Tuesday, August 14, 2012


ART v. POLEMICS

Letter to a Musical Colleague 
of Longstanding
Who Happens Also to be 
an Ardent Feminazi

Ludwig Van Beethoven in 1818

As a professor of Art History, I'm sure you are aware that virtually all the Art, Architecture and Music we consider "great" today –– and the splendid historic buildings that house and display it –– came into being because of the "whims" of high church officials, royalty, aristocrats, and later some filthy-rich captains of industry.

Like it or not fulfilling the "whims" of rich and powerful men is the only reason the glories of Western Civilization exist –– from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome through Mediaeval and Renaissance Europe to the present day.

It's perfectly possible for students to get an excellent idea of what great painting, architecture and even sculpture is all about from the myriad volumes of beautiful color photographs of great masterworks and from illuminating films and videos such as those made by that wonderful Sister Wendy, when she still made appearances on public television.

Reading political implications into Art that may or may not be there may do great disservice to Art appreciation. Denigrating the great patrons of the past who made all this work possible, because of the "patriarchal" role they played, cannot help but cloud and shadow a student's view of what he's exposed to.

The Brutal Rape Fantasy characteristic of traditional male domination that Catherine MacKinnon, a fanatical –– possibly crazed –– feminist, is eager to impose on our "understanding" of "the true meaning" of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is a good case in point. 

Beethoven, totally deaf, conducting
the premiere of his Ninth Symphony

I'm sure from many things you've said in the past indicating you have an honest appreciation of Beethoven that you realize this is arrant nonsense, and quite evil in it's attempt to use the work of a DEWM (Dead European White Male) to further a latter-day political agenda of questionable value?

The untidy genius composing
in his Vienna apartment

The best in Art exists simply for its own sake in my well informed and never humble opinion. All of it is innately glorious and wonderful to behold aside from any implications we may want to read into it. Just as all of it has universal significance.

Polemical or propagandistic art and literature tend to be narrow in scope, spiritually and emotionally sterile, and quickly dated.


~ FreeThinke

February 27, 2011 9:35 AM

58 comments:

  1. Okay, I'm confused.

    What did Catherine MacKinnon say about Beethoven's 9th?

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  2. The best in Art exists simply for its own sake in my well informed and never humble opinion. All of it is innately glorious and wonderful to behold aside from any implications we may want to read into it.

    Very well stated. Why must the little over-educated brats throw rocks? It must take their minds off of their smallness to think they are attacking the greats.

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  3. From the article:

    'The Brutal Rape Fantasy characteristic of traditional male domination that Catherine MacKinnon, a fanatical –– possibly crazed –– feminist, is eager to impose on our "understanding" of "the true meaning" of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is a good case in point.'

    Apparently, that is all this agenda-driven, lunatic bitch gets out of listening to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony -- or wants the reading public to believe that is what she sees in Beethoven.

    Having spent my entire conscious life deeply involved with Beethoven [I've learned and performed more than eighty-percent of his entire output for piano over a sixty-year period] I know I am qualified to say the woman is a poorly motivated nitwit with a warped view of the world who probably sees "penis" whenever she looks at a lamp post or a flagpole.

    Undoubtedly this creature harbors the view that the Washington Monument is nothing but a stand in for a phallus reminding us of male dominance and reinforcing the depraved, outmoded, patriarchal notion that "it's a man's world."

    That such flamboyant psychotics as MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin and their ilk have managed to jockey themselves into positions of power and influence has had a tragic, debilitating effect on Civiization.

    ~ FT

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  4. What we call "art" today constitutes of the superfluous "tip of the iceberg" of mankind's artistic oeuvre. There is more "art" in a typical modern cellphone than in any portrait of a picnic in the grass by Renoir or Statue of David by Michelangelo.

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  5. Aeschylus, "Prometheus Bound"

    Still, listen to the miseries that beset mankind—how they were witless before and I made them have sense and endowed them with reason. I will not speak to upbraid mankind but to set forth the friendly purpose that inspired my blessing.

    First of all, though they had eyes to see, they saw to no avail; they had ears, but they did not understand ; but, just as shapes in dreams, throughout their length of days, without purpose they wrought all things in confusion. They had neither knowledge of houses built of bricks and turned to face the sun nor yet of work in wood; but dwelt beneath the ground like swarming ants, in sunless caves. They had no sign either of winter or of flowery spring or of fruitful summer, on which they could depend but managed everything without judgment, until I taught them to discern the risings of the stars and their settings, which are difficult to distinguish.

    Yes, and numbers, too, chiefest of sciences, I invented for them, and the combining of letters, creative mother of the Muses' arts, with which to hold all things in memory. I, too, first brought brute beasts beneath the yoke to be subject to the collar and the pack-saddle, so that they might bear in men's stead their heaviest burdens; and to the chariot I harnessed horses and made them obedient to the rein, to be an image of wealth and luxury. It was I and no one else who invented the mariner's flaxen-winged car that roams the sea. Wretched that I am—such are the arts I devised for mankind, yet have myself no cunning means to rid me of my present suffering.

