The Injustice of Contemplation
One might almost say that truth itself depends on the tempo, the patience and perseverance of lingering with the particular; what passes beyond it without having first entirely lost itself, what proceeds to judge without having first been guilty of the injustice of contemplation, loses itself at last in emptiness.
This quote from Adorno’s Minima Moralia entry “For Anatole France” seems in opposition to Deleuzian aesthetic judgment. And while I like to believe in a subjective aesthetics in search of the greatest elements of clash & energy in practice I think that as a member of an art audience I fall somewhere between this & a traditionally hierarchical idea of aesthetics.
Like, I hate the idea of top ten lists & of ranking one work as better or worse than another. I don’t like to play the bar game of five best ____________. But then I also do it. I frequently say that I like Aimee Bender more than Kelly Link, despite the fact that they write dramatically different & both incredibly compelling short stories. But there is a chance that a magic animal might play a major role in either of their stories. The fact that both of them use fantastic elements in their narratives causes me to categorize them, assuming a valid comparability. And of course hierarchy follows. I choose Bender because I have more of a hankering for her than Bender. But have this for reasons that are aesthetically outside the aspects that make the two writers comparable. I am not comparing them equally—which means that they should be read exclusively for their own sense of wonder. And yet, I always expect people to be Bender people or Link people, to prefer either Monet’s lilies or his cathedrals.
I think this is a pretty common kind of way of defining one’s taste. One loves one thing & hates another. But I also firmly dislike negative critique of art, because I think it is a way of creating false idealizations of a genre. I prefer criticism that looks for the unique thing, energy, voice, quiver that any particular piece of art can create in my reading of it. But perhaps the difference between simple taste & useful criticism lies in this gap.
But in subjective aesthetics the energy occurs through the act of attention—when we “linger with the particular” the aesthetic interaction occurs & we can not resist it. But rather than simply asking if the act of focus turn potential into kinetic (which is better asked by checking out one of Duchamp’s readymades, or by walking around your neighborhood & investigating the alleys), I’m wondering how can a radically subjective (& at least theoretically liberating) aesthetics respond to a glut of art? In some kind of traditional social interaction of western elite aesthetics the great work is recognized by an act of authority & then proclaimed—the taste model set to a grander orchestration. The greatness is presumed to be part of the piece; whereas in a subjective aesthetics greatness is judged by how vital (exciting, affective, whatever) an energy occurs between the thing & the viewer & then how it allows for a set of new thinking.
Of course then comes the Anti Social Constructivist argument that claims that the TV Guide is as good as Mina Loy in this method of reading. And then the subjectivist says “yes, darling, yes it is” & waits for the ASC to get frustrated. All of which is a pretty stultifying exchange, or at least it has been since Lingua Franca went belly up. Because I doubt anyone interested in the arts enough to focus on it as a category (to say, study literature, become a musician) can honestly not perform some kind of hierarchically comparative reading of works. I have favorite poets & when people don’t like those poets I tend to think they are suspect.