Saturday, December 13, 2008

Wound of Conciousness: II (James Wood)

Following the comments to The Wound of Consciousness, let me add a clarification. Realism isn't the problem. It's the refusal to bring into the discussion the criteria for discerning how some representations are more, or more powerfully "real" than others.

If you call representations of a heightened individuality and autonomous consciousness "reality," how does that differ from making a claim, outside the context of literature, that this idea of individuality and consciousness is true.? More true than others? And outside the context of literature, how can you deny that these assumptions are fundamental to a belief in liberal democracy as it is currently practiced? Or to its assumptions about the relationship of the individual to economic society?

I think we go wrong when we confuse aesthetics, which is the studied response to works of art, with the works themselves: as if to say, if there can be such a thing as art for art's sake, then it must follow that there can be an "aesthetics for aesthetics sake," that a true aesthetic response will be as uncontaminated as the object of its concern is assumed to be. You might well hold as a theoretical starting point, that art is beyond all its uses, that it is always more than a means--which is what we mean by art for art's sake, and still grant that our relationship to art, and still more, our understanding and formulations about art, are always contaminated, always contingent to and dependent on the context in which we find ourselves. That is a recognition concerning ourselves, our limitations, not those of the work we are engaged with. Aesthetics does not discover and describe the elemental properties and laws of art in the manner of a physicist discovering and describing elemental properties of matter. We are the subject of aesthetics, ourselves in the act of engaging with art.

Edmond Caldwell draws on John Felstiner’s, Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew, to illustrate how a critic's claim to aesthetic purity, be it ever so innocent, by ignoring his own complicity in what it would deny, serves not his literary subject, but his own and his reader's wish to replace a full and passionately engaged encounter with a more comfortable illusion.

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