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  6. Robbing Zeus (Necessity).... concealing (H/h)is flame in a fennel stalk... but not always successfully (Icarus).

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  7. FT,
    So, this woman thinks that "Ode to Joy" refers to the penis? Or maybe you have extrapolated that she would say so?

    Either way, that kind of thinking on her part is just too damn bizarre.

    I did find THIS INFORMATION about feminism. Sheesh. I must be living a sheltered life or something because all of this crap is news to me!

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  8. Is Anita Hill a friend of MacKinnon's?

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  9. From that link that I left:

    Backlash

    Because feminism demands that society re-evaluate how it views women and what roles women must and can take on, and because the core of feminism is the ultimate self-empowerment and self-realization of women (in no small cost to traditional male power and supremacy), many conservatives view feminism as an attempt to set up a castrating matriarchy, where Dianic Wicca reigns supreme and all women are lesbians.


    Charming, huh? Ugh.

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  10. "I've learned and performed more than eighty-percent of his entire output for piano over a sixty-year period"

    What a privilege! Do you have any favourites?

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  11. What I've always found to be amazing about Beethoven was the power and depth of his music after he went deaf.

    To think that the man lost his hearing and remained committed to giving the world beautiful art has been an inspiration to me.

    He gave the world something that he would never be able to physically hear (although to be sure he heard his own version of it in his mind). I think that is the definition of art for art's sake: creating art with altruistic intent.

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  12. Thersites said:

    "There is more "art" in a typical modern cellphone than in any portrait of a picnic in the grass by Renoir or Statue of David by Michelangelo."

    I am tempted to say, "WOW! what a bizarre concept!"

    However, you doubtless have your reasons for making such a pointedly provocative, challenging assertion, Thersites. I wonder what they might be?

    What then, is your particular definition of "Art?"

    Must it be functional as well as beautiful to qualify as "significant" in your opinion?

    Do you see the world-changing Brain Children of McCormack, Fulton, Marconi, Alexander Graham Bell, Edison, and Wilbur and Orville Wright, et al. as examples of "Art" or merely products of "Science and Technology?

    Perhaps at root "All Fields are One?"

    It does appear that the recorded wisdom and literary achievements still extant from best minds of the ancient world -- particularly the Greeks -- demonstrates as high or higher level of understanding of "the human condition" as anything produced subsequently.

    I wouldn't want to have missed Gothic Cathedrals, Renaissance Art, Palladian Architecture, Sacred Music and all it's splendid outgrowths (including Beethoven!) from 800 AD to the early 1900's, Shakespeare, Grinling Gibbons, the Enlightenment, Restoration comedy, English herbaceous borders, the development and fulfillment of the art of writing novels and short stories, and the best of cinema and musical comedy, Impressionism in both painting and music before The Era of Distortion and Degeneration dovetailed into the magnificent post-Romantic work of Richard Strauss and Gustave Mahler.

    To my way of thinking -- with numerous notable exceptions, of course -- we've been on the skids since the Civil War.

    ~ FreeThinke

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  13. Catch you later, Freethinker.

    I'm listening to Ornette live at the Golden Circle.

    I'll research the name of his patron.

    When you learn about art outside Baroque Europe let me know.

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  14. ... then I'll listen to some Bill Evans, big devotee of Satie.

    I'll research Satie's patron.

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  15. Of course as a photographer I hold the photography of the Farm Security Administration (you know, Dorothea Lange et. al.) in high regard.

    Who was their patron? Oh, the government and you were probably out there with the pitchforks and torches trying to stop the commie program.

    Big world outside Baroque Europe, FT.


    NO POLITICAL PURPOSE

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  16. Jez said (about my lifelong study of Beethoven's piano works):

    "What a privilege! Do you have any favourites?"

    It certainly has been a privilege, Jez, and one for which I am eternally grateful, although I've made many sacrifices to be able to find the time and energy to pursue such a project.

    Despite never having attained the goal of becoming an internationally renowned concert artist, I wouldn't want to have lived my life any other way.

    For the record I've also learned virtually the complete works of Chopin and big chunks of the rest of the standard classical keyboard literature including J.S. Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Liszt, Debussy, Ravel, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. So, it would be an understatement to say I've had a rich, full life.

    Do I have any favorites among Beethoven's piano works? Of course I do, but I love them all, and find them endlessly fascinating.

    Of the 32 piano sonatas I favor Opus 2,#2 in A-Major, Opus 7 in Eb-Major,Opus 10, #3, Opus 27 #2 in C#-Minor, better known as "The Moonlight Sonata," in D-Major Opus 28, in D-Major, Opus 31, #'s 1, Opus 53 in C-Major known as "The Waldstein Sonata," Opus 81a known as "Les Adieux," Opus 101 in A-Major, and Opus 111, in C-Minor-Major.

    Of the five concerti I favor most the 4th in G-Major, Opus 58, and the first in C-Major, Opus 15.

    Also the Eroica Variations, the C-Minor Variations, and the Variations in G-Major on Nel cor piu non mi sento.

