged, absorptive attention to the demands of life **now.** Of course, this instantiation helps one develop and solidify those habits that will help one attend to the next present situation. Like Dewey’s general reading of moral development in “Human Nature and Conduct,” the vital move is the development of habit. The type of habit that I have identified as being particularly important is one’s orientation to the world, self, and activity. With a bit of conscious attention to one’s orientation, one can improve the quality of experience one has in front of art objects, desks, customers, and conversational partners…People can make more of their life artful, more of their life like the unified production and playing out of a great work of art, primarily through realizing the key to the aesthetic.

…Artful living is a way of living as if the present was your goal, as if the self and world you are creating through your actions were a work of art worth attending to with all your energy, care, and devotion.

Scott Stroud’s “John Dewey and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality” – Chapter Six

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/04/2015

…how can we render more of life’s experiences aesthetic or artful?

[Dewey]”Habit does not preclude the use of thought, but it determines the channels in which it operates. Thinking is secreted in the interstices of habits. The sailor, miner, fisherman and farmer think, but their thoughts fall within the framework of accustomed occupations and relationships…Thinking itself becomes habitual along certain lines.”

…certain orientations that a subject can take may be better than others in terms of their adaptive value to the environment (including social environments) and their value in terms of the quality of a subject’s experience, and second, individuals can work to improve their experience by changing their orientations toward the world, self, and others.

…the orientation that harms the pleasure and effectiveness of present action is that of **attachment** to and **fixation** on the (remote) object’s of one’s desire…happiness always occupies a present…

[Dewey] “We have insisted that happiness, reasonableness, virtue, perfecting, are on the contrary parts of the present significance of present action. Memory of the past, observation of the present, foresight of the future are indispensable. But they are indispensable **to** a present liberation, an enriching growth of action. Happiness is fundamental in morals only because happiness is not something to be sought for, but is something now attained, even in the midst of pain and trouble, whenever recognition of our ties with nature and with fellow-men releases and informs our action…”

[Dewey] “…to be playful and serious at the same time is possible, and it defines the ideal mental condition. Absence of dogmatism and prejudice, presence of intellectual curiosity and flexibility, are manifest in the free play of mind upon a topic. To give the mind this free play is not to encourage toying with a subject, but is to be interested in the unfolding of a subject on its own account, apart from its subservience to a preconceived belief or habitual aim. Mental play is open-mindedness, faith in the power of thought to preserve its own integrity without external supports and arbitrary restrictions. Hence free mental play involves seriousness, the earnest following of the development of the subject-matter. It is incompatible with carelessness or flippancy, for it exacts accurate noting of every result reached in order that every conclusion may be put to further use.”

[Dewey] “To live in the present is compatible with condensation of far-reaching meanings in the present. Such enrichment of the present for its own sake is the just heritage of childhood and the best insurer of future growth.”

…the rendering of life as the “supreme art.”…this artistic approach to life requiring [Dewey]”fineness of touch; skill and thoroughness of workmanship; susceptible response and delicate adjustment to a situation apart from reflective analysis; instinctive perception of the proper harmonies of act and act, of man and man.” Life, when done right and with the sort of approach that would best result in that quality of experience called “growth,” would be done with this artistry of touch and attention to the very material that make up our desire and our interactions with others.

[Dewey] “…we have the attitude typical of the artist, an attitude that may be displayed in all activities, even though they are not conventionally designated ‘arts'”

Scott Stroud’s “John Dewey and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality” – Chapter Five

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/17/2014

…all experience can be experienced as aesthetic.

Dewey advocates the method of the sciences because it seems to him to be the best way to usefully ground philosophy (and reflection in general) **in** experience without doing damage **to** experience. What is damaging of course, is when this description is taken to **be** the experience – for instance, the overly intellectualized and misguided notion that we **experience** “patches of brown in a chairlike shape.” The empirical method starts by acknowledging the integrated unity of primary experience and then applies distinctions in reflection, all the while judging these distinctions as to their value in use and consequences for future experience. This is the general orientation of this approach, and one who takes this empirical method to heart thereby incorporates this orientation to the world and reflection upon it. The question then becomes, how does this impact such an individual’s reflective activities?

…Dewey notes in Experience and Culture as well as in Art as Experience – immediate experience is different in **feel** from reflective activity. To take reflective experience for **all** experience is to commit the fallacy of intellectualism. Knowledge is a reflective endeavor involving conscious thought, justification and propositional statements. Immediate experience is just that – immediate and prior to detailed reflection. If there are discursive elements to immediate experience, it is because the concepts/words have been rendered as habitually meaningful…

…experience **is** specific experience…A definition is different from the experience of something, and while it may be useful, it always exists for a purpose and lacks something of the immediate feel of an experience of some event. No definition **exhausts** the experience of what is being defined.

…The value of criticism for Dewey, including philosophy as criticism of criticism, is in the opening up of possibilities for newer and deeper experience. Aesthetic criticism broadens one’s thinking about the experience of art, which in turn leads to those experiences being even more meaningful.

By “morality,” he [Dewey] “means that kind of expansion in meaning which is consequent upon observations of the conditions and outcome of conduct…It is learning the meaning of what we are about and employing that meaning in action.

The present, not the future, is ours. No shrewdness, no store of information will make it ours. But by constant watchfulness concerning the tendency of acts, by noting disparities between former judgments and actual outcomes, and tracing that part of the disparity that was due to deficient and excess in disposition, we come to know the meaning of present acts, and to guide them in light of that meaning.

The framing of one part of life in a narrative is detached from life in one regard, largely because of cultural institutions surrounding the production, delivery, and reception of such an art object. In another sense, however, it is still vividly engaging in a practical sense as it is a framed presentation **of life.** It frames and focuses the audience’s attention on some part of life, be it a value, action, strategy, etc. and forces the audience to reflect and deliberate on the value of what is presented **for their projects and activities.** One notices this functioning and framing and, more important, attention in Dewey’s reading of the value of aesthetic experience – it is revelatory, and “revelation in art is the quickened expansion of experience” Notice that what art reveals **is** internal to the experience of the art object; life is revealed insofar art it is experienced in the particular fashion that an art object, either intentionally or through the critical orientation of an audience frames it.

…[Richard Shusterman] “art’s apparent diversion from real life may be a needed path of indirection that leads us back to experience life more fully through the infectious intensity of aesthetic experience and its release from affective inhibitions.”

Scott Stroud’s “John Dewey and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality” – Chapter Four (part 2)

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/13/2014

In Art as Experience, Dewey explains this last trait of underlying quality thus: “An experience has a unity that gives it its name, **that** meal, **that** storm, **that** rupture of friendship. The existence of this unity is constituted by a single **quality** that pervades the entire experience in spite of the variation of its constituent parts.” As to whether or not this unifying property comes after the experience in the activities of reflection or discourse, Dewey is quite clear: “This unity is neither emotional, practical, nor intellectual, for these terms name distinctions that reflection can make within it [experience].” Dewey is claiming that this quality is something immediate and is internal to one’s experience, whereas what is brought up and dissected in reflection is usually external to that which is being reflected upon…

…Dewey places much importance on cultivating habits of attention to the present situation…

…Dewey’s collapse of artistic means into artistic ends – the pigments do not **cause** the painting, they **are** the painting. The means **are** the end to be achieved and this fact is what makes an artistic means a **medium**. It is not a **mere** means to some disconnected end, it is **the** end itself. The collective group of the parts of an art object (say, the scenes in a play) **is** the art object. What Dewey’s concept of rhythm provides is the **quality** that links these parts together in such a way that they do not become mere means to an external end. This is an integral part of rhythm, “for whenever each step forward is at the same time a summing up and fulfillment of what precedes, and every consummation carries expectation tensely forward, there is rhythm.”

