Lebenskünstler

The Weird and Neglected Angel of Tenderness – Gordon Marino

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 02/19/2013

Try a Little Tenderness – Gordon Marino

If a primary aim in life is to develop into a caring and connected human being (admittedly, a big “if”), rather than, say, thinking of oneself as a tourist collecting as many pleasant and fulfilling experiences as possible, then surely a capacity for tenderness must play a role. Of course, that softening of the heart does not guarantee our humanity…

When it comes to the humanizing sentiments, we Americans place placards in public schools and in general harp on the significance of respect. While I have all the respect in the world for respect, it is a chilly sort of feeling — if it is a feeling at all. Respect is a fence that prevents us from harming one another. But strengthening the ties that bind and make us human requires something more pliant, more intimate. We need to be visited by that weird and neglected angel that is the feeling of tenderness.

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Faith in the Human Touch – Julian Baggini

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 02/05/2013

Joy in the task – Julian Baggini

[In a very roundabout way, this cuts to an important problem with “the critique” as commonly practiced in which students and instructors are asked in some way to talk about the work as if they were conducting a blind taste test. Forget that you know the person that made this painting, forget that you had dinner with them last night, cut all affective ties and speak solely of the work. Galleries perform a similar severing function, much like supermarket displays, turning the entire process of aesthetic experience into a branding exercise, with a carefully constructed history devoid of anything truly human.]

Surely we appreciate the handmade in part because it is handmade. An object or a meal has different meaning and significance if we know it to be the product of a human being working skilfully with tools rather than a machine stamping out another clone. Even if in some ways a mass-produced object is superior in its physical properties, we have good reasons for preferring a less perfect, handcrafted one.

…We live in a world of humans, other animals and things, and the quality of life depends on the qualities of the relationships between them. Mass production, like factory farming, weakens, if not destroys, these relationships. This creates a kind of alienation, where we feel no genuine, human contact with those who supply us with what we need.

We are not simply hedonic machines who thrive if supplied with things that tick certain boxes for sensory pleasure, aesthetic merit, and so on. We are knowing as well as sensing creatures, and knowing where things come from, and how their makers are treated, does and should affect how we feel about them. Chocolate made from cocoa beans grown by people in near slave conditions should taste more bitter than a fairly traded bar, even if it does not in a blind tasting. Blindness, far from making tests fair, actually robs us of knowledge of what is most important, while perpetuating the illusion that all that really matters is how it feels or seems at the moment of consumption.

This might seem a simple, even platitudinous point. But it has profound political implications. For if it is true, then the whole way in which efficiency is usually measured is fundamentally flawed. Take agriculture. Proponents of organics and other non-intensive, less petrochemically dependent forms of farming are often drawn into the game of defending their approach only by measurable, objective results. So the battle becomes a statistical debate over yield, water usage, carbon footprint, soil erosion, and so forth. The trouble is that the kind of human-scale farming that people like does not always win when judged by these metrics.

…it is legitimate to prefer forms of trade and artisan production that maintain links between individuals, communities, land, and animals.

…because what matters is not just the result, but the process by which you get there. Humans are imperfect, and so a world of perfection that denies the human element can never be truly perfect after all.

Lebenskünstler – Why Should I Work?

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 12/05/2012

The Easyjet set vs. the Lebenskünstler – Seymour Gris

Going back to the 1970s – or maybe even to the 1910s – there has existed a decadent, artistic underground here which has placed little value on “making it” for the sake of making it. The king of decadent Berlin is the “poor but sexy” Lebenskünstler, an archetype who has had a huge influence on culture and nightlife here till this day. The Lebenskünstler cares little about his next record deal or art opening or publishing deal. Instead, life is his art. Only “now” matters and how you can make the most out of each moment. Screw success and any concept of “the future” because for decades Berliners – think of WWII, the Cold War etc. – have felt there is NO tomorrow (and they are right of course – we will all die).

The Lebenskünstler‘s dilettantish self-expression might have no audience other than his circle of friends or 30 people in some tiny Kleinkunst venue. Or he might just express his sense of existential freedom by taking off his clothes in a public park because it feels good. He feels no guilt due to lack of achievement.

…And yet, compared to much of the rest of the world, the likes of Robert make it clear that the Lebenskünstler are still alive and kicking: dreamers from around the planet, living in their personal utopia of a life made of ‘meaningful experiences’, art and creative endeavours and, who, rather than complain that “no one seemed to be working”, ask themselves…”Why should I work?”

The Solidity of the Insubstantial – Kathleen Dean Moore

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 09/27/2012

Concrete Footing: On the solidity of the insubstantial – Kahthleen Dean Moore

This is what breaks our hearts, we soft beings who desperately love what is destined to disappear – our own lives, the singing substantiality of our daughters and sons, the spans of city bridges.

