Lebenskünstler

Social Practice – Social Poetry – Social Poiesis: aesthetic experimentalism and the creation of public life

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/06/2017

[mise en scène]
Multiple lines of inquiry – to enact a series of expansions from art to aesthetics and thus art education to aesthetic education. This would then entail using a synthesis of John Dewey’s theory of experience and experimentalism. The model of “experiment” would be the iterative approach of design rather than the narrower scientific model of experimentation. Ideas, actions, and other modes then become experiments in public culture. I re-frame social practice (with its narrow art focus) as social poiesis, and try to tackle the relationship between this aesthetic practice and the practice of democracy – again largely via Dewey, subsequent scholars, and especially Jane Addams. I would argue that Hull House was an exemplar of this aesthetic, experiential, experimental notion of social poiesis (Addams spoke of social ethics).

hemodynamics

[scene 1]
Granted, we are in the midst of an epistemic crisis, however, academics of a certain persuasion share a large measure of blame. The arts could have embraced the humanistic qualities for which they are so well suited, instead they sought respectability within the regime of criticality. Artists were to become political theorists and philosophers, usually quite shoddy ones. The sharp knife of reason and analysis gave modest protection to the fledgling artist, but the world grew darker and more dangerous. Everywhere critique multiplied, while empathy and visionary spirit weakened. “Without a cadre of people with these sort of imaginative and emotional capacities, there is no hope for democracy.”

[scene 2]
The proceduralism and planning of liberalism relied too heavily on institutions, rather than embodied habits of the heart. Liberals became enamored with rules, deliberation, and rights rather than virtues, associated living, and responsibilities. A polity of discourse among individuals, rather than of meaning within communities.

[scene 3 – courtesy of Mary Midgley]
We need the vast world, and it must be a world that does not need us; a world constantly capable of surprising us, a world we did not program, since only such a world is the proper object of wonder. Any kind of Humanism which deprives us of this, which insists on treating the universe as a mere projection screen for showing off human capacities, cripples and curtails humanity. “Humanists” often do this, because where there is wonder they think they smell religion, and they move hastily in to crush that unclean thing. ***But things much more unclean than traditional religion will follow the death of wonder.***

[scene 4]
Liberalism’s obsession with institutionalizing, economizing, and professionalizing every sphere of human endeavor leaves us out of love’s reach. We need human scale, affectionate practices that generate enchantment, and numinous experience.The liberal project is a dead end – Entzauberung.

Ronald Osborn (quoting Wendell Berry):
“Our politics and science have never mastered the fact that people need more than to **understand** their obligation to one another and the earth; they need also the **feeling** of such obligation, and the feeling can come only within the patterns of familiarity.”

The affection and skill necessary to prevent the depletion of top-soil, for example, only arises through intimate knowledge of and devotion to a concrete locality and its supporting natural and human relationships. There simply are no technical or global solutions to the crisis of soil loss brought on by extractive chemical and machine-based farming methods. What are needed are cultural solutions that take diverse local forms and emerge as a deeply rooted and affectionate responsiveness to place.

“When one works beyond the reach of one’s love for
the place one is working in and for the things and creatures one
is working with and among, then destruction inevitably results,”
Berry writes. “An adequate local culture, among other things,
keeps work within the reach of love.”

18301817_1908485872743364_3391351883054639106_n

[scene 5]
The wizards of explicit knowledge subvert the power of implicit experience. The artist as comedian then is forced to explain the joke, robbing it of all force. Art enters the pornographic regime of criticality, or performs the ventriloquism of critique in which art becomes the otherwise mute mannequin delivering the punchlines for its omnipotent master.

[interlude]

Social practice, to the extent it defines itself as another term for socially engaged art, repeats the mistakes of procedure and institution driven liberal democracy. Rather than approaching public life with an open question as to the best means for achieving one’s ends, social practice forecloses the choice to (an admittedly expansive definition of) art. Social practice, in the end, really means social practice art and with that casts its lot with a set of histories, institutions, and preconceived roles that limit its scope.  It mimics the idea of democracy as a political system with readily identifiable structures, instead of democracy as an experimental, experiential ethos.

A fundamental problem of democracy is the negotiation of associated living, of social life. This is an aesthetic problem, not a cognitive problem. Thus it would appear that art is of particular advantage in addressing this problem. However, art is but a small subset of aesthetic experience. Gregory Pappas says of democracy, “It would be more accurate to say that a democratic society is one that is composed of democratic associations than to say that a democratic association is one that exists because of a democratic society.” Similarly, it would be more accurate to say that art is predicated on aesthetic experience than to say aesthetic experience exists because of art.

The proposal then, is to shift to social poiesis as the mode of inquiry. I described it previously:


“social poiesis” (despite its even more obscure quality) might be a better term. If we don’t limit ourselves to art, social poiesis (née practice) could be more dynamic and encompass not only art actions and art environments, but also – urban planning, sports leagues, communes, be-ins, residencies, raves, state fairs, theme parks, cults, encounter groups, chautauquas, even nations…and would also apply to a much broader demographic of participants rather than artists and their audiences…

 

Michael Atkinson does not preface poiesis with social, however describes it as a “public method,” which I find resonant:

Poiesis is an artistic, aesthetic, emotional, and public method of revealing “different” human truths…humanistic, moral, ethical, spiritual…Poiesis arises from an act, a symbol, a thought, a feeling, or an expression that brings forth knowledge of the human condition falling outside of rationally technological ways of understanding human essences. Those interested in poiesis are less concerned then with measuring and accounting for something quantifiable in the world than the possibility of simultaneously experiencing the material and nonmaterial parameters of human existence.

