Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Archive for the ‘Philosophy of Art’ Category

Amen: A Victim of Abuse

Posted by Jerry on April 7, 2012

A word of Hebrew origin, amen means so be it, truly.

Amen movie cover designAmen also happens to be the name of a movie inspired by the life of Harrish Iyer–an enterprising, entertaining, and enthusiastic young man; a friend of mine; and a persistent voice for the rights of sexual abuse victims and the queer community.

The story behind the creation of Amen is almost as divinely providential as the title itself suggests: Amen had to be, hence it is.

With almost no funding and no actors willing to play the daring roles required of the script depicting the evolution of two men as they discover each other’s bodies, souls, and histories, it is no small feat that today Amen is an exemplar of powerhouse cinema created by independent artists and their generous patrons, winning awards and being screened across film festivals over the world.

Apart from the Directors Judhajit Bhagchi & Ranadeep Bhattacharya, it is important to highlight the courage of the two lead actors Karan Mehra and Jitin Gulati. Both handsome and rising artists in the Indian film industry, Karan and Jitin portray characters that many would consider risqué and suicidal in terms of a professional acting career in Bollywood.

Nevertheless, displaying a kind of honest heroism that we rarely get to witness even in our fantastically idealistic Bollywood movies, Karan and Jitin play the role of gay man and child sex-abuse survivor with grit, intensity, compassion and passion, and also, when required, lots of tenderness.

Karan Mehra and Jitin GulatiIndia, however, is the villain in the off-screen tale.

The Indian Censor Board–the Stalinist body that decides what artistic speech Indians are fit to confront and what we are not–has refused to give this film a clearance for screening in movie theaters unless the directors agree to cut scenes and dialogues that they consider to be vulgar and obscene.

While to the right-minded person, it is amply evident as the light of day that what’s truly obscene here is that such a body exists and that such a body dictates–like a God, or a King, or the Pope–the terms and conditions under which adult, mature, Indian audiences are to experience art, for many in India this is the expected, the accepted, the routine, the procedural, and the mundane.

Properly speaking, the battle to get Amen out in theaters is not about fair and equal treatment of all movies with similar mature content; the real battle is about the nature of free speech, artistic freedom, and the right to self-determination.

CensorshipAre we free to create, express, encounter, and consume the kind of art we want? Or, should we have to apply for prior approval from an all-governing, all-knowing, all-seeing body of authority that knows what is best for us better than we do for ourselves?

Are we free peoples? Or are we subjects of a great and benevolent ruler-king, by whose mercy and kindness we exist, we enjoy movies, and read books?

Are we ready for movies like Amen? Evidently not, according to the Indian Censor Board.

But should this fact matter at all? Absolutely not!

The matter is also not be about what happens to the Indian moral fabric if movies like Amen were to be released in all its mature glory. That’s the problem of individuals, their families, their schools, their private spheres.

The matter is about whether or not we can spend our energies, monies, time, and effort making such movies and expressing our emotions without the threat, fear, and result of censorship. The matter is about whether those of us who want to see such movies and elevate our consciousness to beyond just the most petty entertainment have the liberty to do so.

Alas, India is a democratic country. And as such, we do not live by the rule of law, but by the rule of the people. And this is one of the dangers of a democracy: the tyranny of the majority; the rule of the mob, who decides and postulates for the entire nation what they find offensive, what they find palatable, what they permit, and what they censor.

Amen is a story about the smallest minority in the world–the individual.

It is the story of a lonely individual who was abused by his uncle as a child and who grows up to meet another man, who in turn is a victim of his circumstance, tradition, and society.

As luck would have it, now Amen–the movie itself–is truly the victim at the hands of the Indian Censor Board–that great Council of Guardians of the Moral Fabric of the Indian People.

This is life in a democracy without the rule of law.

Amen.

Posted in Culture, General Work/Life, Homosexuality, India, Movies, Mumbai, Personal, Philosophy of Art, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Explaining Postmodernism by Dr. Stephen Hicks

Posted by Jerry on August 1, 2011

My trip to Italy provided a fitting background for me while I finished reading the brilliant book Explaining Postmodernism: From Rousseau to Foucault by Dr. Stephen Hicks.

This book should be required reading for all university graduates–especially those of liberal arts and humanities.

The essential thesis of this book is:

The failure of epistemology made postmodernism possible, and the failure of socialism made postmodernism necessary.

Dr. Hicks has an incredibly lucid, engaging style of writing–and the expansiveness of the topics he covers with such ease–going from Kant to Rousseau to Marx and Rorty and then back to Plato–is astounding.

Reading his account of the philosophical drama that played across centuries and which gave rise to the anti-intellectual movement that we call Postmodernism today, one is reminded of a fact that is often forgotten: that philosopher need not all be wise just because they got published and are famous today; and that what they preach need not always originate from honest and true intentions; that philosophers, like anyone else, can almost stubbornly and petulantly defend a viewpoint in order to save face, score a brownie point, or wage a war of words for its own sake. Hegel, Fichte, Marcusse, and others fit this description.

Take the following excerpts, for instance:

Immanuel Kant is the most significant thinker of the Counter-Enlightenment. His philosophy, more than any other thinker’s, buttressed the pre-modern worldview of faith and duty against the inroads of the Enlightenment. Kant firmly chose religion. And so, he stated famously in the Second Preface to the first Critique, “I here therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”

And another philosopher Schleiermacher, a Kantian in approach, said: “The essence of religion is the feeling of absolute dependence. I repudiated rational thought in favor of a theology of feeling.”

Then Fichte, who wanted to create a superior race of German automatons through socialized education, preached, like Kant, a dedication to pure duty and an abdication of all self-interest:

“in place of that love of self, with which nothing for our good can be connected any longer, we must set up and establish in the hearts of all those whom we wish to reckon among our nation that other kind of love, which is concerned directly with the good, simply as such and for its own sake. The pupil of this education is not merely a member of human society here on earth and for the short span of life which is permitted to him. He is also, and is undoubtedly acknowledged by education to be, a link in the eternal chain of spiritual life in a higher social order. A training which has undertaken to include the whole of his being should undoubtedly lead him to a knowledge of this higher order also. [The German] “alone above all other European nations, [has] the capacity of responding to such an education.”

And among the most outrageous ideas, we have Hegel–who inspired Marx–creating a Divinity out of the Government. He said:

“It must further be understood that all the worth which human being possesses–all spiritual reality, he possesses only through the State. The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on Earth.” The State has as its final end the self-realization of the Absolute, and thus “this final end has supreme right against the individual, whose supreme duty is to be a member of the state.” “One must worship the State as a terrestrial divinity.”

People have agendas–and philosophers are not exempt from this. And philosophers in particular can be incredibly evil–in that they intentionally develop, defend, and promulgate ideas that are horrific in practice.