…We stand on time and sand. We stand on truth. Waiting for the bus, we stand on forests of sea lilies flattened into streets. What is durable? The shadow of a roofline cast on a concrete wall. A memory of the swallows that once slid down the rising air above a city street. A yearning for the child who long ago walked out the door. The tube of emptiness inside a pipe. The smell of dust in silent light. Can we find the beauty in fleeting moments, held in the conscious mind? If not, all our loves will be sorrows. And all our astonishments will be overwhelmed by regret, that these wonders cannot last forever.

Wandering the Sea of the Non-Present – Robert Zaretsky – Rousseau – John T. Scott

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 06/17/2012

First Theater, Then Facebook – Robert Zaretsky and John T. Scott

For Rousseau, though, theater was little more than an app of a broken society, and it was the world that had gone wrong.

…Staged productions representing life, he believed, distracted us from one another, and from ourselves. Theater replaces lived experience with vicarious experience and condemned participants to wander the sea of the non-present. “Nothing appears good or desirable to individuals that the public has not judged to be such,” he observed, “and the only happiness that most men know is to be esteemed happy.” Status updates and emoticons: Rousseau saw it all.

…the two activities during which we are most fully in the present are conversation and exercise. Rousseau saw this as well, but forget the treadmill: he lost himself in mountains and valleys and, while walking, conversed with himself. Indeed, “Reveries of the Solitary Walker” is a manifesto on the benefits of wondering while wandering.

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Susan Buck-Morss – Aesthetics Freed From Art

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 06/04/2012

Aesthetics after the End of Art: An Interview with Susan Buck-Morss

But again, why is “art” privileged as the object of such experience? I really don’t know what the word means any more. Aesthetics, however, seems to me more important than ever. “Aesthetics after art,” you might call it.

Gregory Pappas – Dewey’s Ethics – Democracy as Experience [Part VI – final]

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 05/14/2012

“Morality is a social, creative, imaginative, emotional, hypothetical, and experimental process to ameliorate present situations.”

“What should be dethroned are not moral generalizations per se, but a way of using them that discourages moral sensitivity and precludes the genuine exercise of moral judgment…Dewey invites us to drop legalistic or absolutist models of moral conduct and to look instead to art as the paradigm of an activity that can steer between living aimlessly and living mechanically.”

“It is not under our direct control to create a more intelligent, aesthetic, and democratic way of life…but we can provide conditions for their emergence. We can only prepare the soil, and reconstruction must come from within everyday interactions. Continuous inquiry about indirect means and present conditions is the key to finding the way we can democratize experience.”

“With regard to democracy, what we believe and defend philosophically must be tested in the classroom, in the workplace, and everywhere there is human interaction.”

Gregory Pappas – Dewey’s Ethics – Democracy as Experience [Part IV]

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 05/07/2012

“Dewey used philosophy to make his hope reasonable, which is different than seeking a foundation or a rationalization for a way of life.”

“A philosophy of democracy is an imaginative effort to articulate in a coherent fashion the most salient traits of the most worthwhile experiences and possibilities of human interaction for the purpose of ameliorative criticism. Democracy rests on experiencing and discriminating better and worse forms  of interactions in daily life. It is precisely because meaningful and enriching relationships are hard to come by that we need to set them up as ideal and inquire into their conditions.”

“The art of listening needed in a democracy is a matter of embodied habits. Without a cadre of people with certain imaginative and emotional capacities there is no hope for democracy.”

“The recent interest on deliberation is a good corrective against narrow views of democracy, but political theorists must avoid the intellectualist temptation that has plagued the history of philosophy: the reduction of experience to the cognitive realm…How we experience each other in our everyday local and direct interactions is something more inclusive than how we talk and inquire together.”

“Intelligence for Dewey is not a faculty, but a general way of interacting…”

“You can guide but not reason someone into having the experiences that can validate democracy…the empirical philosopher must provide arguments, but she should also guide others (through descriptions and other means) to have the experiences that may confirm their hypotheses.”

“Dewey wanted to shift the focus of democracy to the present striving or democratization of experience instead of toward future results…There is no grandiose or ultimate war for the sake of which the piecemeal present battles are fought…Trying to transform everyday activity to make it richer and fuller relative to concrete present problems and possibilities is what we do in democracy as a way of life.”

The reasonableness of an ideal way of life is to be tested in lived experience by trying to live it…we can test our hypotheses only by living them. Participation can only be tested by participating. There is, then, no theoretical justification of democracy that can replace the support provided in favor of democracy by living and embodying democratic habits in our everyday interaction.” [emphasis mine]

Gregory Pappas – Dewey’s Ethics – Democracy as Experience [Part II]

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 05/01/2012

“Criticism and reflection, the examined life, are important constituents of moral life because they are capable of enriching its immediate quality and not because they lead us to the Truth or to actualize some essence.”

“…the most important learning a person can acquire in a situation is not information (or rules), but the indirect cultivation of the habits that are going to affect the quality of future situations.”