As with Atkinson, this reading of poiesis from Robert D. Stolorow (via a review of a book by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly) gets at the spiritual aspect that seems important:

Dreyfus and Kelly examine and seek to resuscitate a kind of sacred practice, still marginally available to us, that the ancient Greeks called poiesis:

Until about a hundred years ago, the cultivating and nurturing practices of poiesis organized a central way things mattered. The poietic style manifested itself…in the craftsman’s skills for bringing things out at their best.…This cultivating, craftsman-like, poietic understanding of how to bring out meanings at their best was alive and well into the late nineteenth century, but it is under attack in our technological age. (Dreyfus and Kelly, 2011, p. 206)

Using woodworking as their principal example, Dreyfus and Kelly show that poietic understanding is both practical and embodied and that it enables us to see distinctions of meaning and value that those without such poietic understanding cannot see. Poietic practice makes it possible for us to apprehend entities and situations in their uniqueness and is thus a source of care, respect, and even reverence.

Finally there is the dimension of power in social poiesis. Anne Quéma goes into substantial detail in Power and Legitimacy: Law, Culture, and Literature, but her quick summary: “[social poiesis is]…a formidable process of creating meaning and regulating the practices and structures of social reality through symbolic and narrative means.”

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The ascent of the disabling ecosystem of liberalism

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/21/2016

buberish

Thee iceberg ov social practice

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/18/2016

horizonexperience

life is always lived in some present – social practice as artful living

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

lived

 

“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…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…is that the former approach is constitutive of artful living.” – Scott Stroud

Dial “e” for social practice

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

letter

somewhat conventional understanding of social practice

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 12/31/2015

socialpracticevenn-diagram

against art historical noodling or why social poiesis is more interesting than social practice especially if by social practice we really mean social practice art – Even more stuff I said in blog comments with the really challenging, thoughtful, responses removed

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 06/02/2015

I often quote IC-98 on this matter:

“…as a reaction to the restrictions of academic writing…In practice, the world of contemporary art has proved to be the most flexible environment for diverse projects, being a free zone of experimentation within the society at large…[it] offers possibilities to put forward ideas without the preconditions of academic work …the market…or activism…the projects are labeled art only for strategic reasons – the strategy works as long as the concepts of art do not come to dominate the discourse. The same applies to the individuals working in the group: you call yourself artist, just because it is institutionally convenient, [emphasis mine] because the very concept of ARTIST is obscure.”

These “strategic reasons” are part of what ***’s investigation of “practical consequences” would help illuminate. I am extremely sympathetic to this pragmatic (rather than ontological) engagement with categories. But I remain interested in social practice to the degree that it remains social practice, rather than social practice *art*. So when we inquire into the aesthetics of participation for instance we don’t get bogged down in all the art historical noodling that paralyzes so many critics from the old school. It is important to emphasize that all kinds of “problems” are solved by recognizing that art [frieze/e-flux/triple canopy type art], is just a highly specialized and mostly pointless parlor game played with, and within, aesthetic experience. If we remain attuned to aesthetics and aesthetic experience (especially from an embodied, phenomenological point of view) or to “the arts” or “the art of” or “the artful” rather than to Art, we increase the chances of having the “dynamic, complex and difficult dialogues” *** seeks rather than the insular professional tiffs of the Art world. Melvin Haggerty (1935) said it much better:

“Art is a way of life” is a simple statement of short and familiar words. It expresses a way of looking at life that is very old in the history of thought. If it now seems strange it is because we have permitted art to become divorced from the ordinary activities in which men [sic] engage and its cultivation to drift into the hand of specialists from whom the mass of mankind is separated as by a chasm. In recent times this chasm has become very broad and very deep. To men [sic] absorbed in the work of the world artists appear to be a cult and their work and conversation seem esoteric and almost mystical. To artists ordinary folks appear ignorant and unappreciative, and very often their thinly veiled contempt for plebeian tastes has led them to caustic expression. This dissociation is artificial; it is injurious to art and impoverishes life.

[art as a way of life] sees that as the experiences of life multiply, new and varied purposes arise that call for the invention of new objects and new forms of expression and that these, in turn, vastly increase the possibilities of enriching life…This elemental reality that binds into a single pattern all the varied arts is more important for the philosophy of education than is the stress so often laid upon the differences that superficially separate one kind of creative work from other kinds.

We have assumed a way of looking at art that permits no gulf between the simple arts of life and the so-called fine arts. It sees all as man’s [sic] more or less successful efforts to create things that increase the comforts, the efficiencies, and the pleasures of living…This view cherishes not even the ethically tinged distinction between good art and bad art.

The distinction between creation and appreciation is not one between activity and passivity but rather one among different kinds of activity. The realization of this fact should emphasize the essential unity of art experiences.

*** – Long time no talk. I have to call you out though about what a mess you’re making! You keep conflating art and aesthetics. To call something “not art” in no way reduces its aesthetic dimension. And your understanding of what treating something aesthetically does – “increases distance” – is but one (dominant) idea of aesthetic experience. Berleant’s “Art And Engagement” makes all this talk of participatory aesthetics a moot point (not to mention Dewey and the pragmatists among others). All aesthetic experience is participatory, engaged.

*** – although I quoted IC-98 for one reason (the tactical employment of art as a descriptor), I actually agree more with David Robbins in this quote:

“All the time, though, my sensibility pointed toward and yearned for an imaginative Elsewhere. I became increasingly dissatisfied with the narrowness of art as a formulation of the imagination. This will sound preposterous to many people, I’m aware, given that art offers and represents extraordinary behavioral freedoms, but in “making art” I found an ultimately enslaving formulation. How so? In art, you can do, yes, anything you want so long as you’re willing to have it end up as art. That isn’t real imaginative freedom, in my view. Inquisitiveness of mind will carry you past art, and apparently I love inquisitiveness of mind more than I love art.”

