Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Twelve Rounds with Kant (part twelve)

In some ways the Critique of the Power of Judgement resists synopsis. The Critique of Pure Reason and Critique of Practical Reason each possesses a linear structure wherein an elaborate argument is built up from its foundations and followed to the pinnacle of its conclusion, whether Kant intends to construct and justify a bounded but flexible epistemological system (the first critique) or to provide an annex in which that system can house a moral objectivism, assert the logical and practical necessity of doing so, and explore what that entails (the second critique). The third critique, on the other hand, often seems tangential to itself.

Let's say Kant has a greater and a lesser ambition for the Critique of the Power of Judgment. On a more modest level, Kant wants only to examine the faculty of judgement in and of itself, and see if it contains an a priori guiding principle like the other two "higher" cognitive faculties (the understanding and reason). If that's the case, he pins that principle (the perception of purposiveness) down in the Introduction, and having established it as conclusively settled, proceeds to spend the next three hundred pages ruminating on its ramifications, with detours into matters of fine art and biology. Any outline of the procedure would be as scattershot as the book itself, and academic wonks have noticed that Kant doesn't actually ground many of his remarks on beauty and organic forms upon the intricacies of our judging faculty. (See here, sixth paragraph.)

More daringly, Kant also purposes to span the divide between the remote continents of natural and moral philosophy. That's a hell of a hook (especially if you're already familiar with the organization of the Kantian system), and it had me eagerly turning the pages as soon as Kant alluded to the possibility in the Introduction. Imagine my surprise when our dear philosopher presently embarked on a deep dive into judgements of taste and art.

Not that this stuff is altogether irrelevant to Kant's stated purpose, and not that it wasn't tremendously influential in its time—it cannot be emphasized enough that the Critique of the Power of Judgement inaugurated the definitional shift of the word "aesthetic" toward its modern usage—but it's possible to finish the Introduction, skip the Critique of Aesthetic Judgement altogether, and begin reading the Critique of Teleological Judgement and not find your understanding of it much impaired. We simply can't do this with the Critique of Pure Reason: if the first-time reader leapt ahead to the Transcendental Dialectic after reaching the end of the Transcendental Aesthetic, he'd find himself hopelessly lost.

Giving an overview of the Critique of the Power of Judgement with regard to its more grandiose intention without setting aside whole swaths of the book as extraneous is a daunting prospect. People who've made careers for themselves reading and writing about Kant have evidently taxed themselves trying to discern an internal consistency within the text as a whole. As an amateur, I find myself at something of a loss.

I feel that the most sensible and expedient way of writing about the third critique would be to look separately at its aesthetic and teleological sections, paying attention to the areas where the concerns of the first and second critiques overlap. I should say again, for anyone who's actually reading this, that I'm writing this as a summary for my own benefit (internalizing the text by compelling myself to parse and restate parts of it), during which I'll pretend that I'm explaining to a curious roommate what I've been reading lately. 

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Twelve Rounds with Kant (part eleven)

Let's set the tone here with an excerpt.

Since the freedom of the imagination consists precisely in the fact that it schematizes without a concept, the judgement of taste must rest on a mere sensation of the reciprocally animating imagination in its freedom and the understanding with its lawfulness, thus on a feeling that allows the object to be judged in accordance with the purposiveness of the representation (by means of which an object is given) for the promotion of the faculty of cognition in its free play; and taste, as a subjective power of judgement, contains a principle of subsumption, not of intuitions under concepts, but of the faculty of intuitions or presentations (i.e., of the imagination) under the faculty of concepts (i.e., the understanding), insofar as the the former in its freedom is in harmony with the latter in its lawfulness.

One sentence. Who could have written this sentence but Immanuel Kant? And what could occasion wheeling him here but my having finally finished reading The Critique of the Power of Judgement (1790), the final installment of the Kant Trilogy?

