One thing that I find nearly impossible to get across to some people is that I never theorize for the sake of theory.
My thinking is urgent. I am trying to find ways to articulate realities that lack language, but which have a deep impact on the quality of my life.
For the majority of people, if you can’t talk straightforwardly about something, it is “subjective”, which means it is non-existent, and outside the bounds of reason. Where words are lacking, no appeals can be made.
My suspicion and hope is that many people experience these realities, but do not experience them as true, because nobody realizes that anyone else experiences them. The same realities sit mute inside all of us, denied all social existence.
Or, sometimes they find a sort of social existence in the realm of literature. There people intimate sharedness of such experiences, but nothing is done to establish them socially, because to do so necessarily coarsens them. But the belief that what is discovered in art, belongs forever in art is to keep our infants imprisoned forever in the nursery out of fear that the weather will toughen their skin. The infant skin of indirect expression must, if it is to have life in the world must toughen up its hide with words that can refer to shared conceptions of roughly analogous realities. And yes — it loses its suppleness and its specificity, but that loss does not come without compensatory gains. As Ricoeur pointed out, polysemy is not a simple lack of precision, but is essential to language. It seems almost cynical to say it, but it might be that the popularity of an idea depends not only on the ability for people to understand it, but also to misunderstand it. It is this that gives it its range. (It is the failure to appreciate the necessity of this misunderstanding that has made so many religions granulate over theological differences.)
Art speaks very specifically about particular things — things that have escaped notice, but which have become significant to the artist — and in doing so inaugurates its reality as something (to some degree) shared. Without shared specific realities, no general realities — no truth — can be conceived, and nothing can be said of it that makes sense to anyone.
We speak to one another about sadness and anger and love all the time, and understand well enough what these words mean, and to refer to them is socially consequential. But whose sadness or anger or love is identical? To find finer identities or to be shown as-yet-unfamiliar nuances of these experiences we go to high art. (To not find them, and to stay strictly within the realm of our own familiar experiences we go to popular art. * See note below.)
So, yes, I know a philosophical handling of delicate things makes them tougher, cruder, more brutish. But this is what it means to mature into something that can survive in a tough, crude, brutish world, and it also represents a fresh infusion of relative suppleness, fineness and humanity to the world outside of art. Art’s loss is the practical world’s gain. And art is inexhaustible, unlike the practical world. Without the perpetually newness of art’s realities the practical world degrades into senility that is somehow simultanously sterile and lecherous.
We need fresh realities.
Philosophy’s job: To usher inarticulate realities ordinarily found only in art into the practical world.
Picking up the baby trope again, philosophy plays the father role, and art plays the mother role. Art brings young experiential realities into the world, nurtures and protects them while they are small, delicate and vulnerable. Philosophy prepares them for eventual independent life, but the mother doesn’t want to let them go.
(* NOTE: To not experience the as-yet-tacit — to get the easy, reassuring, reinforcing repetition of the same we consume popular art. The more we live in a popular world and experience things by way of popular expression, the more we all start to see and feel the same. The great value of Facebook is that we no longer just consume popular expression, but participate in it by producing it. This is much more effective way of learning as any constructivist educator will tell you. We live differently when we compose the story of what we are living as we live it. Facebook holds the promise of gently and painlessly eliminating the need for art by simultaneously quietening both the creative impetus and the receptivity for new experiences.)
One thought on “Fresh realities”
I really agree with the thrust of the message here, there are a few points I would quibble over, but i do know that i am a Quibbler and that particular quibblings might not change the end effect of certain chains of reasoning.
This is such a chain.
i would like…not a definition of High art (since any rightfully high Art would only instantly begin searching for ways to violate such a definition) but rather a few examples of the sort of High art which has not yet crossed the line into philosophy.
it would be interesting.