…R. Keith Sawyer notes that Dewey’s reading of aesthetic experience highlights the fact that the process is the product, but he fails to account for the moral value of seeing the process (of continuously advancing present) a morally valuable. What is vital to notice is that the process is valuable because it is the process that moral cultivation aims at – attention to the merging of past and future, capacity and environment in a conscious present situation experienced by an agent. Dewey notes this educational import of art in terms of life; he states: “The living being is characterized by having a past and a present; having them as possessions of the present, not just externally. And I suggest that it is precisely when we get from an art product the feeling of dealing with a **career**, a history, perceived at a particular point of its development, that we have the impression of life.” Like the sort of action we ought to aim for in life, art is a focus on a present funded by a history and anticipating future activities. Aesthetic experience, such as that initiated by attending to an art object, is morally valuable because it is an instance of attention to a present situation with connections to past history and future activity. Dewey captures this value by noting that if art objects reproduce anything, it is not the details of life, but instead must be the energy or flow of the experience of life. The moral value of art is closely tied to the immediacy of meaning and value as experienced, and it is internal to the experience of the art object itself. This is what makes such an account different from the **casual** variety, and instead renders what I have called an **experiential** account. The morally valuable features of aesthetic experience itself is an instance of moral cultivation.

…Morality is a lifelong project and I can now claim that aesthetic experience is a vital part of that project. How large a part can aesthetic experience play if most of our everyday life and activity does not involve art objects? The answer to this question was hinted at in Dewey’s example of the ferryboat passengers that opened this chapter – if art objects are special merely because they are very effective at creating the conditions for aesthetic experience, then it is possible that **any** activity could be experienced as aesthetic if conditions and attitudes cooperate to make it so. The question can then be asked, could not the majority of one’s life be an aesthetic experience or artful activity?

…moral value always resides in some present, either the present of today or the present that will be experienced tomorrow…

Cannot one attain such an aesthetic focus on the present in the ordinary activities of life? Like the ferryboat passengers, a human can adopt the orientation toward activity that sees it as valuable and as the here and now in which life exists…In discussing the topic of using nondemocratic means to achieve ends that are democratic, he notes that democracy is only created by instantiating a form of it **now**. This is because the **now** reflects our attitudes and values as well as shapes future attitudes and values. it is both an instantiation of the endpoint (democracy) as well as preparation for futures instantiations of that endpoint. Those who think that the present can be sacrificed (in other words, treated as mere means to a future goal) are forgetting the **value** of the present in immediate experience. Dewey reminds us that “we must always remember the the dependence of ends upon means is such that the only ultimate result is the result attained today, tomorrow, the next day, and day after day, in the succession of years and generations.”

[Dewey] “The ideal of using the present simply to get ready for the future contradicts itself. It omits, and even shuts out, the very condition by which a person can be prepared for his future. We always live at the time that we live and not at some other time, and only by extracting at each present time the full meaning of each present experience are we prepared for doing the same thing in the future.” It is the **meaning** of the present that is **in** the experience, and that is what ought to be the focus of attention, not some remote end or state.

Why ought we to exclude any object from the realm of those things that can be potentially involved in the having of an aesthetic experience?…Attention to and absorption in the development of activity, be it that of art or life, is what a fully flourishing, growing, and adjusted human must continually strive to attain. This is a purpose higher than that reached by defining certain events in certain ways and it is a move that has much more practical value in how individuals experience the world.

Scott Stroud’s “John Dewey and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality” – Chapter Four (part 1)

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/11/2014

…Dewey’s aesthetics resists this move [the separation of aesthetic and moral value], however, noting that such a result is the consequence of the accidental separation of art from life, and not a feature of art itself…

A certain way of experiencing an object with a certain sort of **attention** and **absorption** characterizes what Dewey labels “aesthetic experience.” The question now becomes, can such a way of experiencing a situation or object (be it a work of art or a nonintentional skyline) be morally valuable or cultivating? In other words, is such an experience **merely** aesthetic, or does it connect in some close way to moral betterment?

…[Dewey’s aesthetics supports] that aesthetic experience **is** an experience of moral cultivation insofar as it **is** an experience of attention to one’s situation and the relationships in which one is embedded.

The important point I want to emphasize here, however, is that moral cultivation ought to end with the agent being optimally adjusted to his or her environment; this means expressing his or her impulses, habits, and so forth in a sustainable, meaningful, and effective fashion in light of the present situation (environment). Dewey translates this point into the idiom of judgment (and with it, conscious direction of practical activity) by defining right actions as those that “tend to expand, invigorate, harmonize, and in general organize the self.” Moral cultivation of the self involves a revealing of that self and its capacities in a certain situation, but it also deals with better or worse ways to **express** impulse in action. Creating a character that expresses impulses that are well adjusted to other impulses and the agent’s environment is vital to moral activity for Dewey, as actions flow from an agent’s character, and both are evoked and formed in light of some prevailing environment. Self-expression is the expression of the self we ought to be – the harmonized system of impulses given meaning in light of our present environment.

…The endpoint of moral cultivation, progressive adjustment, is not a set of certain actions that are morally worthy or a specific virtue that is mandatory, but instead involves the “development of character, a certain spirit and method of conduct.” Thus, **any** activity can have moral value insofar as **any** activity can affect one’s character and serve as the forming ground of the aforementioned spirit and method of conduct. Like the putative category of moral activities, Dewey holds that there is no delineated realm of moral value (and objects that posses it) because of the wide nature of character and the ways it can be developed

…character involves a certain **way** (spirit or method) of going about action…Thus, moral cultivation involves the development of attentiveness to one’s present situation…first, attention is vital because the moral situation is fundamentally a present situation, and second, because the ends and implicated goals of moral activity always occupy a present situation.

…The more important claim Dewey is making is that the development of the individual **is** the development of the community, and vice versa…

[Dewey] “happiness, reasonableness, virtue, perfecting are on the contrary parts of the present significance of present action. Memory of the past, observation of the present, foresight of the future are indispensable. But they are indispensable **to** a present liberation, an enriching growth of action.” It is this aspect of presentness that will be foregrounded by the aesthetic.

…Aesthetic experience is a **way** that experience can be…[it] can encompass most of life, and that life becomes the “supreme art” that one is to master. Speaking on this connection of aesthetic experience (as related to artistic production) to the activities of life, [Dewey] states “Living itself is the supreme art; it requires fineness of touch; skill and thoroughness of workmanship; susceptible response and delicate adjustment to a situation apart from reflective analysis; instinctive perception of the proper harmonies of act and act, of man and man [sic].” Art is important to moral matters largely because it is (commonly) connected to a type of experience that is called “aesthetic.”

…there are ways we can **skillfully make** most activities of our lives aesthetic, and therefore artful…

…Dewey’s notion of the aesthetic experience and the work of art is separate from the art object itself. The painting is not the work of art; the latter requires interaction with the viewer to become a work of art. Thus, aesthetic experience is an integral part of something truly being a work of art. The suppressed premise, of course, is that the honorific title of “art” is to be applied to those situations and objects that have value for us. Dewey could have gone with the common notion of art (the museum conception), but he instead begins with the commitment to ordinary value and naturalism in aesthetic theory. He therefore must link what is really art to the interaction with those whom the value affects- humans with their interests and needs. The art object, like other environmental forces, challenges the human in its givenness; the human then interacts with the object and what it offers in terms of material for experience, often adding their own interpretation and meaning to it, to produce the work of art through this interactive experience.

…[Dewey describes] science as a reflective method to instruct other on how they can have a similar experience with those aspects of reality described in the data…

Scott Stroud’s “John Dewey and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality” – Chapters Two and Three

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/10/2014

…a major point of Dewey’s aesthetics (and general philosophy of experience) is to find a way to reflect on experience so as to **improve** future lived experience…

[aesthetic experiences of disinterestedness and interestedness] vary only in degree, not kind…the aesthetic attitude is not clearly demarcated from the practical attitude…One can merely indicate the ways that a certain experience tends toward having more of this quality and less of another quality.

