Repost-Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘Art Over Biology’

Full post here.

Darwin and the arts.  Kirsch has an interesting piece reviewing 3 books, including one by Denis Dutton.  What might neuroaesthetics have to say about art that hasn’t been said already?

‘This sensible reticence served both art and science well enough for more than a century after Darwin’s death. But with the rise of evolutionary psychology, it was only a matter of time before the attempt was made to explain art in Darwinian terms. After all, if ethics and politics can be explained by game theory and reciprocal altruism, there is no reason why aesthetics should be different: in each case, what appears to be a realm of human autonomy can be reduced to the covert expression of biological imperatives. The first popular effort in this direction was the late Denis Dutton’s much-discussed book The Art Instinct, which appeared in 2009.’

Worth a read.

More broadly, it’s interesting to note how art, aesthetics, morality, moral reasoning, ethics etc. are being attached to Darwin’s thinking.  For some, I suspect, it is to advance a secular humanist platform which is full of oughts and shoulds for all of us in other areas of life, including politics and culture.

Related On This Site:  Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’Denis Dutton R.I.P.-December 28th, 2010 …From Bloggingheads: Denis Dutton On His New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’A Few More Thoughts On Denis Dutton’s New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’

How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion, at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful…Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…Adam Kirsch At The Prospect: ‘America’s Superman’… From The Spiked Review Of Books: “Re-Opening The American Mind”.

Some say we’re just selfish, others disagree-Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’Adam Kirsch In The New Republic On Slavoj Zizek: The Deadly JesterSlavoj Zizek In The New Republic: Responding To Adam Kirsch

Adam Kirsch At The National Interest On Lionel Trilling

Trilling’s Tutelage:’

‘Then came the 1960s. Through this decade Trilling walked an exquisitely fine line. He dined at the White House with John and Jackie Kennedy. His very name was associated with the word liberal, and that was the problem in the sixties. Trilling was the kind of centrist Cold War liberal against whom the decade’s radicals defined themselves. It was Trilling’s peculiar destiny to protect and defend the novels and poetry of the Victorians, among others, in the Age of Aquarius. When the Columbia campus rose up in protest in the spring of 1968, Trilling symbolized the liberal old guard’

As posted:

‘Contemporary liberalism does not depreciate emotion in the abstract, and in the abstract it sets great store by variousness and possibility. Yet, as is true of any other human entity, the conscious and the unconscious life of liberalism are not always in accord. So far as liberalism is active and positive, so far, that is, as it moves toward organization, it tends to select the emotions and qualities that are most susceptible of organization. As it carries out its active and positive ends it unconsciously limits its view of the world to what it can deal with, and it unconsciously tends to develop theories and principles, particularly in relation to the nature of the human mind, that justify its limitation.’

Trilling, Lionel. The Liberal Imagination: Essays On Literature And Society. The Viking Press: New York, 1950. (preface xiii).

Trilling and Nabokov at last!:

Other odds and ends:

Oliver Traldi at Quillete reviews Mark Lilla- ‘The Once And Future Liberal: After Identity Politics

‘Lilla’s own explanation of his liberalism, given by the book’s structure, is that politics is liberal by definition.

and:

‘Lilla clearly thinks he is making a pragmatic case, but he does not engage with any empirical political science; no numbers of any kind—polls, turnout, what have you—appear in the book.’

Another view of the 60’s and Yale: Repost-A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

Martha Nussbaum had a rather profound take via this review of ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.

Nicholas C Burbules on her book:

“Between these two lines of attack, she believes, the university must articulate a conception of itself that defends the standards of reason, while remaining open to new points of view; that preserves the intellectual traditions and canons that define U.S. culture, while consciously broadening the curriculum to expose students to traditions which diverge from their own and which, in their difference, may confront students with an awareness of their own parochialism; that remain respectful and tolerant of many points of view without lapsing into relativism; and in short, that manages to prepare students simultaneously to be citizens of U.S. society, and cosmopolitans, “citizens of the world.’

 

Repost-From The New Republic: ‘Adam Kirsch On Elizabeth’s Alexander’s Bureaucratic Verse’

Full piece here.

Kirsch was not so impressed with the 2009 inauguration ceremony:

‘In our democratic age, however, poets have always had scruples about exalting leaders in verse. Since the French Revolution, there have been great public poems in English, but almost no great official poems. For modern lyric poets, whose first obligation is to the truth of their own experience, it has only been possible to write well on public themes when the public intersects, or interferes, with that experience–when history usurps privacy.’

