A Possibility for Artistic “Meaning”

Interested in literary or artistic "meaning" as the sum of all infinite interrelationships between a work of art/literature and the equally infinite set of all data points which exist both inside the work and out in the world. These data points include, but are not limited to, the composition of society in its entirety, both at the time of the work's creation and every time before or since; the position of the artist/author within society during every moment of his lifetime and also before/since; all facts and biographies about audiences/readers both real and hypothetical; every included word's complete etymological history and complete history of usage (also, important in their negation, the histories of excluded words as well); and all physical facts about the universe. More

Maps, Chords, and Effect Ideas

Gabe Duquette, writing at Liposuction, divides artistic fit into two categories: chords and maps.

Chords are elements combined in a way that is appealing, but not because the combination describes reality. Chords exploit the many evolved sweet spots of the senses. They can be comprised of “real” things but prioritize creation of an experience over transmission of knowledge. Chords can be consonant or dissonant — the sum of their parts can elicit pleasure or irritation, or even revulsion. Chocolate and peanut butter fit better than chocolate and ketchup.More

Return Maximization as Critical Mode

Interested in what I am possibly calling Utilitarian Criticism, or more likely Consequentialist Interpretation, or even more likely Return Maximization as a Critical Mode. This is the mode where the goodness or badness of a text/art object, for example, is largely irrelevant. Instead, modes of interpretation or ways of seeing are sought which maximize the audience's return on said text or art object. Utilitarian may be the wrong term because the obvious argument that critiquing (in the sense of evaluating) bad art likely has positive effects towards a culture producing more good art in the long run. Arguments over whether a sober or bright-side approach is better for a culture in sum (or where on the spectrum between approaches is a so-called sweet spot) makes for an interesting conversation but one outside the scope of this specific critical mode. So perhaps Return Maximization is the superior term. 

Especially coming out of 20th Century Meaning Wars in literature departments ("Should we rely on author intent, reader response, or formal elements in our interpretation of a text?") the Return Maximization approach interests me as an "out" where consequentialism replaces deontology in deciding critical or interpretative methods. If contextualizing information adds to a text's perceived richness or value, it is worthy of inclusion. Return Maximization implicitly rests on the belief that arguments about "correctness" or "truth" are only relevant with respect to human beings as an end, especially where human-defined concepts like "quality" and "meaning" are concerned. 

Alva Noë & Baseball

I do not watch baseball, though many of my favorite passages and anecdotes are inspired by the sport. There is DeLillo, of course, in his prologue to the monumental Underworld, whose opening line — He speaks in your voice, American, and there's a shine in his eye that's halfway hopeful. — remains one of the best ever written.¹ More

Excerpts from Alva Nöe’s Strange Tools

"Tools are useful only against the background of our needs and capacities. Let’s return to the doorknob. A simple bit of technology, yes, but one that presupposes a vast and remarkable social background. Doorknobs exist in the context of a whole form of life, a whole biology—the existence of doors, and buildings, and passages, the human body, the hand, and so on. A designer of doorknobs makes a simple artifact, but does so with an eye to its mesh with this larger cognitive and anthropological framework." (99) More

The Areopagus

There is a hill on the Western slope of the Acropolis called the Areopagus, or Areopagus Hill. One would not know from the swooping doves and stretching olive orchards which adorn the area that it was until recently the site of recurring tragedy. The rocky outcropping above its rubbled ruins, which allows sublime views of a city at dusk, is composed entirely of a reddish marble; each day, thousands of visitors from the Parthenon tackle this outcropping. Over the course of years, this marble has become polished and slippery, so that at first every few years, and then a few times per year, someone would slip and, hitting head to matter, be killed. As casualties mounted into the dozens and then hundreds annually, an amount of danger deterring even the most overtly determined Grecophiles and flocking international tour groups, the Athenian Tourism Institute flew into action. The Institute’s goals were tripartite: rehabilitating the Athenian and Areopagean images, improving the walkability of the Areopagus Hill, and keeping human mortality rates to a viable minimum. After months of accepting and judging proposals from world-class engineers (during which a dozen more teenagers, sneaking over the closed hill’s barricades, were tragically killed), the Institute decided on a plan of action involving the roughening of the hill. A sort of special reverse sandpaper was built, tested, and employed on the rust-colored marble, undoing the decades of human weathering with industrial drills, water pressure, inverse sandblasters, hammer-and-chisels, and other equally primitive techniques. 

Some speculated, after the repair work was finished, that the treacherous landscape had been a spiritual vengeance by the dead of the Areopagean cemetery, circa 1650 BCE, upon which many of the tourists trampled. Others mused at the way in which a thousand thousand strolls had accomplished a smoothing which far surpassed the technical abilities of even the most accomplished classical craftsmen. 

The Tiered World

“As do other shamanistic peoples throughout the world, the San [or “bushmen”] believe in a realm above and another below the surface of the world on which they live… Concepts of a tiered universe are, of course, not restricted to shamanistic religions. Heaven above, Hell below, and the level of anxious humanity in-between appear in one form or another across the globe. Why should this be so?