…one’s experience of art is not of developing of imagination, calming tensions, etc., but is of a certain invigorated **experience** closely tied to some particular art object. The focus should be on the **experience** of art and its value, and not on the **effects** of that experience as related to other, equally ordinary,ways of achieving those effects.

…[Dewey] “When intellectual experience and its material are taken to be primary, the cord that binds experience and nature is cut.”

…In reflection, the hallmark activity is that of breaking experience into distinct concepts that are cognitive in the sense of being consciously connected to other states of affairs. This is an experience in itself, but it is not the whole human experience, nor is it identical with what is being analyzed with such concepts. Dewey recognizes this limitation of cognitive components to experience, and points out that “the cognitive is never all-inclusive; that is, when the material of a prior non-cognitive experience is the object of knowledge, it and the act of knowing are themselves included within a new and wider non-cognitive experience – and **this** situation can never be transcended.”…The whole of experience, however, is never reflective, but is qualitative. This is Dewey’s point, and it is a point that is lost when philosophers knowingly or unknowingly adopt the causal approach to understanding aesthetic experience.

criticism, like reflection, should not be confused with the felt experience of life

…Value is a difficult concept because it denotes a **way** of prizing or acting toward something, and it can also refer to a process of justifying such prizing…[non-cognitive, immediate value] Such a value is shown when one takes delight in something directly, as when one hears a favorite song or reads a poem that accords with his or her preferences. One does not need to establish that such things are good or valued; they just are valued or experienced as good…it makes the point that Dewey wants to make in his ethics and aesthetics – much of our confrontation with the world is in the form of habits, and these include what can be called values and the activity of valuing. Only in certain cases do humans **evaluate** or **valuate** – create and justify some value in reference to other possible or actual values.

…Dewey recommends a notion of intrinsic value that is existential. By existential he does not mean that the value exists apart from the experience of a subject, but instead that the value **qua** quality belongs to that object in experience. When one sees a white paper, it is experienced as white. Whiteness is intrinsic to to the object, **in those conditions.** The same applies for value. As Dewey notes, “**all** qualities whatever are ‘intrinsic’ to the things they qualify at the time and place of the occurrence of the latter.”

…Dewey argues that “the contrast in question is to be regarded not as a contrast between something good only in an ‘extrinsic’ or accidental sense and that which is good because of an eternal and universal nature, but as a contrast between a good which is **immediately** such and one determined as good upon **reflection** covering an extensive number of existing cases.”

…If one sees that it is possible to conceive of intrinsic value as **immediate** value experienced in the situation, then one needs not to be forced to argue with essentialist presuppositions. The immediate value of art is tied to to what it is **experienced** as, and what one can call its instrumental value can be the **same** experience considered in light of its conditions and consequences as connected to other states of affairs.

…Dewey identifies this as a problem with modern thought, and one that leads to the demeaning oc actual ends in nature – namely, the **quality** of one’s experience. Dewey notes that the quality of one’s experience is part of ancient teleology that is left out of the modern view of the world. On this point, he argues that “empirically, the existence of objects of direct grasp, possession, use and enjoyment cannot be denied. Empirically, things are poignant, tragic, beautiful, humorous, settled, disturbed, comfortable, annoying, barren, harsh, consoling, splendid, fearful; are such immediately and in their own right and behalf…[E]sthetic quality, immediate, final, or self-enclosed, indubitably characterizes natural situations as they empirically occur…**Any** quality as such is final; it is at once initial and terminal; just what it is as it exists.”

…Modern mechanistic approaches to science and the natural world shift the focus away from this (crucial) aspect of first person experience, and, as such, lead to real effects as to the quality of this experience. Dewey hints at this one-sided focus on the “intellectual or instrumental phase” of things, saying that “in principle the step is taken whenever objects are so reduced from their status of complete objects as to be treated as signs or indications of other objects.” This is a hallmark of scientific reduction of quality in the world…

the experience of an art object is an experience of moral cultivation

Instead of removing art from practical matters (including moral improvement), Dewey finds in art the potential for a different situation – art as a part of life. The way Dewey wants to go about bringing aesthetic experience back into contact with the activities of life is by emphasizing how art unifies means and ends…There is no single sentence that can convey the point of Othello or Christo’s Gates; instead, the experience of the whole art object **is** the end that is to be actualized.

…The art object is not a mere means to an aesthetic experience; experiencing the art object (and its qualities) **is** an aesthetic experience.

…Dewey is noting that it is the experience of the art object in the present that is so powerful…The art object would not be so absorbing if this unity and qualitative richness were not present in it, parts and whole. If it were a mere means, one would see the experience of its parts and qualities as a mere mechanistic way to cause some effect…

…Means and ends are combined in this conscious and reflective activity, and [Dewey]”the process is art and its product, no matter at what stage it be taken, is a work of art.” The “ideal,” to be discussed later, is the transformation of much of our everyday activity into such a work of art – this is the endpoint of making present activity meaningful, intelligent, and ultimately efficacious.

…Goals are always of some present, and in pursuing a remote ideal the tendency is to ignore the present here and now. Cognition and reflective activity should not become so abstract that they totally remove one from the qualities of the present, **including the qualities of the present as given meaning through reflection.**…This involves a commitment to the present; as Dewey notes in reference to a person’s orientation toward his activity. “control of future living, such as it may turn out to be, is wholly dependent upon taking his present activity, seriously and devotedly, as an end, not as means.”

important qualities of aesthetic experience are qualities of moral experience and moral cultivation, Moral uses of art in this sense will not be external or instrumental in the sense of using some experience as a mere means to an effect; instead, the experience of an artwork **is** an experience of morally important and beneficial matters.

Scott Stroud’s “John Dewey and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality” – Chapter One

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/08/2014

…If one can do things that render one’s experience aesthetic in quality, then such activity can be called artful…

…I want to examine how art can be seen as a way of moral cultivation…

At various places, Dewey’s work provides us with tantalizing clues to his **real** project – the task of making more of life aesthetic or artful…I want to develop the idea that more (if not all) of life’s everyday activities could be rendered as artful or aesthetic…[Dewey] “If the necessary part played in conduct by artistic cultivation is not so plain, it is largely because ‘Art’ has been made such an unreal Fetich [sic] – a sort of superfine and extraneous polish to be acquired only by specially cultivated people. In reality, living is itself the supreme art…”

The important point is to find a way to talk about the special degree of quality in aesthetic experience without making this value a special kind of value (viz., intrinsic)…

I will argue that aesthetic experience is morally cultivating because it **is** an experience of such attentiveness to situations…what is moral about conduct is a certain **way** of attending to whatever present situation one is in…not making the present a mere means to a distant end. Aesthetic experience is the attention to and absorption in the rich present, and such a present can be that of viewing art objects or of participating in any other sort of activity. What is important is the **way** that activity proceeds. This is moral cultivation, and this is how aesthetic experience can be immediately valuable.