    RIght now, I spend the hours between 5:00 and 8:30 AM practicing finger-stretching exercises and several of the Chopin Etudes in rotation -- Opus 10 #'s 5, 11 and 12, and Opus 24, #'s 6 and 7 to be exact -- to maintain the "edge" on my aging technique. In the past two months I have reviewed, re-memorized Opus 81a "Les Adieux", and brought back back up to speed after a 30-year absence. I first learned it exactly 50 years ago. It's one of Beethoven's most challenging works, and being able to play it well again, despite the challenges presented by age and arthritis, has given me great joy.

    My deepest regret about piano studies?

    That I will never play Opus 106, known as "The Hammerklavier Sonata" -- an immense, soul-searing work not favored by audiences, which I never had the courage to approach when I was in my prime. I regret too having missed learning Opus 31, #1, Opus 54, and Opus 109. However, for a non-genius learning 28 of the 32 sonatas is not too bad. ;-)

    Probably more of an answer than you really wanted, Jez, but thanks for showing interest and understanding of a topic that seems to leave most people cold.

    ~ FreeThinke

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  17. Jack,

    Thank you for stopping by again. I remember you have an interest in serious music and a good deal of understanding of what it might be about.

    Yesterday, we seem to have been at odds. Today, we are in near-perfect accord.

    "C'est la vie!" -- to coin a phrase. ;-)

    I really appreciated what you said about Beethoven. It was spot on. Let me add that nearly all the composers we call "great" with very few exceptions had the uncanny ability to hear the music solely in their minds with perfect accuracy. Mozart is known to have composed whole symphonies in his head while riding in a stage coach, then copying down his mental vision on parchment by candlelight whatever he was staying that night.

    I like to emphasize the importance of "inspiration," "imagination," "vision," "intuition," "conceptualization" -- whatever you want to call it -- over mere "knowledge" -- i.e. the rote memorization of data and music too that others produced and left for our use and enjoyment.

    In latter years, largely because my fingers can no longer bear the stress of constant forceful application to the keyboard without cramping -- and even suffering temporary paralysis [few realize that playing "serious piano" requires tremendous physical strength and dexterity!] -- I have learned to think, feel and hear my way through each piece of music I'm working on -- away from the keyboard.

    I have trained myself to develop an accurate mental image of each note, each phrase each paragraph and each complete movement. It's a great exercise in concentration, and very liberating. It means you may practice your instrument to good effect while waiting for food in a restaurant, waiting to be called in a doctor's office, sitting in planes, trains, buses -- whatever.

    And when you return to the keyboard, this sharpened mental image gives great help in producing a more solid, accurate, controlled, expressively nuanced -- even relaxed -- performance.

    I only wish I had learned the value this much earlier in life! The proverb is all too true:

    Ve gedt doo zoon oldt, und doo layed schmardt." ;-)

    But Jez is absolutely correct when he says having been given the opportunity to do something like this is a "privilege."

    I couldn't agree more.

    ~ FreeThinke

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  18. Fascinating article and thread, FT. Well done.

    What type of arthritis do you suffer from in your hands and how do you treat it? You are not old enough to simply accept arthritis symptoms, right?

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  19. I see the sciences as mostly deductive, and the arts, inductive.

    Emerson, "Conduct of Life" (On Beauty)

    Chemistry takes to pieces, but it does not construct. Alchemy which sought to transmute one element into another, to prolong life, to arm with power, — that was in the right direction. All our science lacks a human side. The tenant is more than the house. Bugs and stamens and spores, on which we lavish so many years, are not finalities, and man, when his powers unfold in order, will take Nature along with him, and emit light into all her recesses. The human heart concerns us more than the poring into microscopes, and is larger than can be measured by the pompous figures of the astronomer.

    IMO, the power to communicate is mostly an art, not a science. And therefor, the sciences subordinate themselves to and serve the arts.

    The artistic moment in the life of a cell phone came when the first man dreamed of wirelessly communicating with another person over a great distance. From that moment on, what was known of the "sciences" were put to work in support of that goal.

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  20. It's okay for us to be at odds, FT. With every blog post I write I know there will always be people who will vehemently disagree with everything I say.

    BTW, if you want to know why I always sound so angry, you should read my article for today.

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  21. Has anyone heard anything from Catherine MacKinnon in the last 10 years?

    How'd you manage to dig up this piece of trivia FT?

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  22. Thersites: I disagree, the scientific method is decidedly not deductive. I don't know how deduction and induction meaningfully relate to the arts. I don't think art has very much to do with establishing truth, still less demonstrating it. Art is not reasoning, as far as I can tell: it is expressing, an unrelated task. Any art which takes the trouble to be reasonable is usually the weaker for it.

    "The artistic moment in the life of a cell phone came when the first man dreamed of wirelessly communicating with another person over a great distance. From that moment on, what was known of the "sciences" were put to work in support of that goal."

    This paragraph remains interesting. I haven't finished meditating on this yet, but one question occurs immediately: the equivalent moment in the life of Michaelangelo's David is what? When the first man dreamed of rendering an solid image in stone? What a moment!

    Have you seen David, by the way? I understand that your point is not to denigrate David, but it really is magnificent. Michaelangelo is, for me, the most breathtaking of the Italian renaissance artists.

