Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Notes. Written and rewritten and...

Performance. From a few years ago:
My mother gives perhaps the worst performance of Bach on the piano that I have ever heard. She plays the notes, unable or unwilling to take the indulgence of adding any variation, any idiosyncratic gesture that might make the playing personal. She refuses to perform as if by performing she would become merely a specific thing in time, a part of the world, unaware, un-intellectual.
If you can’t understand specifics your generalizations will be meaningless. And if you can’t play Bach as if you wrote the music yourself you’ll never understand the music he wrote.
My mother didn't perform Bach she read him.

In school I wrote a paper attacking Borges' writings because they were less stories than essays, so there was no reason not to criticize the politics behind them. Borges' defense of machismo was not the same as Hemingway's description of it; he depicted the Gauchos but not his relation to them, hiding his own insecurity behind a mask, leaving himself open to charges of hypocrisy. Hemingway's descriptions of machismo were less concerned with his subjects as such than with his perceptions of them and of himself. His subjectivity, his framing device, was always in plain site. There was no claim, even a rhetorical claim, to objectivity. By this logic Hemingway was a writer first and honest and Borges was a "reporter" first [using the current US definition] and dishonest, closer to the Orientalist painters of the Paris Salon or the political ideologists left and right who were, as illustrators, their philosophical and aesthetic descendants.

Speech is a record not of the world but of our perceptions of it. Our discussion of the past hinges first on the history of frames and lenses and only then the history of objects. The history of art makes this explicit. We understand the works of the Renaissance by comparing them to the forms that bracket them in time: those of the Gothic and Baroque. I may talk to my friends in shorthand about our common likes and dislikes, but people who do not share our interests will not understand them without comparing our interests to their own and those of others. And of course we ourselves don't "understand" our tastes as much as live them. We lack perspective. But perspective is context. Who has a better understanding of the tastes and philosophy of automobile enthusiasts, the automobile enthusiasts themselves or a bicycle riding anthropologist doing his fieldwork in a garage?

The arts in their highest form are acts of self-description in a common language, encouraging contextualization. Esoteric forms in art (as in religious rhetoric) are secondary, and tend to predominate -or even sometimes to appear- only in times of crisis deployed as defensive tactics, in attempts to limit contextualization and reinterpretation. The same is true of course for every other communicative order.

The members of the avant garde in its first and most important representations were not self-consciously forward looking but merely honest in their self-representations. Manet v. Gerome. But still it's a mistake to see either apart from the context of the wider 19th c. culture. Cezanne is a marginal figure next to Giotto; not marginal to us maybe, but that's the point.

Form is primary in all linguistic communication.
All statements in narrative form, even statements of ideology, are provisional. All narrators are unreliable narrators.
Technocracy is the application of predetermined orders and values, oversimplification is a requirement. In this regard technocratic logic is like that of the military. Speakers are narrators not described as such, and therefore not subject to accusations of unreliability (though in fact accusations are the only form left by which to make that argument).

Democracy is the culture of language in use, the government not of ideas but argument, concerned not with preassigned names but with the act of naming. The legal system is a system used for naming/categorizing individual acts. Adversarialism is the logic of formally opposed narrators [not only acknowledged and indeed required to be unreliable] before an audience of judges drawn from the populace, an audience of amateurs.
A functioning democracy is the government of laws, and experts, and amateurs. I'm not against experts, I'm against experts who think of themselves as outside of society and as somehow immune to the problematics of communication and consciousness.
Technocracy is not democracy.

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