Aesthetic Knowledge

mountains-in-the-dusk

With modern egalitarianism, the  existence of the rich is regarded as an offense to the poor, the smart to the dumb, and the good looking to the plain. Pure resentment drives this phenomenon – resentment being a combination of admiration, envy and hatred. Wanting to be rich, handsome and smart, and failing to be, these things are then hated.

Many high schools are now apparently doing away with prize-giving ceremonies and the notion of a valedictorian to spare the feelings of other students.

Moral subjectivism, or relativism, reduces morality to feelings and personal opinion. This renders moral knowledge and disputes meaningless. Aesthetic subjectivism likewise insists that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and nothing more. I encountered raised voices and outrage in a class when I recently suggested otherwise. The reaction was stronger than anything I had experienced before and seemed out of proportion to the claim. Far more contentious-seeming moral issues had not inspired any such protests. My essay Aesthetic Knowledge published at the Sydney Traditionalist Forum is my argument for aesthetic objectivism.

Letter to My Son: What is Postmodernism?

My Son,

I’m not using your name because the Web is public and I want to minimize the chance that your privacy will be invaded. But this letter is written mainly for you. Other people may benefit from it, but that’s just a fortunate byproduct.

As a young man, your most important task is to come to understand the world.  A man cannot live well if he does not know what’s happening.

The contemporary world has been disrupted. But the disruptors (the liberals) are a wicked bunch, and their disruption, which is really destruction, threatens you and everything you love (or should love.) You are just one person and you cannot stop the destruction by yourself. But as a first step you can understand the disruption by understanding how the world really works, and how humans should behave.

That’s what I want most to get across: What reality really is, and how humans should behave. There’s a lot to say, but I can only write one letter at a time. This letter concerns postmodernism.

*

Postmodernism is one of the defining features of the modern world, so we must understand it. We don’t need to understand everything about it; we’ll leave that to the scholars. But we have to understand its essence, the thing that makes it what it is. Continue reading

Profane Hierarchies are Bound to Work Evil

A hierarchy that is not consecrated and thus ordered in all its parts to the vision of the Good vouchsafed by the common cult is as likely to work good as is a broken clock to display the correct time. A profane institution is finally, and thus fundamentally, and thus thoroughly misdirected away from the proper mundane end of all human acts: the achievement, maintenance, repair and restoration of that proper harmony among and within things under and toward heaven, in virtue of which alone is there any health, prosperity, propagation, contentment, wisdom.

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An Ogre Hates My Patch of Blue Sky

“Once religious imagination and yearning have departed from a culture, the lowest, grimmest, most tedious level of material existence becomes not just one of reality’s unpleasant aspects, but in some sense the limit that marks the ‘truth’ of things.” (David Bentley Hart, In the Aftermath (2009)

For years I have had a recurrent daydream.  It may have originated as a sleeping dream, but it is now a staple of my waking imagination.  This daydream steals over me whenever I feel myself slipping under the anesthetic of a committee meeting, or I am forced to wander through a wasteland of what Hart calls “epic drabness,” or I am closeted with a vampiric atheist who invites me to loosen my collar and close my eyes.  With this daydream, my imagination proposes that all of these experiences are, at bottom, one and the same experience.  I am of a romantic disposition, so I take the propositions of my imagination very seriously. Continue reading

S. T. Coleridge on Imagination & Politics

Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1834)

Part I: Coleridge’s Theory of the Imagination. Poetry is, of itself, often a theory of poetry.  Consider, under this thesis, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan or: A Vision in a Dream” (1816).  In the opening lines, Coleridge plays with the etymological definition of poetry as making.  The Khan decrees that the pleasure-dome should rise whereupon his servants presumably conjure it forth:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground

With walls and towers were girdled round;

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,

Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;

