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Korthor

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  1. I have read those works, although they aren't in front of me right now. If her discussion of "psych-epistemology" elucidates literary form, I'm willing to stand corrected. Would you explain or direct me to a particular reference. Finally, the point of my post wasn't to "disprove" Rand, but to supplement her, so please don't insult me. Yes she talks about "Romantic realism," but she doesn't mean "realism" in the sense of the divide of realism v. naturalism in nineteenth century literature. Realists WERE explicitly writing AGAINST romanticists: just read the essays of Henry James or Mark Twain's "Cooper's Literary Offenses" precisely for the reasons Rand saw a distinction between naturalism and romanticism... the realists though the need to emphasize the heroic nature of man did not represent him as he really was (they also had other objections to the "unrealistic" nature of romanticism). I think my argument that thet "naturalism" is an offshot of the realist literary movement is a sound one (it could even be backed up by a quick cruise to wikipedia... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalism_%28literature%29), although really it was an introductory remark to get to the issues of modernism and form. More imporanantly, neither of your posts addresses my central point: we must make room for "form" in a comprehensive aesthetics. I'm willing to admis that Ms. Rand has already done so if someone can point me to an a propos quote.
  2. As someone who has done a great deal of reading literature and aesthetic theory, I’ve always found Rand’s definition of aesthetics lacking…. Not wrong per se, but definitely inadequate. In particular, I think she neglects the issue of “form.” I think that this is partially due to her literary upbringing: her experience of Western literature seems confined to the nineteenth century… which is not at all unusual for someone growing up in Soviet Russia in the early twentieth century. She injects herself into a great nineteenth century debate between realism (for purposes of this thread, I’ll treat naturalism as an extreme form of realism, even though “naturalism” was Rand’s preferred term) and romanticism. Her arguments for the moral superiority of romanticism over realism are cogent, but what about the twentieth century? What about modernism? Some Objectivists might dismiss modernism as a degenerative naturalism, but I hardly think that’s fair. For example, take the greatest writer of the twentieth century, James Joyce. His quarrel with realism was that it was not realistic enough… it had a tendency to artificially truncate the range of human experience. Thus, he felt the need to create a novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man which creates both A) a rebellion against the realist conventions of narrative and storytelling: it begins with “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named tuckoo…” a “romantic” hero named Stephen Dedalus who declares “Non Servium” when faced with the intellectual tyranny of the Catholic Church (thus recapitulating the rebellion of the great romantic poets Blake and Byron). A few years later Joyce writes Ulysses, a novel that pushes realism to its extremes by including scenes of defecation, masturbation, adultery, and perverse sexual fantasy. And yet no Objectivist could justly label it with the scarlet letter of naturalism: it is a novel that values the freedom, heroism, vibrancy, and generosity of the human spirit above all else—precisely by telling the story of a cuckolded bourgeois Jew walking through the streets of Dublin. I believe that the kernel of these contradictions lie in the issue of “form,” a word you won’t find in Rand’s vocabulary even though she was writing during the hayday of American “New Criticism,” a critical movement that would be later characterized, celebrated, and dismissed for its profound formalism. Interestingly, the greatest insights into the issue of form came from a collection of writers called Russian Formalists, a group rising immediately after the Bolshevik revolution who were later suppressed by the Communists in favor of “socialist realism.” The thrust of their arguments were anything but collectivist: they were primarily concerned with the capacity of art to regenerate individualist insight by invoking the “rebellion” of experience itself against the norms society seeks to impose upon it. We become accustomed to the everyday-ness of things; just as we don’t intensely scrutinize the streets signs on the way home from the office, so “Habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war” (Shklovsky). The solution for Shklovsky is “defamiliarization,” the power of art to make familiar things strange again by reworking experience in literary form. If we turn the pages of a novel too quickly, that is perhaps an indicator that it is only confirming our view of how language or the world works. Good art is hard art, precisely because it reworks the meaning of experience rather than taking it as a given. In a strange way, this process combines and surpasses (a… gasp… Hegelian… would say sublimates) the aesthetic impulses of realism and romanticism. A) Art should represent what humans experience. (Realism) Art should make humans experience more than they normally experience, given that “normal” experience involves a tendency to conformity due to socialization: art must rebel against the status quo. (Romanticism) Thus, Joyce appeals to the power of human experience precisely by his refusal to let it be limited by the literary forms the circumscribed that experience in his day. In a way, my emphasis on “form” is a demand that aesthetics take some cognizance of its derivation from epistemology, rather than simply morality (although of course morality is dependent on epistemology). After all, the Greek etymology of aesthetics goes back to perception/sensation. And yet formalism constitutes an inadequate yardstick for art. There are “great” modernist novels, such as Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, which use the excellence of their literary form to portray a completely depraved human experience. Thus, judgment of art must require an evaluation of both its epistemological (i.e., formalist) and moral (i.e., Romantic) components. Otherwise, one would be led to the conclusion that Terry Goodkind (a contemporary Objectivist fantasy writer who self-consciously follows a Romanticist literary agenda) is greater than James Joyce (a writer who also celebrates the human spirit, but in a more conflicted and complicated manner). If the moral is practical, then the aesthetic must be artistic… Although I like the Romantic fantasy genre (in particular, Goodkind’s novels), to claim that they are greater than Joyce is to commit oneself to an indefensible absurdity. Coda: In an ironic twist worthy of Kafka, Rand’s doctrine of “Romanticism=art” parrots the Stalinist ideology of “socialist realism.” According to the Communists, art should be valued according to its ability in to portray individuals embodying socialist ideals: it wanted heroes… but heroes for the Revolution. This stifling doctrine (which required banning most of the great art of the twentieth century) parallels Rand’s demand that art portray individual heroism. The fact that she praises Victor Hugo (a socialist) leads one to suspect that she would have praised “socialist realism” for its elevated portrayal of the human spirit (albeit for Socialist ideology). I’m not suggesting that Rand was a Stalinist at heart, but rather that on-face her doctrine provides not way of distinguishing derivative Soviet kitsch from great Western art. This in turn leads to a provocative question: Art involves metaphysics, epistemology, morality, and politics: why is morality the only yardstick we must use? The purpose of this post is neither to induce artistic relativism, nor to dismiss the importance of morality. Rather, I’m suggesting we just need more tools to evaluate artistic worth than those with which Rand provides us. Just because Rand had a great mind for philosophy does not mean that she adequately worked out all of its implications. P.S. I wish to reiterate the demand inspiring this essay: if the moral is the practical, then the aesthetic must be the artistic. Great art must possess great formal qualities.
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