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  23. It's always fascinating to me to see what does and does not grab peoples' attention.

    Many thanks to all who participated.

    ~ FT

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  24. I don't think art has very much to do with establishing truth...

    If you build it, they will come. Just ask Dali...

    Any art which takes the trouble to be reasonable is usually the weaker for it.

    Sorry, I'm not a member of the "automatic writing" school of surrealism... serendipity is not a very good artistic "method".

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  25. Who knew that David was hiding inside the marble? Only Michelangelo. And who, alone, had the "skill" to break him out? I would postulate, only Michelangelo.

    There are several schools of Surrealism, the autonomist may be the more "popular" with Marxists, but it certainly isn't the most popular with art collectors.

    As for the cell phone, I suspect that I could very easily "construct" it by substituting a scientific method (device) for each of the invisible man's component parts. After all, THAT is what an engineer does. He assembles a "paranoiac critical" toolkit of scientific discoveries and through trial and error, constructs a functioning and readily replicable device.

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  26. Are you familiar with Salvadore Dali's "paranoiac critical. method", jez? For THAT is how an engineer designs and assembles a cell phone. Sciencegave theengineer his component parts. But the engineer's paranoiac critical visiondirected their eventual reassembly into a"whole".

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  27. Just like Dali's "Invisible Man".

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  28. Truth by associative similarity.

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  29. Contrary toFreethinke'sbasic premise, the best art, is, IMO, the most "useful" art.

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  30. I can sort-of see the beginnings of a point, but I believe you over-state it (or I have not properly grasped it). Electronics is not surrealist. Scope for psychological participation in the design process is limited (close to non-existent). Wherever the aim is functional rather than expressive, though the process of abstract association which generates novelty might be similar, it is restricted in a very different way.

    "Truth by associative similarity" is useful for expression, but only "truth by dependable, repeatable experience" is acceptable in design.

    "the best art, is, IMO, the most "useful" art."

    So what word do you use to describe the purely aesthetic qualities of a work? How can a play, picture or poem ever be useful, and thereby successful art?

    I think your usage of "art" is rather unusual. I love the concept you are bringing to focus, though. IMO there must be a better word for it.

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  31. How can a play, picture or poem ever be useful, and thereby successful art?

    Does it educate? Or does it evoke a "medicinially calibrative" feeling in the listener/viewer?

    There is a "charming" parable in Plato's "Charmides" that evokes this ability and is perhaps evoked by the following, "Where the mind can go, the body will try and follow.

    Plato, "Charmides"

    Then I could no longer contain myself. I thought how well Cydias understood the nature of love, when, in speaking of a fair youth, he warns some one 'not to bring the fawn in the sight of the lion to be devoured by him,' for I felt that I had been overcome by a sort of wild-beast appetite. But I controlled myself, and when he asked me if I knew the cure of the headache, I answered, but with an effort, that I did know.

    And what is it? he said.

    I replied that it was a kind of leaf, which required to be accompanied by a charm, and if a person would repeat the charm at the same time that he used the cure, he would be made whole; but that without the charm the leaf would be of no avail.

    Then I will write out the charm from your dictation, he said.

    With my consent? I said, or without my consent?

    With your consent, Socrates, he said, laughing.

    Very good, I said; and are you quite sure that you know my name?

    I ought to know you, he replied, for there is a great deal said about you among my companions; and I remember when I was a child seeing you in company with my cousin Critias.

    I am glad to find that you remember me, I said; for I shall now be more at home with you and shall be better able to explain the nature of the charm, about which I felt a difficulty before. For the charm will do more, Charmides, than only cure the headache. I dare say that you have heard eminent physicians say to a patient who comes to them with bad eyes, that they cannot cure his eyes by themselves, but that if his eyes are to be cured, his head must be treated; and then again they say that to think of curing the head alone, and not the rest of the body also, is the height of folly. And arguing in this way they apply their methods to the whole body, and try to treat and heal the whole and the part together. Did you ever observe that this is what they say?

    Yes, he said.

    And they are right, and you would agree with them?

    Yes, he said, certainly I should.


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  32. (cont)

    His approving answers reassured me, and I began by degrees to regain confidence, and the vital heat returned. Such, Charmides, I said, is the nature of the charm, which I learned when serving with the army from one of the physicians of the Thracian king Zamolxis, who are said to be so skilful that they can even give immortality. This Thracian told me that in these notions of theirs, which I was just now mentioning, the Greek physicians are quite right as far as they go; but Zamolxis, he added, our king, who is also a god, says further, 'that as you ought not to attempt to cure the eyes without the head, or the head without the body, so neither ought you to attempt to cure the body without the soul; and this,' he said, 'is the reason why the cure of many diseases is unknown to the physicians of Hellas, because they are ignorant of the whole, which ought to be studied also; for the part can never be well unless the whole is well.' For all good and evil, whether in the body or in human nature, originates, as he declared, in the soul, and overflows from thence, as if from the head into the eyes. And therefore if the head and body are to be well, you must begin by curing the soul; that is the first thing. And the cure, my dear youth, has to be effected by the use of certain charms, and these charms are fair words; and by them temperance is implanted in the soul, and where temperance is, there health is speedily imparted, not only to the head, but to the whole body. And he who taught me the cure and the charm at the same time added a special direction: 'Let no one,' he said, 'persuade you to cure the head, until he has first given you his soul to be cured by the charm. For this,' he said, 'is the great error of our day in the treatment of the human body, that physicians separate the soul from the body.' And he added with emphasis, at the same time making me swear to his words, 'Let no one, however rich, or noble, or fair, persuade you to give him the cure, without the charm.' Now I have sworn, and I must keep my oath, and therefore if you will allow me to apply the Thracian charm first to your soul, as the stranger directed, I will afterwards proceed to apply the cure to your head. But if not, I do not know what I am to do with you, my dear Charmides.

