Don LaVange's Journal|
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Below are the 7 most recent journal entries recorded in
Don LaVange's LiveJournal:
|Thursday, January 30th, 2003|
|Plato's Treatment of the Arts and the Artist in the Just Society
Plato describes in books 3 and 10 of his work “The Republic”, the nature and status of what he calls the mimetic arts, including those who produce or enjoy such works, in an imagined city of justice. Engaging himself in an ironically artistic portrayal of philosophers discussing such a city, with the dead Socrates posing as a questioning conduit for the ideals Plato wishes to shed light on, Socrates and a group of friends engage in an imagined conversation where the just city is described with respect to these things. This paper will describe briefly how Plato viewed artistic production as being 3rd from the truth, mimicry of the copy of the eternal form it tries to represent, and how this informed the normative evaluation of art within the envisioned perfect state. It will further describe how such a view misunderstands art’s value as a channel for perceiving truth and the usefulness art has in society.
The perfect city, Socrates is made to inform us, would not allow artists, poets, playwrights, or musicians, to remain in its boundaries (398). Such persons have little value being mimics of the truth, who sit at a distance of 3 from the form they might attempt to portray. The eternal form is itself the sole example of the truth. It is that which the philosopher-guardians of the city seek in maintaining a perfect and free city. Those craftsman and providers that make the chairs and beds and tables and other items in the city have created a second, useful, but limited copy of that form they seek to portray. The third from the form is mimicry of the copy of the form (596-598). This is all that art is, and it is “not to be taken seriously” (602b). Any value it has might be limited to a role for very small children in educating them toward becoming mindful of God, or brave in battle (395d). But it is certainly not suited to anything beyond that, as even when depicting brave men in battle or devout obedience to God (in plays or poetry) such invigorates emotions better left to the private expressions good and decorous men might experience, rather than in public. In fact, Plato finds poetry, tragedy and all the arts ultimately dangerous to the soul (606d).
While Plato has these ideas being accepted graciously by Socrates’ friends, he takes more careful aim on Homer. Admitting Homers esteemed role in Greek education, he questions if Homer is somehow only second from the truth (as Philosophers are) rather than third from the truth as he has established is the case for those who practice mimetics. He dismisses the poet because if Homer had been knowledgeable of generalships, of cities governments, and of the leading of men and so forth, what battle did he win? What city kept him and honored him as the Spartans did Lycurgus or the Athenians Solon? There being none, Plato describes him as a mere artist, a mimicking third from the truth, and hence of no value (600-602).
For Plato, everything in the just city must contribute to the well-being of the city. As such, all art must be evaluated in terms of its ability to contribute toward that goal. But Plato dismisses art as setting up “bad government in the soul of every private person by gratifying the mindless part” which can “corrupt good men” (605 c). The government of the just city will be undermined if men are exposed to the emotion stirring examples of mimicry, far from the truth. It is bad for the appetites of the providers, bad for the will and spirit of the auxiliaries, and distracting from the forms that the guardians have been bred to pursue (605c).
There are several reasons why I think that Plato’s argument about art is unsatisfactory. The first concern I have is tied up with my rejection of the notion that there is anything that exists like the eternal forms he describes. The maker of a chair is making not a crude copy of an eternal form of a chair, but rather an instantiation of a rather fluid cultural notion of something that is linguistically described as a chair. The notion of a chair variously conceived by makers is not evidence that makers were trying in vain to get at the original form. Rather they were engaging in a process of both mimicry and creativity, mimicking chairs the makers had experienced in the past, and creatively embellishing the chair in either artistic or functional ways, often improving the chair. I would claim that the chair’s creation by the series of individual makers, and the observation of and use of chairs is where the notion of “chair” comes from, rather than the other way around as Plato claims.
My second objection is to Plato’s charge of mimicry and his claim that such mimicry is to be evaluated based on its ability to coherently describe the thing being represented. To be sure, a painter, poet, musician or writer must be skilled at being able to represent in symbolic ways both the natural world and the world of ideas (not to a world of ideas that somehow magically exists independently of thinking humans, but one that is instantiated in the body of objects humans create that demonstrate such ideas). This may involve at some level of skill, exact mimicry of objects or it may involve more abstract representation of objects and especially ideas. Art may, however, be using such representations as a vehicle for communication of truths such as insight into what it means to be human, to be alive, to be mortal and to demonstrate some insight into the nature of the world around us. The artist isn’t attempting to dupe the childish or foolish, but rather to signify something to the insightful.
