Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Have Your Transcendence and Eat it Too

Apologies to our readers: I was unable to login to the group-blog to add my contribution, so my post here is a bit out of chronological order. These abridged notes cover chapter 10, section 1.

Have Your Transcendence and Eat it Too:

The Aesthetic Ethic of the Buffered Self

“No-Man’s-Land”: The Modern Cosmic Imaginary

“…the salient feature of the modern cosmic imaginary is not that it has fostered materialism, or enabled people to recover a spiritual outlook beyond materialism, to return as it were to religion, though it has done both these things. But the most important fact about it which is relevant to our enquiry here is that it has opened a space in which people can wander between and around all these options without having to land clearly and definitively in any one.” (p. 351, emphasis mine)

What made this possible? Shift in Romantic period art from “imitation” to “creation.” (p. 352)

•Previously, artists drew upon and imitated the broader cosmic imaginary. With this shift to the modern cosmic imaginary, now artists had to create new meaning in a new cosmos.

A New Lexicon: From "the Great Chain of Being" to “Subtler Language”

“…where formerly poetic language could rely on certain publicly available orders of meaning… the decline of the old order with its established background of meanings made necessary the development of new poetic languages in the Romantic period. […] The Romantic poets and their successors have to articulate an original vision of the cosmos.” (353)

Wasserman: “Until the end of the eighteenth century there was sufficient intellectual homogeneity for [people] to share certain assumptions… By the nineteenth century these world-pictures had passed from consciousness.” (353)

The Aesthetic “Unhooked” from the Ontic

“Art” – appreciation of cultural practices without participation // the aesthetic without the ontic

Two disembeddings:

(1) Prayers, mass, bardic songs, etc. taken out of context – playing Masses in concerts.

(2) “Absolute” music – Music abstracted from an ontic commitment

“The music moves us very strongly…it captures, expresses, incarnates being profoundly moved. But what at? What is the object? Is there an object?” (355)

“We have something like the essence of the response, without the story.” (355)

“This leaves a residual mystery: why are we so moved?” (356)

Aesthetics as Ethics

New struggle to articulate new moral meaning in nature.

“..the aesthetic was established as an ethical category, as a source of answers to the question, how should we live? what is our greatest goal or fulfillment? This gives a crucial place to art. Beauty is what will save us, complete us. …artistic creation comes to be the highest domain of human activity.” (359)

Previously, art imitated God’s creation. Now, art moves us “without having to identify [its] ontic commitments.” This offers a “place to go for modern unbelief.” The aesthetic is “unhooked from the ordered cosmos and/or the divine.” It can me immanentized, or simply left unspecified:

"...these languages function, have power, move us, but without having to identify their ontic commitments. "Absolute" music expresses being moved by what is powerful and deep, but does not need to identify where this is to be found, whether in heaven, or on earth, or in the depths of our own being--or even whether these alternatives are exclusive... Now to enter in this medium does not mean to deny God. On the contrary, many great modern artists--Eliot, Messiaen--have tried to make their medium a locus of epiphany. This is perfectly possible. But it is not necessary. The ontic commitments can be other, or they can remain largely unidentified." (p. 360)

Discussion Questions:

Is Taylor’s analysis of the Romantic period relevant today? What is the contemporary role of aesthetics? Is “Mother Earth” the new “Father God"? What are the “ontic commitments” of Mumford & Sons?

Taylorific Words: regicide, erstwhile, chthonic, assertoric

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