…Both embodied and mental practices attempt to inculcate habits of attending to the present situation that are intelligent, adaptable, and beneficial in making one’s individual and relational experience more meaningful…

…The promise of Dewey’s aesthetics is not merely in providing an airtight definition of art or a theoretical reading of the relationship between art and moral value. Instead, Dewey theorizes to meliorate or improve lived experience. The insight of Dewey’s work on art is that what makes art aesthetic is not any particular property of that particular human practice, but rather its tendency to encourage the sort of absorptive, engaged attention to the rich present that is so often lost in today’s fragmented world. The way to substantially improve our experience is not by merely waiting for the material setup of the world to change, but instead lies in the intelligent altering of our deep-seated habits (orientations) toward activity and toward other individuals. The purpose of this book is not to end debate on the relationship between art and morality, but instead to explore ways that Deweyan thought can guide us in our attempts to meliorate our orientations toward life in order to foster and recover the sense of enthralled absorption in the activities in which we are engaged. Life is always lived in some present, and it is here that the battle of life is fought; one can come armed with habits that foster engagement with that present, or one can bring in ways of viewing the here and now (be it an art object or a work task) as a mere means to achieve something in the remote future. Both of these approaches will affect and tone the quality of lived, transactive experience. Dewey’s point, which I will explore at length in this work, is that the former approach is constitutive of artful living.

David Granger’s “John Dewey, Robert Pirsig, and the Art of Living” – Chapter Six

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/13/2014

What is more, each of us inherits and is partially constituted by a number of sociocultural scripts authored by those who came before us. As roles to be acted out in everyday life, these at times conflicting scripts – for example, of daughter, sister, mother, lover, wife, woman, teacher – can be exceedingly difficult and painful to rewrite, especially for those persons (like “Phaedrus”) who have been relegated to the margins…As even Dewey fails to acknowledge sufficiently, they inevitably constrain the possibilities of personal renewal in very significant and consequential ways.

…Thus begins the process of education between a text-as-friend and the reader wherein the text (as the reader’s unattained but attainable self) calls the reader to his next self.

[note 18]…[Dewey] “poetry teaches as friends and life teach, by being, and not by express intent.”

Like the figure of the poet-as-midwife in romanticism, the text-as-friend strives to arrange a conversational rather than authoritarian scene of instruction. It invites the reader to find that distinctive path to self-realization that the linguistic community he shares with others makes possible for him…we are all educators for ourselves as well as for one another, We are all partial representations of some greater common-wealth.

…in synthesizing human activity through flexible adaptation to the environment, the body’s natural structuring agencies are highly subject to the sense-making structures of the culture it inherits; which is to say that culture, with its complex symbol systems, ideals, values, beliefs, and customs has its roots in the lived body. And as Michel Foucault forcefully reminds us, this makes it a malleable site for inscribing social power.

Whether we like it or not, the body is considerably more than a shadowing “giant” whose agencies can be substantially divorced from the art of living wisely and well. The habitual body, the primary medium of meaning in Dewey’s pragmatic naturalism, is prefigured in every mode of human behavior and expression, including linguistic activity. It conditions and is conditioned by our ability to negotiate successfully and act intelligently within all kinds of cultural space, those of work as well as of leisure. To fail to recognize this is to suppose the body to be little more than the intractable vessel of our mental life. To fail to acknowledge it is inevitably to impede the cause of personal renewal.

What kinds of environments and activities are most likely to expand the self and its capacity to find an make meaning in the world?

…In its configuration as a tentative but relatively stable organic unity of many and diverse habits, the poetically fashioned self achieves a balanced movement of energies and impulses. Yet at the same time it also eschews the prospect of any final endstate or absolute perfection. In going forth to meet new situations that present new demands, each stage in its growth becomes as much a stimulating disturbance toward the new as an achieved ordering of the old. The poetic self is, in this sense, both medial and media.

What is more, the poetic structure contributes to the self’s ability to negotiate everyday experience in a meaningful and satisfying way. The breadth and vitality of the poetic self’s working capacities make it especially well equipped to receive, respond to, and integrate imaginatively the meaning-enhancing possibilities of the present moment. Its capacious array of habits provides increased opportunities for finding and creating meaning in the world. In addition, the poetic self has the ability to solve problems in ways that maximize self-growth, establishing new avenues for richly funded experience. But more than that- and I want to underscore this point – it will sense as problematic situations that would otheriswe seem in good order. That is, it will experience some degree of disequilibrium where others likely will not. Vague discordances – such as Pirsig’s increasing awareness of “Phaedrus’s” ghostly presence or his intimation of a slight misfire in his bike – can more easily be detected and brought to consciousness by the poetic self. Its world is one of multiple and intersecting horizons of meaning, ever pregnant with freshly emerging problems and possibilities.

…The other-directed dimension of Emersonian perfectionism is oriented toward self-reliance through our shared linguistic resources. But Dewey’s poetics look to harmonize regard for the self and its internal others with flesh and blood other(s) in the world. The end-in-view of Deweyan dramatic rehearsal incorporates the environing community with its immediate deliberative horizon – looking in to the self and out to the world are not discrete activities, but elements of one continuous process. This means that the questions “Who am I?” and “Who am I to become?” do not arise independent of the question “How should I treat others?” In addition, we have seen that self-perfection through linguistic activity, while indeed a valuable means of personal renewal, can never be an adequate substitute for more overt democratic praxis. We greatly risk falling into a debased perfectionism if we do not remain alert to the fact that undertaking dialogue with internalized others does not guarantee our being answerable for this dialogue in concrete activities of public life. Yet Dewey stresses that it is through such praxis that we best come to understand that we inhabit the world meaningfully only with and through one another.

1. art as experience makes possible the reconstruction of habits (and hence the self) in ways that significantly alter and enhance the potential meaning and value of things;
2. art as experience, in contributing to a poetics of the body, improves both the aesthetic quality and use-value of somatic activity, in addition to the physical culture of our everyday environment;
3. as a form of deliberation or “dramatic rehearsal,” art as experience utilizes the agencies of aesthetic discrimination and poetic creation, conceiving, in imagination, hitherto unrecognized possibilities for thought and action;
4. the procedures of “dramatic rehearsal” assume a narrative structure that helps reveal the shortcomings of our habits of deliberation, furnishing a valuable kind of self-knowledge;
5. the poetic self resulting from artistic engagement in diverse contexts acquires a broad array of habits that presents increased opportunities for finding and creating meaning in the world;
6. the many and diverse habits of this poetic self foster a heightened ability to engage with and liberate the meaning-making capacities of others.

David Granger’s “John Dewey, Robert Pirsig, and the Art of Living” – Chapter Five

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/10/2014

…To “unweave a rainbow” and treat its components as ontologically superior is, within Dewey’s and Pirsig’s metaphysics to commit *the* philosophical fallacy.

[Martha Nussbaum] Philosophy has often seen itself as a way of transcending the merely human, of giving the human being a new and more godlike set of activities and attachments. [An] alternative…sees it as a way of being human and speaking humanly. That suggestion will appeal only to those who actually want to be human, who see in human life as it is, with its surprises and connections, its pains and sudden joys, a story worth embracing. This in no way means not wishing to make life better than it is. But…there are ways of transcending that are human and “internal” and other ways that involve flight and repudiation.

…If human inquiry is conceived as a natural event- something that goes on in nature – there is not ontological division between self and world in which the skeptic can open a radical cleft of some kind.

…a nonskeptical attitude necessitates that we relinquish the idea that our primary relation to the world is one of knowing or not knowing. The world’s contingent presentness to us, the way it is disclosed to us…is not principally a matter of knowing. Rather, it is a function of those immediate meanings emerging from our shared forms of life…”attunements” or “alignments” – and the intrinsic significance that people and things come to possess over time through the part they play in various life activities.

philosophy is much more a discourse about culture, about the funded meanings of everyday life, than about knowledge per se…these thinkers [Emerson, Dewey, Pirsig, etc.] all perceive the emptiness or even danger of continuing to wrestle with the problems of epistemology, and so they work to undermine the attenuated (skeptical) picture of human experience that helped give birth to, and in some quarters continues to nourish, the convention of asking questions about foundations and certainty. In other words, they do not so much evade what Dewey calls “the industry of epistemology” as attempt to undercut “the claims of its questions.”