I am reminded of Ayn Rand’s brilliant analysis of the history of Counter-Enlightenment philosophy in her dramatic speech for John Galt in Atlas Shrugged, in which she correctly identifies and summarizes the key themes of Kant (the mystic of spirit) and his successors (the mystics of muscle). You can read the relevant excerpts from the Ayn Rand Lexicon here.

The discovery of truths is in sifting through the layers of detritus and engaging one’s own honest intellect with the evidence provided by our senses. Surely, geniuses can help illuminate the path along the way, but it’s up to us to figure out which path will lead us to the Enlightenment world, and which, to the one of nihilism.

I cannot recommend Dr. Hicks’ Explaining Postmodernism enough.

Posted in Books, Culture, General Work/Life, Philosophy, Philosophy of Art, Political Issues, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Activism at Work

Posted by Jerry on May 29, 2008

Practically everyone I know at work has read at least one of the major works of Ayn Rand. They seem to regard her primarily as a literary figure, and I think, they mostly don’t much agree with (or understand) her philosophy. Rand’s novels, to them, are just that–novels; not a dramatization of a true philosophy of life, just an unusual and radical storyline.

My work also has both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged in its library. It’s pretty clear that Rand has an established place in the corporate world–and is particularly well-known in India. I have blogged about Rand’s particular significance to Indians in previous posts.

This Friday, I will be conducting an informal discussion session with my colleagues on Objectivism in general and The Fountainhead in particular, since that is the book most of them have read. Also, since they learned that I have studied Objectivism in some detail for so many years now, they were very eager to hear me make the case for the philosophy. I am happy to do it.

Rand continues to be a polarizing figure; and she still manages to get people involved in animated discussions. My colleagues have been excitedly talking about the Friday session all this week–everytime we gather in the cafeteria for a meal or snack or hang beside each other’s cubicles. I’ve already heard some of the usual criticisms carelessly thrown about: “she was too extreme. It’s too rigid.” But I resist the urge to engage them in full-on discussion because I want to make a proper, prepared, and well-organized presentation on the philosophy. However, I’m not going to be lecturing or doing most of the talking; I’d rather prefer to facilitate the discussion–offer some guideposts, introduce some new ideas, elicit opinions and reactions, ask them to probe deeper into their questions and reactions, etc.

Anyway, if this goes well, I expect to hold additional sessions on the philosophy. I am quite certain that people will want to have more things to say and hear about Rand. After these sessions, I would be eager to get them started on We The Living, because it is my favorite novel and which I have read three times now.

So, cheers for personal activism! Hip hip Hurray! 🙂

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, General Work/Life, India, Objectivism, Personal, Philosophy, Philosophy of Art, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Undercurrents

Posted by Jerry on November 7, 2007

I really like this beautiful opinion piece written by Maggie Gallagher on the 50th anniversary of Atlas Shrugged. Since it is on Yahoo! News, I’m afraid the link might become inactive in a few days when the page will be moved. So, I’m including the entire article here.

THREE CHEERS FOR AYN RAND

“Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand‘s monumental 1,000-plus-page valentine to the America of her dreams, turns 50 this year.

The occasion has been marked by nerdy paeans to her philosophy, and grudging acknowledgements by sophisticates that Rand’s novels may not be so very bad, after all. For the latter ersatz tribute, see, for example, the famous art critic (and my friend) Terry Teachout’s essay on Rand at 50 in the current issue of National Review.

Ayn Rand deserves better.

Fifty years after it was published, “Atlas Shrugged” lives on like no other book outside of, well, the Bible. Eight percent of Americans have read it, according to a 2007 Zogby poll. Yet a 1991 Library of Congress and Book of the Month Club poll found that, next to the Bible, it is the book that had most frequently “made a difference” in people’s lives. I just checked on Amazon.com: “Atlas Shrugged” was the No. 1-selling book in the category of “literature and fiction-classics” and No. 310 on the overall Amazon list.

Most novelists would kill for an audience this big on the day they appear on the “Today” show, much less more than 25 years after they’re dead. Among reading Americans, no other novel has ever generated any response remotely like this.

And “Atlas Shrugged” became a genuine American classic without ever making it into the official “canon” of great, near-great or even so-so novels — all of which guarantees a certain number of mandatory sales and reads among bored high school students and eager undergraduates.

Why? Teachout concludes that Rand writes a pretty good potboiler, a plot “complete with sex scenes and a shoot-’em-up finale. No wonder that it has sold like soap for half a century.”

Really? Let’s consider sales among three popular authors with whom Teachout compares Rand: John Grisham’s “The Firm” is No. 71,739, Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” is currently No. 148,043 and Zane Grey’s “Ranger of the Lone Star” is No. 28,965 on the Amazon list.

Novels, even page-turning potboilers with lots of sex and gunplay, do not typically sell like soap, year-in and year-out, for half a century.

Like Terry, I first read and fell in love with “Atlas Shrugged” when I was 16. At 47, I see her as a great artist in somewhat the same way that I so acknowledge Theodore Dreiser: Despite the obvious flaws in the prose, the whole adds up to a genuinely unique achievement.

The key to Ayn Rand is that she pictured America largely from early films from Hollywood. As a young girl growing up in the grim world of communist Russia, she saw America as we dreamed ourselves to be, and she longed her whole life with a child’s intensity to make this vision real, to live in it. We respond to her novels because they offer us one deep strand of American self-identity — as individualists, yes, but individualists who together dream big dreams, conquer wild frontiers, invent the future, remake our very selves.

She understood, the way so many pampered Hollywood artists don’t, that much of the romance of America is in business — in our dreams of making it, by making big new things, things no man has ever made before. Rand is virtually alone in seeing businessmen as fellow artists: makers, creators, inventors. In her novels, the greatness of the artist was matched by the greatness of the architect, the scientist, the entrepreneur and the railroad executive. The Homer of our era, she sang the song by which so many Americans live our lives.

I gave up being a Randian (as I called it) at 22, when I had my first baby.

For the first time, I saw the limits of the grand myth of the self-made man. I saw how completely life itself depends on a love that cannot be rationalized, but is pure gift.

Grace entered my life, and I submitted to the necessity of gratitude — including gratitude for the stubborn, peculiar, determined, brilliant little Russian girl who, virtually unassisted, remade herself into one of the best-selling American novelists of all time.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, Objectivism, Philosophy, Philosophy of Art, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Atlas Anniversary Pictures

Posted by Jerry on October 24, 2007

I’ve finally taken the time to upload the pictures from the Atlas Shrugged Anniversary event in Mumbai. Check ’em out!