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  33. So what word do you use to describe the purely aesthetic qualities of a work?

    The words of Plato in "Philebus"... or in this case, the words of Benjamin Jowett, his translator... "There are three criteria of goodness—beauty, symmetry, truth. These are clearly more akin to reason than to pleasure, and will enable us to fix the places of both of them in the scale of good. First in the scale is measure; the second place is assigned to symmetry; the third, to reason and wisdom; the fourth, to knowledge and true opinion; the fifth, to pure pleasures; and here the Muse says 'Enough.' "

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  34. The need for "symmetry" is biological. The brain has TWO hemispheres. One hemisphere performs "inductive" functions, the other, "deductive". Guess which side the "pieces together the big picture". Guess which side breaks down the small sensory details. For vision and hearing, dominance resides in the "opposite" hemisphere. The same goes for smell/taste.

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  35. Hemispheric dominance consists of "knowledge of difference". "Knowledge of sameness" is largely subtracted and "ignored".

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  36. ...the aesthetic is a "feeling of calmness" or one of "agitation". You should read Kant's "Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime".

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  37. As the Moody Blues once sang, Dawn is a Feeling... or as Kant once conjectured, the Beautiful and Sublime are "feelings".

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  38. Aesthetics are "feelings". Read Kant's "Observations on Feelings of the Beautiful and Sublime.". Or better, listen to the Moody Blues "Dawn is a Feeling.". ;)

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  39. Very interesting material.

    But while I agree that good art is "medicinal" (excellent word) I still think that it's a very different type of "useful" than the cellphone, in that its requirements for material functionality overwhelm its purely psychological impact. Very often the impact of always-on communication is the opposite of medicinal.

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  40. That's what Thoth said in Plato's "Phaedrus"... that the inventor of an "artful" device is not always the best judge of its' usefullness... that the art of writing would lead to human " forgetfulness"... theres a downside to every up.

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  41. The orchestral introduction and "postscript" in the Moody Blues selection are beautiful -- wonderful use of harmony and instrumentation. The singing and the words are less inspired.

    If music were a banquet, Beethoven would be a main course, while The Moody Blues would belong in a silver epergne like a portion of candied fruit or mixed nuts -- or possibly like a cut glass dish decorously filled with an assortment of mixed pickles.

    ~ FreeThinke

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  42. Provocative and ironic, Thersites. If there had been no "writing," we would have no knowledge whatsoever of the great discoveries and copious wisdom of the ancient world.

    The computer, however, has made "publishing" so damnably facile we are in danger of drowning in a veritable Sargasso Sea of useless, clumsily phrased, irritatingly redundant, half-formed thoughts "full of sound and fury signifying nothing."

    Humanity is in danger of no longer appreciating "wheat" while it's being fed a steady diet of chaff.

    NOTE: The spelling verification device rejected "epergne" in the last post. This sort of thing happens to me with fair frequency. My once-quite-unexceptional knowledge of the language now far exceeds that of the automata purportedly designed to guard against orthographical and linguistic malfeasance. I see this as a DELIBERATE MOVE on the part of THOSE IN CONTROL to increase ignorance and decrease knowledge. A population deprived of knowledge and out of touch with its history is much more easily enslaved. And some dodo is waiting to tell me to put on my "tin foil hat" for saying so. Mockery and humiliation are other ways "they" use to keep us "in line."]

    ~ FreeThinke

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  43. Humanity is in danger of no longer appreciating "wheat" while it's being fed a steady diet of chaff.

    "Time" weeds out the chaff for us, FT. The Grub Street scribblers have been trying to bury us in chaff for going on five hundred years now, to no avail.

    The point being, if you want to appreciate good writing, it's best to "avoid" works produced on "Grub Street."

    And as Nietzsche said in his "On the Future of Our Educational Institutions"...

    "Have you ever, at a musical rehearsal, looked at the strange, shriveled-up, good-natured species of men who usually form the German orchestra? What changes and fluctuations we see in that capricious goddess "form"! What noses and ears, what clumsy, danse macabre movements! Just imagine for a moment that you were deaf, and had never dreamed of the existence of sound or music, and that you were looking upon the orchestra as a company of actors, and trying to enjoy their performance as a drama and nothing more. Undisturbed by the idealizing effect of the sound, you could never see enough of the stern, medieval, wood-cutting movement of this comical spectacle, this harmonious parody on the homo sapiens.