“Making the goodness of our character the conscious object of our moral concern can in fact be counterproductive. Too much concern for our character can become a distraction…The best way to improve our moral characters is to attend to what we ought to do in a particular situation. Dewey thought that just as there is a hedonistic paradox, there is a moralistic paradox: ‘the way to get goodness is to cease to think of it – as something separate – and to devote ourselves to the realization of the full value of the practical situations in which we find ourselves.’ ”

“Product-oriented views of morality overemphasize our acquisitive capacities at the expense of the creative ones. if the best we can do with our present moral struggles is endure them for the sake of some remote end, then present experience is a mere means, and moral life is experienced as unaesthetic drudgery.”

“Given the variety of forms open-mindedness takes, and since it is not merely an intellectual trait, it is more appropriate to describe this virtue in terms of a general attitude, one Dewey describes as and attitude of hospitality toward the new.”

[quoting Dewey – emphasis mine] “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.’

“What good is my negative freedom to do and consume when I am unable to intelligently reflect and choose? Democracy requires more than the capacity to go to the mall and choose between varieties of goods.”

“The shift from democracy as a political system to democracy as experience means that there is more to equality than legal and institutional guarantees. It has to go beyond judging others according to some impartial standard. Equality is an abstract name for something that can be qualitatively and directly experienced in our relations with others…Democratic respect is not only about how we treat others (a doing) but also about how we experience them (an undergoing). It is, in effect, the most generous experience we can have of others. In our deliberations and judgments of others we must be as sensitive as possible to their unique characteristics. This is the key to democratic generosity.”

Gregory Pappas – Dewey’s Ethics – Democracy as Experience [Part I]

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 04/30/2012

“Just as he objected to the ‘museum conception of art’ that isolates the arts from lived experience, Dewey warned against separating morality from relationships…”

“…moral life is a process of creating or transforming value, and not merely of accepting and living by given or former values.”

“As Dewey says, ‘It is not experience which is experienced, but nature – stones, plants, animals, diseases, health, temperature, electricity, and so on.’ My valuing experience of an act of injustice as wrong is about value that I find in the same world where I also find plants and stones. To dismiss the importance of valuing in inquiry because it is merely subjective or a mere psychological reaction is to assume a dualism or to presuppose the supremacy of the theoretical standpoint in revealing what is real.”

“Dewey used science and art as metaphors to understand moral deliberation. This served the purpose of highlighting the continuity between morality and other modes of experience, and it provided a description of moral deliberation as an experimental, emotional, and imaginative process.”

“When experienced, the frightening noise is as real as the eventual knowledge-experience of the cause of the noise. ‘Empirically that noise is fearsome, it really is, not merely phenomenally or subjectively so. That is what it is as experienced as being.’ [quoting Dewey] Insofar as the eventual experience is not misleading it is more true, but this does not make it more real. Similarly moral problems are not experienced as internal or subjective. insofar as a a situation is experienced as morally problematic then it really is problematic. this situation might be transformed into one in which there is no longer a problem, but the second, transformed situation is no more real than the first one.”

[quoting Todd Lekan] “the pragmatist approach maintains that morality is more analogous to non-moral practical skills and arts like medicine, cookery, and baseball than has been acknowledged by most of the tradition of moral philosophy.”

“..the pragmatist is concerned with knowledge only insofar as it is a means to enhance our lived present experience.”

“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.”

Steven Fesmire – Moral Imagination

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 04/17/2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experience – Theory

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 03/28/2012

“An ounce of experience is better than a ton of theory simply because it is only in experience that theory has vital and verifiable significance.” – John Dewey

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Draft of a manifesto written in defense of a group of people that did not ask for my defense, using words they would not use and engaging people they ignore.

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 01/19/2010

[descending into Mobile, AL – turbulence – warming sunlight a pale stripe against a cloud tundra]

The resistance to being theorized, examined, abstracted…isn’t this a basic sort of dignity?

We are not your intellectual playthings. Perhaps you see something publishable, a critical opportunity, but we reject your representation and demand our autonomy. We might not have read your recent darlings (Rancière, Agamben, etc.), but you have not lived our lives either. We refuse to meet on your terms within your own idioms – prejudged by your theoretical dogmas.

While you wring hands over what it all means, we are trying to change the world, build relationships and communities. Are we naive? Possibly. We prefer a world of naive dreamers to cynical observers. Keep your beloved “criticality.” Hold it close to your heart and tell us what you feel. We are friends, not “colleagues” and we choose to embrace humane values and each other. We offer a different vision. Against the professional hegemony of academic intellectualism we offer – trust, love, sentiment, passion, egalitarianism and sincerity.

We won’t live our lives in “quotes” and think being thought silly is preferable to the safety (and cowardice) of the knowing wink. In short, we reject the antiseptic posturing of the theoretical class. We welcome the messiness of lived human experience – all the stuff that resists intellectual appropriation and is routinely dismissed as petty, mundane, insignificant.

We are gamblers, believing in the value of risking everything for the sake of our “foolish” dreams and schemes.

Feel free to stand aside and critique yourself into a corner, into passivity, but save your elitist judgments for your fellow bibliographic temple builders…your heartless (and gutless) intellectual fundamentalism is not welcome here.

Common Culture – Paul Willis

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 12/10/2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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