(Note: the title most often translated into English as "The Critique of Judgement," but the Cambridge University Press edition I've been reading is titled "The Critique of the Power of Judgement," which is closer to the meaning of the original German (Critik der Urtheilskraft.) Editor and translator Paul Guyer (or perhaps Cambridge University Press) insists on the barbarous spelling "judgment," which I reject and will not reproduce here.)

Since about part six of this exercise I've regretted giving myself an arbitrary framework vis-à-vis the title. Twelve rounds, twelve Kantposts. I spent way too much time at the beginning idly ruminating on the metaphysical implications of the first critique's Transcendental Aesthetic when the Transcendental Dialectic constituted the real meat on the bone. And now here we are on part eleven of twelve, and I've got to somehow synopsize and/or meditate on the Critique of Judgement in just two posts. This bout might have to go on for an extra round. Goodie.

Once again, let me emphasize that I'm doing this strictly for the purpose of engaging with Kant in a way that helps me to better understand the material than I would if I just put the book away and went on with my life. Nothing that follows should be taken as authoritative. I'm writing more or less as a student.

So: the Critique of the Power of Judgement reminds me of Marilyn Manson's album Holy Wood.

I can't believe I just typed that. Let me explain.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Celebrity, Mythology, & The Machine (part 9)

René Magritte, The Lovers (1928)

Whoops. A couple of days ago I accidently hit "publish" on the draft that I'd been using as a repository for notes and stuff cut out of other pieces. I never said I was any good at this.

IX. THE TECHNOLOGY OF ESTRANGEMENT

The development of media technology in the West was from the beginning a movement toward individuation and estrangement. It's right there in the Latin meaning of the word. Medium. A middle; something that stands between.

Information in a nonliterate society cannot remain inert. It must be enacted, it must circulate. The externalization of speech as written language denuded human interdependence in its original, direct forms. The more one can learn from a book, the less one requires a teacher, guide, or knowledgeable companion. When news of community affairs is delivered through a paper, one no longer needs to hear it from her neighbors. Stories and poetry taken in through the eye instead of the ear become matters of private leisure instead of communal occasions.

In a primary oral culture, the transmission of verbal information necessitates a direct interaction between speakers and listeners. Communication here is immediate and interactive; feedback from the listeners influence what the speaker says and how he says it, and the exchange of information most often occurs under circumstances which are conterminous for both speaker and listener. In other words, the contexts of the acts of speaking and listening overlap. But this is obvious: the speaker wouldn't be speaking if a listener weren't nearby, and vice versa. A social environment such as this can't be expected to breed many introverts or loners. "Primary orality fosters personality structures that in certain ways are more communal and externalized, and less introspective than those common among literates," Walter Ong writes in his 1982 classic Orality and Literacy. "Oral communication unites people in groups."

Conversely, between the novelist and the reader of her book is interposed a labyrinthine social complex that confronts each of them in a different aspect.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Celebrity, Mythology, & The Machine (part 8)

YouTube screencap ganked from npr.org.

Just kidding. There's still one more to go after this. I'm just having too much fun.

VIII. DEFINITIONS, METAPHORS, VELMA & HATSUNE

I would like to submit two provisional definitions.

First: the celebrity. He or she is a media entity whose content—those artifacts bearing some aspect of their likeness and/or their name—passes some arbitrary threshold of circulation such that it alters the behavior of some arbitrary number of viewing and/or listening persons along similar lines. We can set the bar as high or as low as we please, though it is generally understood that a proper celebrity commands the attention of some tens of thousands of people or more.

This is not a rigorous definition—surely some more thoughtful person can do better—but it designates the celebrity status as function of media "presence" (which we put in quotation makes because the template for the artifact is very seldom present where the majority of spectators are concerned), and also of the artifacts' effects on those who engage with them. The second part is more slippery than the first, since it doesn't differentiate between something as simple as hovering over a recognized name on a film's IMDB page and something as drastic as recording a sobbing excoriation of the press' calloused treatment of a troubled pop star and uploading it to YouTube. But in either case, the act is elicited by a history of engagement with content, not with the human beings to which is its attributed.

