A Basic Statement on the Aesthetic
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A Basic Statement on the Aesthetic
-- January, 2013
-- major edit, August 29, 2013
I have, over the years, attempted many of such "basic statements" as what follows, each to its own degree of success. They are each time an experiment in themselves, an attempt to condense galaxies of thought into but a few introductory paragraphs. And I do not claim that this is the best or the greatest of those efforts. It is oly my current attempt: although an attempt that comes out of the many years of previous attempts. It will change change over time as I tweak the present language and gain new language.
We are of two natures: something which can not be denied. There is our communal self; there is our individual self. There is that part of us which is collective, which is societal, and that part of us which is singular, personal. These two natures create two modalities of engagement with reality.
The communal is that aspect of language and thought that derives from the definitional, from the rational. It is that aspect of language that is needed so that we can communicate with each other successfully and clearly. To do that there must be a language with relatively stable and understood meanings; and there must be a common world-view that is also stable, fixed, and transmittable. This is the nomic: it is the reality of laws, of meanings, where individuality has no role. It is that part of our being that seeks order, definition, rationality, organization: not just in language, but also in the social groups that create the need for the language. It is that part of our being that creates ethics and laws and mores (this is what you do to be a good member of society). It is that part of our being that builds established religions out of spirituality (this is what the passage means; this is the correct way to worship). The nomic is the place where not only truths are established, even ultimate truths, but truthfulness itself. The communal demands and establishes and exists within fixity, constancy, definition, convention, tradition.
The other modality is that of flow, of experience, of the spiritual, the mystical, and of myth. It is not the world-view established and defined through the cultural nomoi, but the world as it exists as a unified cosmos, as it is engaged individually. There is no truth but that which exists in the moment of experience: which is to say, it is the experience itself. An aesthetic poem seeks no meaning, only its reading; and that reading exists only within the act of reading. Every reading is experience, and the poem is the microcosmos created to offer that experience. The aesthetic is the modality of myth, of spirituality, of beauty. This modality of being can be called cosmic reality. It is that aspect of language that breaks reveals the abstract nature of definition, that aspect of language that lives in metaphor, in irony, in the experience of sound and vision, in the lyrical and the surreal.
It is incorrect to say that these two modes of being (and modes of thought, and modes of language) are distinct from each other; it is also incorrect to say that they oppose each other. The nomic is, actually, a part of the cosmic: just as the rational is a subset of the whole of the irrational, and the conscious is an island that has emerged out of the greater sea of the unconscious. The nomic is a construct with in the cosmic. But in that truth is only ever abstract, that the world-view of the nomic is only ever established societal meanings and conventions; in that the very concept of truth -- and ultimate Truth -- is a construct created through and affirmed by the nomic, the nomic is inherently opposed to the aesthetic. For the aesthetic, by its very nature, points out the arbitrariness of truth and the limits of the stability of the nomic world-construct. On the other side, however, the aesthetic recognizes and accepts the presence of the nomic understanding as part of the greater human cosmos. So the nomic still functions within the aesthetic, even as it strives to maintain the "truth" that the aesthetic is "not-truth." The nomic percieves the aesthetic as blasphemous; whereas the aesthetic sees the nomic as part of the medium of creation and creating.
Of course, no text is wholly nomic; and no text is wholly aesthetic. But the for the most part the mind will on its own move toward the passive modality of the nomic. The modality of the aesthetic takes effort, labor, energy: it is active engagement and creation. As such, cultures and societies will over time become more concrete, more sedimented in their conventionalies and definitions and truths. So across the spectrum, the nomic will tend to dominate; the aesthetic will tend to be the exception.
From out of the pairing of the nomic and the cosmic I want to try a series of pairings. (These are admittedly somewhat oriented around the aesthetic, which is my central concern with my projects as regards literature and the arts.) The words offered are not meant to be taken as precise terms, or as definitional qualificaties of either category. Rather, my hope is that the pairing of the words might expand the understanding of the two modalities. (After all, the point here in this explroation is to attempt brevity: hopefully, what lies above the list is enough to give energy to exploration of the words in the list.)
|THE NOMIC||-----||THE AESTHETIC|
|the societal||-----||the individual|
and continual re-performance
|the conscious||-----||the unconscious|
|the mundane||-----||the mystical/ the phantastic|
and expectation of
|-----||individual experience of the text|
(*In a way, I am defining the term in process. Though, in fact, the term "the aesthetic" is used for what others identify as the "cosmic" by many writers, which they use the term explicitly or implicitly.)