So again I hope social practice delivers us to this imaginative Elsewhere, but art has an insidious ability to capture its escapees…

*** – since I’m in such a quotey mood, I think these snippets from Carl Wilson might get at some of the spirit of criticism I am after (but I am totally down with your criticism as aesthetic experience bit). It’s just that I’m not as fired up about judgment and evaluation as you seem to be:

“What would criticism be like if it were not foremost trying to persuade people to find the same things great…It might…offer something more like a tour of an aesthetic experience, a travelogue, a memoir.”

“…a more pluralistic criticism might put less stock in defending its choices and more in depicting its enjoyment, with all the messiness and private soul tremors – to show what it is like for me to like it, and invite you to compare.”

Re: Meta-experience – I find the discussion around this a bit condescending…it implies that people outside art somehow live their lives unconsciously, that they are unable to think about how to sharpen experience or how to craft an endeavor.

Re: Critique – I recently chaired a panel called “Critiquing Criticality” (which will hopefully end up as a book) and we discussed at length how art had sold its soul to be taken seriously in the academy. That is, it was so ashamed of all those “fuzzy” romantic qualities that it ended up jettisoning all the things that distinguished it from “real” academic disciplines. I would argue much to its detriment.

*** –  I would ask you carry your pragmatic reasoning further. Let us accept that it is indeed now “meaningful” for Rirkrit to call pad thai his art. What does that designation actually *do?* The consensus so far in these threads is that it might invite a kind of meta-reflection which I addressed above to some degree. But to put it even more bluntly, let’s stipulate that this is art’s province alone, what social value is there in that? Aside from appealing to the sorts of people who enjoy thinking about thinking about thinking? Wouldn’t this territory staked out by art be rather sad? When eating pad thai, asking whether it is art or not or whether it follows from Fluxus more than it follows from conceptualism seems like a hollow inquiry. Does it taste good? Does it taste like my mom’s version? Does it remind me of the time I visited that city? Was this dish my friend’s favorite? Those questions tie the food to life, to concrete experience, to ordinary people and therefore are more pragmatically vibrant. And, all of those questions need art as much as pad thai needs alfredo sauce!

For me, calling pad thai art accomplishes exactly nothing other than connect it to a pedantic, insular conversation (art history/criticism). The question of calling social practice projects art amounts to a pragmatic (of the simple, not philosophic type) question (I asked elsewhere) – Do I show them in an art context, however imperfectly it addresses my concerns and burdens me with a history I’m not particularly interested in? Or do I explore them elsewhere and suffer from the lack of critical, promotional, and organizational infrastructure that the art context provides?

*** – “Does an artist need to call what they do social practice? do they need to call themselves artists?”

To these questions I have posited time and again that social practice is *already* happening all the time, with or without art and artists. I think that art has some very modest things to offer, but I prefer a more bottom up, less homogenous, and certainly more diverse approach to understanding, and engaging social practice. Urban ecology seems like an ideal strand to add to the web, so to speak. Here is my initial stab at articulating a vision for social practice (preceded by a contextualizing rant) that may be of interest to you:https://randallszott.org/2013/01/18/all-we-have-to-do-is-look-around-toward-a-local-social-practice-syllabus-or-an-idiosyncratic-arty-party-field-guide-to-vermont/
*** –

Maybe I could grab your attention for a moment and ask what you think of Larry Shiner’s “The Invention of Art” or Mary Anne Staniszewski’s “Believing Is Seeing” as two examples of the argument that it doesn’t make sense to talk about Greek or Roman “art” or at the minimum, capital A “Art.” You seem to be somewhat sympathetic in your commentary above. And do we sidestep this (in a productive way) by continuing the discussion in terms of aesthetic activity rather than art? And by aesthetics, I do not mean exclusively the philosophic subdiscipline itself…

*** – I like that you bring up phronesis, but it’s funny because I am an advocate of not limiting social practice to the visual and performing arts (and there is discussion of it in a very different way in other fields) and was going to suggest here before your post that “social poiesis” (despite its even more obscure quality) might be a better term. If we don’t limit ourselves to art, social poiesis (nee practice) could be more dynamic and encompass not only art actions and art environments, but also – urban planning, sports leagues, communes, be-ins, residencies, raves, state fairs, theme parks, cults, encounter groups, chautauquas, even nations…and would also apply to a much broader demographic of participants rather than artists and their audiences…

But ***, much like the recent article in the Onion (http://www.theonion.com/articles/artists-announce-theyve-found-all-the-beauty-they,20973/) the *last* thing I want to do is to provide a framework for expanding what artists consider their “media.” Rather I am hoping to show that what artists and their supporters wish to claim as an exclusive territory, or what they reserve some claim of special ability at, is already done, by all sorts of folks from all walks of life. And, yes I believe that Dewey (and many contemporary scholars developing his work – but NOT Rorty) can be read (in fact *should* be read) as seeing aesthetics as an integral feature of everyday life – “through and through” as you say.

Gregory Pappas (Dewey scholar):

“The intelligent and aesthetic characters of democracies are mutually dependent. The community most capable of learning from experience is also the one that has all the features that define aesthetic activity, which for Dewey is the most inherently meaningful type of activity in experience. The democratic way of life is able to maintain the kind of balance and rhythm in its everyday doings and undergoings that, for Dewey, characterize aesthetic experience: a balance of tensions with rhythmic variety. Ideal activity is a merging of playfulness with seriousness that allows richness and flexibility without sacrificing stability. Democracy signifies for Dewey this possibility at the social level. The democratic community is also the aesthetic community because it is constituted by relationships that are neither fixed, routine, or mechanical, nor anarchical, capricious, or arbitrary.”