    "Now, on the other hand, assume that your musical sense has returned, and that your ears are opened. Look at the honest conductor at the head of the orchestra performing his duties in a dull, spiritless fashion: you no longer think of the comical aspect of the whole scene, you listen—but it seems to you that the spirit of tediousness spreads out from the honest conductor over all his companions. Now you see only torpidity and flabbiness, you hear only the trivial, the rhythmically inaccurate, and the melodiously trite. You see the orchestra only as an indifferent, ill-humored, and even wearisome crowd of players.

    "But set a genius—a real genius—in the midst of this crowd; and you instantly perceive something almost incredible. It is as if this genius, in his lightning transmigration, had entered into these mechanical, lifeless bodies, and as if only one demoniacal eye gleamed forth out of them all. Now look and listen—you can never listen enough! When you again observe the orchestra, now loftily storming, now fervently wailing, when you notice the quick tightening of every muscle and the rhythmical necessity of every gesture, then you too will feel what a pre-established harmony there is between leader and followers, and how in this hierarchy of spirits everything impels us towards the establishment of a like organization. You can divine from my simile what I would understand by a true educational institution, and why I am very far from recognizing one in the present type of university."


    So keep serving up "epergne's", FT. Some people still hear you.

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  44. Humanity is in danger of no longer appreciating "wheat" while it's being fed a steady diet of chaff.

    Don't despair, FT. "Time" heals all wounds. The Grub Streeters have been inundating the planet with useless paper for over five hundred years... but somehow... the "good" survived.

    Nietzsche, "One the Future of our Educational Institutions"

    "Have you ever, at a musical rehearsal, looked at the strange, shriveled-up, good-natured species of men who usually form the German orchestra? What changes and fluctuations we see in that capricious goddess "form"! What noses and ears, what clumsy, danse macabre movements! Just imagine for a moment that you were deaf, and had never dreamed of the existence of sound or music, and that you were looking upon the orchestra as a company of actors, and trying to enjoy their performance as a drama and nothing more. Undisturbed by the idealizing effect of the sound, you could never see enough of the stern, medieval, wood-cutting movement of this comical spectacle, this harmonious parody on the homo sapiens.

    "Now, on the other hand, assume that your musical sense has returned, and that your ears are opened. Look at the honest conductor at the head of the orchestra performing his duties in a dull, spiritless fashion: you no longer think of the comical aspect of the whole scene, you listen—but it seems to you that the spirit of tediousness spreads out from the honest conductor over all his companions. Now you see only torpidity and flabbiness, you hear only the trivial, the rhythmically inaccurate, and the melodiously trite. You see the orchestra only as an indifferent, ill-humored, and even wearisome crowd of players.

    "But set a genius—a real genius—in the midst of this crowd; and you instantly perceive something almost incredible. It is as if this genius, in his lightning transmigration, had entered into these mechanical, lifeless bodies, and as if only one demoniacal eye gleamed forth out of them all. Now look and listen—you can never listen enough! When you again observe the orchestra, now loftily storming, now fervently wailing, when you notice the quick tightening of every muscle and the rhythmical necessity of every gesture, then you too will feel what a pre-established harmony there is between leader and followers, and how in this hierarchy of spirits everything impels us towards the establishment of a like organization. You can divine from my simile what I would understand by a true educational institution, and why I am very far from recognizing one in the present type of university."


    "Epergne on", FT!

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  45. Nietzsche, "On the Future of Our Educational Institutions"

    "Have you ever, at a musical rehearsal, looked at the strange, shriveled-up, good-natured species of men who usually form the German orchestra? What changes and fluctuations we see in that capricious goddess "form"! What noses and ears, what clumsy, danse macabre movements! Just imagine for a moment that you were deaf, and had never dreamed of the existence of sound or music, and that you were looking upon the orchestra as a company of actors, and trying to enjoy their performance as a drama and nothing more. Undisturbed by the idealizing effect of the sound, you could never see enough of the stern, medieval, wood-cutting movement of this comical spectacle, this harmonious parody on the homo sapiens.

    "Now, on the other hand, assume that your musical sense has returned, and that your ears are opened. Look at the honest conductor at the head of the orchestra performing his duties in a dull, spiritless fashion: you no longer think of the comical aspect of the whole scene, you listen—but it seems to you that the spirit of tediousness spreads out from the honest conductor over all his companions. Now you see only torpidity and flabbiness, you hear only the trivial, the rhythmically inaccurate, and the melodiously trite. You see the orchestra only as an indifferent, ill-humored, and even wearisome crowd of players.

    "But set a genius—a real genius—in the midst of this crowd; and you instantly perceive something almost incredible. It is as if this genius, in his lightning transmigration, had entered into these mechanical, lifeless bodies, and as if only one demoniacal eye gleamed forth out of them all. Now look and listen—you can never listen enough! When you again observe the orchestra, now loftily storming, now fervently wailing, when you notice the quick tightening of every muscle and the rhythmical necessity of every gesture, then you too will feel what a pre-established harmony there is between leader and followers, and how in this hierarchy of spirits everything impels us towards the establishment of a like organization. You can divine from my simile what I would understand by a true educational institution, and why I am very far from recognizing one in the present type of university."


