>Reading Log 1

June 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

>I am currently reading for comprehensive exams. I am going to use my blog for notes and thoughts about reading.

Recently read Koren’s The Flower Shop and Wabi Sabi, as well as Okakura’s The Book of Tea.

I am struck by the congergence of aesthetics with space and gesture in these texts. It is not surprising to me that The Book of Tea may have been inspirational to a young Martin Heidegger because of its emphasis on being, but also its emphasis on the austere and rural aesthetic that has come to be known as wabi-sabi.

Our finite nature, the power of tradition and conventionality, as well as our hereditary instincts, restrict our capacity for artistic enjoyment. Our very individuality establishes in one sense a limit to our understanding; and our aesthetic personality seeks its own affinites in the creations of the past. It is true that with cultivation our sense of art appreciation broadens, and we become able to enjoy many hitherto unrecognized expressions of beauty. But, after all, we see only our image in the universe — our particular idiosyncrasies dictate the mode of our perceptions. The tea masters collected only objects which fell strictly within the measure of the individual apperception. (Okakura 68)

The body and the self give form to my content and my gesturing in the world will perform my content intentionally or not. I am my own narrative structuring myself as I move, but also informed by history.

I am located in space and my space houses me. The tea masters shaped space intentionally to reinforce a kind of being.

But the tea room is a communicative space. It is semi public in its arrangement…somewhere between private and public, a limited intimacy.

Its intimacy is austere and home-like. It reminds me of Bachelard’s discussion of home in The Poetics of Space.

I think of this in juxtaposition to Benjamin’s “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” That piece strikes me every time I read it. This week it struck me in its attention to public and private space.

How much can intimacy be public? In the sacredness, the magical ritual of traditional art destroyed by the reproductive aparatus, by the democritization of taste, where everyone’s an expert critic, what happens? What happens to the secrets? Benjamin predicts the modality of the internet.

Religion, the sacred, do not become transparent in some profane way. Rather, there is a new space for conjuring, for magic, for the gossip of facebook — the jinxing nature of our most hateful inner thoughts.

Many people are more likely to say things online, violent things, than in person. Public anonymity is a canvas for our darkest sides.

Thinkers in like Kafka are aware of this –the confessional nature of Sartre’s Roquinton in Nausea, in Camus’ The Fall and The Stranger. These first person narrators perform their own erasure and continue the tragectory of the negative subject, a tragectory in direct line with Flaubert’s Frederick in A Sentimental Education. Capitalism and its emphasis on materiality creates the conditions for the artist to reject the “conventional” by spiritualizing art and eschewing value. As Benjamin claims, Art for Art’s Sake makes art into a religion.

One thing for me to think about as I continue to read must be the way that intimacy works in terms of spirituality and the continuing negation of subjectivity in twentieth century thought.

It is clear that the female protagonist in the work of writers such as Selah Saterstrom and Marie Redonnet take on a kind of positivity. In Redonnet especially, the young woman, dying before adulthood but also giving birth passes on a hope and also a limit in understanding. The materiality of these female characters’ bodies gives them a kind of positivity, a positioning, a habitus (to use Bourdieu’s term). As a position, they are each an ethos. This is quite distinct from a writer like Percival Everett, who, in Erasure, documents the dissolution of his main character’s identity and its emergence as pure cultural ephemera.


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