And:

“Dewey’s work…affirms the potential of ordinary experience (concrete life) to be the source of amelioration, admiration, and inspiration. His metaphysics reminds philosophers that the tangled, complex, gross, macroscopic, and crude things we find in everyday life are real, for example, vagueness, ugliness, fantasies, headaches, illusions, spark plugs, a conversation with a friend, parties, diseases, stones, food, tragedy, a conflict with a roommate, a joke, playing backgammon with friends, measles, and marbles. His aesthetics is a philosophical reintegration of the aesthetic with everyday life that is, in effect, a celebration of lived experience…his ethics is an affirmation of morality as experience.”

Dewey:

“When the thought of the end becomes so adequate that it compels translation into the means that embody it, or when attention to the means is inspired by recognition of the end they serve, 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.’ “

Sorry I’m back to being quotey, but this nugget from Dewey in 1891!!! cuts to the heart of the matter:

“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…”

Living is itself the supreme art – social poiesis?

re: politics and aesthetics – I included a quote (from Gregory Pappas) on the other thread that addresses this exact point. The more expansive notion of aesthetics that I think we share (and Dewey et. al. have developed extensively) is inextricably linked with politics. In fact, that is why I am mystified by Claire Bishop getting as much attention as she does as her theoretical house of cards is so flimsy – relying as it does on such a misguided interpretation of the relationship between ethics and aesthetics.

re: pleasure – Richard Shusterman is my go to here (although I go to him for many other insights as well!) There is a link to his piece before the quotes I’ve culled: https://randallszott.org/2012/12/30/adorno-the-grumpy-puritan-richard-shusterman-on-art-and-pleasure/
“With these authors you get all modes of social practice: antagonism, pedagogy, community, the dialogic, ethics, morality, the relational, and the political.”

This statement is barely true even with this correction:

“With these authors you get all modes of social practice [art]: antagonism, pedagogy, community, the dialogic, ethics, morality, the relational, and the political.”

If social practice aspires to be anything more than another entry in the art historical ledger rather than say the historical ledger, *** reading list is the *last* place to look. Sadly it is all too reflective of the inbred nature of art discourse (embodying Kaprow’s “artlike art”). I think *** is dead on, but I would add another cautionary note (as I linked to in another comment) – developing a reading list should be an extremely low priority. A looking/experiencing list might be better. My mom ain’t gonna read Claire Bishop and she sure as hell isn’t gonna read Ranciere. But my mom engages in social practice (but has no need to call it that or study it as such) via her gardening club, and her volunteer activities. I love Fritz Haeg, but Crockett’s Victory Garden is more her speed and I would hope we’re not trying to build a field reserved for grad school types or urban hipsters (of which I am or was).

*** – I misunderstood you. I took you too literally when you said “all modes of social practice.” Believe me, I’m all about cutting slack (just ask google).

*** – where is the damn “like” button on this page? Your response itself was “smartly dark!” There is no denying of course (in fact my wife made the same comment) that reading is an experience. So yes, I should have said something more like “a (nonreading) looking/experiencing list.” It is also true that for many people (particularly of an academic persuasion – and I know, not exclusively) reading and looking are deeply symbiotic, but for many other folks they are not, or are dependent on entirely different sets of “texts.” I do disagree that I am over estimating/underestimating anyone – I was not clear in communicating this though. Because it is very much the latter of your propositions that I support. I do not oppose Crockett to Haeg (as I said I love Haeg!!!), but was pointing out that there are people doing social practice beyond art world/academe/activist circles. And trying to suggest that I think developing a robust idea of social practice needs to be inclusive of those folks. So when you ask “is anyone actually saying that?” I think you mean is anyone privileging the art/activist crowd over the PBS gardening crowd…to which I answer emphatically yes! I’ve been to panel after panel, read book after book, essay after essay, seen show after show, attended conference after conference, read syllabus after syllabus, and there is a clear canon established that charts an all too familiar course. Very rarely is anyone included that isn’t part of the dominant or emerging activist/artist circuit and even then they are usually included as material for, or in “collaboration” with an artist/activist. How do we get out of this? I’m not exactly sure – maybe get more ethnographic (with all its ensuing baggage)? I think *** is suggesting something similar (but in a much less grating tone than mine). As far as understanding/thinking about/experiencing social practice I’ve said before “all we have to do is look around.”

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.

“Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.”

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/09/2013

Beauty will Save the World – Jeffrey Bilbro

I want to reflect today on the title chosen for this gathering, “Beauty will Save the World.” That’s quite the assertion, and I don’t know if I can convincingly support it, but I’ll give it a shot. My tentative thesis today is that the best way to cultivate healthy local cultures is to celebrate their beauty. It’s not to pass laws, it’s not to develop rational or economic arguments for their benefits, it’s not to start some new program. All these might be needed subsequently, but if we don’t first bear witness to the beauty of a healthy culture, then other approaches are doomed. It’s in this way, by enabling us to see the truth and goodness of healthy way of life, that beauty will save the world. So I want to think with you about the beauty of local culture, why that beauty is important, and how to cultivate it. I’ll begin by describing a beautiful, and I think saving, activity that I’ve had the privilege of participating in this past year.

Rather, our hope is that the students and staff and faculty who participate will see and experience how beautiful it can be to grow and eat our own food. This rich, practical connection with our food is what Wendell Berry calls the pleasures of eating. These pleasures are complex, and they are nearly impossible to quantify, but if you’ve ever eaten a sandwich with tomato slices still warm from your garden, you know something of these pleasures. When you plant a seed, water it, weed around the delicate seedling, try to protect it from deer and bugs, watch it blossom and set fruit, and wait for that fruit to ripen, the act of eating the fruit is not merely an input of calories and nutrients. Rather, eating is just one part, perhaps the climax, in a whole narrative that we’ve embodied and lived out, a narrative that connects us to our fellow gardeners and to the place in which we live.