    Not even five hundred years of Grub Street could inundate Will Shakespeare. I doubt that 500 more will accomplish better.

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  46. I prefer an explanation which doesn't depend on coordinated mischief. My workstation's local dictionary has an entry for "epergne". Does yours? I imagine it would.

    The reason our local machines' dictionary's are bigger than blogspot's is not because blogspot wants to reduce our vocabulary but because blogspot checks thousands of users' messages every hour. That's a far greater load than our personal machines are under, so obviously blogspot cares more about making each spellcheck efficient. One way to do that is to shorten the dictionary.

    Meanwhile the internet is full to bursting with dictionaries, thesauruses and encyclopedias with entries for "epergne" -- if it's a conspiracy, it's a poorly executed one.

    Beethoven might be a fitting main course for a banquet, but I don't think he's quite suitable for daily bread. He's a beef wellington, or an expensive single malt whisky. I love him, but it wouldn't be good to have him every day. He demands my full attention, which I can't always give him.

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  47. Grub Street.

    A "day labourer" approach to culture.

    Nietzsche, "On the Future of Our Educational Institutions"

    "For centuries it has been an understood thing that one alluded to scholars alone when one spoke of cultured men; but experience tells us that it would be difficult to find any necessary relation between the two classes to-day. For at present the exploitation of a man for the purpose of science is accepted everywhere without the slightest scruple. Who still ventures to ask, What may be the value of a science which consumes its minions in this vampire fashion? The division of labour in science is practically struggling towards the same goal which religions in certain parts of the world are consciously striving after,--that is to say, towards the decrease and even the destruction of learning. That, however, which, in the case of certain religions, is a perfectly justifiable aim, both in regard to their origin and their history, can only amount to self-immolation when transferred to the realm of science. In all matters of a general and serious nature, and above all, in regard to the highest philosophical problems, we have now already reached a point at which the scientific man, as such, is no longer allowed to speak. On the other hand, that adhesive and tenacious stratum which has now filled up the interstices between the sciences--Journalism--believes it has a mission to fulfil here, and this it does, according to its own particular lights--that is to say, as its name implies, after the fashion of a day-labourer.

    "It is precisely in journalism that the two tendencies combine and become one. The expansion and the diminution of education here join hands. The newspaper actually steps into the place of culture, and he who, even as a scholar, wishes to voice any claim for education, must avail himself of this viscous stratum of communication which cements the seams between all forms of life, all classes, all arts, and all sciences, and which is as firm and reliable as news paper is, as a rule. In the newspaper the peculiar educational aims of the present culminate, just as the journalist, the servant of the moment, has stepped into the place of the genius, of the leader for all time, of the deliverer from the tyranny of the moment. Now, tell me, distinguished master, what hopes could I still have in a struggle against the general topsy-turvification of all genuine aims for education; with what courage can I, a single teacher, step forward, when I know that the moment any seeds of real culture are sown, they will be mercilessly crushed by the roller of this pseudo-culture? Imagine how useless the most energetic work on the part of the individual teacher must be, who would fain lead a pupil back into the distant and evasive Hellenic world and to the real home of culture, when in less than an hour, that same pupil will have recourse to a newspaper, the latest novel, or one of those learned books, the very style of which already bears the revolting impress of modern barbaric culture--"

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  48. I live with Him -- I see His face --
    I go no more away
    For visitor -- or sundown --
    Death's single privacy

    The only one -- forestalling mine --
    And that -- by right that He
    Presents a claim no wedlock
    Has ever granted me --

    I live with Him -- I hear His voice --
    I stand alive today --
    As witness to the Certainty
    Of Immortality --

    Taught me by Time, the lower way,
    Conviction every day --
    That Life like this is endless --
    Be Judgment what it may.

    ~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

    She might as well have written that about my lifelong relationship with Beethoven -- and with herself for that matter.

    When you are fortunate enough to feel connected with the best, why settle for anything less? Life is too short to waste on foolishness -- as I and many others have discovered a bit too late in life.

    ~ FreeThinke

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  49. Nietzsche's use of the orchestra metaphor is entertaining, Thersites, but isn't it rather a roundabout way of saying universities tend to be governed by mediocre minds acting as lackeys to whatever stodgy, decadent Establishment happens to be in place at any given time?

    I'm sure I am not alone in having seen that for myself long ago.

    The University today more than ever before is a monstrously overbearing, self serving influence that seeks to stifle intellectual curiosity and stultify bright young minds.

    They want to turn out PRODUCTS useful to the Establishment;s aims and directives. Independence and creativity are the very last things they wish to encourage.

    That might topple them from their thrones, and detonate their Ivory Towers out from under them.

    Can't have that, can we?

    The answer, I guess, depends on where, who you and what you are.

    ~ FT



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  50. I think his metaphor serves as a warning to genius.It may be "useful" in cranking out corporate bureaucrats and drones, but it will never serve the entrepeneur orpolymath. The Rhodes Scholarship and other free/easy paths to higher education are also "traps" to be avoided.

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  51. Did you avoid university, Thersites? Did Benjamin Jowett?

