On Taste

paradox

In logic, antinomy is the term used to describe a “real or mutual incompatibility of two terms”.[1] It could be regarded as a synonym of paradox. The statement “there is no absolute truth,” is antinomic because the statement declares a truth that it also claims to be impossible. Likewise, the concept of Fake news is an antinomic entity, if we consider news to be reports of what has actually happened, and, therefore, inherently true.

Antinomy is not only resolved when its conflicting propositions are found to be not in in fact contradictory, it is also seen to be one of the more profound insights into the apparently contradictory structures of truth. These conflicting propositions are capable of existing together, although in a way that, as Kant says: “transcends our faculties of cognition”.[2] Likewise, we have discovered how often conflict can be resolved by finding the middle way between them, and this middle way also possesses a certain transcendental quality that, when applied to the conflict, can take hold of these two antagonistic forces and, through its own possession of qualities in both of them, resolve their otherwise internecine obliteration of each other.[3]

Between the objective opinion and the objective judgement comes cultural taste, which is an opinion formed from a combination of objective study and personal feelings towards things. As such, we have taste standing between opinion and judgement, transcending the negative qualities of both.

For Kant, the judgement of taste has its determining ground: “in the concept of what may be regarded as the supersensible substance of humanity.”[4] In Jungian terms, we could say that taste is powered by archetypes which, if they are nurtured, will pull the subjective into the realm of the human, allowing for humane judgements that equally transcend the cold calculations of purely objective meaning.

As Kant said: “it is the supersensible, through taste, that brings reason into harmony with itself.”[5]

And yet, in terms of the human and universal, there is hardly anything more untrustworthy than taste. But: how can a thing that is so untrustworthy be the harmonising agent of reason? And, what are the consequences of this untrustworthiness of taste?

TASTE AND IDEOLOGY

To answer these questions, we need to examine how ideology uses taste to perpetuate itself. Here, perhaps, a viral analogy can be used: The viruses of ideologies insert themselves into the cells of taste in order to propagate themselves throughout the System. And as ideology is a divisor and anti-human force, the harmonising and humanising potential of taste is constantly mitigated.

Yet, it remains our only hope – and for this reason taste must be cared for and cultured towards the human, away from the ideological. It is ideological taste which perpetuates the social and environmental antagonisms we are faced with today. Refinement of tastes is, therefore, a humanising process concerned with universals and archetypes; with what connects us to each other and to the world, rather than what separates us.

TASTE

Taste is a mixture of both the aesthetic and the rational. The aesthetic is intuitive by nature, the rational is analytic, and taste is intuitive and analytic at the same time. It is in this combination of intuition and analysis that makes taste so important. But in order to be effective as humanising agent, it needs to be carefully refined. Perhaps there can be no more important labour for humanity than this refinement of our personal tastes.[6]

REFINED (UNIVERSAL) TASTE

A universal taste, for example, is one that still believes in good and beauty, but good and beauty themselves are universal and ideal concepts. For this reason, and in order to anchor the ideal in a coherent world-view, it is necessary to see the Universe as a purposive thing. It is only through this anti-nihilistic world-view that human progress is possible. Within our economy-obsessed System, progress is taken away from the domain of the human and invested completely in the realm of the economy under the guise of growth. But growth is not progress, because growth in the economy is always quantitative and never qualitative, whilst human progress must always be seen as an improvement in the quality of life for all human beings.

Aesthetic and moral concepts are purposive things. Things we are striving to make; discover; be: and all of them carry a sense of improvement in them.

The purposiveness of taste is both realist and idealist: the real is a process we are necessarily moving through before the ideal can ever be realised or attained, or, perhaps, even discovered. Accident is part of the real, but it is the real that makes the accidental possible.

In order for taste to become something of worth again, we need to anchor it to the ideals of universal purposiveness in order for real to move at last in a purposeful direction.

[1] Antinomy, Encyclopædia Britannica Online

[2] Immanuel Kant, CRITIQUE OF JUDGEMENT, p. 168

[3] See https://pauladkin.wordpress.com/2012/08/24/the-middle-way/

[4] Kant, CRITIQUE OF JUDGEMENT, p. 168

[5] Ibid. p. 169

[6] We are not advocating snobbism here, but a humanising process. Snobberies divide and are anti-human because of that. Refining our tastes towards appreciating what we all have is common and the archetypal forces that direct our collective subconscious has nothing to do with snobbery at all. What we are talking about lies closer to religion, but religion without ideology – and religion is now infested with ideology.

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THE EXISTENTIAL NEED FOR NEW KINDS OF CRITICS

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How is an objective judgement of something so personal as art possible? Or, in other words, how is aesthetics possible? Or perhaps the question is irrelevant, for even if a truly objective judgement is impossible, the critic must try and make one. If not, without criticism what would art achieve? How would the artist know how to proceed in a critical vacuum?

Once again we find that something we take for granted rests on a very shaky paradox: criticism is impossible but we need it. In a sense, the whole basis of art is absurd and unsustainable, and yet we need it. In fact, we could not really conceive of being human without it.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that we, or our artists, ignore the absurdity and the paradox and just get on with the job, and the critics keep on with theirs. Surprisingly, yes, until we start to consider that all activity in the whole of society and civilisation is based on this same paradox: How can any individual make an objective judgement of any human activity at all?

Of course, to most people the surprising thing would be that we are even trying to formulate such questions. Another paradox is that absurdity is so ingrained in our lives that we take it completely for granted and it doesn’t surprise us at all. We can’t even see the pointless nature of our lives. As Camus said, we are a kind of Sisyphus, condemned to push a huge rock up a hill, but a happy Sisyphus, unaware of the real absurdity of our condition. We just get on with the job; revealing or talking about the non-purposefulness of our lives does little to help. Or not at least until we realise that we can change things and that the most absurd thing about the absurdity is its repetitiveness which is completely unnecessary.

With an absurdity we have three choices: believe in it; not believe in it; or, ignore its existence and believe in something else. The fact that the objective system is impossible as a pure objective truth means that there are as many other impossible objective systems as we can subjectively imagine. The system as it is now, has most of us picking grass in a huge green lawn. This is not the best of all possible systems and neither is it the least worst, it is just one possibility that maintains itself purely and simply because it is geared toward convincing us that it is the only feasible possibility.

To find another possibility we need good new critics. Ones who are capable of inventing a purposeful aesthetic for the rest of us to follow. The grass on the lawn we are picking has already created too many bare and ugly patches of desolate, impotent land. A better system would be one that plants and grows much and picks little. In order to enjoy existence, we have to let it be.   

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