18 February, 2009

Ironic (Amateur Aesthetics Within)

I have made a stab at reading Hegel's Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics recently. I'm altogether lacking any sort of background reading on the subject, so I will avoid any kind of overall analysis. As ever when I over-reach into the realms of philosophy, I found it difficult to retain a consistent focus on the author's arguments, but sporadically bits and pieces would flash at me from the page and I'd be "in the zone" for the briefest while. These little passages of illumination are totally exhilarating and worth some of the hardship the rest of the book might bring.

Indeed I imagine my lack of context often means that I am nowhere near understanding the point the author is making, but on my more superficial level I can still happily derive satisfaction from the flights of fancy these misinterpretations send me on.

From this book? Sweet spots I will recall fondly must certainly include the distinctions between art and nature, and also Hegel's explanation of "the antithesis" and its key role in the definitions of both humanity and art. Hegel seems to envision a series of fundamental dualities at the heart of man - something that really struck a chord with me. I think I'd like to explore this further.

Hegel also devotes a few pages to "Irony" (he criticises a specific brand of such - but I'm not acquainted with this, so again I apply to the general and familiar). He's not hot on irony - after all much of his discussion of art describes the relationship between the artistic work in particular and the absolute, the universal form. "Irony," however, relates to "I," and lacks this earnest approach to the divine and true. It plunges all into relativism with the effect that "every positive matter is annihilated into this abstract freedom and unity." The ironical observer has no bonds - all things around him are lifeless and representative of nothing. It's further intimated that such an observer "looks down in superiority on all mankind besides."

I can't think about this in terms of the art of Hegel's day. But this does fuel an idea I've had for a while - that in great works of art, whatever medium, there is a core that cries out to the observer with a passion and a purity. This makes it pretty easy to contrast the heart-felt with the cynical, the functional and the deliberately, knowingly crass. I find myself wondering what the great man himself would have made of the self-knowing hordes that fill Stealth vs Rescue Rooms on a weekly basis.