Friday, February 1, 2008

Permanently Handsome. Disjunct Series on Value and Aesthetics

Frank O'Hara on Rechy's City of Night:

"that atrocious fanfare which Rimbaud celebrated... a most compelling prose realization of derangement thorugh social confrontation since Day of the Locust."

" outrage against beauty is the only blasphemy...(Rechy, CN p.65)"

The previous statement "Ethics does not treat the world, it must be a conditions of the world, like logic." "Ethics and aesthetics are one. (Wittgenstein, Tractatus 6.421)"

Deleuze's concept of Desire-Machines


Raymond Williams, the Welsh cultural theorist and late Professor
of Drama at Cambridge University, famously described ‘culture’
as ‘one of the two or three most complicated words in the English
language’ (Williams, 1976, p. 76). That complexity is nowhere
more apparent than in his own attempts to define its usage. In
his first major work, Culture and Society 1780–1950, he drew attention
to four important kinds of meaning that attach to the word:
an individual habit of mind; the state of intellectual development
of a whole society; the arts; and the whole way of life of a group
or people (Williams, 1963, p. 16). In the later Keywords, only the
latter three usages remained in play (Williams, 1976, p. 80). Later
still, his sociology textbook, Culture, reintroduced the first
usage, grouping it together with the second and third as ‘general’,
and contrasting these with the fourth, more specifically ‘anthropological’
meaning (Williams, 1981, p. 11). Williams distinguished
between the word’s physical and human applications; its
positive and negative connotations; its use as a noun of process
and as a noun of configuration; its politically radical and politically
reactionary applications; and so on. He was clear, however,
that these confusions and complications belonged to our ‘culture’
itself, rather than to any fault either in his analysis or in the term:
‘These variations . . . necessarily involve alternative views of the
activities, relationships and processes which this complex word
indicates. The complexity, that is to say, is not finally in the word
but in the problems which its variations of use significantly
indicate’ (Williams, 1976, p. 81). The range and the overlap of
meanings, the distinctions simultaneously elided and insisted
upon, are all in themselves ‘significant’ (p. 80).

More recently, Geoffrey Hartman, Professor of English and
Comparative Literature at Yale University, has observed that
culture is ‘an inflammatory word’, which in some circumstances
can even kindle ‘actual wars’ (Hartman, 1997, p. 14). Culture is
a good thing, then, but also a dangerous thing. Hartman notes
the same complexity that Williams observed, and the way the
word’s use proliferates—‘camera culture, gun culture, service
culture, museum culture, deaf culture, football culture’—so that
it becomes a kind of ‘linguistic weed’ (p. 30).

Both Williams and Hartman attempted to trace the intellectual
history of the concept. In its earliest meanings, in English and
in French, it had referred to the tending of natural growth, either
in animals or in plants. Williams dated the word’s extension to
include human development from the early sixteenth century in
English usage; and its earliest use as an independent noun, to
refer to an abstract process, from the mid-seventeenth century
(Williams, 1976, pp. 77–8). His version of this history remained
overwhelmingly English in focus, leading to Eliot, F.R. Leavis,
Orwell and, by implication, himself. Hartman’s version (which
includes Williams) is more cosmopolitan and leads to Spengler,
Benda, Nazism and Heiner Müller. For Williams, the idea of
culture held out the promise of emancipation; for Hartman, ‘the
fateful question’ as to whether a truly ‘generous’ idea of culture
is possible remains only ‘precariously’ open (Williams, 1963,
pp. 322–3; Hartman, 1997, pp. 192–3).

For Hartman, the most crucial of the various distinctions in
the term’s meaning is that between ‘culture’ as a general ideal,
‘a “republic of letters” in which ideas can be freely exchanged’,
and ‘a culture’ as ‘a specific form of embodiment or solidarity’;
he believes there is a crucial need to protect the former against
the latter (Hartman, 1997, pp. 36, 41). For Williams, the most
crucial distinction was that between the term’s use in the humanities
and in the social sciences. The concept of ‘culture’, he

became a noun of ‘inner’ process, specialized to its presumed
agencies in ‘intellectual life’ and ‘the arts’. It became also a
noun of general process, specialized to its presumed
configurations in ‘whole ways of life’. It played a crucial role
in definitions of ‘the arts’ and ‘the humanities’, from the first
sense. It played an equally crucial role in definitions of the
‘human sciences’ and the ‘social sciences’, in the second sense
(Williams, 1977, p. 17).

Culture, then, may be counterposed to society, as ‘art’; but the two
words may also be defined nearly coextensively, as everything
that is left over after politics and economics. There is a clear
parallel between Hartman and Williams here, since ‘culture’ is
to ‘a culture’ as ‘arts’ is to ‘a whole way of life’. But where for
Hartman the key distinction runs between a generality and a
particular, a general public sphere and a singular subculture, for
Williams it ran between two generalities, the arts and the whole
way of life. Note the wider significance of this: while for Williams
society still remained a generality, or a commonality, for Hartman
it has already become a multicultural plurality of particulars. We
shall return to the competing claims of what Williams termed the
‘common culture’ and politico-social multiculturalism in the
chapters that follow. For the moment, however, suffice it to note
that this is an issue of quite fundamental significance, not simply
for academic cultural studies, but also for the future of our society
and our culture.

No comments: