Brutalism’s Anti-Aesthetic.

In Ruskin’s On Art and Life, discussion of the features of Gothic archtecture lead to a passage nicely prophetic:

From these facts, we may gather generally that monotony is, and ought to be, in itself painful to us, just as darkness is; that an architecture which is altogether monotonous is a dead architecture; and of those who love it, it may truly be said, “they love darkness rather than light”

John Ruskin, “On Art and Life” pg. 35

My immediate thought, jotted down in my Bullet Journal (where I have a couple “Notes On Ruskin” pages), was “the perfect condemnation of the Brutalist style”. Brutalism is certainly given to monotony, to an almost deliberate exclusion of the kind of varied detail that Gothic or even Deco goes in for. It’s perhaps the most 20th-Century style, appearing in the immediate postwar era. One associates it with Mid-Century scenes, apartment blocks, government offices, and the like. It’s been left behind in favor of loopy Deconstructionist styles and has very few defenders. Bashing it is a favorite activity of aesthetes and faux-aesthetes, especially on the cultural Right.

But let’s consider that any style is trying to create an effect, as I said the other day. What effect does Brutalism create?

I perceive a few:

  1. The experience of sublime power, in the manner of the Pyramids or other monumental construction,
  2. The eradication of any concept of unnecessary adornment. The beauty of the building would be in its grandeur and in its function, nothing else. This is Bauhaus logic taken to extreme.

These are my takes, of course, but I think them readily evident in the style. Now, note how the first of these is actually trying to say something, to express something real, and the second, isn’t. So the first rises to the level of an aesthetic, by our previous definitions, and the second seems more of an anti-aesthetic, a negation.

These are not new observations. What I find interesting is that Brutalism’s positive aesthetic seems to provoke the more intense dislike. Detractors of the style associate it with totalitarianism, noting the enthusiasm for it in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. One can hardly dispute this intimidating effect. And the anti-aesthetic means that we have nothing else to soften or diminish that effect. It’s a massive stone block, and nothing else.

With nothing to catch the eye, nothing to engage, it quickly becomes a void on the imagination, a bore. It doesn’t even seem to reach skyward so much as take up space. That is why people dislike it so intensely. They strike our eyes like the black monolith in 2001.

Yet, this isn’t an alien power cube. This was a building, designed by humans, for humans to work and live in. We must retain that fact as we examine the whys and wherefores of it. The desire for simplicity and power are not alien to humans. Brutalism evokes both. We may criticize it for its Modernist excesses, for its unintended dwarfing of human spirits. But the error is never all there is.

Criterion Collection Lust and Other Class Settings

I haven’t watched a single thing on my art-house bucket list, but I’ve subscribed to the Criterion Collection subreddit, because displays of aesthetic approval from an institutional source matter more in the Matrix than actually developing aesthetic sense.

Which is fine, as most people have no idea what aesthetic sense even is. I include philosophers in that number. Among other things, I’m moseying through Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, and he makes flash statements about unmusical people liking opera, but he never says what he means by “unmusical”. If Nietzsche had an ounce of Aristotle in him, he wouldn’t be so beholden to Hegel and Schopenhauer as pre-reading.

As it happens, reading German philosophy and watching New Wave Cinéma is mentally demanding, and as you can’t disprove the notion that any of them aren’t just jacking off, it rarely feels like a good time investment. But in small doses, it can be of use, if only as variety and challenge. Which was part of the point, if I recall correctly.

The Beautiful and the Sublime

Here’s a YouTuber’s take:

The argument is that beautiful and sublime are central to art. They could almost be called the yin and yang of aesthetics, but they’re not entirely opposite to each other. Delight and Awe are not mutually exclusive.

One could make an argument, however, that Low Art seeks delight (beautiful), while High Art, awe (sublime), but that could be a case of stretching the heuristic.

On Aesthetics

I was inspired by my earlier post to think about aesthetics – the philosophy of art, beauty, etc.  And I did a brief perusal of the related article on the topic on Infogalactic and discovered something:

  • In ancient and medieval world, specific things were called out as being beautiful: order, form, harmony, unity, etc. This was a means of defining beauty.
  • Starting in the Early Modern period (17th-19th centuries), the conversation changed to be about “aesthetic experiences”, wedding aesthetics to rationality and science.
  • Then in the 20th century, two things happen:
    • First, we throw away the artist/author because of the “intentional fallacy”, and center our understanding of a work solely on our individuated responses to it.
    • Second, the Po-Mo’s throw away the idea of beauty itself, and everything becomes about discourses and narratives to be endlessly invoked and endlessly deconstructed

So we move from a set of idea that are clear, evocative, and can be used by a mason to build a temple, to a set of ideas that are esoteric, tendentious, and can only be used by academics to write essays. The nerds have taken over.

71ArtInutile-s
“Art is Useless. Go home.”

Post-Modernism and Critical Theory is all Based on The Worst Argument in the World

Via, Rotten Chestnuts, a summation of scholar David Stove’s essay “Idealism, A Victorian Horror Story”. Apparently, everything the Left has believed for the last century and a half comes from the perception/things-in-themselves fallacy, which allows all the other word games to follow.

