Steven Fesmire – Moral Imagination

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 04/17/2012

“Central to Dewey’s approach is that ethics is understood as the art of helping people to live richer, more responsive, and more emotionally engaged lives.”

“…the central goal of education is nurturance of a child’s social curiosity into a communicative democratic faith.”

“Sequestering art and the aesthetic from everyday reflection, far from celebrating imagination, is a recipe for moral sterility, fragmentation, and alienation. Imagination cannot be democratic when it is ‘flat and toneless and lifeless,’ it has historically turned to radically individual pursuits, or to promotion of authoritarian control.”

[quoting Dewey] “Conversion into doctrinal teachings of the imaginative relations of life with which great moral artists have dowered humanity has been the great cause of their ossification into harsh dogmas; illuminating insight into the relations and goods of life has been lost, and an arbitrary code or precepts and rules substituted.”

“The moral production is not a dress rehearsal for a ready-made play, as it appears to be in many rule theories. Dewey’s moral stage is atypical. Scenes are actively co-authored with others and with a precarious environment. The acting is improvisational, the performances open-ended. The drama is experimental, not scripted.”

“What is most at stake in moral life is not some quantifiable pleasure or pain, but ‘what kind of person one is to become’ and what kind of world is to develop.”

“As a capacity to engage the present with an eye to what is not immediately at hand, imagination is more than a niche for fictional embellishment, as when someone has an ‘over-active imagination’ or is ‘imagining things.’ Nor is it the exclusive possession of fine artists. It is integrated with everyday life and learning.”

“Reason is embodied, evolving, and practical, and as such it is subject to physical, conceptual, and historical constraints. Further, reasoning is contingent upon perspectives and is characterized by an educated aesthetic response that can emerge from trust in a situation’s potentialities.”

[quoting Peirce] “Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts.”

“…pragmatist ethics urges that moral reflection must begin where all genuine inquiry begins: in media res, with tangle of lived experience. Dewey in particular argued that moral deliberation is not disembodied cerebration…but is a form of engaged inquiry touched off by an uncertain situation.”

– Steven Fesmire in John Dewey and Moral Imagination: Pragmatism in Ethics

Mark Edmundson – Hungry Hearts

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 04/03/2012

via NY Times:

I had a childhood friend named Paul Rizzo. Paul had a hungry heart. He wanted to see everything, know everything, read everything, go everywhere. He had what you might call an associative mind, and he surely didn’t cold-cock his SATs. But he did want to learn. He went to some colleges; he took some courses. But I don’t think he ever got the quality of education he deserved. That kind of schooling was too often reserved for kids who aced their boards and charmed their teachers and were elected presidents of the Climbers Club by unanimous acclaim.

Paul is still out there, driving a cab, writing fiction, reading what he can and trying to figure it all out. He sees himself as an Everyman type, but not without aspirations of an intellectual and even spiritual sort. Not long ago he used the phrase “Hamlet with a coffee to go” in a note to me and that describes Paul pretty well. The Boss would probably like him, maybe even enough to slip him into a song. Hungry hearts – smart or slow, rich or poor – still deserve a place in the class.

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The “Great Man” Syndrome – Everyday Heroism

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 03/05/2010

I was recently reminded about having clipped out a letter written in response to an article (about William F. Buckley Jr. )  in the New York Times Magazine (5/09). The letter writer (Al Larkin of Milton, MA) expresses, more eloquently than I am capable of, his reservations about the “Great Man” syndrome. The tenor of his letter resonates with my abiding interest in “ordinary” people, and “ordinary” achievements. The letter [emphasis mine]:

I have long been a fan of both Buckleys — William F. Jr. and Christopher. However, the younger, in writing about the elder, has proved again that a son should think twice before writing publicly about his father. It is always a complicated relationship, and to blame William F. Buckley Jr.’s parental shortcomings — and some of them were simply astonishing — on the ”Great Man” syndrome does an injustice to the average guy who works two jobs, pays the bills and still finds time to coach his kid’s Little League team. If only he were ”Greater”: he could justifiably skip the ballgames, the hospitalizations and the graduations. And who could blame him? Worse, for those unfortunate kids stuck with paternal miscreants who don’t also happen to be Great Men, is there any convenient way for them to explain their plight? I agree that the elder Buckley was a great man. But I prefer the story of my mother, who never wrote a book or appeared on a television show but raised six happy children. At her funeral, someone described her as ”an extraordinary woman who lived a very ordinary life.” She was, in other words, a great mom.