To call something beautiful in this sense is to speak about its material shape or form, and also about the meaning or splendor that emerges from the form and makes it desirable. And as von Balthasar goes on to argue, when we see a vision of the beautiful, when we see the contours of its form, we are enraptured by its splendor, caught up in a desire to participate in the radiance that beauty grants us to see as love-worthy. So to call this narrative of our community garden beautiful means that the whole way of living that the garden enables us to glimpse, in which we work together and share the fruits of this work, is desirable and love-worthy.

And yet oversimplification leading to disease marks nearly every aspect of our fragmented, modern lives. Our corporate medical system does not aim for health, but rather isolates various parts of the body and treats particular abnormalities. Hence our medical establishment has been particularly unhelpful at offering preventive care and treating complex problems such as obesity. Our monoculture agriculture is merely another instance of our propensity to isolate and specialize, and I’m not sure that our biculture of corn and soybeans here in Michigan is much of an improvement. We still don’t have complex polycultures that include animals and a true variety of plants. Such simplification works itself all the way down to our lawns, which we spray with toxic chemicals just to have “beautiful” grass.

In their false simplification, such specialized visions and the ways of life toward which they lead inevitably contribute to disease. These narrowly-focused ways of life become insipid, losing the splendor of beauty, and yet they define much of our lives as we search for quick and easy solutions. Wendell Berry notes the irony in our culture’s stereotypical view of country life as “simple,” noting that in actuality, it is urban, specialized living that is simple:

When I am called, as to my astonishment I sometimes am, a devotee of “simplicity” (since I live supposedly as a “simple farmer”), I am obliged to reply that I gave up the simple life when I left New York City in 1964 and came here. In New York, I lived as a passive consumer, supplying nearly all my needs by purchase, whereas here I supply many of my needs from this place by my work (and pleasure) and am responsible besides for the care of the place. (The Way of Ignorance, “Imagination in Place” 47-48).

My point, then, is that our culture’s tendency toward reductive specialization is intrinsically un-beautiful, that beauty arises only from complex, harmonious forms, that health is beautiful. Currently, our cultural aesthetic is, in Solzhenitsyn’s terms, sickly and pale: we too often confuse the pretty, the mere appearance, for true beauty, hence our acceptance of lush green lawns that cause water pollution. But perhaps beauty can save, or at least salve, our world by giving us a richer imagination of health and thus causing us to desire ways of life that, as von Balthasar might say, carry the splendor of truth and goodness.

How do we actually see such forms whose beauty might inspire us to find more healthy ways of living? I think there are at least two conditions for perceiving such visions of beauty. The first is that we see beauty on a local scale.

We have to be able to see the whole to perceive beauty (again, note the connection between beauty and health). Analysis of the beautiful, if it does not begin with a vision of the whole and keep this vision constantly in mind, quickly devolves into an abstract rummaging through dead parts. It becomes what von Balthasar calls “anatomy,” which “can be practiced only on a dead body, since it is opposed to the movement of life and seeks to pass from the whole to its parts and elements” (Seeing the Form 31). This is the way the “industrial mind,” a term that Berry derives from the Southern Agrarians, sees the world. Such a vision, precisely because it is too narrow and specialized, inevitably leads to disease and deformation. In his essay “Solving for Pattern,” Berry argues that solutions based on this sort of specialized vision always worsen the problem—he gives the example of addressing soil compaction by using bigger tractors, which only compact the soil further, leading to the need for even larger tractors (The Gift of Good Land 136). So while a bad solution “acts destructively upon the larger patterns in which it is contained,” “a good solution is good because it is in harmony with those larger patterns” (137). In order to see the beauty of these larger patterns, and thus perceive what modes of life would harmonize with these patterns, we need to be able to see the whole form. When we try to imagine a beautiful whole on a global or even national scale, the difficulty, if not impossibility, of this task makes the temptation to perform a quantitative analysis of isolated parts almost irresistible. And yet such a fragmented gaze can’t see the living, beautiful whole, which is precisely the form that can give us the vision of health and beauty our imagination needs.

The second condition for perceiving this vision of healing beauty is a personal experience or encounter. We don’t see the whole form of beauty when someone describes it abstractly.
I can tell you about the Sistine Chapel and describe its scheme and what the various parts depict, but you won’t really see its beauty unless you stand in it yourself. The same holds true for a Bach fugue. This is so because of the complexity and richness of beauty; there is a qualitative difference between an experience of the beautiful and an abstract description of that experience.

…Every morning the local bakery draws a group of men who drink coffee, eat pastries, and talk about the work that awaits them in the day ahead. Their conversation is punctuated by oblique references to stories they all know and by the habitual phrases of friends absent or dead. The community’s memory lives in such conversation. But it’s hard to quantify and analyze what makes this community a healthy one; merely listing its attributes does not convey the beauty of its form. We perceive its beauty as a whole, when we experience life in such a community.

…So we all need to practice creating beauty. It’s remarkable how counter-cultural this participation might be, since we now live in a society that thinks “beauty” is meant to be produced by professionals from big cities and consumed by the rest of us.

We may not all be gifted artists like Kathleen, but we can still all be involved in creating beauty. As Pope John Paul II wrote in his “Letter to Artists,” “Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.” We all have an opportunity and a responsibility to participate in this task of culture, and our “sub-creation,” as Tolkien calls it, should be guided by the contours of the beauty we’ve perceived.

