Sunday, May 18, 2003

People, specifically those with intellectual occupations, spend their time creating or forming logical systems based on their occupations. Mathematicians, economists, historians and lawyers are all specialists of one sort or another, interpreting the data they gather according to their chosen system. Mathematics and the hard sciences, however, have the advantage of an objective reality. Nonetheless, for all intents and purposes, in regards our experience of the world, the following is true:
Before there is logic, there is sensibility. Before there is mathematics, there is a taste for mathematics. Before economics, there is a taste for the values of economic logic. Art, however, has as it's subject matter, sensibility itself. What is it that I like, and why do I like it? What does it mean that I care about this thing? People preoccupied with art are sometimes in the position of someone existing in one of Zeno's paradoxes: he can't get half way to anyplace. Some like Proust, can't even get out of bed.

This sort of preoccupation can be subdivided into two categories, one of connoisseurship and one of historicism. "How do I like thee? Let me count the ways." would be a good description of connoisseurship. "How is this like different that any other like" describes historicism. You could also say that the connoisseur is making the journey half step by half step, spiraling down into infinitesimal detail, while the historian is looking at two people making their half steps in opposite directions and comparing the two. Once you begin using comparisons, you have decided to escape, or to ignore, the paradox. And art history is therefore a subject like any other, like mathematics, law or economics, with it's own academic logic. One is obviously more intellectual than the other, and two competing forms of snobbery are the result. I am not sure, even when I'm making my own work, if I'm a historicist- I'll quibble and say I'm not a historian- or a connoisseur, whether it's more important for me to follow my train of thought wherever it goes, or to compare it with others'. I know I'm constantly looking over my shoulder at something. But then again, I'm deeply paranoid, so perhaps they're the same thing.

I'm describing this now, though I think I've done it before, because I'm still amazed at the degree to which the educated in this country, I think far more than any other, live their sensibilities without acknowledging that those sensibilities actually affect their behavior. I thought my two posts below were fairly straightforward in the way they describe the coyness of economic language, and the contradictions in people's response to restrictions on their freedom. But I get the impression, judging by what small response I've had, that the logic just passed people by.

The aftermath of the war is going just as I and a lot of others predicted. Anybody who comes here by now knows my opinion; if not they can click on the archives. I'm still paying attention, but there's no use me adding my two cents on this every day. Go read Robert Fisk

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