Also, Taylor–one of my blog readers–visited Guatemala, where the Universidad Francisco Marroquín (UFM) unveiled the new Atlas high-relief sculpture in conjunction with anniversary celebration events. Taylor has some lovely close-up pictures of the sculpture and of the book release of the 50th Anniversary Edition of Atlas Shrugged. Thanks, Taylor! 🙂

Read my post on this Latin American university’s celebrations here.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, General Work/Life, Mumbai, Objectivism, Philosophy, Philosophy of Art, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Lessons from Harry Potter

Posted by Jerry on October 21, 2007

Ari Armstrong writes a brief post on the success of Harry Potter books. He identifies the reason behind the book’s phenomenal success, and I agree.

The main reason that Rowling has had and will continue to have such profound cultural influence is that she is reaching millions of children when they are first exploring ideas and first thinking about moral choices. Harry and his best friends belong to the school house of Gryffindor, the house of the brave, and Rowling presents an inspiring image of moral courage.

But perhaps the best thing about Rowling’s books is that they have encouraged children to grapple with a complex story and difficult themes. The children who have graduated from those books will be prepared to read — and eager to find — other great and inspiring works of literature, such as Rand’s novels.

My own post on how ideas can be spread among little children offers the same suggestion: engage children at the sense-of-life level; offer them an emotional experience of the ideas you wish them to understand; present those ideas in the form of art–literary, dramatic, visual, and musical; over time, prod them to think critically, explore the reasons behind their emotional experiences, and encourage them to ask many “why” questions.

However, remember that all of these efforts require an adult mentor: therefore, the adult has to be convinced of these ideas–explicitly and in philosophical form–before they can choose to impart those ideas in emotional or dramatic form to the children in their care. Properly, children should never be converted to or cultivated into a philosophy; that works only with religion and doctrines. Children can be given an experience of possibilities, a moral lesson in dramatic form, a show of principle in practice, of how the world can be to a person who makes certain choices. Children can be taught how to think well and the consequences of thoughts, but should not be taught what to think. Only adults can be converted to a philosophy–insofar as the conversion is the result of intellectual persuasion and rational understanding.

Posted in Books, Culture, General Work/Life, Movies, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Philosophy of Art, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Tracinski’s Article in FoxNews

Posted by Jerry on October 9, 2007

This is one of the best and well-formulated articles I have read on the historical significance of Atlas Shrugged.

Robert Tracinski writes:

[Ayn Rand] saw the dramatic potential in asking a single question: what would happen if the innovative entrepreneurs and businessmen — after decades of being vilified and regulated — started to disappear? What if the men condemned as parasites who somehow grow rich by exploiting manual laborers — the whole Marxist view of the economy — what if those “exploiters” were no longer around? The disappearance of the world’s productive geniuses provides the novel’s central mystery, both factually and intellectually.

Factually, the story follows Dagny Taggart, a woman in the then-unconventional role of operating vice-president of a transcontinental railroad, as she struggles to keep her railroad running in the face of strangling government regulations, while trying to solve a series of mysteries: a promising young railroad worker refuses a promotion and takes up a menial job instead; a spectacularly talented heir to a multinational copper company abandons his work to become a flamboyant playboy; a genius who invented a revolutionary new motor abandons his creation in the ruins of a derelict factory.

The factual questions are: Where did all of these people go? Why did they give up their work? Is there someone or something that is causing them to disappear?

The philosophical questions raised by this plot are: What is the role of the entrepreneurs and innovators in a society? What motivates them, what are the conditions they need in order to work and what happens to the world when they disappear? The factual mystery is integrated with the novel’s deepest philosophical question: What is the moral status of the businessman and industrialist?

Read his entire article for its many good insights. Especially tantalizing is Tracinski’s concluding statement in the article. It’s such a brilliant device to push the reader to learn more!

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, Economics, Objectivism, Philosophy, Philosophy of Art, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Fantasy is Not My Cup of Tea

Posted by Jerry on July 23, 2007

I just don’t get fantasy genres. Their appeal eludes me. Perhaps, I’m lacking in the unbridled imagination it demands; perhaps, I just refuse to entirely suspend my grip on reality for the completely supernatural. Perhaps, I insist on using my own mind in unraveling a plot as I go along than just being goaded on as a docile but awestruck spectator in the author’s fantasy world. Perhaps, the liberal use of the deus ex machina makes me feel inefficacious and as if I have been cheated off a truly innovative turn in the plot. Perhaps, I believe that a fantasy world is the easiest to fabricate: where you have no rules other than the ones you create, where nothing reins you in but your own imagination, and where plots and characters are as easily dispensable or modifiable as they are created. I believe little children do something quite similar regularly within the confines of their playful minds and cardboard boxes.

I just don’t get fantasy genres. Although, I do enjoy some of them for the momentary pleasure of being fascinated, I am hardly irresistibly drawn to them like a moth to a lamp. They never feature among my favorite works of art–although the movie versions of fantasy novels like LOTR and Harry Potter must be credited and recognized as superior works of technical skill and innovation.

Given the extreme detachment of fantasy worlds from the reality that I am familiar with, including to some extent the abstractions and motivations of their characters and the metaphysical laws governing their entities, I am hard pressed to regard them as artistic concretizations of my widest abstractions.

Indeed, I often find it difficult to extract the author’s metaphysical value-judgments from such works because they comment on a “reality” that is totally removed from anything I have ever encountered or will experience in the future; i.e., the world they present and their underlying commentary on that world is all alien to me in the most proper sense of the word. Typically, my reaction to such works project a detached sense of amusement–of the kind that accompanies the knowledge of how silly all of it really is–like an atheist watching a movie of ghosts, demons, souls, and angels and knowing at back of his head how utterly unmoved he is by all of it.

Perhaps, the most I can garner from a work of fantasy is the hint of a sense of life–a subconscious view of existence–“an emotional appraisal of life”–the widest and the most vague equivalent of an explicit metaphysical value-judgment.

On the other hand, the sci-fi genre is slightly more appealing to me: it is usually grounded in the existing or the very plausible reality and builds its imaginative fantasies on those set of rules. Some of my favorite movies and popular novels are sci-fi, like Gattaca, X-men, the Matrix, etc.

Ultimately, however, in my opinion, nothing can ever surpass the sheer pleasure of experiencing an incredibly complex and imaginative plot structure spun from the brilliance of a mind that has grappled with the existential constraints of reality. A plot that is wholly based on reality, wrestles with the tension between hard facts and the anarchy of free minds and volitional characters, and which logically but unpredictably progresses toward an eminently satisfying climax by virtue of some ingenuously crafted resolution.

In sum, I contend that nothing rivals the genre of Romantic Realism in literature. Although, none of what I have said should indicate that I am shortchanging the authors’ of immensely popular works like LOTR and Harry Potter their obviously evident literary skill and imagination–it’s just not my cup of tea.

[Edited for clarity and added examples to illustrate]

Posted in Books, General Work/Life, India, Movies, My Theories and Ideas, Personal, Philosophy, Philosophy of Art, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

Objectivist Proust?