I am afraid that what often keeps us from embracing the quotidian work of sustaining the “little platoons” of which we are a part is the sense that this local work can’t affect the national and international problems over which the news media continually obsesses. But while such local work may seem futile in our current political and economic environment, it may actually be the most consistent and effective way to cultivate health, given the farce that national politics has become. This is why Berry believes that our “Our environmental problems [as well as our other diseases that afflict our society] are not, at root, political; they are cultural” (What Are People For, “A Few Words in Favor of Edward Abbey” 37). Dreher echoes this sentiment in an essay on Wendell Berry in which he considers him to be “a latter-day Saint Benedict”: “I am convinced that conservatives have placed far too much stock in political action and far too little in the work of culture” (The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry 281). Dreher hopes that Berry has begun a sort of monastic cultural movement, where instead of pouring their energy into national politics or the culture wars, individuals work to form healthy, beautiful communities in their homes. These communities might then preserve and sustain culture, providing beacons of hope that stand in stark contrast to sick society around them.

I do want to qualify this politics/culture distinction. Politics is indeed part of culture and a shaper of culture, but my point is that it shouldn’t be the primary arena in which we try to affect cultural change. Rather, fostering healthy and beautiful cultures will inspire others to participate and cultivate the communities of which they are a part. Representative democracy too often relies on the slim majority forcing everyone else to do the majority’s will, whereas culture relies on beauty to foster a robust conversation about the common good, and then to persuade others that this common good, that health, is desirable.

This distinction provides, perhaps, the clearest insight into the unique power of beauty: whereas political power ultimately relies on force, beauty simply invites others to perceive the splendor within its form. Beauty is an invitation, a gift, and thus it is always vulnerable to rejection. This is its weakness, and this is why beauty is often overlooked as a salve for our contemporary problems. But its weakness is also its strength. In our cynical world, where people are jaded by political posturing over truth and strident demands that some particular way is the only right way to live, beauty simply puts itself on offer. And if its form reveals truth and goodness, then those who behold beauty may find it love-worthy. Once our affections are moved, right action and truthful speech will follow.

[from the LeisureArts archive] – Gambling in Reno, Some Notes on a Social Practices “Field Trip”

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 09/20/2013

Gambling in Reno, Some Notes on a Social Practices “Field Trip” – Published in Revelry and Risk: Approaches to Social Practice, or Something Like That (2007)

“After the conference papers are over, we go slumming in their bars.”

Like many things in my life, this essay begins somewhat obliquely. The above quote is from Richard Shusterman’s Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art. He’s writing about what comes to count as legitimate experience in the professional world of philosophy and literary theory. For an experience to count in these domains it has to take an institutionally recognizable form as a conference, a paper, or a book. This same question of legitimacy plagues the professional art world – roughly analogous substitutions might be exhibitions, works, and projects. Shusterman writes that we are impoverished by academic practices “…[which fail] to recognize the value of non-professional responses which seek neither interpretive truth nor publishable novelty but simply enriched experience [emphasis mine], experience which may perhaps be communicated in writing but does not need to be to count as legitimate and meaningful.” When one engages in such non-professional practices, when one goes “slumming” in Reno, you run the risk of academic oblivion.

How does “enriched experience” find articulation? Does this essay enhance or undermine the experience of our field trip? How do you provide enough of a structure for something to become legible without allowing the structure to be the only thing that’s experienced? Perhaps these considerations are central to social practices, or maybe this is merely my conceit. My interest has always led me to teeter as far on the edge of evanescence as possible – allowing, for example, the trip to Reno to live or die in the memories of my fellow travelers rather than making a video, or taking photos, or creating a Jeremy Deller like travel guide.

This essay may undermine this anti-ambition, but it can at least specify that no guide book is possible for the trip. It was a singularity comprised of a specific set of people at a specific moment in time. This is not to say that fruitful discussion/interpretation cannot take place, but if the trip was “successful,” discussion, documentation, and exhibition, would never adequately capture its complexity. This is dangerous territory. I’m sounding awfully “arty.”

Perhaps there’s little else you need to know about the trip other than the fact that it was bookended by free appetizers when we arrived in Reno, and sage cheddar cheese on crackers on our way home in the white mini-van. Perhaps that is all you can know unless you were there. It was never a “project,” but it was something more than spontaneous revelry, although that happened too. Above all, it was a gamble.

I’ve gambled with others in Reno before, in more and less serious ways. Neil Young has indirectly asked – Tell Me Why Only Love Breaks Your Heart? To this I can only offer the corniest of replies – love is a gamble, and that gamble, if it is to have any meaning at all, must have failure as one of its real possibilities. Without the risk of losing everything, gambling/love is just another game, one hardly worth playing. Maybe my deepest ambition for social practices and the art/life tension it embodies for me, is that it too is a game worth playing, something more than a profession, something more than a series of projects, a game with something tragic at stake – something that could break your heart…

This is water. We are fish in a sea of sense. – David Foster Wallace and William James on the reality of invisibility and the urgency of perception

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 09/01/2013

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about…

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“This is water.”

“This is water.”

– David Foster Wallace

Hold a tumbler of water a little above your eyes and look up through the water at its surface–or better still look similarly through the flat wall of an aquarium. You will then see an extraordinarily brilliant reflected image say of a candle-flame, or any other clear object, situated on the opposite side of the vessel. No candle-ray, under these circumstances gets beyond the water’s surface: every ray is totally reflected back into the depths again. Now let the water represent the world of sensible facts, and let the air above it represent the world of abstract ideas. Both worlds are real, of course, and interact; but they interact only at their boundary, and the locus of everything that lives, and happens to us, so far as full experience goes, is the water. We are like fishes swimming in the sea of sense, bounded above by the superior element, but unable to breathe it pure or penetrate it. We get our oxygen from it, however, we touch it incessantly, now in this part, now in that, and every time we touch it we are reflected back into the water with our course re- determined and re-energized. The abstract ideas of which the air consists, indispensable for life, but irrespirable by themselves, as it were, and only active in their re-directing function.

