One of the problems with telling other people’s stories is that you bear the responsibility for the telling. Technology invites each of us to tell our story in many mediums. When is it stealing? When is it exploitation? When is it empathy? When is it giving the gift of meaning–the only gift writers have to give? Language, that puckish knave, can sometimes express meaning well outside of the writer’s good intentions. That is why to write is both brave and foolish. For me, the act of empathizing with another human, of becoming them in my imagination, of wresting meaning from brash reality, that is the payoff.
Still, times change. We must listen to others and take heed. Here: http://nyti.ms/1XRvsz8
“Ethics and Aesthetics are one” wrote Ludwig Wittgenstein. And though this famous line invites (probably) misreading, what a lovely line to misread!* Anyway, here’s a brief video from The School of Life to that effect. It’s about why Beauty is NOT in the Eyes of the Beholder.
*because I think Wittgenstein’s argument is about the nature of language, logic, and meaning-making and not a statement about beauty itself. Someone more knowledgable will have to teach you.
I’ve always believed that food–how we think about it, the role it plays in our lives–is the last strain of pure aesthetics left in this country. No one ever asks what food means. Why? because it doesn’t mean anything. It is too trivial. It is just there, on your plate. It is delicious, or it isn’t. You desire to know how it was made, or you don’t. You don’t eat expecting the experience to make you a better person. You’re not better than me if you like this meal over another. The only real question food demands that you answer is the one Walter Pater suggested we ask about all art: What effect does this have on me? and Why? And the answer for me is usually: heartburn, because I eat too fast.
Now, the flip side of this food talk comes when writers like Mallory Ortberg talk about food in books. For example, her article “Every Meal in Wuthering Heights, In Order of Sadness” is just the kind of lovingly meaningless literary chatter I like. Here:
Almost Not Crying Long Enough To Have A Bite Of Goose
“I waited behind her chair, and was pained to behold Catherine, with dry eyes and an indifferent air, commence cutting up the wing of a goose before her. ‘An unfeeling child,’ I thought to myself; ‘how lightly she dismisses her old playmate’s troubles. I could not have imagined her to be so selfish.’ She lifted a mouthful to her lips: then she set it down again: her cheeks flushed, and the tears gushed over them. She slipped her fork to the floor, and hastily dived under the cloth to conceal her emotion.”
This infographic from New York Magazine made the top page of Reddit today. Turns out, you really can judge a book by its cover. In the case of Pride and Prejudice, the Twilight style cover sold 68,000 copies since 2009. That beats my copy of the Norton Critical Edition which has only sold 1000 copies since 2000. (Really, what are professors assigning?). Well, at least it beats this terrible idea.
Men’s fashion presents an exciting mixture of both the political and the aesthetic; aesthetic because the way all fashion excites the senses; political in the sense that Mary Louise Pratt means it: the body is a contact zone, a social space in which culture meets and grapples with itself.
Looking at sites like MaleFashionAdvice or shows like Queer Eye makes me think that now more than ever men are liberated to openly embrace fashion—or more precisely—liberated to now speak of the conscientious fashioning of their appearance. It wasn’t so long ago that GQ was an industry magazine meant for the wholesaler and haute couture was the language of the privileged class. In some ways we have see the democratization of exclusiveness, if for no other reason than it is better for the bottom line.
Conventional wisdom says there’s no accounting for taste, though a great deal of money has certainly been invested in trying to do exactly that. Whether it be Amazon’s array of “Customers who viewed this also viewed” predictors or the more dramatic approach that Netflix took in offering a million dollar prize, such projects often end poorly. There is little correlation in people’s hedonism. Pleasure—genuine, soul-quenching pleasure—is ineffable.
Even to use the word “Aesthetic” in casual conversation is a sure way to alienate your audience. It is a foreign, archaic word, like “metaphysics” or “quotidian” or “stoic.” It’s not just that our vocabulary has narrowed. We have become a practical people. Functionality, objectivity, measurability are the words of the day. And really why not? Beauty (it is supposed) will not save the ozone layer, or make the computer faster, or improve your SAT scores. Art is not science. Science got us to the moon. And thus, the virtue in having aesthetic concerns or of being as “aesthete” is lost to us. That is, except in the domain of food. And there it is very much alive.
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