Plato also claims that the welling of emotion that such artistic works can produce is dangerous. The aesthetic experience of watching a play, however, isn’t lessened by public display of emotion, the emotion that might be evoked contributes to the aesthetic experience in ways that humans find gratifying. Aristotle, who also disagrees with Plato on this point, claims that there is cathartic value in experiencing such emotions and that this has value in itself. But the aesthetic experience is not limited to emotional involvement, and I believe it sheds light on something very much like truth, though attempting to describe how this is so is beyond the scope of this paper.
Plato’s dismissal of the role of Homer and other great and celebrated poets of Greece betrays an inconsistency in his argument that is pointed out by Pierre LaMarche (Aesthetics class notes: January, 14, 2003). In book 5, Plato responds to the criticism that Athens is in such a sorry state despite the teaching of the philosophers, and he claims that it isn’t the fault of the philosophers that the various cities like Athens refuse to adopt their spouted wisdom. But he uses the same argument that he attempts to deflect in Chapter 10 when he wants Homer to have had recognition in his day in such ways that he was either made a city leader, or that he was forced to stay in some city and advise rather than traveling around in the bardic tradition. Why didn’t Socrates himself win the acclaim of the people? Instead, he was executed for leading the youth of the city astray and for teaching against the gods. Plato dismissed Homer with a double-standard.
Finally, I dismiss Plato’s ideas about artists because I disagree about what might make a “just” city. Perhaps such a city is not attainable, but Plato’s vision would create a dull and drab city where there was no human vision in the form of the arts, no insight into the human condition not straight forwardly rational. The horrific notions of being led by the oligarchic philosopher kings ruling with absolute power and enforced by the auxiliary might of that state holds an image of a repressive, repetitive life, where early determinations doomed humans to a drab and artless life. I maintain that art enhances life, pleasure is good, and society is improved by it.
Plato’s notions of Eternal Forms, the role that art plays as mimicking the produced copies of those forms (3rd from the truth) and the debasing quality that comes from the release of emotion attendant to such mimicry is interesting but imagined. The forms don’t exist. Art is more than mimicry. The claim that poets should be judged according to how society reacts to them falls flat because of Plato’s own claims of blamelessness for the ignored philosophers of the past. His vision of the perfect and just city describes a world where humans have a worse life, not a better one.
 For the sake of clarity, I’ll refer to what Socrates is made to say as being the voice of Plato, who is merely mimicking Socrates to establish his points.
 These page numbers refer to “marginal page numbers” taken from “The Republic”, Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1974
|Wednesday, January 22nd, 2003|
In The Golden Bough, pages 49-60 and 135-146 (Frazer 1940) we are told that magic precedes religion in human evolution. Humankind, discovers magic first in attempting to induce changes in nature. In ways analogous to scientific rationalism, humans practicing magic believe that the world is orderly and precise. Magic allows one to “touch the secret springs” that in fact govern the natural world. The natural world, thus affected, is bound to follow the changes made by magic unless such changes are overridden by more powerful magic. In all cases an assumption that one event follows another is assumed.
Magic’s only flaw is that it misconceives “the nature of the particular laws that govern [a given] sequence” and believes in an implied relationship between one thing and another because of some observed associations. Thus, the lighting of a candle is believed to cause the sun to rise, or coitus in the fields to create the conditions for fertility.
Frazer believes that it is obvious that magical thinking gives way to religion through a process of evolution. Religion he explains, is a “conciliation of powers superior to man which are believed to direct and control the powers of nature” whose aim is to “please the deity”. This may take the form of belief and / or practice. Belief in deities implies a certain amount of elasticity to the universe (unlike the magician or scientist who believes in an absolutely sequentially significant world). The deity can be appealed to, but certainly not controlled.
Religion and Magic, may well exist in their pure forms, but often do as amalgams of earlier magical practices with religion or as ceremonies that are vestigial remains of the practices in an earlier day. Thus the European ceremonies of spring and solstice celebration are but an extension of the Roman, Greek, and Germanic mythical religious system, and that system a descendent of an even earlier magical one.
In chapters 11 and 12 Frazer describes numerous mythologies that show humans either engaging in ritualistic sexual relations (or refraining from such relations) in order to influence success over various aspects of agriculture. Finally, he describes how the goddess Diana, her origins as goddess of the wood, becomes goddess over fertility and the attendant rituals that denote that relationship. Water seems to be an important factor in the myths surrounding these religious stories.