– William James

“…like libraries, without the party atmosphere.” – Why I hate museums

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/26/2013

Opinion: Why I hate museums – James Durston

[Fun to read this in light of this piece wistful about good old fashioned museum experience and this one defending the new “participatory” experience. But I do take issue with condemning the exhibition displaying an “old brick, an old piece of rock, some hair and a napkin.” Sounds pretty great.]

Graveyards for stuff. Tombs for inanimate things.

Their cavernous rooms and deep corridors reverberate with the soft, dead sounds of tourists shuffling and employees yawning.

They’re like libraries, without the party atmosphere.

I’ve always hated museums.

Yet twice or three times a year, I somehow find myself within one, shuffling from glass case to glass case, reading the little inscriptions, peering closely at the details, doing what any “good traveler” does.

Two hours later I walk out bored, hungry and far less glad to be on vacation than when I went in.

The main thing you learn in museums, it seems, is how not to run a museum.

Worst of all, there’s a climate of snobbery surrounding this whole industry.

Confess that rather than stare glumly at an old beer chalice on a plinth you’d prefer to drink happily from a shiny new one in a pub, and you risk being outed as an ignoramus.

Well, I’m outing myself. I’m a museo-phobe.

They provide an umbilical link between our planet and our history to the future.

But inside these crypts of curatorship, the connection to humankind falls short.

Last year I visited Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art — a landmark at least as celebrated, if not more so, for its architecture than its contents, and no wonder.

After the 200th glass case containing an old bowl — or was it a plate, or perhaps it was some more cutlery, who knows, who cares — I decided the photo opportunity across the sea was the best thing about the place.

Where’s the “muse” in all these museums? Where’s the theater?

Fair enough, I don’t question the wider benefits of museums, economic or otherwise.

But the collect-and-cage policy that defines the visible exhibits, much of which is not even visible most of the time, is anathema to an engaging experience.

This smacks of the most smugly provocative modern art, which insists that anything the curate deigns to put inside the building inevitably becomes “interesting.”

Where’s the relevance? Why, in places designed to celebrate life and all its variety, is there such a lack of vitality?

My trip two years ago to Hong Kong’s Science Museum convinced me that if there were a World Championship for Most Dreary Things To Do On Vacation, museums would be disqualified for going over the top.

But where’s the equivalent for adults? Why should over-16-year-olds, who still make up the significant majority of museum-goers, be subjected to stiff, dry, academia-laced presentations as if fun were a dirty word?

Where’s your joy gone, museums?

The one that got away – Donald Hall feat. Katy Perry

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 07/02/2013

They say being a parent changes everything and it is true, but not all at once. There is the immediate annihilation of available time, but there is also the slow accretion of change as bits of what seemed solid about your identity get worn away.

My son, my executioner
I take you in my arms
Quiet and small and just astir
and whom my body warms

Sweet death, small son,
our instrument of immortality,
your cries and hunger document
our bodily decay.

We twenty two and twenty five,
who seemed to live forever,
observe enduring life in you
and start to die together.

– Donald Hall

So there is the literal death foretold in birth, but also this subjective death. I do not lament it. Mortality becomes as present as a blister in contact with a hot stone. Everything becomes both more, and less, urgent. Every little shard of experience lies in wait. A potential sabotage. Another bifurcation point in an unfolding narrative. So Katy Perry talks of young love lost, but it is also a tale of alternate paths – lives lived and not lived, the melancholy of the could, the should…I get that feeling every time I’m in an airport or see a plane passing overhead. But I especially feel it each morning whether faced with rain on glass, cold sunshine, or the grim darkness of hotel drapes.

In another life
I would be your girl
We’d keep all our promises
Be us against the world

In another life
I would make you stay
So I don’t have to say
You were the one that got away
The one that got away

– Katy Perry

Baby breath becomes laughter. Words become poetry. Skin becomes soil. And pop music becomes philosophy. Happy birthday June babies – it is July already.

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Cultivating artful living – Understanding the difference between aesthetic experience and artistic experience – Scott Stroud

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 04/15/2013

Another great Dewey book, one that makes many points I have been trying to make…particularly, distinguishing between art and aesthetics…how do we make life artful, not – “artistic?”

John Dewey and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality – Scott Stroud

“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.”

Get a life, not an MFA – Jon Reiner

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 04/11/2013

[This parallels art education – and Kaprow’s criticism of folks that make art about art, which is almost the only thing a young adult that has spent almost their whole life in school can do. Get out of the cloister. Have a life from which to make art rather than a school career.]

Live First, Write Later: The Case for Less Creative-Writing Schooling – Jon Reiner

The New Yorker event occurred in the same week that Helen Zell, the wife of billionaire Sam Zell, contributed $50 million to the University of Michigan’s graduate program in creative writing, considered to be the largest gift ever of its kind. The extraordinary donation is intended to support in perpetuity “Zellowships,” annual $22,000 stipends to program graduates so that they can continue to focus on their writing for an additional year a little more easily, without the need to feed themselves through the time sucks of teaching or waiting tables or joining the Merchant Marine. The idea is noble, but it’s a mistake. And I say this as someone to whom a 22-grand cushion would be manna from heaven. The last thing that a young writer needs after the cloister of the classroom is another cloister.

Ideally, creative writing programs should exist to guide students in discovering their voices within the nurturing world of the classroom. But what they can’t do is provide writers with real-world experience and the perspective to make sense of it, without which there is no storytelling, there is no “editor I’m going to work with” giving the green light. Creative writing programs can teach you how to write, but they can’t teach you what to write. No instructor or Zellowship can transform you into a storyteller without experience strutting your ambition.