And here were forests ancient as the hills,

Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

The decree itself already functions as a kind of making or articulation; it is imperious, magical, even a bit demonic or demiurgic.  The calling-forth of the artificial paradise entails, moreover, the transformation of nature through her re-creation under an idea: Thus the girdling walls enclose the “twice five miles of fertile ground” in a gesture of delimitation.  That the ground is “fertile,” as Coleridge (1772 – 1834) writes, suggests that the labor of elevating structures on it has a generative relation to the fecund matter on which the labor operates; the two elements of the event have an a priori and complementary relation to one another.  The matter has no features in the description, but presents only a blank aspect, like a mass of clay unformed; even the “gardens bright and sinuous rills,” seemingly natural, result artificially from the determination of a shaping will.  The act itself and that which is acted upon thus match one another, forming dual aspects of a concluded whole in which pregnant formlessness has acquired a pleasing form, as in the endeavor of the Demiurge in Plato’s Timaeus.

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More on Subscendence

Monkeys-typing-Shakespeare

It is a well-known implication of Darwinian evolutionary theory that one thousand monkeys, furnished with as many word-processing devices, and ensconced both gratis and in perpetuum in a mid-priced traveler’s hotel such as the Marriott Suites, would, by their inveterate although quite random keyboard activity, eventually produce either –

1. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged; or –

2. The generic mission-statement of any graduate-level “studies” program at any state-supported consolation-university in North America.

I place my bet on Atlas Shrugged, but in my circle of intimate friends, to whose wisdom I defer, the majority of opinion favors the generic mission-statement.  A consolation-university, by the way, is any state-supported, doctorate-granting institution of higher education that is not, for example, Ann Arbor or Berkeley.  Let us say that Michigan State and UC Irvine are paradigms of the consolation-university.  (Not that I hold any brief for Ann Arbor or Berkeley.  My consolation-university was UCLA.)

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The Gothic Cathedral: Fossil of the Human Acme

EH Looney writes somewhere that, “Antiquity is the prologue; modernity is the epilogue.” If so, then what came between antiquity and modernity – the age between the ages, the Mediaeval Age – is the main matter of history, its greatest intensification of value and significance so far. What came before it was a prolegomenon; what came after, merely after. This is nowise to deprecate the achievements either of ancient or modern civilization, but only to put them in perspective.

Is it a credible notion?

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The Modern Pox Upon the Old City

Western cities more than a century old all feature a stark contrast between their remaining old-fashioned neighborhoods and their horrid modern depravations of the builder’s art. In few however is the contrast as stark as in New Haven, Connecticut. Consider the view from two different windows of a single hotel room in that town, and choose one for yourself.

First, the view south over the post war cityscape:

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Note that grey monolith just left of the Ikea store. Up close, it is far and away the ugliest, most brutal building I have ever seen, literally breathtaking in its visceral affront to the human body. One aches to get away from it; the feeling it provokes is subdued rage. This is perhaps why it stands now vacant. The adjacent Ikea store is positively charming by contrast.

Modern New Haven is dispiriting – it engenders despair. Few pedestrians are to be seen on its barren sidewalks, scuttling quickly on their way, heads down.

Here then is the view to the north, taking in the Yale campus:

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A Lamp That Shall Be Put Out

Whosoever curseth his father or his mother                                                 His lamp shall be put out in deep darkness

Proverbs 20: 20

This past December I was standing outside a Louisiana filling station, waiting for my children to do what children do at filling stations on a long drive.  To pass the time, I idly read the portion of the first page of the Times Picayune that was visible through the window of the newspaper dispenser.  This included a headline announcing the New Orleans City Council decision to remove four Confederate monuments from prominent places in that city, an act in line with the flurry of iconoclasm that had been roiling the South since the Charleston shootings earlier that year.  Continue reading

Architectural Ornament: Dead or Alive

Modernist architecture’s rejection of ornament is understandable. The Modernists had no idea what any of it meant. So it seemed stupid to them. So they excised it.

Ditto for all traditional forms. These were all meaningless to the Modernists. So they rejected them, root and branch. In this, they were aided by developments in the economics and technology of building. But the impoverishment of modern architecture was spiritual before it was material.

*Everything* is spiritual before it is material.

In traditional architecture, ornaments all signify. They all have meanings, and those meanings all terminate ultimately (albeit generally by way of a chain of connotations and denotations) upon the Ultimate and our proper relation to him.

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