Marriage, for Wordsworth, is foremost a way of being in the world. It entails a continuous (re) affirmation and (re) acknowledgement of the conditions of our humanity, something more pervasive and primordial than a scripted rule – or precept-bound relationship. This marriage is not so much an event (like a wedding ceremony) as an attitude toward events – an attitude of care, mindfulness, fallibility, and adventure. And here we can detect strong resonances with Dewey’s and Pirsig’s accounts of artistic engagement…resonances suggesting that aesthetic or high-quality experience is a prominent and recurring feature of this Wordsworthian marriage. It represents the possibility of an ever renewable intimacy with an infinitely meaningful environment, a revitalizing devotion to the everyday. With it, Dewey says, we shed our indifference to the qualitative uniqueness of things. We begin to crack the shell of mundaneness that often accrues around everyday objects so as to “share vividly and deeply in meanings to which we have become dumb.” Such experience also calls attention to the fact that this marriage requires emotional as well as intellectual responsiveness ( a “feeling intellect), and therein it reminds us of the skeptical withdrawal or torpor that can very easily make us feel as though we are not at home in the commonplace world.

…”Ultimately there are but two philosophies,” Dewey concludes, “One of them accepts life and experience in all its uncertainty, mystery, doubt, and half-knowledge and turns that experience upon itself to deepen and intensify its own qualities – to imagination and art”. In short, it takes the limits and liabilities of the human condition and turns them into poetic affirmations. The other philosophy is that of the Cavellian [Stanley Cavell] skeptic.

If this journey is to consist of more than observing, redescribing, and mapping from a distance, it must be an adventure in living no less than thinking, and a personally challenging one at that.

…Thoreau, however, understands reading (as well as writing) as the demanding process of engaging with the complex energies and movements of language.

…Thus do we see the Emersonian poet-philosopher alluding to great scholars, writers, and artists. But they are to be taken more as inspirational progenitors than models to be imitated. Their creations are to be appropriated and put to work, used to expand our present and future horizons of meaning rather than passively assimilated. “Around every circle another can be drawn,” runs the Emersonian credo.

Dewey holds that unimpeded participation in social activities, shared interests, and open communication are the basic ingredients of democratic life, More than that, they are inherently educative. Common, community, and communication are inseparable in his view. A critical-creative culture, along with supporting institutions – educational institutions chief among them – are crucial to obtaining and safeguarding those goods amidst the precarious struggle for a meaningful existence. Taken together they share the responsibility of nourishing and sustaining the conditions necessary for cultivating ***the art of experience*** – the principal measure, as I have suggested, of Deweyan democracy. This means that it is the frutiful practice of democracy in the everyday that Dewey holds most dear, not a specific set of institutions or political arrangements. Deomcracy, he says repeatedly, is something continually to strive for, a never-ending experiment in associated living rather than a static achievement or legacy to be bequeathed. As such it requires strong, educated, imaginative individuals. [Democracy as a way of life – Art as a way of life]

Dewey’s conception of individuality differs frome Emerson’s and Pirsig’s in that it rejects *in principle* the prospect of individuality without sociality…He claims that individuality can only be actualized through a sustained period of overt participation in social life, whether in the form of active approval or disapproval. This means that Emrson’s so-called original unit is really a product of years of varied association. As Dewey argues in Individualism, Old and New:

moving and multiple associations are the only means by which the possibilities of individuality can be realized..To gain an integrated individuality, each of us needs to cultivate his own garden. But there is no fence about this garden: it is no sharply marked-off enclosure. Our garden is the world, in the angle at which it touches our own manner of being. By accepting the…world in which we live, and by thus fulfilling the pre-condition for interaction with it, we, who are also parts of the moving present, create ourselves as we create an unknown future.

***1. art as experience holds out the possibility of an ever renewable intimacy with an infinitely meaningful lived world;
2. the creative impetus of art as experience imbues the things of everyday life with enhanced meaning and value;***

3. in cracking the shell of mundaneness that often accrues around the things of everyday, art an the aesthetic reconnect us with those objects and people that we have come to take for granted, renewing our appreciation for their significance in our lives;
4. the feeling intellect of art as experience allows us to turn the limits and liabilities of the human condition into poetic affirmations;
5. art as experience helps us to explore the creative possibilities of our inheritance in culture, developing new ends and goods (or values) of our own design;
6. in utilizing a both/and logic, art as experience overrides inherited dualistic patterns of thinking, acknowledging the reality of irony and paradox, the contingency and fluidity of boundaries, and the possibility of alternative – though not always valuable perspectives;
7. the general prospects for art as experience provide a measure of attainment of democratic forms of life.

David Granger’s “John Dewey, Robert Pirsig, and the Art of Living” – Chapter Four

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/09/2014

…Moreover, we must recognize that poetic quality “exists in many degrees and forms”. In an effort to drive these points home, Dewey takes the time in Art as Experience to quote verbatim an actual weather report…Dewey freely admits that almost no one would call these lines actual poetry. Yet without modifying it in any way, he presents a bit or ordinary prose as “something poetic” found in an “unexpected place”.

…shared life and experience is for him the great miracle of human existence. The democratic attitude is the religious attitude; democratic values are religious values…The substantial emancipation of the religious from religion, he firmly believes, is the only way to heal this destructive and unnecessary chasm between “the live creature and ethereal things”…

to emancipate the aesthetic, as an adjective, from the artworld’s acquisitive treatment of art as a noun substantive. Both the aesthetic and the religious are to be interpreted as qualities of a larger experience, latent in any number of situational contexts.

****…For all of these figures [Wordsworth, Emerson, Dewey, Pirsig] the aesthetic and the religious are variations of a common theme – the ideal of life as the realization of the poetic possibilities of everyday experience.****

…Dewey locates imagination not in the mind or some other part of our intellectual equipment, but rather in the dramatic field of self-world interaction. Imagination is a way of being oriented toward things, seeing and feeling them, as they constitute a unified whole…[imagination is not an individual possession] it is a phase of natural events capable of extracting from existing conditions unrealized possibilities for meaning.

Aesthetic experience for Dewey, culminates not so much in vertical movement – transcendence to a higher level of being through a tighter and more comprehensive unity. It is instead better described as horizontal – a movement outward toward an ever-expanding horizon of meaning and value.

Aesthetic experience emerges with the aid of intelligence from the manifold rhythms of everyday life, wherein all things pass ineluctably in and out of existence. This is the sine qua non of Deweyean pragmatic naturalism. There is no hidden and self-identical “higher” reality to be unmasked, no permanent haven for which to strive; there is only the body and mind working together in and through the natural and sociocultural environment to create and recreate meaning.

…A metaphysics that increases our understanding of the possible relationships between our sociocultural practices and the various traits of the lived world is, from this perspective, indispensable to philosophy as criticism.

1. both aesthetic and religious experience are latent in any number of situational contexts, and not exclusive and autonomous things-in-themselves;
2. the aesthetic and religious, taken together, manifest the ideal of life as the realization of poetic possibilities of everyday experience;
3. expressive (or aesthetic) meaning is wholly inseparable from its conditioning medium – there can be no such thing as “impulsive expression”;
4. all forms of expression are ultimately as much a function of the body as of the mind;
5. the self or its emotions are not what art expresses, but rather the sensed meaning arising from purposeful interaction of self and world;
6. the goal of interpreting an art object is not simply to “get it” by reading the artist’s mind – there is considerably more meaning to be gleaned from openly exploring the expressive potentialities f the object and its medium;
7. the aesthetic imagination is fundamentally intentional rather than free floating or disinterested;
8. imagination is not a discrete faculty or power, but rather a whole contextual orientation toward things capable of disclosing alternatives to present conditions;
9. art does not reveal the essence of things or achieve higher levels of being – it is a means of expanding one’s everyday horizon of meaning;
10. a unified experience should act as much as “a stimulating disturbance toward the new as an achieved ordering of the old” – to strive for a perfectly harmonious, inclusive unity is inevitably to stifle growth and possibility.