…The guy who sold the essay was a non-traditional student; he had come to school after years of plugging through a unique situation that became his source material. That what was got the magazine’s attention, not the holes in his sentences. If he’d sat in a classroom during that vital time, he wouldn’t have had a story to tell, nor would he be sitting at home eking out the pennies of a stipend. Whether or not this debut break is a springboard to an enduring writing career for him will depend on the other lessons he’ll learn in his own way.

[from the LeisureArts archive] – Art A Way Of Life (1935) – Melvin E. Haggerty

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 04/08/2013

Art A Way Of Life (1935!!!) – Melvin E. Haggerty

“Art is a way of life” is a simple statement of short and familiar words. It expresses a way of looking at life that is very old in the history of thought. If it now seems strange it is because we have permitted art to become divorced from the ordinary activities in which men [sic] engage and its cultivation to drift into the hand of specialists from whom the mass of mankind is separated as by a chasm. In recent times this chasm has become very broad and very deep. To men [sic] absorbed in the work of the world artists appear to be a cult and their work and conversation seem esoteric and almost mystical. To artists ordinary folks appear ignorant and unappreciative, and very often their thinly veiled contempt for plebeian tastes has led them to caustic expression. This dissociation is artificial; it is injurious to art and impoverishes life.

[art as a way of life] sees that as the experiences of life multiply, new and varied purposes arise that call for the invention of new objects and new forms of expression and that these, in turn, vastly increase the possibilities of enriching life…This elemental reality that binds into a single pattern all the varied arts is more important for the philosophy of education than is the stress so often laid upon the differences that superficially separate one kind of creative work from other kinds.

We have assumed a way of looking at art that permits no gulf between the simple arts of life and the so-called fine arts. It sees all as man’s [sic] more or less successful efforts to create things that increase the comforts, the efficiencies, and the pleasures of living…This view cherishes not even the ethically tinged distinction between good art and bad art.

The distinction between creation and appreciation is not one between activity and passivity but rather one among different kinds of activity. The realization of this fact should emphasize the essential unity of art experiences.

The declining institution of Theory – Kurt Spellmeyer – A future beyond the university

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

“After Theory: From Textuality to Attunement with the World” – Kurt Spellmeyer

Theory, in other words, has outlived its own “death,” but its survival gives cold comfort to all the former converts who have irretrievably lost their faith. For those of us no longer charmed by the magic, by the myth, of the pursuit of signs-what other path remains if we want to be more than perpetually “post-“? What we need is nothing less than a paradigm shift: turning from the threadbare ideology of “the text,” we might start to explore an alternative so mundane that we have passed it over time after time in our scramble for sophistication and prestige. That alternative is ordinary sensuous life, which is not an “effect” of how we think but the ground of thought itself, or so I want to argue here. At this late hour, when theory’s successors can teach us nothing really new, what prevents us from returning to the idea of “the arts” by a long-forgotten path-the arts imagined as traditions of experience that intensify our sense of living in and with the world? If the humanities have, as I believe, very nearly lost the battle for the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens, then the future of English may well lie with those arts and the worlds they open up.

Yet there has been, I think, more to theory’s success than the lure of celebrity can explain-and this “more” has to do with the character of theory as a resource for preserving our profession’s prestige. Like every other form of information dignified with the name of “knowledge” today, theory gets produced by specialists. But theory differs from a piece in Harper’s or a report on the CBS Evening News, whose writers are no less specialized than we are, because theory is uniquely the discourse of privileged and declining institutions whose concerns have grown so distant from everyday life that a sense of crisis overtakes the specialists themselves. To justify the privileged status of their work, these specialists must show that their thinking is somehow superior to common sense – more inclusive, more penetrating, more rigorous. But theory wins the battle at the cost of the war, since the discourse that strays too far from the everyday world runs the risk of losing its lay clientele as well as the confidence of neophytes, who no longer see themselves figured in its ghostly narratives.

But think, if you will give yourself the freedom to, about the different kinds of pleasure people get from their most mundane involvements with the world – watching leaves shake in the hot summer wind, listening to the sound of rain, tracing the smooth, wet curve of a child’s spine with the palm of a soapy hand. And think, if you can stand it, about all the essays written ten or fifteen years ago that began with the claim to be writing “on the margin”; or of all the works today that call themselves “genealogies”; or of all the dissections of cinematic gaze that open with a summary of the mirror stage. The writers of these works are not simply sycophants or opportunists. To write in this way is to become Derrida, to become a second Foucault or a little Lacan. In the same way, Madonna’s fans dress like Madonna, walk and talk like her, and read books about her life.

For all our celebrations of resistance and revolt, no alternative is more revolutionary than our resistance to disembodiment and the pursuit of wholeness in our immediate experience. But how might such a wholeness lie within our reach, when theory and critique have unmistakably become the preeminent forms of knowledge in our time, as highly valued by Peter Drucker, the Wall Street savant, as they are by Marxists like Etienne Balibar? If theory and critique free us from nothing finally, but contribute to a routinizing of expression unparalleled in our history, then perhaps the way out lies in a domain that the “linguistic turn” has caused us to overlook: I mean the domain of “the arts,” understood not as the cunning lies told by an elite, nor as the property of specialists whose goal is technical virtuosity, but as traditions of attunement with the world, available to everyone everywhere but also now diligently suppressed.

What our society needs most urgently is not another theoretical “advance” – toward a new discipline called grammatography, let’s say, or psycho-dialectical materialism – but a better understanding of the practices through which everyone might enter the open space where Cezanne felt himself at home. Yet, in order to discover and protect such practices, English studies needs to undergo a change more profound than many people might like. We will need to become ethnographers of experience: I do not mean armchair readers of the “social text,” but scholar/teachers who find out how people actually feel. And far from bringing English studies to a dismal close, the search for basic grammars of emotional life may give us the future that we have never had, a future beyond the university.