Posted by Jerry on July 17, 2007

This one is quite a story:

John Enright blogs about a misattribution to Marcel Proust of a famous Ayn Rand quote on her definition of art.

Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.

What makes this story quite shocking is that the misattribution is not some one-off incident by some writer who was sloppy in fact-checking. A google search shows that Rand’s definition of art is unmistakably and more than just accidentally attributed to Proust.

John had this to say:

Proust has become Objectivist in his theory of art, in retrospect.

I suspect someone credited Proust
To give the quotation a boost.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Favorite Quotes, General Work/Life, Objectivism, Philosophy of Art, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Art and Man

Posted by Jerry on June 28, 2007

The following is a modified post of something I had written a couple years ago. I am actually not too confident of the legitimacy of my opinions in the post. Nevertheless, I bring this up now in response to an article I read this morning criticizing the iconic status of contemporary artist Damien Hirst and his steady production of terrible junk celebrated by modern art critics as “art of the twenty-first century.” Here are some excerpts from that article, including the picture of one of Hirst’s creations–a cow pierced by arrows.

… contemporary art theory does not permit one to assess whether an artist’s work is superficial or deep, because it’s virtually impossible to tell the difference between a banal work of art and one that takes banality as its theme, or between a simple work of art and a simplistic one. A critic could spend hours trying to decide if something is superficially superficial or deeply superficial—and never come up with an answer.

Reviews have been euphoric for Hirst’s new exhibition at London’s White Cube gallery—a big change from the mixed reaction to his blood-splattered cabinets of 2003, or his photorealist paintings of 2005. But now Damien has “redeemed himself,” as one critic put it, and created what “might be the art of the 21st century.”

So how might we make a case against Hirst? One way is to point to the large amount of terrible work that he has produced. All great artists have produced bad works, but surely none have made as many as Hirst. His 1993 We’ve Got Style, for example, is a yellow kitchen sideboard decorated with ceramic crockery in different single colours—a mundane spinoff from the dot painting. At other times, he has unimaginatively evoked the tedium of modern life by placing office tables and swivel chairs in big glass cases. And then there are all the other skulls Hirst has been manufacturing over the last few years, cast in expensive metals and bearing laughably pompous titles like The Fate of Man.

Many of his recent works have been depictions of the saints (in the new show, there’s a cow pierced by arrows like Saint Sebastian). Some great 20th-century artists have tried their hand at biblical subjects, but they usually only turn to religion when they have run out of other ideas.
 

The Objectivist philosophy correctly understands art as spiritual nourishment for the human consciousness. Just as you would not feed your body foul or rotten food, you should not feed your mind and your consciousness with foul creations of charlatans masquarading as artists. You have the right to insist that art be as nourishing to your mind as the food you eat is to your body.

The works of art created by the greats like Da Vinci, Raphaelo, Giotto, Beethoven, Michaelangelo, all have one common theme running through them: they lead the human mind to glimpses of greatness, to the idealization of the human form–although that greatness was perceived to be an attribute of or come from Divine Beings, the invariable consequence of focusing on such greatness was to create a desire within humans to climb up as close as possible to that sense of the highest height. The notion that humans were frail and feeble and the Divine was the ideal of everything good and desirable was accepted as self-evident in a culture that believed in God, heaven, hell, souls, spirits, and ghosts.

So, how did we regress from that wonderful vision of lofty ideals being represented in art to the rubbish being splattered across our faces today, to the trash being piled up in front of our yards as “Ready-made Art”, and to the jibberish being recited in our schools?

If history can give us any indication, the nature and sophistication of art in a particular civlization offers some insight into the current philosophical trend and the future of that culture. The flourishing European and western civilizations in the early periods of the Enlightenment and Renaissance were accompanied with art indicating idealistic representations–in literature, sculpture, and painting–of the human form, of human life and endeavors, of human achievements; whereas the African and South Asian civilizations in particular have art that grotesquely disfigured the human form and idealizing, for example, the cow or the snake over the human form.

Moreover, we see evidence of robust, thinking minds primarily in cultures that have nourished their spirits with the visions of greatness in their own artistic human images. Perhaps, this must have served as a great boost to the human ego, allowing man to gain tremendous self-confidence.

Primitive man did not understand the universe, did not believe they were capable of grasping its mysteries, and they did not seek much to unravel them. They merely bowed their heads and worshipped the unknown–as is still practiced in many cultures today.

In my opinion, the religious deification of man’s image (like with the Greek gods in human form and the incarnation of God as man in Christianity) possibly served the psycho-spiritual function of elevating man’s pride in being human. In what can truly be considered as man’s greatest act of conceit, he artistically captured all the greatest notions of his god and manifested them in the body of one human being, which meant that the human body was artistically idealized and imagined as being able to withhold the essence of the fully Divine.

I believe that the divinization of the human form possibly contributed to the nourishment of the human consciousness, giving man elevated levels of aspirations to what was possible to him. This increased the level of man’s own assessment of worth, intelligence, and esteem, gradually leading and contributing to the incredible applications of human rational genius in other spheres of the physical sciences and technology. 

In contrast, evidence of aesthetically and philosophically malnourished minds are closely associated with scientically and rationally underdeveloped cultures. These cultures have plenty of hissing snakes, meandering cows, and gluttonous elephants to worship, but have very few rational minds who have an artistically concretized vision to look up to.

And therefore, I am afraid of what might happen to the American culture now if they permit the unrestrained assault of all that rubbish being dished out as art by people like Hirst. We may be deliberately permitting the poisoning of our spiritual nourishment and as such being submissive and docile witnesses to the fall of a great civilization.

Addendum:

As a related point, Ayn Rand takes the concepts of spirituality, morality, perfection, idealization, and divinization out of the domain of religion and properly applies it to man in her artistic works as an attribute proper to man “as he can be and ought to be.” In other words, while earlier Romantics and the Greeks captured their ideals of God in their representations of man, Rand went in the opposite direction by elevating the image of man to subsume the ideals of the Divine.

Posted in My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Philosophy of Art, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Flamenco Passion

Posted by Jerry on December 6, 2006

The flamenco dance is like an Ayn Rand novel in rhythmic action: hard-hitting, sharp, precise, thunderous, passionate, Flamenco Dancergripping, poised, and proud. Since the day I first witnessed a flamenco dance performance in concert, I have never forgotten the visceral experience of exaltation I had nor have I come to regard any other dance form as rivaling this one. The flamenco portrays man at his best, proudest, and most passionate stature. It depicts a committment to clarity and precision in movement. Its expressions are fierce and its colors, vivid.

The flamenco can be a fiery celebration of life, or love, or lust, or power, or some intense emotion. Its artistic selectivity is focused on the stark elements of human actions and emotions: the expressions are not vapid or one of ambivalence. The dancer’s expressions are focused, sharp, intense, often proudly disdainful, also exuberant, and radiant. The dancer moves with a loud, deliberate THUD, as if readying for battle. The subtleties of its movements are expertly weaved into the stark contrasts in its execution.

