17/4/2022 1 Comment
On beauty and community
I might have written before about the strangeness of our experience of beauty, that it is necessarily experienced subjectively, but seems like a quality inherent in the beautiful object itself - though as I write that, I am thinking, what is strange about that? Isn't it the same as our experience of anything at all? We experience coldness subjectively, through our own senses, but what we are experiencing is a property of the cold object or cold atmosphere. But on the one hand, we are more likely to agree on whether something is cold or not, and on the other hand, we are more likely - or I am more likely - to care about whether something is beautiful than whether or not it is cold, and to care about your judgement if it is different from mine. I've always thought I cared because what I am seeing is a beauty I haven't just created in my own mind - though you'd think I might care about that more - but because I am seeing a beauty that is there, in the object itself, that it somehow matters to me should be recognised. (And on the other hand I almost want to resist seeing beauty where other people see it and I don't, as if to see beauty in a sunset would compromise my own aesthetics and I'd lose some of the beauty I see elsewhere.) So it is interesting to me to find Hannah Arendt also backing, as a political move, the idea of beauty as a kind of truth that can be argued for. To call something beautiful is to make a judgement, that can be held to the potential criticism of others, that might need to be explained, that to be persuasive draws on shared ideas and ideals. It is this sharing, criticising, arguing and persuading that makes aesthetic judgement political - it builds community. I like the political significance that this gives aesthetic judgement and that this gives my desire to share my aesthetic judgement and for it to be shared by others. And I like the way it offers a political significance to the act of aesthetic judgement that is still consistent with the idea of aesthetic value being something completely independent from any direct political motive or ethical message that the work of art might hold. At the same time, it only pushes the subjective, relativity of aesthetic judgement into a larger sphere, making beauty a social construction that can be argued out in terms of agreed upon values that themselves could be seen as just as arbitrary, relative and subjective as my own private and idiosyncratic preferences. And by having in this aesthetic judgement still floating free from ethical, moral and political judgement, Arendt still leaves open the question of the relation between the community building and what the community is for, and the relation between community formed around aesthetic judgement and community formed around shared spaces and social actions. For Arendt, aesthetic judgement is important because judgement itself is important, and because community itself depends on judgement. "The manifestation of the wind of thought is not knowledge, it is the ability to tell right from wrong, beautiful from ugly. And this indeed may prevent catastrophes." But does the ability to tell beautiful from ugly have the same kind of consequence as the ability to tell right from wrong? Or is the one simply a kind of training ground for the other? I do not feel I am at the end of this thought, further from the end of the thought perhaps than I was before beginning to think it, but I want to hold on to the idea of the relation between aesthetic judgement and community, and the idea of beauty in relation to shared values, and the sharing of values, as social action.
These are paragraphs without essays or books to go in.