A reader sends a link to a SF Gate review of poet Jorie Graham’s ‘Sea Change:

‘In “Sea Change,” Graham becomes Prospero, casting spells by spelling out her thoughts to merge with ours, and with the voices of the elements. The result is a mingling of perceptions rather than a broadcasting of opinions. Instead of analysis, the poems encourage emotional involvement with the drastic changes overwhelming us, overwhelm- ing the planet.’

and:

‘Strengths and weaknesses, flows and ebbs, yet every poem in “Sea Change” bears memorable lines, with almost haunting (if we truly have but 10 years to “fix” global warming) images of flora and fauna under siege. Jorie Graham has composed a swan song for Earth.’

Oh boy.

What are these poems being asked to do?

Related On This Site: When poetry went into the universities: Repost-From Poemshape: ‘Let Poetry Die’

Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily argues the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Conservative Briton Roger Scruton suggests keeping political and aesthetic judgments apart in the humanities:Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?From 2 Blowhards-We Need The Arts: A Sob Story

Repost-From David Thompson: ‘Postmodernism Unpeeled’

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism…From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

Adam Kirsch At The New Statesman: ‘Why Ezra Pound Was The Most Difficult Man Of The 20th Century’

Full piece here.

Book here.

Kirsch reviews Daniel Swift’s look at Pound’s work and life.

And that process was as complex, often as illegible, as thought itself. Free-associating on characters from the Odyssey to Confucius and from the Italian Renaissance to the American Revolution, Pound produced a self-portrait as “difficult” as any cubist masterpiece.’

As previously posted:

Another interesting piece here, as our author takes a look at one of the most important modern poems:

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Brief Bio-Pound really wanted to get out of America.  To London first, as the father of modernist poetry, and eventually Italy where he made pro-Axis rants on Italian radio during World War II.   When American troops finally got him, they put him in a box for 25 days.    He was never quite the same after that, though not exactly stable to begin with.  Stable in his art, perhaps.

Alba (Dawn Song)

As cool as the pale wet leaves
of lily-of-the-valley
She lay beside me in the dawn

Art & Entertainment-Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘Ira Glass Is a Philistine for Saying Shakespeare Sucks, But He’s in Good Company’

Full piece here.

There’s some bard-hating going on, or at least some skepticism:

 ‘To Shaw, whose plays are political and polemical, Shakespeare was not political or polemical enough; to Tolstoy, who strove for organic naturalness, Shakespeare was neither organic nor natural. When T.S. Eliot declared that Hamlet was an artistic failure, he was not trying to make people stop seeing or reading Hamlet; rather, he was trying to get us to change the way we think about what makes a play successful.

In America, there is a strong democratic, leveling impulse, aside from political philosophy (addition: by this I mean which transcends most political conversations I’ve had, and is deep in our project), which artistic genius often pushes against, and/or comes to embrace for money and effect (writers like Faulkner in Hollywood).

Imagine yourself with these lines in your head at the checkout line:

From T.S. Eliot’s Preludes

3.

You tossed a blanket from the bed
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.

——

And suddenly you’re back in daily life, staring at Bat Boy, from the defunct Weekly World News.

batboy.gif

Related On This Site: When poetry went into the universities: Repost-From Poemshape: ‘Let Poetry Die’

Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily argues the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Conservative Briton Roger Scruton suggests keeping political and aesthetic judgments apart in the humanities:Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion (was he most after freeing art from a few thousand years of Christianity, monarchy and aristocracy…something deeper?), at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful

From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?From 2 Blowhards-We Need The Arts: A Sob Story

Repost-From David Thompson: ‘Postmodernism Unpeeled’

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism…From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘A British TV Celebrity Called for a “Poetry Inquisition.” He’s Right.’

Full piece here.

A response to a British news anchor and poetry prize judge’s plea that poets become more ‘relevant.’

Kirsch, in response:

‘Maybe the watchword of the future, then, should not be more accessibility and more popularity—the average book of poetry is, in fact, paralyzingly accessible, wearing its heart and its language on its sleeve—but rather, back to the coterie. Let the best poets find each other, read each other, and promote each other, as the best poets have always done. Let them ignore both the demands of the public and the demands of the poetry world, and write as they feel compelled to write.’

As something of a skeptic, I often tire of so many pleas for high art in the public square, mass elevation of the soul, wisdom and shared suffering (even moral instruction) that often fall on the ears of those few who care somewhat, and those who don’t care at all, often to little effect.

The work gets done by those who do it, poet, critic, and reader alike. Sometimes death and obscurity is the reward.

All of those prizes and professorships, institutions and grants don’t necessarily make any better poets and poems.

A permanent creative caste and/or horde of culture vultures and busybodies guarding the poetry bin clearly has downsides, and in worse-case scenarios, subjection of the arts to ideology is a requirement.F-30 Moving Carousel -1Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.

David Hume

Photo here.