For me, after having watched a flamenco concert, I feel a new, revitalized, surge of energy–a nourishment of my soul, a renewed committment to the pursuit of my happiness in this life. I begin to walk upright with my neck slightly raised; my poise exudes more confidence; my stance implies purposeful action; my gaze reveals some worthy goal.

This is what Romantic art does. In The Romantic Manifesto, Ayn Rand aptly describes this important function of art:

Since a rational man’s ambition is unlimited, since his pursuit and achievement of values is a lifelong process… he needs a moment, an hour or some period of time in which he can experience the sense of his completed task, the sense of living in a universe where his values have been successfully achieved. It is like a moment of rest, a moment to gain fuel to move farther. Art gives him that fuel; the pleasure of contemplating the objectified reality of one’s own sense of life is the pleasure of feeling what it would be like to live in one’s ideal world. The fuel is not a theoretical principle but the fact of experiencing a moment of metaphysical joy–a moment of love for existence.

[The image of the dancer is copyrighted to Tim Kahane and was obtained by me from this Flickr link.]

Posted in Ayn Rand, General Work/Life, Personal, Philosophy of Art | 5 Comments »

Art of Writing Fiction

Posted by Jerry on November 9, 2006

I am in the midst of reading Ayn Rand’s The Art of Fiction. One of the countless amazing insights that Rand offers in this treasure-chest of a book is the approach to writing not as one thinks but as one sees. In other words, Rand says she does not present the reader with thoughts in her mind but concrete and sensory facts to be perceived or visualized directly. Of course, some may find this merely a rewording of the adage “show, don’t tell.” However, note how Rand elaborates on why should a good writer not tell but show. She bases it consistently and logically on her philosophical committment to reality, the nature of perception, and the experience of concretes, thereby applying the principles of her own philosophy to her artistic approach:

Rand explains:

I always reproduce human awareness as it is experienced in reality, assuming a certain kind of character. I make human epistemology my guide–in the selection of content and words. I present the material as a human mind would perceive it in reality. All perception is selective. We are not cameras; in any given situation, no one sees everything. We see that which interests us, that which our values require us to focus on. When I write, I substitute my selectivity for the reader’s; I present those highlights I want him to observe and leave him no room to focus on anything else. His awareness will then follow as if the material were actual reality. But he will be observing reality as I observe it–i.e., from my viewpoint, according to my value choice.

What this means in practice is, Rand’s razor sharp selectivity slices away mundane, meaningless, accidental, and extraneous materials that add nothing to the substance of what’s being said. She writes as one would experience a reality under a certain character. For example, Rand never wrote anything like “I’m madly in love,” or “Love is an important value” in her fictional works. Observe how Rand projects the intense emotion of Dagny’s love for John Galt:

“She kept seeing his figure in her mind–his figure as he had stood at the door of the structure–she felt nothing else, no wish, no hope, no estimate of her feeling, no name for it, no relation to herself–there was no entity such as herself, she was not a person, only a function, the function of seeing him.” To have said that she wanted to sleep with him, or that she realized she loved him, would have been weaker than saying that she is reduced to nothing but seeing his figure in her mind [Note Rand’s extreme selectivity of the particular sensory experience of reality–that of seeing someone]. Such conclusions as “I am in love with him” or “I want to marry him” are abstractions. They are thoughts, and would come later. The actual emotion would be experienced precisely as an extreme awareness of the other person, which is the essence of falling in love.

The conclusion conveys just that: “and the sight was its own meaning and purpose, with no further end to reach.” This is the extreme state of being in love, where the issue is not sex, or any purpose, but (to put it colloquially) only the awareness that the loved one exists–which then fills the whole world.

Another exemplary illustration of Rand’s literary style is one recently pointed out by John Enright in a verse from Ayn Rand’s Anthem:

“The fields are black and ploughed, and they lie like a great fan before us, with their furrows gathered in some hand beyond the sky, spreading forth from that hand, opening wide apart as they come toward us, like black pleats that sparkle with thin, green spangles.”

John correctly points out the emphasis on visual description–writing as if one were seeing or experiencing reality, not as if one were merely hearing a story being narrated. John says:

So she starts with a camera-eye view of receding parallel rows, finds a metaphor (“fan held by a giant hand”) for that appearance, and describes it as actively happening (“opening”). That’s pretty characteristic. Heck, then she turns the dirt into black pleats and the plants into green spangles, just to give a completely metaphorical vivid description.

Another aspect of Rand’s literary approach was noted by blogger Peter Saint-Andre, who said:

“Rand almost never compares an abstraction to a concrete or vice-versa, preferring to compare one concrete to another (the sky is like a huge furnace, smokestacks are fuming matchsticks, pine trees are tall red candles or like columns of dark brick, hotel towers are like the spokes of a fan, flat roofs are like pedals, roof gardens float down like handkerchiefs, stars are like foam).”

Essentially, Rand’s approach–as she most aptly labeled–is Romantic Realism, a perfect union of ideas and reality, as things ought to be and as they are in reality. Ever since I read Rand’s major fictional works–The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and We The Living–I have dimly felt this sense of disappointment in not yet finding another work of fiction (or non-fiction, even) that has so intensely gripped my consciousness or that has left any lasting impressions in me. In fact, We The Living remains my favorite novel thus far.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Love and Romance, Philosophy of Art | 1 Comment »

Romanticism

Posted by Jerry on October 12, 2006

People have the right to do wrong, Rand said. And thus, the necessity of philosophy as a moral guide to life on Earth seems undoubtedly evident.

However, sometimes philosophy needs to be stylized and presented in concrete and striking forms. The purpose of art–according to Rand’s romantic realism–is precisely to fulfill this need. However, not all art needs to be such–nor will it be such–because along with the right to do wrong, people also have the right to create what they want [I’m deliberately omitting qualifications to this for brevity].

John Enright recently wrote a brief post alluding to the reason why Objectivism advocates the romantic–as opposed to the naturalistic–approach to art.

In “Forms of Grace,” John says:

There was a quote I liked from tonight’s Battlestar Gallactica episode. This isn’t exact:

“Symbols are important. They’re like pieces of your heart you can see.”

Branden’s visibility theory of love, and Rand’s theory of art, both turn on the idea behind this metaphor – the idea of being able to *see* your inner values outside of you.

It’s important for Rand. It validates her Romantic streak within her Enlightenment intellectual context. Loved ones and compelling art works are categorized as things needed for survival, because seeing the pieces of your heart is both clarifying and motivating.

How often our minds
Feed on outward signs.

