File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1998/bhaskar.9807, message 21

Subject: BHA: Re: On aesthetics (Beech and Roberts)
Date: Tue, 21 Jul 1998 07:49:33 -0400

Hi Gary--

Interesting discussion.  Regrettably I haven't read Beech & Roberts (or any
of the NLR debate, actually), so I can't respond to that, but I'm interested
by the approach you sketch out, with which I'm largely in sympathy.

A couple of questions and comments.  You write:

>I believe this account can be simplified and clarified if we use the
>dialectical figure of master-slave.  Within this the master is variously
>those with power in or over the social and cultural world. The master has
>at various times been the connoisseur, the bourgeois or the modern critic,
>or the cultural commissar.  What is common here is not the actual content
>of their philistinism but rather that they exercise power.  They dominate
>and exploit  the artist. In addition because they are the primary
>beneficiaries of the existing social relations they can also impose norms
>which can restrict the creative impulse.


>The artist then is the slave to this master. Most importantly however there
>is another slave to whom the artist is master.  This slave in contemporary
>times is the industrial proletariat.  The artist then is trapped between
>the master and this other slave beneath him/her.   S/he can form an
>alliance with the slave and attempt to overthrow the ensemble of master
>slave relationships, or s/he can seek mutual forgiveness and reconciliation
>with the master.  The difficulties in forming alliances with the industrial
>proletariat are all too obvious.  It is much easier to orientate towards
>the master, in other words to accommodate.

I agree with your perception of the relationships, but I'd like to inject a
note of caution about using the "master/slave" notion here.  Actually it's a
problem I have with the notion itself--its extreme generality.  The *nature*
of (say) the bourgeois's "mastery" over the artist is not the same as the
artist's over the proletariat.  The bourgeois's economic power differs (both
in source and in effects) from the artist's cultural power.  Economic class
division is different from (though related to) the intellectual/manual
division.  I expect you agree; I'm just saying that the "master/slave"
notion bears the possibility of obscuring those differences and dissolving
them into what could become an idealist "masterkey to history," treating all
power relations as essentially identical, and also opening the door wide to
individualist notions of power (so that social positions, which have a
collective matrix, play no role).  I don't think you're going down that
road, but I think you can see why I'm a little nervous.

I'm also not clear what relationship you intend between that discussion and
something you pointed out earlier in the post:

>It is moreover this insistence on the origin of the philistine within
>culture that enables them to argue that the philistine is a cultural rather
>than a sociological category and so cannot simply be read in terms of any
>particular social grouping. Specifically B&R are anxious that we do not
>equate the proletariat with the philistine.

My confusion stems from the "sociological category" business: if you're
right that there are master/slave relations involved (however conceived),
how could there not be sociological categories, unless we're diving into
individualism?  Is this a problem in B&R, am I mixed up, or what?

I'm definitely with you in preferring Shor.  But in light of the whole
discussion of the merits of philistinism, I can't resist that famous quip:
"I'm so broke, I can't even pay attention!"

Cheers 'n' beers, T.

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

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