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Aesthetics, and the recent history of philosophy (18th -20th centuries)

I have been exploring an e-mail conversation with a woman who enjoys having an appreciated depth and intelligence. The conversation has been an exchange of questions regarding the nature of poetry, communication, and community.

We have tentatively accepted the premise that, while the aware individual's self is of primary importance in that individual's valuation, still, since that self is affected and appreciated best in community, then also is socialization of major importance.

Socialization, further, is seen to be formed of more than one type of group, where "type" is characterized by recognizable sets of interests, attitudes and/or beliefs, adherence to which essentially defines membership even where the individual's self is somewhat modified and influenced in those interests, attitudes, and/or beliefs.

In discussing the nature of poetry, a specification was ventured that it is an expression in language, structurally different from standard prose, and which communicates to the casual reader a sense of beauty (leaving aside for now the discussion of beauty itself), yet when read more closely reveals more, once-hidden, beauty. As an aside, I mentioned that if that is the case, then my interlocutor was like poetry.

I thought about that, after I had sent it, and the following day attempted to correct myself: surely a person is of greater significance than mere words, so I reasoned I ought to have said not that she was like poetry, but that poetry is like her.

Yet even this supposed correction is questionable, given the significance of the effect of community on both meaning and self.

As my understanding of her is hardly more than an image which, to me, represents her, I could indeed rightly say that to me she is like a poem, though in herself and for herself she absolutely more universal and wondrous than any words can express... And yet again, the sharable meaning she has, and which belongs to her (though said meaning exists within my understanding, or even between others conversing about her), is nevertheless a representation, just as poetry is a representation.

Or is a meaning more significant than the being who expresses or inspires it? After all, the body will eventually pass away, but the meanings may remain as long as sentience exists. Granted, it would be rude to suggest so, to suggest that the poem is greater than the poet, for example. But is it?

What, after all, has permanence or ephemerality to do with values? The river flows, ever changing, yet ever the same... The act of reading a poem may take moments, its meanings may linger in the consciousness for an hour if it is any good. Eventually the savor fades, and the poem is largely forgotten until some other thing triggers a reawakened taste (after Marcel Proust's madelenes)... yet even at that point is it not become a part of the person experiencing whatever stimulus has triggered the memory?

Obviously I am really unsure and undecided of the primacy of this issue. I could toss up my hands and decide to go out for a beer and a wink, or I could worry the problem like a terrier shaking a rag. Hmmmm...

I'll be back in a couple of hours...

Well, that was a bit more than a few hours: I've been getting active in the newsgroup on Usenet. There is an interesting discussion ongoing regarding poetry and those who write or have written it.

What has permanence and ephemerality to do with values? With regard to aesthetics, we are first confronted with a question regarding the nature of "the good": is the good immutable, unchanging regardless of the whimsy of humanity? Or is it rather changeable, interacting with those who address it, evolving with the understanding of those who aspire thereto?

I think if the good is immutable, existing in itself regardless of our apprehensions, then the nearest we can approach even relating to it from our changing realities is to vaguely notice a tendency in a constant undercurrent of our lives which does relate to Truth directly. In this regard, however, I would hesitate to call it truth, since truth is a human word describing what is common among our realities, and so relates and changes as the world we live in changes. So that immutable ideal should really have a different name from that which we use in English, in courts of law, for example.

Yet there seems to be progression and change, and we in the West tend to want to think we are getting somewhere, improving. That implies that there is somewhere to improve toward. It also suggests that maybe it is appropriate to consider that truth is rightly something outside our struggling and evolving, since the goal is never achieved.

Yet if that toward which we strive is never attainable through our efforts, then perhaps it is really okay to be imperfect, that the sensible reaction to any failure to attain sublime truth is acceptance, not denial, of our humanity. Perhaps it is appropriate to embrace who I am than to be ever dissatisfied, appropriate to just relax into comfortable mediocrity and try no more.

It is as if the amalgam of pure unattainable truth, beauty, goodness were characteristics of one ideal objective, perceptible only indirectly through implied trends, and never percieved in itself. Maybe this is where we got the idea that there is a nirvana, a godhead, a Supreme Being, a unified field.

But maybe it is more accurate to imagine that we are on a path around the world, a spiritual ring, and we walk, noticing that those things ahead are unproven and unknown and those behind us we know are imperfect. We carry in us a motivation to seek out what is better, so we keep walking, unaware that we would eventually arrive back where we began. If this analogy is accurate, then true spirituality is in noticing that the real merit is in walking the walk.

Though best is ever beyond my grasp, better is sometimes accomplished.

What are your thoughts? © copyrights claimed by Richard Romero, 1997 ...back to poems


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