John’s post also reminded me of my reaction to the movie “V for Vendetta.” I loved watching the movie precisely because it functioned splendidly as a form of Art: it concretized in striking visual form the values I hold (such as freedom, autonomy, etc.) and what could happen when those values are denied to an individual, society, or a nation. The movie also concretized various other metaphysical viewpoints that I explicitly reject, such as the mind-body duality, platonic idealism, rationalism, etc., and permitted me to confirm through the visual medium of the movie the concrete reasons why I reject them.

Thus, good art could not only affirm the values you hold, but could also present to you ideas that you reject and provide you with concrete reasons for rejecting them.

Posted in Movies, Objectivism, Philosophy, Philosophy of Art, The Best of Leitmotif | 2 Comments »

Philosophy and Art

Posted by Jerry on October 2, 2006

The latest issue of the Philosophy Now magazine is dedicated to an examination of art–specifically, aesthetics and art theories. As expected, the introduction begins by surveying the wide disagreements among “experts” with regard to the definition of art (or whether it can even be defined).

“One of the most important questions asked by philosophical aesthetics–and one much discussed by contemporary thinkers–is that of the definition of ‘art’. The field is split between those who deny the possibility of there being necessary and sufficient conditions for something being a work of art, and the far greater group of those who have tried to lay down such conditions. The latter includes theories so diverse as Plato’s idea of art as representation (mimesis) and George Dickie’s institutional definition of art as “an artifact of a kind created to be presented to an artworld public.”

Adding to this discussion is Arthur Danto–who is apparently afforded the title of a philosopher and art critic. In a manner consistent with the post-modern trend of blurring everything–from art to language to moral and ethical issues and even man’s consciousness–to form the incoherent, incongruous, nebulous, grey, indistinct, and the indefinable, Danto states that “Art is collapsing into philosophy,” and that “Art has nothing left to do. It has run itself out, and has as its only project a philosophical one, the definition of art.”

 

To be sure, Danto is right. The “Art” of today indeed has nothing to do and nothing to offer. Judging by what passes as art today, Art has become nothing more than an object that mockingly asks us the question, “Am I art?”, to which the observer responds in a dazed and confused manner, “I don’t know. I guess you are because you asked me so.” Note what has just happened in this dialogue: in the process of reducing art to merely an object of indifferent perception, philosophy too is reduced to a meaningless and valueless contemplation.

 

In fact, Danto himself states this as the explicit definition of art, and by implication, of philosophy:

Danto believes that what “makes the difference between a Brillo box and a work of art consisting of a Brillo box is a certain theory of art. It is the theory that takes it up into the world of art, and keeps it from collapsing into the real object which it is.”

What are we, however, doing when we ask about the difference between a Brillo box in a supermarket and a Brillo box in an art gallery? Danto’s answer is that we are asking a philosophical question. Art now prompts us to do philosophy. Much of art today is about boundary testing of ‘art’: “Can this object be considered art?”, “What is art?” Danto argues that art is doing philosophy.

Thus, contemplating on heaps of trash and splotches of paint is the process of doing philosophy. This view is successful not only in corrupting art but also in degrading philosophy; and logically so, because art flows from philosophy–and the nature of one’s philosophy dictates the nature of one’s art. Of course, the nature of one’s philosophy need not be explicitly defined and understood; an artist’s sense of life (his subconscious appraisal of existence) is the source of his art, but his sense of life need not be (and more often, is not) consciously defined in objective terms. Ayn Rand said, “An artist reveals his naked soul in his work–and so, gentle reader, do you when you respond to it.”

 

In another article in the same issue of Philosophy Now, the question of the purpose of Art is raised: what is art for?

Karamians suggests that art… relates to our fear of death and an attempt to take control of the remorseless passage of time. Professor Tallis thinks that art fulfils a basic hunger in humans – the hunger for meaning. There has never been a human society which has been without art, so clearly the artistic urge does reveal something very central about the nature of human beings. It can touch the souls of people who enjoy it but also reveals the souls of the artists.

Now, contrast that with Ayn Rand’s aesthetic theory, a remarkable achievement, the product of a brilliant mind ruthlessly honest toward reality and the nature of man’s consciousness. Note Rand’s process of analyzing first what art is, and then, what art is for:

“Man retains his concepts by means of language.” Words are concepts that stand for “an unlimited number of concretes of a certain kind. For instance, the concept “man” includes all men who live at present, who have ever lived or will ever live–a number so great that one would not be able to perceive them all visually, let alone study them or discover anything about them. Language is a code of symbols that [convert] abstractions into psycho-epistemological equivalent of concretes, into a manageable number of specific units.”

 

“Consciously or subconsciously, explicitly or implicitly, man knows that he needs a comprehensive view of existence to integrate his values, to choose his goals, to plan his future, to maintain the unity and coherence of his life–and that his metaphysical value-judgments are involved in every moment of his life, in his every choice, decision, and action. Metaphysics includes every concrete that he has ever perceived. It involves such a vast sum of knowledge and such a long chain of concepts that no man can hold it all in the focus of his immediate conscious awareness. Yet, he needs that sum and that awareness to guide him–he needs the power to summon them into full conscious focus.

 

“That power is given to him by art. Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.

By selectivity, art becomes “a single new concrete that represents an embodied abstraction. The claim that ‘art is a universal language’ is not an empty metaphor. Just as language converts abstractions into the psycho-epistemological equivalent of concretes, into a manageable number of concretes–so art converts man’s metaphysical abstractions into specific entities open to man’s direct perception. Remember that abstractions as such do not exist. To acquire the full, persuasive, irresistible power of reality, man’s metaphysical abstractions have to confront him in the form of concretes–i.e., in the form of art.”

 

The validation for Rand’s aesthetic theory is numerous and obvious in reality: the contemporary trend to render language as meaningless or in relativistic terms that could stand for anything and everything is a derivation of a philosophy that denies objective reality, that denounces objective morals and principles, that is a slave to concrete-bound pragmatism, that panders to the subjectivist whims of multiculturalists, environmentalists, animal rights activists, and the politically correct censors, that says nothing can be defined, nothing is clear-cut, nothing is black and white, life is all grey. The outcome of this attack on language and the degradation of philosophy is a form of contemporary “art” that does not know what it is–in fact, it is vehemently opposed to definition. What passes as “art” today lacks a sense of identity, lacks any metaphysical content, leaves itself up to whatever is interpreted (or NOT interpreted) from it, offers a debased experience merely of sensation and perception, offers nothing more than a smirk of derision toward the audience, is vapid, valueless, and empty–which it declares as its only value.

 

If art is the food that nourishes man’s consciousness, then the contemporary west is engaged in deliberate food poisoning, and countries like India are starving not just in the physical sense. India has plenty of slithering snakes, meandering cows, and gluttonous elephant-headed creatures that are idealized as gods and represented in works of art. This is the metaphysic of mysticism and degradation of the human form that is concretized in the art that exists here. It serves as a revealing yardstick of the intellectual health of Indian minds, their view of themselves and of existence.