Second definition—tentatively, and far less rigorously—content is stimuli administered by a device. That device might be a film projector, a television screen, a smartphone, a Kindle, a car's stereo system, or whatever. Note that "content" wasn't the vernacular term which encompassed written material, television programming, film, music, etc. until the internet age.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Celebrity, Mythology, & The Machine (part 7)

Via Insider

VII. VIRTUAL REALITY

With a little shopping, the photo above could easily pass as a scene from an outdoor Harry Styles concert. This is a scene from a parade, not a judicial occasion.

Some people buy a ticket for a stadium seat so they can shout themselves hoarse encouraging and cursing their favorite football team; others visit the courthouse where a celebrity trial is being held so they can cheer on the dreamy litigant they've been stanning since high school. It's all the same: modern variations on the theme of the Great Dionysia.

Depp v. Heard played out like an ancient Greek drama in which the attentive public comprised the chorus. Two private persons, whom we all seemed to know, or felt we knew on the basis of our having so often seen and heard their likenesses in films, read interviews with them in glossy magazines, parsed and hit the Like button on their social media updates, etc., entered a courtroom in Fairfax, Virginia to settle a civil dispute. 

There was no possibility that the trial would ensue like a mundane legal process for determining whether the defendant's article in the Washington Post actually constituted defamation, as the plantiff alleged. The entire proceeding was livestreamed, and we viewed it as though it were a protracted film in which Depp and Heard were co-stars—that is to say that it was entertainment, witnessed, contemplated, and discussed by members of society in which entertainment is a profoundly serious matter.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

On Return to Monkey Island

In spite of all the admonitions of my reason (and though I've got something else I really ought to be finishing), I'm compelled to offer my paltry observations of Return to Monkey Island and its reception. I know I will be saying nothing that hasn't already been promulgated throughout the message boards and social networks of people who play games, or been the subject of a thousand YouTube monologues. Yet I apparently can't help myself. Like Ron Gilbert's previous game, 2017's Thimbleweed Park, Return to Monkey Island reminded me why I don't play video games much anymore—and maybe that's a good thing [question mark].

There will be spoilers. Also, most of the screenshots were captured by other people.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Celebrity, Mythology, & The Machine (part 6)


VI. LIVED EXPERIENCE (INTERLUDE)

It's difficult to grow up in the developed world without building up a set of habits around a television set, some sort of music player, a smartphone, or any other machine that delivers mass media content. Most of us are "followers" of at least a few media personalities. That's just how it is.

Who are my favorites, you ask?

I listen to Clay Pigeon's Wake N Bake show at work, five days a week. Mr. Pigeon picks good tunes. I've enjoyed his radio essays, one-man skits, and street interviews ever since I chanced to catch a few on the Dusty Show while driving around Jersey in the late aughts. He's always struck me as a sweet man. All I know about his history is what he's said on the air: he's originally from Iowa but lives in Manhattan with his wife (whose name escapes me). I believe he used to be a smoker.

The only internet-famous types I keep track of are the boys middle-aged men of RedLetter Media. Best of the Worst scratches more or less the same itch as Mystery Science Theater 3000. I usually skip their takes on recent films (I don't go to the movies much and I don't subscribe to any streaming services), but sometimes I'll click on a new Re:View episode if they're discussing a favorite film of mine or one I've been curious about. I don't follow any of them on social media.

I think that might be about it these days. There are a few blogs I peek at now and then, but I'm not sure that counts. Much as I enjoy reading Nick Carr or Sam Kriss's stuff, I've never felt much personal affection for either of them. Not like Clay Pigeon or the RedLetter Media guys. When you listen to an endearing radio host five days a week, or to a group of conversationalists with entertaining and sometimes fascinating interpersonal dynamics, you're bound to make at least a small emotional investment in them—or, rather, in the simulations of them. I enjoy writers because there's no illusion of propinquity.

I try not to get too invested. Possibly because I've been so deeply disappointed in the past.