David Granger’s “John Dewey, Robert Pirsig, and the Art of Living” – Chapter Three

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/08/2014

…The more the meaning of an experience is carried through its immediate qualitative dimension, Dewey argues, the more conspicuous the limits of language become.

this separation of art from the objects and events of everyday life have very profound, and often very pernicious, consequences.

[footnote 4] Aesthetic attitude theories maintain that a person must be essentially unconcerned with the practical utility of an object if this object is to be experienced aesthetically or as art. [<—note distinction between the two!] In short, they view instrumental and intrinsic meaning as inherently opposed. Commentators on Art as Experience tend to overstate the extent to which Dewey accepts this idea.

"Tangled scenes of life are made more intelligible in esthetic experience: not, however, as reflection and science render things more intelligible by reduction to conceptual form, but by presenting their meanings as the matter of a clarified, coherent, and intensified or ‘impassioned’ experience“. This is one of many statements of Dewey’s belief that in human life knowledge is largely subordinate to the direct qualitative meaning of things. As a matter of tracing out existential relations, its value lies primarily outside itself, in some external end. The intelligibility that it provides is meaning “for” rather than directly “of,” we might say. Nonetheless, the desire to treat art as if it were a mode of knowing or an embodiment of the “truth of things” has long been a prominent theme within Euro-American aesthetics.

Thus conceived, art is eminently practical; it is about refreshing and enhancing everyday lived experience, not escaping to the pristine sublimity of theoretical abstraction or disinterested beauty

…the aesthetic suffers immeasurably when cognitive meanings are granted a monopoly in experience.”

…Add to this the idea that art is a mode of practice, he [Dewey] continues, and “the only distinction worth drawing is not between practice and theory, but between those modes of practice that are not intelligent, not inherently and immediately enjoyable, and those which are full of enjoyed meanings“.

…[Richard] Shusterman contends that Dewey’s use of “aesthetic experience” can help us to remember that qualitatively enriched experience, and not national/class privilege or the collecting of precious objects, is what makes art an incomparable source of personal and cultural renewal…The more we learn, and then teach others, how to fashion life itself into art, as Dewey says, the less we will feel the need to treat art as “the beauty parlor of civilization”.

What then is artworld art? As the term is used here, it refers to art that is largely created to respond, either positively or negatively, to the particular concerns, values, and practices of those institutionally enfranchised persons who constitute the artworld. This means that its audience and presumed context of interpretation are more or less predetermined.

They tend to promote the creation of reflexive art-about-art, art that demands that its audience be familiar with the specialized and routinely abstract discourse(s) circulating within the artworld

…Treated in this autonomous fashion, the artworld is effectively removed from any wider normative context from which its values and practices might be critiqued and reconstructed…That which is not accepted by the artworld as a candidate for appreciation is unceremoniously dismissed from the “family,” enabling the possiility for art to become “increasingly alien to the lives and joys of most people.” [<–Shusterman] With this we can imagine Dewey, a tireless proponent of shared experiences and practices, being greatly disturbed. His guiding concern is to direct us toward more and better aesthetic experiences, not legislating as to what is and what is not a “genuine” art object.

It is crucial for Dewey that the parameters of art be neither definitively marked off within the aesthetic dimension of lived experience nor limited to certain prescribed institutional or cultural contexts.

Dewey and Pirsig would, I think, join someone like Wittgenstein in having us question whether we ever can or need formulate any such conditions (especially outside academe). [necessary and sufficient conditions for what constitutes art]

“The intelligent mechanic engaged in his job, interested in doing well and finding satisfaction in his handiwork, caring for his materials and tools with genuine affection, is artistically engaged. The difference between such a worker and the inept careless bungler is as great in the shop as it is in the studio.” [Dewey]

Unlike the dualistic posture of the disinterested spectator, this mindful, “feeling intellext” is invested emotionally in its affairs, like a mechanic who is “caring for his materials and tools with genuine affection”. There is a fullness of participation and sense of purpose that is, again, receptive without being passive. What is undergone is experienced in all its fecundity.

Then we are led to ask not only “Does it work?: of a given technology, but also, “What kind of experience does it afford?”

1. aesthetic experience is a human achievement involving intelligent thought and action – it is not a spontaneous, unguarded event;
2. aesthetic experience, qua aesthetic, is an enrichment of the immediacy of experience in which knowledge plays a chiefly instrumental role – it is neither a mode of knowing nor an embodiment of the “truth of things”;
3. aesthetic experience is marked by its own individualizing quality and self-sufficiency and is composed of an organic unity of interdependent parts;
4. aesthetic experience is not predominantly mentalistic, but is instead rooted in the biophysical rhythms of the lived body;
5. a mindful “feeling intellect,” rather than a restrained posture of disinterestedness, facilitates the cultivation of aesthetic experience;
6. any distinction between the aesthetic merits and use-value of things is ultimately a relative one in experience – the two are not inherently opposed;
7. experiences involving some degree of pain, loss, or even the conventionally “ugly” can have palpable aesthetic quality insofar as they heighten our appreciation of the intrinsic meaning and value of those things that make up our everyday lifeworld;
8. art objects are frequently a potent and ready source of aesthetic experience, but not the sole or even principal medium of the aesthetic;
9. the arts can be of deep moral significance inasmuch as they help to reeducate and enhance our habits of perception.

David Granger’s “John Dewey, Robert Pirsig, and the Art of Living” – Chapter Two

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/06/2014

…[Pirsig] His treatment of Quality became essentially naturalistic…Quality no longer originated in some pristine transcendent reality, but rather in the dynamic and ineffable existential immediacy of the everyday lived world.

…But philosophy as cultural criticism, as a form of applied intelligence, is a no less formidable and momentous undertaking. Among other things, it calls for passion, courage, and imaginative vision if it is to be truly forward looking, a prophetic conviction in the possibility of achieving a “heightened appreciation of the positive goods which human experience has achieved and offers”[Dewey]. Moreover, it insists on a highly receptive and generous mind, one capable of considerable humility and a keen fallibilist sensibility…

…What is more, an unprejudiced mind must acknowledge that any activity, from constructing a piece of furniture in shop class to discussing the literary merits of Crime and Punishment, can potentially become “saturated” with meaning, very often, diverse kinds of meaning, instrumental as well as terminal. As Dewey sees it, then, values must be esteemed in terms of what particular situational contexts call for and make possible as far as growth and meaning enhancement are concerned.

1. all theories presuppose the larger world that must serve as “their ground, their origin, their material, and their true end”;
2. real human progress is possible, but, given the existence of chance, contingency, and luck, not inevitable;
3. there is not, and never can be, an a priori genuine path we are to follow in life as inhabitants of an unfinished world – the ends of nature infinitely varied and variable;
4. “all modes of experiencing[scientific, aesthetic,, religious, moral] are ways in which some genuine traits of nature come to manifest realization”;
5. values are the products of experience and inquiry, and constitute a vital strand in the fabric of the full lived situation – they are not mere psychic entities;
6. facts and values are interrelated existences and cannot ultimately be pulled apart – there is no such thing as pure, value-free inquiry;
7. ideas must be tested in the crucible of lived experience if they are to affirm their worth;
8. human beings must work to understand, acknowledge, and respect the conditions of their existence if they are to live wisely and well;
9. the purpose of philosophy is broad-based cultural values criticism, to “clarify, liberate, and extend the goods which inhere in the naturally generated functions of experience.”

David Granger’s “John Dewey, Robert Pirsig, and the Art of Living” – Chapter One

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/03/2014

…The thoughtful reconstruction of experience, which shapes and guides it toward desirable ends through intelligent action in the world, is thus perceived as the quintessential human project.

