File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1998/bhaskar.9803, message 5

Subject: BHA: Re: Responding to Tobin
Date: Wed, 4 Mar 1998 10:29:01 +0200

Dear Gary--

Wonderful response!  Our thinking is actually close in some key ways.
(Though you may still want to save that whack for a rainy day.)  Most of the
this reply will be further speculation and a little clarification.

As I had said, I think you are quite right to feel that the sort of class
analysis of art that classical marxists have traditionally produced leaves
much to be desired.  I certainly did not mean to suggest *you* had forgotten
about class--I know you better than that!  But there have been problems in
analyzing the relationship between art and class (or power generally).  What
I'd like to suggest is that there has been a split between analysis of an
artwork's *meanings*, which some marxists have approached with a reductive
class analysis, and analysis of aesthetic *experience*, which often has
escaped class analysis altogether and been occupied by conservativism.  It
seems to me that one way to bridge these two issues--and, as you say,
confront the Right on its own territory--is to think in terms of social
relationships to the body (I partly have Bourdieu in mind here).  But you're
right to introduce the distinction between Power 1 and Power 2.  This may in
fact be a key issue, as you suggest.

Regarding my discussion of the body, I entirely sympathize with your
allergic response.  Most PoMo approaches to the body have been dead awful,
and often blatantly idealist (Judith Butler is a particular offender).  For
them, the body is purely a discursive construct, a product of language-
as-Power.  I am only at the beginning of my thinking about how to address
embodiment in a critical realist fashion.  The body, as a material and
biological creature, clearly has dimensions which cannot be reduced to class
or to language--in particular, Power 1 features.  However, there are social
relationships between Powers 1 and 2: class, gender relations etc shape the
degree and manner in which bodily powers are developed, the sorts of things
they may obtain as satisfactions, and so forth.  This is an issue which a CR
aesthetics must take up; and frankly one reason for my interest in the body
is to counter PoMo occupation of that territory.  (And it's a natural issue
for me since I'm in theater studies.)

>But for me there is something more to asceticism in art than this and it
>this that I was trying to get at.

Yes, and your discussion reminds me that there is more than one route to

Many thanks for quoting Bottom's speech, and the connection to Corinthians,
which I should have thought about before because it seems to support a
thought which drifted through me earlier but I didn't address.  But this
will require a short detour.  Margaret Archer argues pretty convincingly
that one characteristic feature of logic--*any* form of logic, in every
possible culture--is that it sustains the law of non-contradiction.  In
other words, no *logical* discourse can simultaneously maintain that both P
and not-P are true.  Many statements that appear to violate that law ("Was
it a good movie?" "Well, it was and it wasn't") in fact refer to different
aspects of things and therefore are not contradictory.  But what Archer
doesn't discuss well enough is that there are major areas where true
contradictions are accepted.  One of these is, precisely, religion.  For
example, accepting the Catholic proposition that God is both singular and
threesome is an exercise not of logic, but *faith*.  The Jewish mystical
interest in disordered speech that you mention is of a similar order (pardon
the pun).

So what I'm wondering--at this point I can't be more assured than that--is
whether art involves a similar kind of acceptance or "reconciliation" of
contradictions, a sort of *transcendence*.  (Possibly what I have in mind is
what used to be called the "sublime," but I think it's broader than that.)
Many of the examples you raise seem to point in this direction: the Buddhist
statues placing grace in the midst of brutality, the shifts within "The
Dream Of Red Mansions" between renunciation and aesthetic plenitude (as you
put it), Caliban's sense of beauty, the whole ascetic aesthetic; and of
course my example of Bottom's dream, which nicely shows a connection between
aesthetic and religious transcendence.  I probably sound devoutly Hegelian
at this point, but actually Hegel on art ain't so bad, and anyway it's
something to think about.

Point taken about LeGuin.  Incidentally, I've been a fan of science fiction
almost since I could read; though I don't read much of it now, it's still my
main TV.

>I actually received a good education in the classics and it has left me
>with an absolute contempt for middle class fools like John Docker and John
>Fiske who celebrate every inanity that comes on television. I, on the other
>hand, support the democratisation of the reception of the High Culture and
>I am not about to apologise to anyone for that.

Nor should you!  Culture should indeed be democratized.  But of course (as
you'll probably agree) high culture shouldn't define the whole of
aesthetics, which historically it certainly has (or has tried to),
consequently shaping the educations both you and I received.  Even more
important than the democratization of culture is the creation of cultural

>Now what was I trying to do in my posts?  Well fundamentally I wanted to
>create a space for those of us who are interested in cultural studies
>(broadly defined). It seems to me that the lawyers, economists and the
>sociologists have held sway within CR for too long.  The talk of taking on
>Postmodernism has brought the matter to a head for me.  We have hardly
>begun the kind of work in cultural studies that will be needed to bring off
>that sort of challenge.

Hear hear!  You said it, brother.

Tobin Nellhaus *or*
"Faith requires us to be materialists without flinching": C.S. Peirce

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