Related On This Site: When poetry went into the universities: Repost-From Poemshape: ‘Let Poetry Die’

Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily argues the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Conservative Briton Roger Scruton suggests keeping political and aesthetic judgments apart in the humanities:Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion (was he most after freeing art from a few thousand years of Christianity, monarchy and aristocracy…something deeper?), at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful

From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?From 2 Blowhards-We Need The Arts: A Sob Story

Repost-From David Thompson: ‘Postmodernism Unpeeled’

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism…From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

Repost-Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘Art Over Biology’

Full post here.

Darwin and the arts.  Kirsch has an interesting piece reviewing 3 books, including one by Denis Dutton.  What might neuroaesthetics have to say about art that hasn’t been said already?

‘This sensible reticence served both art and science well enough for more than a century after Darwin’s death. But with the rise of evolutionary psychology, it was only a matter of time before the attempt was made to explain art in Darwinian terms. After all, if ethics and politics can be explained by game theory and reciprocal altruism, there is no reason why aesthetics should be different: in each case, what appears to be a realm of human autonomy can be reduced to the covert expression of biological imperatives. The first popular effort in this direction was the late Denis Dutton’s much-discussed book The Art Instinct, which appeared in 2009.’

Worth a read.

More broadly, it’s interesting to note how art, aesthetics, morality, moral reasoning, ethics etc. are being attached to Darwin’s thinking.  For some, I suspect, it is to advance a secular humanist platform which is full of oughts and shoulds for all of us in other areas of life, including politics and culture.

Related On This Site:  Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’Denis Dutton R.I.P.-December 28th, 2010 …From Bloggingheads: Denis Dutton On His New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’A Few More Thoughts On Denis Dutton’s New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’

How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion, at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful…Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…Adam Kirsch At The Prospect: ‘America’s Superman’… From The Spiked Review Of Books: “Re-Opening The American Mind”.

Some say we’re just selfish, others disagree-Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’Adam Kirsch In The New Republic On Slavoj Zizek: The Deadly JesterSlavoj Zizek In The New Republic: Responding To Adam Kirsch

Update And Repost-Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’

Full review here.

Kirsch notes that Fukuyama, in his new book The Origins Of Political Order, has backed off from his Hegelian influence via Alexandre Kojeve:

Still, Fukuyama’s project is quite in the spirit of Hegel, who made clear that the writing of universal history does not require giving an account of everything that has ever happened to mankind. Rather, Hegel explained in the introduction to The Philosophy of History, “The History of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of Freedom; a progress whose development [is] according to the necessity of its nature.” It is this story of progressive enlightenment that the universal historian has to tell…

…In the past, Fukuyama felt that that story was best and most succinctly explained by Alexandre Kojève, the Franco-Russian philosopher whose seminars on Hegel, given in Paris in the 1930s, exerted a huge influence on subsequent political thinkers. (When Fukuyama talks about Hegel, he acknowledged in The End of History, he is really talking about “Hegel-as-interpreted-by-Kojève.”) It was Kojève who proposed that History (that is, the History of the march toward freedom, rather than the lowercase history of whatever happens to happen) ended with the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon—for convenience’s sake, say in 1806, the year of the Battle of Jena and the completion of Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit. 

This influence led to a strong historicist strain in Fukuyama’s work; a continental line of thought that can often lead to a rather liberal political philosophy. But Fukuyama was on the ground in Afghanistan in 1979, studied with Allan Bloom and Samuel Huntington and was often associated with neoconservatism.  So how did he get here, and where is he headed?:

For in a strange way, without explicitly acknowledging it, Fukuyama in his new book abandons the central premise of his earlier work, which was the Hegelian necessity of the progress of freedom. It is true that, as before, Fukuyama sees political history as the story of the evolution and spread of liberalism. The strategy of the book is to examine the development, across a range of societies, of what he considers the three pillars of “modern liberal democracy”: a strong state, the rule of law, and accountable government.

That progress of freedom heavily influenced the End Of History, and since the Iraq War, he’s backed away from neoconservatism:

Fukuyama has never accepted the Hobbesian view of the state of nature as a war of all against all, but the grounds of his rejection have changed. In The End of History, he countered Hobbes with Hegel: the Hobbesian notion that society is grounded in man’s fear of violent death, he argued, was less plausible than the Hegelian view that society arises from man’s need to earn recognition from his fellows by dominating them.

And he’s arrived at Darwin?:

In the new book, he again dismisses Hobbes, but this time on Darwinian grounds. Mankind has never consisted of atomized individuals, Fukuyama writes, but even in its most primitive state was organized into small, kin-based bands:

and:

“Political systems evolve in a manner roughly comparable to biological evolution,”

Kirsch doesn’t seem too impressed by this new turn, and disputes this influence with Nietzsche’s response to Darwin:  the will to power:

“In The Will to Power, Nietzsche observed that, for human beings, the subjective experience of triumph was more important than actual success in the struggle for survival: “Physiologists should think again before positing the ‘instinct of preservation’ as the cardinal drive in an organic creature. A living thing wants above all to discharge its force.” And the discharge of force can take forms inimical to the preservation of life.”

