Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What I Meant Yesterday

That there are no aesthetic absolutes. When it comes to art, our standards are culturally determined. They are aspects of our evolved human nature.

That does not necessarily mean there are no aesthetic universals -- by which statement I do not concede standards that somehow exist beyond humanity, independent of humanity or previous to humanity.

There are aesthetic universals just as there are moral and/or ethical universals, the latter having nothing to do with the existence of god or some other overlord. Human ethics are a survival adaptation. (I think. Others don't, obviously.) So are aesthetic universals, though I am not sure exactly what such universals might be other than that they would certainly be broadly drawn and neither granular nor authoritative.

All universals are irreducibly human and broad to the point of caricature and thus, in application, individual, particular, idiosyncratic.

This assumption must change the tone of a good deal of criticism, would it not?

Possibly apropos, I think of the last lines of the Yeats poem "The Circus Animals' Desertion," written near the end of his life as his powers failed.

Those masterful images because complete

Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?

A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,

Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,

Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut

Who keeps the till.

Now that my ladder's gone,

I must lie down where all the ladders start

In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

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