…They [poets] have urged us to recognize that directly”had” or felt meanings manifest the genuine traits of things no less effectually than does cognitive experience.

…all experienced qualities are ultimately a function of situational wholes…

…[Pirsig]”One seeks instead the highest quality intellectual explanation of things with the knowledge that if the past is any guide to the future this explanation must be taken provisionally; as useful until something better comes along.” Dewey would eventually term this fallibist conception of truth “warranted assertability.”

1. the everyday human world is the proper ground and point of reference for philosophy;
2. the world is preeminently qualitative in character, and immediate sense qualities are what we live in and for;
3. the world is marked by a regenerative mixture of flux and stability (or the dynamic and the static), and along with other “generic traits” including continuity (or association), novelty, pluralism, potentiality, contingency, and temporality;
4. all existences, material and ideational, are best viewed as events rather than substances;
5. every existential event is theoretically capable of an infinite number of possible meanings, including aesthetic meanings;
6. the conventional dualisms of subject and object, mind and body, and reason and emotions are functional distinctions ensuing from reflection – not a priori existences;
7. “situations,” the immediately experienced wholes or constellations of meaning within which we think, feel, and act, constitute the basic human lifeworld;
8. experience originates in the continuous interaction of an active, purposive organism with its environment;
9. our chief mode of interacting with the world is through the body, and the body is the primary medium of meaning in experience;
10. experience is not composed of discrete bits of sense data, but rather “the sun, earth, plants and animals of everyday life,” which is where inquiry must ultimately both begin and end;
11. human thought is “a natural event occurring in nature because of the traits of the latter” – it is not an imposition from without;
12. meaning in experience can be immediately “had” or felt as well as known – knowing or cognizing is but one mode of experience;
13. knowledge is inherently anticipatory and inferential in nature, denoting the ability to reconstruct a given situation in a desired way – the idea of certain knowledge beheld as an immediate presence by a detached spectator is sheer fantasy;
14. truth is born of ideas verified in experience and is always provisional, open to change in light of future inquiries.

David Granger’s “John Dewey, Robert Pirsig, and the Art of Living” – Introduction

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/02/2014

…In learning to conduct more of everyday experience in an artful manner, we increase our ability to liberate and expand the potential meaning of things…

…As a creative transformation of our everyday lifeworld, this experience [aesthetic for Dewey, high-quality for Pirsig], they argue, provides the means and media for an everyday poetics of living.

[Martha] Nussbaum takes from all of this that the structural form of philosophy – its use of language, method, exposition and argument, and so on – is organically connected with – and actively conditions – its content. Style itself, that is, makes certain claims about the world and about what matters in life. This leads Nussbaum to conclude that “there may be some views of the world and how one should live in it – views, especially, that emphasize the world’s surprising variety, its complexity and mysteriousness, its flawed and imperfect beauty – that cannot be fully and adequately stated in language of conventional philosophical prose, a style remarkably flat and lacking in wonder – but only in a language and in forms that are themselves more complex, more allusive, more attentive to particulars.”…

…that vital link to future possibility necessary to sustain the poetics of personal and cultural renewal – what Dewey conceives of principally in terms of imagination (“the chief instrument of the good”) – is in danger of being svered by interpretive practices that, whether purposely or not, tend to blunt our sense of the ineffable mystery and wonder of the lived world by rendering everything either readily explainable or of no significant value…”

…each theory [analytic and Continental] discounts the possibility that literary texts refer in some way to concrete human readers (and therein to the world), readers who are not ontologically weightless abstractions, but who have practical interests and needs that often change and grow significantly through their encounters with literature…

…the proper aim of philosophy is not the creation of a logical system of thought, but rather the enhancement of the quality of life and experience through conscientious cultural or value criticism…Immaculately reasoned arguments and grand systems mean little if they have nothing to contribute to the art of a life well lived.

The comfortable absurdity of artistic “experimentation.” – Toward an expansive “we” (hint: mom and dad are invited) – Some more stuff I said on facebook with the really challenging, thoughtful, responses removed

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 07/22/2013

Mental Prototypes and Monster Institutions. Some Notes by Way of an Introduction – Universidad Nómada (Nuria Rodríguez Trans.)

Well, after sorting through all of the theoretical gobbledy-gook, I find myself in some agreement (with the intro “Mental Prototypes and Monster Institutions.”) with the spirit… But then I get to the conclusion in which they call for 4 circuits (not feeling all this 90s grad school lingo – “circuits” “monsters” “hybrids” “swarming”). These circuits sound an awful lot like they will need to be populated (and led) by artist-academics. How convenient! Their description does not seem to align with the stated ambitions:

“struggles and forms of social existence that some would accuse of being non-political or contaminated or useless or absurd ”

“monstrous, because they initially appear to be pre-political or simply non-political in form”

“another politics, that is, another way of translating the power of productive subjects into new forms of political behaviour”

I *wish* the proposed circuits, were not circuits at all and were more “useless” or “absurd.” Absurd that is in a way that academics would find uncomfortable rather than the comfortable absurdity of artistic “experimentation.”

I wouldn’t characterize my reaction as “phobia.” Rather, I would call it allergic.

The problem with the notion of hybridity advocated here is that the multiple layers don’t really seem all that “multiple.” So describing this writing as “technical” might be right…it is a field manual for the already converted, the ones who already speak the same way, the ones who always do all the speaking and not enough listening. Communication isn’t just about finding the right rhetoric. It is also about developing the proper dispositions right? I would be far less suspicious of the circuits if the notion of collectivity they proposed didn’t seem to place academic/activist/art types at the center (or at the very least, the sorts of programmatic structures they have such an affinity for – educational projects, research projects, media/publishing, and institutes/foundations). In other words, let the monsters rise, but not be created, educated, published, and exhibited within the comfort zones of the academic/activist/artistic industrial complex! Screw their mental prototypes.

I am allergic to missionary fervor – to being “saved” or “helped” by those in the know. As you have already guessed, I got nothing. But, yes, folks out there do have something, and I will not lead them. It is true we don’t read the same way, but I am happy to have at least put our readings in contact.

I have been hearing/reading big plans and big ideas from academic art types for quite some time and the track record here in the US is pretty paltry. Until they figure out a form of (non, anti, new) political engagement that has them at the margins, that has small ambitions, that isn’t predicated on “producing knowledge,” that stops thinking only in terms of urban space, that advocates diversity without being dismissive of *actually* dissenting points of view, that accepts pleasure (especially “unhealthy” sorts), and especially gives up the romance of avant gardism – I too feel like I’ll be waiting for them to work their “magic” forever…

Happy 4th of July!

I would say to your last question that *not all* art criticism, cultural theory, and yes, even urban planning is technocratic. And I would add that the technocrats have had ample opportunity to use their “expertise” to manifest something good and have very little to show for it…

Yes “we” have art, “we” have culture, and “we” have education – but a point of contention here is how expansive that “we” is. From my 20+ years around academic/art/activist types it has become clear to me that the “we” is pretty narrow. My white heterosexual middle class mom who has no interest in overthrowing capitalism, or has much clue what heteronormativity might be is pretty clearly excluded even though she might agree in spirit with the notion that a fairer allocation of resources might be a pretty neat idea…I am for a “we” that isn’t the hollow fantasy of grad school romantics, one that includes their moms and dads and all the unironic mall shopping conformists they think they are so much better informed than. I am for a “we” that includes gun owners and people who don’t have a clue who Zizek is (or even Chomsky). And I have no problem at all with attempting to “contribute towards the emergence of a non-centralized liberatory culture.” I just wish for a little more humility a little less grandiosity and maybe less occupying of parks (which is indeed useful) and more strolls. And I do think you sell short the power of the stroll vs. the dérive, or what I might call (thanks to Scott Stroud) artful living vs. art. Here is a snippet from him that may or may not help (asterisks added for emphasis):

“***Life is always lived in some present, and it is here that the battle of life is fought***; one can come armed with habits that foster engagement with that present, or one can bring in ways of viewing the here and now (be it an art object or a work task) as a mere means to achieve something in the remote future. Both of these approaches will affect and tone the quality of lived, transactive experience. Dewey’s point, which I will explore at length in this work, is that the former approach is constitutive of artful living.”