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Thoreau – Art/Life

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 02/06/2010

The true poem is not that which the public read. There is always  a poem not printed on paper, coincident with the production of this, stereotyped in the poet’s life. It is what he has become through his work. Not how is the idea expressed in stone, or on canvass or paper, is the question, but how far it has obtained form and expression in the life of the artist. His true work will not stand in any prince’s gallery. [italics in original; bold emphasis mine] – H. D. Thoreau in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

Common Culture – Paul Willis

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 12/10/2009

From Common Culture: Symbolic work at play in the everyday cultures of the young by Paul Willis:

“In general the arts establishment connives to keep alive the myth of the special, creative individual artist holding out against  passive mass consumerism, so helping to maintain a self-interested view of elite creativity…Against this we insist that there is a vibrant symbolic life and symbolic creativity in everyday life, everyday activity and expression – even if it is sometimes invisible, looked down on or spurned.”

“There can be a final unwillingness and limit even in subversive or alternative movements towards an arts democracy. They may have escaped the physical institutions and academies, but not always their conventions…we don’t want to start where ‘art’ thinks is ‘here’, from within its perspectives, definitions and institutions.[emphasis mine]”

“We argue for symbolic creativity as an integral (‘ordinary’) part of the human condition, not as inanimate peaks (popular or remote) rising above its mists.”

“Art is taken as the only field of qualitative symbolic activity…We insist, against this, that imagination is not extra to daily life, something to be supplied from disembodied art.”

“…young people feel more themselves in leisure than they do at work. Though only ‘fun’ and apparently inconsequential, it’s actually where their creative symbolic abilities are most at play. ”

“The fact that many texts may be classified as intrinsically banal, contrived and formalistic must be put against the possibility that their  living reception [emphasis mine]is the opposite of these things.”

“Why shouldn’t bedroom decoration and personal styles, combinations of others’ ‘productions’, be viewed along with creative writing or song and music composition as fields of aesthetic realization?”

“Ordinary people have not needed an avant-gardism to remind them of rupture. What they have needed but never received is better and freer materials for building security and coherence in their lives.”

“The simple truth is that it must now be recognized that the coming together of coherence and identity in common culture occurs in surprising, blasphemous and alienated ways seen from old-fashioned Marxist rectitudes – in leisure not work [emphasis mine], through commodities not political parties, privately not collectively.”

What is so refreshing about this book is that it is filled with the actual accounts of lived responses to culture rather than the usual empty academic  pronouncements about how culture is processed and taken up. Rather than opine, Willis listens.

InCUBATE – In Search of the Mundane – threewalls

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 10/31/2009

6932_803751403632_5100280_46748976_320576_n I had the good fortune of working with  my friends InCUBATE and threewalls for an event series called In Search of the Mundane. You can see more here and read a (sort of) review here.

MOMA – Gourd Museum

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 03/31/2009

“I would much rather be in the Charles and Mary Johnson Gourd Museum in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina. I’d rather be there because I have no familiar categories to make sense of it. I’d rather be there because it unnerves me, and reminds me that there are things in life too strange for knee jerk irony. I’d rather be there because it will never have a mass market or become a ministry of culture.” – Immanent Domain via Suggested Donation

Sunday Soup Houston – InCUBATE – SKYDIVE – Saturday Free School for the Arts

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 03/28/2009

Saturday, April 4th 2009

I’m doing a talk with InCUBATE at the Saturday Free School for the Arts in Houston, TX.

Saturday Free School for the Arts will offer a range of skill shares, lectures, and workshops. It is a fluid structure where teachers become students and pupils can become teachers. Members of the community will be invited to teach and may also propose seminars. In the tradition of free schools, the Saturday Free School is an ever shifting and open collective of artists and participants, who gather together at the Skydive, a contemporary arts space in Houston. Saturday Free School for the Arts remains responsive to the interests of its participants.  Through a community of artists Saturday Free School offers freedom from expensive and immutable educational institutions. Saturday Free School for the Arts provides workshops, classes and skill-shares at no cost to it’s participants.”

Sunday, April 5th 2009

Sunday Soup at SKYDIVE. Nancy Zastudil and I are bringing InCUBATE to Houston for Sunday Soup Texas style.