Frazer, J. G. (1940). Magic and Religion. The golden bough; a study in magic and religion. [New York,, The Macmillan Company: 12 v.
|“The Culture of LiveJournal: The Internet and Communication”
The development and proliferation of computer-to-computer communication protocols, commonly referred to as “The Internet”, has created a host of new methods of communication that impact humans who experience such communication in a variety of interesting ways. Dissertations on cultural subjects as varied as communications on “electronic bulletin boards” to the culture of “web-cams” have been written. One interesting recent evolution in such ‘net’ enabled communication is the public journal. While “blogs” might be said to tend toward communication analogous to writing one’s own ‘newspaper column”, web based Journals and Diaries might contain anything from a list of what the writer did that morning, to formulated political statements. One example of electronic journaling is called LiveJournal, and its use of journaling and logic features to both find other journals, create syndicated ‘friends’ pages, and participate in discussions related to journal entries has created an interesting culture.
LiveJournal can be accessed internationally, in any typed language supported by the computer hardware, though from a very small percentage of the world’s population. Not only must the communicating human have free use of a computer system, that computer system must have access to the internet. Since it is COPPA compliant one must be at least 13 years of age to participate as a full member of the community, though nothing stops any person who has access to a computer with an internet connection from either participating anonymously or illicitly (by providing an earlier birth date). Statistics maintained by LiveJournal indicate that out of 850,000 total users, there are some 315,000 actual usage incidents reported in the 30 days previous to this writing. Of the total number of journals, some 36 percent report as male, about 63 percent female with the remainder unspecified. Les than 6 percent of the total accounts are “paid” accounts (25 dollars per year), the rest are ‘free users’. Age seems to play a significant distinction among users, the bulk of them falling between the ages of 15-23. The United States accounts for 594,000 journals with other western countries like Canada, Great Britain, Australia contributing members 10-30,000 members reach and places like the Russian Federation (9,000), Singapore (3500) representing smaller distributions of users in those countries. Usage in the US seems to follow population patterns, with the bulk of the users coming from states like California, New York, Florida, Michigan and Texas.
LiveJournal is a system that allows users to ‘post’ a ‘journal entry’ to a web page by pre-pending that entry to a page containing the previous 20-100 entries, sorted in newest-first order. The system allows each user some degree of control of the design and layout of these pages, with more flexibility and increased performance given to ‘paid users’ (free users use older and slower servers). There is some interesting cultural sub-grouping among users designated as ‘paid’ and ‘free’, and some even more special status to users who are ‘early-adopters’ or ‘permanent’. These latter cases correspond to the original group of users of the system before its use became prolific.
LiveJournal users can describe themselves in geographic ways and in terms of their ‘interests’. These interests (or geographical data) can be perused to find journals that other people have written that have varying degrees of similarity to one’s own (where one is a LiveJournal user) interests. Thus one may find all users interested in body surfing, or all users in Melbourne Australia.
The most significant aspect of LiveJournal’s cultural effect has to do with two things: One is the odd quality of keeping a ‘public journal’, especially where the notion of a journal is often culturally tied up with mundane or private-personal record keeping. The other is the ability to select any other LiveJournal user as a ‘friend’. In addition to one’s journal page where one can see the accumulated journal entries one has written, one has a ‘friends’ page, which uses syndication to create a page of some 20-100 entries, where each entry is populated in reverse order of creation time, from the list of one’s ‘friends’. This creates an effect that writers of journal entries often are not speaking to “dear diary” but to “dear diary readers”. The addition or removal of strangers (or acquaintances) as ‘friends’ creates interesting social dynamics, too complex to describe here. This is compounded by being able to create ‘friends only’ entries, readable only by journals you have befriended.
LiveJournalists spend time writing in their journals, reading and referring readers to their journals, reading their friends journals, through either the syndicated friends pages or through their friends personal journal pages, and through commenting on journal entries in their friends pages and reading and responding to comments left attached to their own journal entries. They select journals to read on their ‘friends’ page, and maintain their list of friends by adding and deleting journals from that list. All these functions combine to create a very real socio-cultural dynamic that warrants studying.
 “Web logs” – a regularly updated and dated set of paragraphs posted to a web page. http://www.blogger.com/
|Friday, October 4th, 2002|
The 3rd Volume of UVCS’s Integrated Studies Journal “Intersections” is now accepting submissions for academic papers from all areas of study. Submission forms available in the Integrated Studies Department AD217 and at: www.xmission.com/~cretin/intersections/.
Submission Deadline for Fall 2002 is November 28th at 5:00 pm
For more information contact Don LaVange at email@example.com
|Wednesday, September 18th, 2002|
Roman History 7:00 am GT 6th floor
email, Writing, Intersections, Email (in the fishbowl outside the quad lower)
Lunch - variable - meet with staff, instructors, study
Western Religions 10-11:15 CS 4th floor
Eastern Religions 11:30 - 12:45 AD near Integrated Studies
Lunch - open, study
2-4 study, fishbowl
Philosophy of Religion 4-5:15 AD near IS
Saturday - farmers market
|Wednesday, August 28th, 2002|