 

Art, besides religious art, has been woefully ignored in India–and its effects are evident in the malnourished minds of Indian who cannot think beyond a few concretes, who do not think in terms of principles, who cannot grasp wide abstractions and fundamental premises, and whose 300-page constitution is an embarrassing testament to this fact.

 

In addition, Rand said that the cognitive neglect of art is a consequence of a culture of altruism and selflessness. This is fully manifested in India. “Art is an end in itself; it serves no purpose other than contemplation–and the pleasure of that contemplation is… intense, deeply personal,” a selfish pleasure that is experienced as a primary. Thus, an altruistic culture that denounces as vice anything that is purely for a selfish purpose, for one’s own pleasure, would obviously be averse to granting any importance or cognitive or societal value to art–as India does. Their concrete-bound view can be summed up as being focused on “feeding the body but starving the mind.” However, even this is not entirely accurate because man is an indivisible entity of mind and body–a thinking, conceptual being. Thus, “starving the mind is also starving the body.” For a man to exist merely as a physical creature without the efficacious use of his mind is to exist as a mere animal, not as man qua man.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Objectivism, Philosophy, Philosophy of Art, The Best of Leitmotif | 3 Comments »

Blog Line-up

Posted by Jerry on September 5, 2006

It might seem like I’ve given up on blogging, since I haven’t posted in quite a few days. However, quite the opposite, I have been working on a few drafts simultaneaously. There are several topics that I will discuss in the coming days on my blog:

I’m working on a post tracing out the actual implications of considering patriotism as a virtue and distinguishing it from jingoigm, nationalism, ethnocentrism, etc. (Hint: I’m at the stage of simply choosing proper words to state that patriotism is a useless concept at best, a vice at worst.)

My other post is about the gods that are worshipped in India and depicted in Indian religious art: gods with elephant heads, snakes, cows, human monkeys, a blue-skinned fellow, black lady with ten hands, etc.
I wish to draw a parallel between the effects of worshipping such imaginary creatures and its influence on the self-image of man. Eventually, my plan is to flesh out the implications of religious art in India (as typifying deformity, ugliness, farthest fantasies from reality) and the Indian psyche that is spiritually malnourished by such degrading imagery in its religion and art. Contrast that with the Christian religious icons that idealized the human form to depict god: human form that is glorious, healthy, beautiful, idealizied, etc. The influence of Christianity’s religious imagery on the self-image of the western man as being efficacious, healthy, etc. And the influence of such art on the culture as a whole. If art is the spiritual nourishment of the mind, then the Indian psyche is both malnourished and starving.

Finally, I have been wanting to comment on the book “Ayn Rand at 100,” the launch of which, I attended recently. I intend to give a moderately detailed review of the book on the whole. Suffice it to say right now, I have very little good things in mind with regard to this book.

Posted in My Theories and Ideas, Personal, Philosophy of Art | 1 Comment »

Identifying with a Pig

Posted by Jerry on August 21, 2006

To me, this story exemplies the extreme insanity that modern “art” has arrived at.

As I read the story, I just imagined what a malevolent sense of life this naked woman must have to spend four hours hugging and slicing open a dead pig in the name of “art.” I thought specifically about the philosophical and moral decay and bankruptcy that is being represented by this dead pig and the naked woman.

The woman claims that her performance “is an attempt to ‘identify’ with the pig, which she cuts with a knife during the show.” Further she says, “When I cut pig I have an urge to delve both hands into the belly, to meld into her warm flesh, my blood and her blood.”

The performance is billed as a “slow crushing dance with a pig for one at a time.”

[via Noodlefood]

Posted in Philosophy of Art | Leave a Comment »

Blank Minds Love the Blank Slate

Posted by Jerry on June 16, 2006

Trey Givens posted on this very funny, but truly unfortunate, Reuters story on the current state of Art. He aptly titled it "More Signs of the End Times." Reuters titled it "Art gallery loses its head, displays plinth."

Both titles nicely touch upon the two sides of this story: the humorous aspect of it, as well as the unfortunate, sad state of affairs the story reveals.

One of Britain's most prestigious art galleries put a block of slate on display, topped by a small piece of wood, in the mistaken belief it was a work of art.

The Royal Academy included the chunk of stone and the small bone-shaped wooden stick in its summer exhibition in London.

But the slate was actually a plinth — a slab on which a pedestal is placed — and the stick was designed to prop up a sculpture. The sculpture itself — of a human head — was nowhere to be seen.

"I think the things got separated in the selection process and the selectors presented the plinth as a complete sculpture," the work's artist David Hensel told BBC radio.

The academy explained the error by saying the plinth and the head were sent to the exhibitors separately.

"Given their separate submission, the two parts were judged independently," it said in a statement. "The head was rejected. The base was thought to have merit and accepted.

"The head has been safely stored ready to be collected by the artist," it added. "It is accepted that works may not be displayed in the way that the artist might have intended."

This reminds of me the long, animated, rigorous conversations I've had with Innommable, trying to convey across to him the truth about the utter idiocy of these charlatans who pose as artists and art critics; heaping their junk upon us, our minds, our landscapes, and our institutions; demanding that we blank our minds and "see" through our souls, our emotions, our whatnot to try and understand the layers and layers of hidden meaning in their work. In fact, some of those cheats are so emboldened by the bankruptcy of our age that they obnoxiously command the herd's attention and praise in return for not even a pretense at meaningful art–they openly declare that they are peddling nothing, that their works mean nothing, that there's no "message" in the work, but that itself is the point of it!

Posted in Philosophy of Art | 1 Comment »

Again, Someone Yells Louder than Me

Posted by Jerry on March 3, 2006

Below is an excerpt of the article “On Campus: The Abolition of Art” I came across on the internet today, written by Nathanael Blake for Townhall.com. I presume he is a conservative political columnist.

The excerpt I quote below has a startling resemblance in my opinion to something formulated independently by another intelligent thinker* who was gracious enough to post his theory** on this blog. The topic of the article – given by its title – is about the rotting degradation of art by modernist movements:

“H. R. Rookmaaker, Chair of Art History at the Free University of Amsterdam, wrote a masterful book on the subject, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture. Modern art did not spring upon us from a void, but came from a philosophical progression spanning centuries.
During medieval times, art was primarily created to represent the transcendental. It was religious and devotional in nature, with each painting a visual sermon. Such art sought to represent universal truths about God and man; it was not always realistic in its physical representations, but it sought to present spiritual truth.

… [The] rise of Humanism also inspired a rise in what could be called the portrayal of the ideal. These scenes were not necessarily religious or Christian, but they still sought to portray universals, from heroism to love.”