There is a mountain – Richard Shusterman on Art and Religion

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/28/2013

Art and Religion – Richard Shusterman

In advocating a pragmatist aesthetics I have criticized this otherworldly religion of art because of the way it has been shaped by more than two centuries of modern philosophical ideology aimed at disempowering art by consigning it to an unreal, purposeless world of imagination. Such religion, I have argued, is the enemy of pragmatism’s quest to integrate art and life, a quest exemplified both in the classical Western notion of the art of living and some Asian artistic traditions, where art is less importantly the creation of objects than the process of refining the artist who creates and the audience who absorbs that creative expression.

The conclusion that Dewey wants to draw from this, however, is that poetic imagination, with its “moral function . . . for . . . the ideals and purposes of life” (CF 13), should not be a mere playful, compartmentalized supervenience of art for art’s sake but rather a formative force in making social and public life, as well as private experience, more artistically beautiful and rewarding. In short, Dewey holds the pragmatist ideal that the highest art is the art of living with the goal of salvation in this world rather than the heaven of an afterlife.

… Zen Buddhist-style notions of art and religious practice offer a religion of immanence with no transcendental, personal God existing outside the world of creation; no eternal, personal, immaterial soul existing apart from its embodied manifestations; and no sacred world (an artworld or heaven) existing beyond the world of experienced flux. The essential distinction between the sacred and the profane (or between art and nonart) no longer marks a rigid ontological divide between radically different worlds of things but rather a difference of how the same world of things is perceived, experienced, and lived – whether artistically, with an inspiring spirit of presence and an absorbing sense of profound significance or sanctity, or instead as merely insignificant, routine banalities. Transfiguration, in such religions of immanence, does not entail a change of ontological status through elevation to a higher metaphysical realm but is rather a transformation of perception, meaning, use, and attitude. Not a matter of vertical transposition to an elevated ethereal realm, it is rather a vividness and immediacy of being in this world, of feeling the full power and life of its presence and rhythms, of seeing its objects with a wondrous clarity and freshness of vision. Consider this description of the path to transfigured insight provided by the Chinese Zen master Ch’ing Yuan of the Tang Dynasty: “Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got the very substance I am at rest. For it is just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.”

However we address these issues, one question must be faced forthwith: Were those transfigured drum cans art? Though clearly not part of the institutional artworld, they were just as obviously part of an installation work of deliberate design aimed at providing experiences that could be described as meaningful, thought-provoking, and aesthetically evocative. And the deliberative design of this installation suggests that it was obviously “about something” (a condition of meaning generally deemed necessary for art). But what, exactly, the drum cans were about is a question that has many possible answers: the powers and possibilities of meditation, the surprising uses of industrial detritus, the contrast yet continuity of nature and artifact, the question of beauty (difficult and hidden versus easy and conventional), even the meaning I eventually found in it – the immanent transfiguration of ordinary objects that could make them art without taking them out of the real world and into a compartmentalized, transcendent artworld whose objects have an entirely different metaphysical status. Such immanent transfiguration, whose meaning of enriched presence is to fuse art and life rather than suggest their essential contrast and discontinuity, is where Zen converges with pragmatist aesthetics.




Kant didn’t just screw us with aesthetics, but ethics as well – Wisdom and the particular vs. Knowledge and the universal

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/21/2013

Godless yet good – Troy Jollimore [I am happy to see Murdoch get some well deserved attention, but surprised that her friend and colleague, Mary Midgley ‘s work isn’t mentioned. See this for example. And what about Nel Noddings?]

This emphasis on being attentive to concrete reality tallies with the idea that it is the emotions (compassion and sympathy in particular), rather than abstract rational principles, that are doing the motivating when it comes to ethical behaviour. Together they embody a critique of moral views, such as Kant’s, which rely on inflexible ethical principles allegedly derived from logic itself. In the work of McDowell, this critique is developed into a position called ‘moral particularism’, which rejects altogether the idea that we might one day compose or possess an ethical rulebook that would define the right thing to do in any conceivable situation. After all, what can count as a moral reason in one context might fail to be a reason in another, or might even be, in certain contexts, a reason pointing in the other direction.

…However, more recent investigators tend to prefer a picture in which several distinct and perhaps incommensurable factors make contributions to a person’s happiness. This fits in well with the particularists’ view that evaluation is always a holistic matter. It is worth remembering, too, that Aristotle understood eudaimonia, which is frequently translated into English as ‘happiness’, as something considerably broader and less subjective than pleasure or momentary satisfaction. Instead, it has to do with the general quality of one’s life as a whole.

For particularists, then, individual perception and judgment are always necessary to decide difficult ethical questions: there is no theoretical ethical system that can do the work for us. Principles are useful, perhaps, but only as rules of thumb, practical guidelines that hold for the most part, but to which there will always be exceptions. At the foundational level, ethics is built not on a system of rules, but on individual human beings who possess character, judgment, and wisdom.

Particularism re-opens the door to the idea of wisdom. It is an idea that Kantian and utilitarian ethics — and, for that matter, the modern world in general — have great trouble taking seriously. Wisdom, as opposed to knowledge, might seem a somewhat quaint notion in the contemporary world. (Indeed at this point even the word ‘knowledge’ sounds quaint to many people, who prefer to talk about ‘data’ or ‘information.’) The modern desire to replace individual wisdom and judgment with more objective, scientific methods of decision-making and evaluation has had profound effects on many aspects of our lives. In the field of education, where I work, it has led to ever-increasingly complex systems of rules and standards for professional conduct, for assessing teaching effectiveness, for making promotion decisions, even for designing courses and course curricula. The prevailing attitude is that we need a system of rules and principles to make and justify every decision, because we cannot trust the individuals involved enough to leave it up to their good judgment — even when the individuals involved are highly trained experts and just the sort of people capable of discerning how rules and principles should be implemented, and when they should be ignored or adapted. Similarly, the current plague of standardised testing inflicted on students leads to the slighting of skills and traits that are difficult to quantify: artistic talents, creativity, and moral attributes, among many others. This prevailing attitude is one that many Kantians and utilitarians would applaud, and one that Aristotle would deplore.


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In Search of the Mundane – Ordinary vs. Extraordinary – The Unremarkable

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 06/30/2012

Redefining Success and Celebrating the Ordinary – Alina Tugend [See this as another example. Also see this dealing with this theme.]

As Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work and author of the book “The Gifts of Imperfection” (Hazelden, 2010) said, “In this world, an ordinary life has become synonymous with a meaningless life.”

And that’s a problem. Because “extraordinary is often what the general public views as success,” said Jeff Snipes, co-founder of PDI Ninth House, a corporate leadership consulting firm. “You make a lot of money or have athletic success. That’s a very, very narrow definition. What about being compassionate or living a life of integrity?

The problem is that we have such a limited view of what we consider an accomplished life that we devalue many qualities that are critically important.

She didn’t have a great job, she wasn’t married and never had children, so she wasn’t successful in either the traditional male or female sense, Ms. Porter said. But people would keep telling stories about her kindness.

She had a lot of magic in her life, and that’s reassuring,” Ms. Porter said. “That you can live a full, interesting, ordinary life.

“Ordinary has a bad rap, and so does settling — there is the idea is that we should always want more,” she said. “But there’s a beauty in cultivating an appreciation for what we already have.”

For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

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