 Since you’re starting from a tautology, thanks to the miracle of Dialectics you can say whatever you want.  There’s no cognitive dissonance, because there’s no cognition at all.  It all arrives at the same point — whatever degraded version of Idealism your victim group is pushing.  As Stove says, all you need for a Gem is tautology in the premise, Idealism in the conclusion, and pomposity throughout.  Berkeley to Hegel to Marx to Derrida, the Left’s entire intellectual genealogy in four steps.

Read the Whole Thing.

Post-Modernism Isn’t.

I have long been of the opinion that what passes for post-modern “philosophy” is not a philosophy so much as rhetorical exercise, or in my phrase, “word games”. Consider the act of “deconstructing” something: of tacking a thing to the culture that produced it, to the assumptions of that culture, to the history of those assumptions, etc.

What you haven’t done in any of that is make any kind of statement towards the Truth or value of the thing deconstructed. And if you haven’t done that, then what does the deconstruction of it matter?

The act of skepticism assumes the existence of truth, because skepticism is the suspicion of falsehood, and falsehood cannot exist without truth. Philosophy is the rational pursuit of truth, and one cannot pursue what does not exist. To say “This is not truth,” is to say “That is truth.”

But, as this article at Quillette by Galen Watts explains, the po-mos refuse to admit this.

 The scholar begins by deconstructing existing discourses, as if from a position of mere skepticism. However, he is simultaneously making the case that these are corrupt or oppressive in some sense, thereby endorsing some (implicit) normative standard. But you can’t have it both ways. Either you endorse a position and critique others from there, or you commit fully to your epistemic skepticism.

This is why the only philosophy available to those who take post-modernism seriously is nihilism, the rejection of all values. But nihilism is not a philosophy, it is the denial of a philosophy. Thus, I state that there is no such thing as post-modern philosophy, only the post-modern critique of philosophy. And it’s not a particularly useful critique. To tell me that I absorb values from the culture around me, and the traditions of that culture, sounds like a damning verdict, but it isn’t. Because what has not been established is why I should not absorb those values, or why I should not absorb them that way. To do that requires the discussion of alternatives.

A person who attacks your values without stating his own is dishonest. If he has alternative values, he should state them, as they undergird his arguments against yours. If he has no values, then he has no basis for attacking any values at all.

Therefore much of what we see being advanced under the banner of “postmodernism” is simply hypocrisy in disguise.

We see this in my discussion of Ivan Karamazov, as referenced by Camus:

Suffering will continue regardless of how sullenly you refuse to countenance it. What child does Ivan save from suffering? If none, then we must conclude the the intellectual solidarity with the suffering is a sham, or at any rate, a means to an end. And the end is power, moral power as a precursor to political power, the power over life and death.

The Quillette article is worth reading in full.

Available on Amazon: The Right of Revolution

This was a short essay I wrote a few years ago and have toyed with either expanding or publishing as-is. I decided upon the latter. It’s basic point, that rebellion is justified according to the prime value of a culture, is to my mind eloquently expressed. There’s obviously a great deal more to say on the subject, and someday I hope to do so.

Starting today, January 13, and for the next 5 days, it’s free to download. Hope you enjoy it.

Somebody Translated Descartes’ Meditations into Bro-Speak

That someone calls himself Philosophy Bro, and the book: Descartes Meditations, Bro.

It features a side-by-side translate, so you have the 1901 English Translation, and the Bro-Speak on the facing page. You know, like the Seamus Heaney Beowulf or Pinsky’s translation of The Inferno (both of which you should read, because they’re awesome).

I just wanted it noted for the record that we are translating early 20th-century academic English into early 21st-century Vulgate English. Just in case anyone should try to tell you that the classics are dead.

The Birth of Babbling, or Why Nietzsche Disappoints me

I think his declamatory German just gets lost in translation, but every time I read Nietzsche I find very little substance underneath all the sauce. I’m on page 86 of The Birth of Tragedy and I’m not entirely sure what ideas I’ve gleaned from this.

I get the idea that tragedy is the fusion of the Appollonian impulse, to weave a dream, and the Dionysian, to tear down the walls of individuality. Thus, in percieving a false Prometheus set upon a stage, we are both a) getting an impulse of cosmic truth, and b) roped into real, emotional connection with the suffering character. I get that. It makes sense. But somehow I would wish that he would ground his assertions before carrying them to their conclusion. It has the mark of circular reasoning.

Observe:

The whole of the modern world is caught up in the net of Alexandrian culture, and its idea is theoretical man, armed with the highest powers of knowledge and working in the service of science, whose archetype and progenitor is Socrates.

-BoT, pg. 86

Now, one may agree with this statement. One may find it compelling. But it’s only a statement, and it has not the discipline to argue its case. A sweeping judgement is hurled down, assumed as true, and carried forward. Precisely what establishes this idea? Am I to take the “whole” in the first sentence as hyperbole?

And Birth of Tragedy is fairly disciplined in this regard. When we get to Beyond Good and Evil, I find myself filling my Kindle app with snarky asides in the notes. And by “snarky” I mean “confused to the point of rage”.

They should never have allowed Germans to do philosophy.