Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It's Only Right And Natural

To the England of the Restoration and the early eighteenth century, the mature and sophisticated neoclassicism of France had an irresistible appeal. It gave the English poet a chance to be different from his immediate predecessors while at the same time it offered a counter-ideal that was impressively, almost monolithically, systematized. French neoclassicism appeared to have answers ready for almost any kind of objection to it. And most of the answers had this further support: they inevitably referred -- or pulled the conscience back -- to the premises of "reason" and of ordered nature that the English themselves were already sharing, though not perhaps in the same spirit as the French. To dismiss an argument that led directly back to "reason" was something they were not at all prepared to do. It was like attacking virtue itself. Even the most articulate writers who might feel hesitations (for example the group appropriately called, in England as well as France, the je ne sais quoi critics) still lacked the vocabulary to express any effective alternative...

In addition they had ready to hand the central neoclassic concept of
decorum -- of "propriety" or "what is fitting." In almost every way (ancestry, centrality, potential range of application) its credentials as both an aim and working premise were superb. Its origin was the ancient Greek and specifically the Aristotelean conception of the function of art as a unified, harmonious imitation of an ordered nature. As, in the process of nature itself, the parts interrelate through universal, persisting forms and principles, so art in its own particular medium (words, sounds, or visual shapes) seeks to duplicate that process, but at the same time to stress or to highlight it. Hence art concentrates, even more than we in our ordinary experience do, on the general form -- selecting only what contributes directly to the particular end (or form) and rejecting what does not. As such, poetry is more "philosophical," as Aristotle said, than a straightforward factual narrative. It is, in short, closer to the "ideal," but "ideal" in the original sense in Greek -- in the intellectual perception of pattern, form, and general meaning. Decorum applies to the relevance or fitness of every part to the whole in this "ideal" and admittedly foreshortened selection, which permits a finished and rounded totality. Given its success in art, we have not only unity and cleanliness of form (and with them finish and completeness) but intellectual range and pertinence: cousinship at least (in its best moments something approaching the fraternal) to the process of nature itself when nature is viewed with a philosophical selectivity that focuses not on its accidental details but on its persisting forms.

W. Jackson Bate, p. 18-19

+ + +

What is nature if not accidental details?

Where is Wilhelm Reich when you need him?

Grandpa, what was nature like before man began detonating atomic devices and striping the skies with, uh, normal jet propulsion related condensation?

+ + +

Does anyone remember the 80's? No one will think less of you if you don't (though all said, it was a pretty good time for music.) My recollection of it was that of a culture enamored with "neo-classicism." Ronald Reagan: Lots of answers, lots of "reason," lots of "virtue," lots of knowing better and lots and lots of "decorum." Big houses getting built with columns in the front. Birth of the Mc Mansion--that kind of devilry.

It really was a golden age for the parent culture and the administered society. So much to be proud of. American hegemony was a good thing, wanted by all, it's export a civilizing force to be gifted upon the Godless, culture-less, shopping mall-less peoples of the mostly savage, dirty, mean, scary world.

Indeed, attacking Reagan at that time was to attack a minority of people who were making the majority of the money. To question them and their rapidly accumulating wealth was and is of course entirely unacceptable, as to do so was to question reason, virtue, and the natural order of things.

(blah blab blah blab blah blab blab...)

+ + +

So how's that duplicating of universal, persisting forms going? How's that seeking to duplicate our understanding of the "process of nature?"

Hey, how did we arrive at that understanding of the "process of nature?"

Really now, do "we" have any idea how nature works? (Can you really blame the youth for thinking they do?)

Is the "process of nature" and (our perception, let alone the reality of) "persisting forms" the same now as it was in Restoration England of the early 18th century? If so, is that good or bad?

How about the distribution of wealth? How about the outlook and values of those in possession of the wealth verses the outlook and values of those not in possession of the wealth? That's about the same, right? Not much has changed there since the early 1700's. But nature is nature, right--an unchanging constant where forms persist exactly the same way now and forever? Shouldn't matter if you're rich or poor--everyone sees (and experiences) "the process of nature" the same, right?

+ + +

By now you should be able to read

"[it] offered a counter-ideal that was impressively, almost monolithically, systematized. French neoclassicism appeared to have answers ready for almost any kind of objection to it."

and insert the appropriate "hurt words" and "hurt word recipients" yourself.

Makes its own sauce!