Nathaneal Blake remembers Rand’s insight of the philosophical importance of Art in man’s life:

“Like many conservatives, I dislike Ayn Rand, but she deserves credit for her insight on this point. In The Fountainhead, the gloating villain explains that to destroy theater, you declare puerile prattle to be a masterpiece; to destroy architecture, you elevate an incompetent to prominence. And, I would add, to abolish art, you declare a manufactured urinal to be a masterpiece.
A vital part of our cultural heritage has been raped, and most of us are unaware and unconcerned.”

Rand understood that Art served to concretize one’s widest abstractions, one’s conscious and subconscious sense of life, one’s own metaphysical value judgments. She herself concretized those elements of her values, her benevolent and efficacious view of the universe and of man’s place in it, her proud and joyous sense of life, and her groundbraking philosophy of Objectivism in her amazing works of literary Art, which are now classics in every sense of the word.

In the Romantic Manifesto, Rand gives a very lucid and extensive exposition of the central role of Art in a man’s philosophy, and the reciprocal centrality that philosophy plays in the artistic expressions of man.

Posted in My Theories and Ideas, Philosophy of Art | Leave a Comment »

Is Poetry Only That Which Rhymes?

Posted by Jerry on January 25, 2006

John has an essay that attempts to answer the question, “Is Poetry That Which Rhymes“. It is an interesting read, and I was surprised to discover his more “serious” works of poetry besides the funny couplets he has on each and every one of his posts.

Clearly, as evidenced from his blog, he has a bias towards rhyming verse. Hence, his essay invariably leads him to propose (though, he does it rather timidly) that writings that do not have a rhyming scheme is ” for most part… either an inferior species of poetry, or not poetry at all.”

Ofcourse, if my creative-writing blog is any indication, my position is in stark opposition to John’s. In his insistance that “poetry” should have rhyme that “stirs the soul”, and that it is only or mostly accomplished by words that have a certain rhythmic “sound effect”, John has, I believe, obfuscated the purpose and nature of what poetry is and can be.

Interestingly, Rand had once declared that free verse was on a level “lower than free lunches” (Ayn Rand Answers: Q&A)

So, Rand would presumbly have agreed with John’s requirement that poetry be necessarily constituted of rhyme and rhythm.

However, I believe that John’s argument that poetry as art should have rhyme reduces the expansive breadth of poetry-writing into a juvenile caricature. I think John is isolating one characteristic of poetry and holding it as its most essential constituent. In committing that fallacy, I think John opens the door to any self-professed “poet” to peddle any work of writing of substantial length with a catchy rhyme as poetry that is art. However, to give John his proper credit, he does expressly state that not all rhyming constructions can be considered poetry. And similarly, I argue that not any random collection of metaphors and alliterations can be accepted as poetry either. Note that the fallacy in accepting indiscriminately any construction of rhyme or any collection of metaphors is the fallacy of isolating a constituent from the context and whole that gives it its proper meaning.

What differentiates poetry from regular fiction is not only that poetry has a rhyme — though it is certainly one possible differentiating property — but also that poetry seeks to express values in a medium and method not typical in common parlance. Poetry deals heavily with metaphors, abstractions, and emotive tools. Other forms of writing — whether fiction or non-fiction — cannot so exclusively and heavily depend on metaphors and abstractions because by their very definition, they are seeking to convey reality as it is (in the case of non-fiction) or as imagined to be (as in the fabrications of fiction).

Novels, as an example, cannot be drenched with metaphors and abstractions or esoteric references that steal the objective purpose, theme, plot, and motive out of the story, such that the reader is honestly lost and cannot decipher those elements of the story.

On the other hand, poetry as art combines and integrates convincingly elements like rhythm, sound effects, rhyme, metaphors, personifications, abstractions, etc., without giving any of these constituents undue emphasis or priority over the other. Poems have the liberty of being esoteric, while still maintaining their unique expression of values — those values have the freedom to be expressed in rhythmic metaphors, unsual placement of words, unique construction of lines, etc.

The specific set of constituents that a poet chooses to use will dictate the kind of poetry that will be created. Poems that can be considered art should be the ones in which it is unequivocally clear that the poet has skillfully, deliberately, and creatively used a group of, or a set of, poetic tools that convey the predominant ethos in the piece of writing.

Rhyme, in of itself, cannot legitimize a piece of writing as poetry, just as a collection of metaphors in and of itself cannot. Similarly, requiring that every poem have rhyme is as vacant as requiring that every poem have metaphors. Reifying any one constituent exclusively or heavily while compromising others accomplishes only a feeble grasp of the vast landscape of expressiveness that the medium of poetry provides.

Posted in Ayn Rand, General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Philosophy, Philosophy of Art, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Objectivist Discussions of Art

Posted by Jerry on January 19, 2006

On Noodlefood, in a post titled “Chimp Art“, Diana has some great links for those of you art buffs who would like to test yourself on true or fake modern art pieces.

The following post is a slightly modified version of my earlier discussions about art and its purpose in human life. I also recommend reading “What Art Is” by Torres & Marder Kamhi. Check out their website at www.aristos.org for much more interesting discussions of art from an Objectivist-oriented perspective.

The Objectivist philosophy correctly understands art as spiritual nourishment for the human consciousness. Just as you would not feed your body foul or rotten food, you should not feed your mind and your consciousness with foul creations of charlatans masquarading as artists. You have the right to insist that art be as nourishing to your mind as the food you eat is to your body.

The works of art created by the greats like Da Vinci, Raphaelo, Giotto, Beethoven, Michaelangelo, all have one common theme running through them: they lead the human mind to glimpses of greatness, to the idealization of the human form–although that greatness was perceived to be an attribute of or come from Divine Beings, the invariable consequence of focusing on such greatness was to create a desire within humans to climb up as close as possible to that sense of the highest height. The notion that humans were frail and feeble and the Divine was the ideal of everything good and desirable was accepted as self-evident in a culture that believed in God, heaven, hell, souls, spirits, and ghosts.

The judeo-christian religion made God look like man, God in man’s image and as man’s creation, and thus elevated man himself to the status of God. Perhaps, this must have served as a great boost to the human ego, allowing man to gain tremendous self-confidence in his ability to know more and become more similar in ideal and aspiration to the God he created.

In my opinion, this self-identification with God allowed humans to perceive the universe with the intelligence that was only regarded as the ability possibile to gods. Primitive man did not understand the universe, they did not believe they were capable of grasping its mysteries. They merely bowed their heads and worshipped the unknown–as is still practiced in many cultures today.

The deification of the human form possibly served the psychological and spiritual function of elevating man’s pride in being human. In what can be considered man’s great act of conceit, he captured all the highest ideals and notions of his God and manifested them in the body of one human being–Jesus, which meant that the human body was artistically idealized and imagined as being able to withhold the essence of the fully Divine.

Posted in My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy of Art, The Best of Leitmotif | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

 
%d bloggers like this: