Wednesday, February 12, 2014

the fish rots from the head

And some philosophers think aesthetic judgments are not subjective!
The 1964 reaction to The Beatles. Just to be clear, I enjoy the Beatles and I don't think any of these folks are wrong (or right).
Both Plato and Sophocles wrote dialogues; their words and those of Nietzsche and Goethe describe and make manifest the central issues of their times and places. If they're read now by different audiences that's a matter of contemporary taste, not the words on the page. We order the world according to our preferences.

An old argument, rewritten in a recent note to an editor:

To understand the complexities of Velazquez' portraits of Philip IV, you need to stand in front of one. I like to use Velazquez because he's my favorite painter and because its so obvious that his beliefs and his art are in conflict. He was an arch defender of the divine right of kings but he can't help but paint his king as a nebbish. And his painting technique was a tour de force of open artifice. His highlights are flecks of paint that show themselves as that; they move back and forth from ephemeral -as image- to material in a way that's totally unsuited to absolutism. If his paint handing were rougher or smoother -either way- it would not have the same effect, but his brushstrokes function as fully and amazingly illusionistic while reminding you that's what they are. It's psychologically destabilizing. I like to say about Velazquez that he's the first painter to paint not the glory of kings but the need to believe in the glory of kings. His royal portraits are tragic, and also important for the study of the history of Europe.

Rembrandt,  Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, 1653, Metropolitan  Museum, NY
Charles Simic wasn't born in this country.
It took years of indifference and stupidity to make us as ignorant as we are today. Anyone who has taught college over the last forty years, as I have, can tell you how much less students coming out of high school know every year. At first it was shocking, but it no longer surprises any college instructor that the nice and eager young people enrolled in your classes have no ability to grasp most of the material being taught. Teaching American literature, as I have been doing, has become harder and harder in recent years, since the students read little literature before coming to college and often lack the most basic historical information about the period in which the novel or the poem was written, including what important ideas and issues occupied thinking people at the time.
"I'm not sure why people are surprised and even upset that some teenagers don't know who the hell bin Laden is."

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