    I agree that far too many people spend time at universities these days, but I don't know of a better environment to develop academically. What do you suggest?

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  52. "I don't know of a better environment to develop academically. What do you suggest?"

    Good morning, Jez,

    Here's what I suggest: INDEPENDENT STUDY. Follow natural intellectual curiosity to find knowledge and make new discoveries ON YOUR OWN.

    By all means learn the orthodox views that hold sway in your time, but do not ACCEPT them as Gospel Truth.

    Virtually ALL the great works of genius were produced by INDIVIDUALS using instinct, intuition, passionate curiosity, great determination and WILL to achieve unique marvels. They were not "taught" by "professors" to produce great things.

    Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Blake, the Brownings, Dickinson, Longfellow, and most of the other literary lights who formed The Western Canon did NOT become who they were by earning "degrees" in English or any other academic subject.

    Universities in modern times have become repositories for a lot of DATA that has been manipulated to serve political agenda. The University has replaced the Church for promoting and enforcing a latter-day authoritarian philosophy I call "Progressive Orthodoxy."

    For the most part the university today does not encourage people to think independently at all. Instead, it INDOCTRINATES whole generations to accept a pseudo-righteous, anti-Christian, anti-Capitalist political agenda as Absolute Truth.

    Shakespeare, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Jane Austen, George Eliot, the Brontes, Dickens, WIlbur and Orville Wright, Edison, -- the lot of them -- were NOT "products" turned out by universities promoting any sort of GroupThink.

    The university certainly has its uses, but it's value is now vastly overrated.

    ~ FreeThinke

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  53. Don't study other people's opinions ABOUT things primarily. Instead, read and enjoy literature purely for the sake of experiencing it for yourself. We'd all learn more if love for reading and exploring ideas were inculcated in us at an early age.

    This idea that we should acquire knowledge to gain a certain STATUS in the eyes of the COMMUNITY has weakened and defiled the educational process. A degree ought not to be regarded merely as a Certificate of Official Social and Intellectual Acceptability necessary to "get ahead."

    I would guess that less than 10% of any given population either deserves or is intellectually equipped to benefit from "higher education."

    What we need are more good Trade Schools where practical skills are taught in an orderly disciplined fashion.

    There should be no "stigma" attached to being a good plumber, carpenter, electrician, auto mechanic or computer technician.

    The apprentice system was, perhaps, the best way to teach useful, practical, marketable skills.

    ~ FT

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  54. Well, this is the essence of my question:

    "is undirected/independent study driven only by curiosity better than tuition towards an accredited course."

    The answer isn't simple or obvious. There are cases where only the accredited course will do. You don't commission a bridge or undergo surgery from a curious autodidact, you go to someone who's qualified.

    Of course a student in an accredited course who is not curious and independent is a depressing entity. Good students are a combination of both -- self-motivated and independent, but also willing to slog through the bits they find boring in order to achieve a rounded grasp of the subject / earn their degree, assuming the degree is well designed.

    The fact is that most students are not curious, an indication that there are now two many students. I don't know what percentage of people would benefit from 3 or 4 years of full-time residential academic study, but it sure isn't 50% (UK's arbitrary target). I'd guess it's more than 10% though.

    Most of the geniuses you mentioned did go to university, many even worked at them. Did this hamper them? Did it have no effect? Did it help? How would, say, Longfellow have been affected had he worked, say, in a warehouse instead of as a professor of modern language?

    Genius is so rare that it is almost irrelevant. For the rest of us, the Western Canon is worth studying even though we will not add to it. How do we know where to start? How do you know who to include in your frequent lists of geniuses?

    Academics provided it, through cataloging and evaluating countless works, many of them awful, so that we can go straight to the good stuff. You don't have to have been a student to benefit from this. If you stray from the canon you quickly discover that the bulk of the work produced in times past were as dismal as the bulk of today is.

    I mentioned Jowett, because he is the translator through which our Thersites accesses Plato. He was probably not a genius. Was Oxford not the best place for him?

    It takes a genius to produce it, but we need academics to preserve it.

    "Universities in modern times have become repositories for a lot of DATA that has been manipulated to serve political agenda."

    I expect this is true, but I'd appreciate an example. (political agenda could mean a few different things.)

    "it INDOCTRINATES whole generations to accept a pseudo-righteous, anti-Christian, anti-Capitalist political agenda as Absolute Truth."

    Strange that I've seen precisely none of this. Maths and science departments tend to be thoroughly segregated from the arts though.

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  55. Please inform me of the schools and universities most of the people on my list of creative geniuses attended, and precisely how did those institutions of higher learning help Shakespeare and the others to produce their magnificent output?

    My points stand. I'm not writing a monograph, so lots of specific examples and a bibliography of references are not necessary.

    We, apparently, are not all that far apart in much of our thinking, so I wonder why you feel you must forever play the role of Inquisitor or what-I-whimsically-call "Oppositionist?"

    It's that Critical Theory in which you've been insidiously indoctrinated since early childhood that prompts the seeming antagonism. You aren't aware of it, therefore you think I must be making it up.

    No. It's fluoride introduced in the water supply.

    ~ FT

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