Tuesday, November 9, 2010

First I Drank, Now I Reflect: Asceticism and Aestheticism

Well, we will see how long this reflection can last. I went out with some new friends tonight (shouts out out to KP and G). I simply wanted to catalog what I was feeling after hanging out and after walking home. It is so nice to meet new people. To talk to new people and to be in new places. Novelty is very important to me.

But on the walk home I was struck by a silly, fun, meaningful, alliterative, and rhyming phrase. 'Asceticism and Aestheticism'. Such major factors in my thinking. Asceticism, as in the act of self-discipline, is very important to me. Clearly it cannot reach the level of absolute self mastery. But there is a part of me that strives for discipline. Desperately desires the control of my mind and of actions that stem from my mind. Discipline and asceticism, clearly, have to be a very important part of life. I want to espouse a coherent philosophical doctrine, and I think that discipline and the self-regulation of the mind has to be an important, if not essential, part of it all.

But what is the relationship between aestheticism and asceticism? If we are to have an intense and structured discipline in our own lives, how does this relate to the imaginative expression of our emotions? Who knows. I sure don't yet. But I do feel that it is very important to clarify exactly what 'the aesthetic' is. Moreover, I am astounded at how radical Collingwood's definition of art and the aesthetic is. He seems to be striking to the core of an issue that is still muddled in this present moment. My vague impression is that art is still associated with craft, is still seen as a form of representation, and is still associated with the production of beauty. But what if art is not any of these things? And is rather, in its essence, the imaginative expression of emotions? Does this not hold enormous implications for the way that we live and think? Don't we need to stop confusing the products of aesthetic activity (i.e. beautiful pieces of art) with the process that created them (i.e. the imaginative expression of emotions? In other words, don't we need to see that art is not about the creation of a beautiful object, but about the expressing of a particular emotion? I am starting to agree with Collingwood's sentiment that our sloppy definition of art has implications for most parts of our lives. My large essay on Collingwood is going to be a monster. I feel it bubbling beneath the surface. Hard. I'm almost ready.

One thing I am grappling with right now is the political implications of properly defining art and the aesthetic activity. David Harvey so readily refers to 'the aestheticization of politics'. This is a phrase that was coined by Walter Benjamin (a thinker who I must certainly read in the future). It seems that Harvey is referring to how politicians are no longer judged by their actual performance or ideas, but rather by their ability to craft a certain image, and to represent themselves in certain ways. I have italicized those worlds because those are precisely the erroneous definitions of art that Collingwood is attacking. Art is not about craft and art is not about representation. Art is about expression. So what if we clarified our definition of art to deal with these misunderstandings? Would the 'aestheticization of politics' not resolve itself into another problem: I.e. the problem that politicians are too often not simply expressing themselves but are rather engaging in deliberate forms of craft and representation? Wouldn't it make us aware of the fact that politicians should strive to be artists, and not craftsmen or representers?

A genuine thank you to this new place and these new people. I admire those of you who think explicitly about politics. For I simply want to lapse into abstraction and poetry.

For those beautiful hearts
And those beautiful lives
Those beautiful bodies
With their beautiful minds

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the shout out. You inspired the title of my post tonight.