“SKYDIVE utilizes an open and collaborative model for producing its programming. A group of artists, curators, and other professionals function as Advisors to help create shows, invite artists, and collaborate in the mission and programming of the space. Participants in SKYDIVE will be invited to Houston for a sustained number of days, previous to the exhibition to make their work, interact with the Houston community and see the sites in Houston and surrounding areas.”

Qualities of Thinking – Scholarly Virtues

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 03/28/2009

“At present research focuses on the scholarly virtues: accuracy of reference and care in drawing conclusions. These are valuable because they counteract our normal sloppy thinking. However, there are many more qualities of thinking: grace, charisma, intimacy, spontaneity, wit, depth, simplicity, grandeur, warmth, openness, drama, intensity and generosity. [emphasis mine] These vital and passionate qualities are linked to the power of ideas, the ways in which ideas get inside our lives and come to matter in everyday existence.” – John Armstrong as quoted here.

Robert C. Solomon – The Art of Living – Professionalization of Philosophy/Art

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 12/28/2008

“Philosophy is essentially an art. It is the art of living, the search for wisdom.”

“What gives our lives meaning is not anything beyond our lives, but the richness of our lives.”

– Robert Solomon

I’ve written before about Robert Solomon at LeisureArts:

Robert C. Solomon – Passionate Life – Raoul Vaneigem

Philosophy – LeisureArts – Passion

I recently read his The Passions: Emotions and The Meaning of Life. In it, Solomon argues that  “…emotions are the meaning of life. It is because we are moved, because we feel, that life has meaning. The passionate life, not the dispassionate life of pure reason, is the meaningful life.” The central thesis of his book is of great interest, but I unfortunately found his deep commitment to existentialist responsibility off putting. Despite that, the core argument is a necessary salvo at the analytic/rationalist mafia.

What is of real interest to me is his introductory riff on the professionalization of philosophy and its impact on our lives.

“Let me be outrageous and insist that philosophy matters. It is not a self-contained system of problems and puzzles, a self-generating profession of conjectures and refutations…We are all philosophers; the problems we share are philosophical problems. What has been sanctified and canonized as ‘philosophy’ is but the cream of curdled thought from the minds of men [sic] rare in genius, but common in their concerns.”

Solomon, throughout many of his works revisits the theme of  what he calls (professional) philosophy’s “thinness.”  He maintains that the aforementioned puzzles ultimately devolve into examining narrower and narrower slices of human experience. In its attempt to emulate the precision and appearance of objectivity of the sciences, philosophy has developed into highly “sophisticated irrelevancy.”

In his defense of the passions he posits that their subjective nature is a strength, not a weakness. The passions add to, rather than inhibit our understanding of reality. Of course it is not the capital R reality of professional philosophy that he thinks should be the ultimate aim of philosophical inquiry. “They [the passions] are not concerned with the world, but my world. They are not concerned with ‘what is really the case’ with ‘the facts,’ but rather with what is important.”

It is professional philosophy with its system of rewards for esoteric argumentation and refutation that all too often dispenses with what is important to the everyday concerns of people outside the discipline. Or as Solomon puts it:

“Nothing has been more harmful to philosophy than its ‘professionalization,’ which on the one hand has increased the abilities and techniques of its practitioners immensely, but on the other has rendered it an increasingly impersonal and technical discipline, cut off from and forbidding to everyone else.”

He calls this “tragic” and yearns for philosophy’s return to the streets where “Socrates originally practiced it.”  The parallels with the professionalization of art should be obvious enough.  In fact, Solomon has called philosophy “conceptual sculpture,” but his usage refers to the shaping of the mental structures that shape our everyday lives. There’s  too much at stake in both these  fields to leave them to the academic class. They must not be about life, but serve it.

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Bruce Fleming – Professionalization of Literature

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 12/26/2008

From Bruce Fleming’s “What Ails Literary Studies”:

“We’re not teaching literature, we’re teaching the professional study of literature: What we do is its own subject. Nowadays the academic study of literature has almost nothing to do with the living, breathing world outside. The further along you go in the degree ladder, and the more rarified a college you attend, the less literary studies relates to the world of the reader. The academic study of literature nowadays isn’t, by and large, about how literature can help students come to terms with love, and life, and death, and mistakes, and victories, and pettiness, and nobility of spirit, and the million other things that make us human and fill our lives. It’s, well, academic…That’s how we made a discipline, after all.”

There are some conservative overtones to his piece, but he’s right on the mark with regard to the way professionalization can stifle human experience. I found myself substituting ‘art’ for ‘literary studies,’ but pretty much any disciplinary field is applicable.