Which could mean we’re right back to a Hegelian philosophical influence as far as Kirsch is concerned (I’m thinking of the Straussian critique of historicism which holds that Nietzsche merely followed such logic into to its conclusions inherent in Hegel and in the subsequent crises of modernity…often visible in attempts to restlessly attach modern liberal democracies to something…away from religion…and as Strauss likely saw it,  away from Natural Right…Nietzsche too had a Darwinian period).  Correct me if I’m wrong.

Kirsch finishes with:

“As long as Fukuyama could believe in History as a dialectical process, moving inevitably in the direction of freedom and equal recognition, there was at least one compass point that he could rely on. In the Darwinian world of The Origins of Political Order, that directionality has vanished, and we are left with contingency and cynicism as the keys to understanding our own past. That this results in a more conventional book than we have come to expect from Fukuyama is a sign of how difficult the conventional wisdom is to escape.”

If you’ve read the book, please share your thoughts.  When idealism recedes, cynicism and bitterness can remain, but I still think Fukuyama is still asking central questions about Man’s state in nature and the origins of morality and political order.

He’s doing so from within a deeper European and continental tradition which is still very much with us.

(typos corrected)

Addition:  It’s hard not to be impressed with the sweep and scope of the work, offering new ways to think about our own political development in the Anglo-American sphere as well as the West, East Asia, and the Islamic world.  It’s interesting to read such a synthesis of Darwinian and sociological theory and analysis, history, politics and political philosophy.

Yet, I still have doubts about its epistemological structure, or the ground beneath the tower Fukuyama has built (such is philosophy, really).  Hegel can be tough to shake, and so can positing some sort of idealized endpoint to history with profound but ultimately mystifying logic.  Whence Darwin?:

Here’s Fukuyama summing up his book for an audience:

————————

Related On This SiteUpdate And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Nietzsche–Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?’

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason?:  From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s WorkFrom The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel HuntingtonFrom Foreign Affairs Via The A & L Daily: ‘Conflict Or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited’

Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are…upon a Kantian raft?:  Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy

Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful

Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘Art Over Biology’

Full post here.

Darwin and the arts.  Kirsch has an interesting piece reviewing 3 books, including one by Denis Dutton.  What might neuroaesthetics have to say about art that hasn’t been said already?

‘This sensible reticence served both art and science well enough for more than a century after Darwin’s death. But with the rise of evolutionary psychology, it was only a matter of time before the attempt was made to explain art in Darwinian terms. After all, if ethics and politics can be explained by game theory and reciprocal altruism, there is no reason why aesthetics should be different: in each case, what appears to be a realm of human autonomy can be reduced to the covert expression of biological imperatives. The first popular effort in this direction was the late Denis Dutton’s much-discussed book The Art Instinct, which appeared in 2009.’

Worth a read.

More broadly, it’s interesting to note how art, aesthetics, morality, moral reasoning, ethics etc. are being attached to Darwin’s thinking.  For some, I suspect, it is to advance a secular humanist platform which is full of oughts and shoulds for all of us in other areas of life, including politics and culture.

Related On This Site:  Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’Denis Dutton R.I.P.-December 28th, 2010 …From Bloggingheads: Denis Dutton On His New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’A Few More Thoughts On Denis Dutton’s New Book: ‘The Art Instinct’

How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion, at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful…Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…Adam Kirsch At The Prospect: ‘America’s Superman’… From The Spiked Review Of Books: “Re-Opening The American Mind”.

Some say we’re just selfish, others disagree-Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’Adam Kirsch In The New Republic On Slavoj Zizek: The Deadly JesterSlavoj Zizek In The New Republic: Responding To Adam Kirsch

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Adam Kirsch At The Prospect: ‘America’s Superman’

Full piece here.

Kirsch reviews a new book:

‘In her new book, American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas, Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen focuses on writers, academics and the clergy, showing that Nietzsche’s influence on American intellectuals has been durable and wide. Everyone from the feminist and birth-control advocate Margaret Sanger on the left to Francis Fukuyama on the right could, Ratner-Rosenhagen shows, could claim the label “Nietzschean.”

Worth a read.  Perhaps he’s having bit of a resurgence in the legal academy as well.

Related On This Site:  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful…Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…

Was the nihilism inherent in his thinking…? Some Quotations From Leo Strauss On Edmund Burke In ‘Natural Right And History’Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’

Has Fukuyama turned away from Hegel and toward Darwin? Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’….

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