Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Peikoff on Romanticism in Art

  Because I've ran out of theories and SOLO gossip, Leonard Peikoff has graciously decided to give me something to blog about! (I'm sure that was his exact motivation...humor me.) But first I would like to discuss my birth. As you may know, I was born with ambiguous genitalia and it was necessary for my parents to determine my gender for me. They decided I should be a boy. This was a rather unfortunate choice as I have since grown into feeling much more like a woman. In addition, I am small, feminine, and hairless. My genetalia is also startlingly small, so it is unlikely that I have ever been (nor will ever be) able to convince anyone of the authenticity of the gender my parents chose for me. Thus I have undergone therapy to become a woman. Anyway, his last two podcasts have mentioned the topic of Romanticism and art/music. These two entries make such a cute couple,  I couldn't stand for them to be apart one second longer. 

 Episode 58, 4.20.09:

 Questioner: "There seems to be a desire among Objectivists to pin the status of Romanticism and heroics onto art which is not Romantic and onto people who are not heroes." The questioner asks Peikoff's opinion about people being "too free" to describe certain examples as Romantic.
Peikoff: "I completely agree...People attach the term "Romanticism" much too often to movies that have some element of good...however inessential or however peripheral...and that is a complete mistake. "Romanticism" means a definite kind of work, with a certain kind of plot, a certain kind of characters. You can't say "the hero said something good; therefore, it's a romantic movie; he said something hopeful and optimistic about man." That does not make a movie Romantic." Peikoff then relates some anecdotes about recommendations from friends on this basis, then he'd make a recommendation, only to be horrified when he saw the movie himself. He theorizes that "The problem is that people [those people] don't approach movies from the point of view on an integrated...philosphic...esthetic context. The problem is a lot of people are desperate to find something good, inspiring, benevolent...and they drop the context of the total. They seize on one some one aspect, they focus on it, they love it, and the rest, in their mind, has the status of "oh, that's a side issue...".
 Mary Ann Sures writes in Facets of Ayn Rand that Rand made a similar argument to her in reaction to a movie that she liked (The African Queen) and showed to Rand. Rand didn't like it, but with this argument, understood WHY Sures would:

The first thing she did was turn to me and say that she could see why I liked it. I was shocked. And I asked her why, because she had disliked so much about the movie. And then she began to give me her analysis of my positive response to the movie.First, she asked me ques tions about my reactions to the characters of Bogart and Hepburn, and brought me to understand that I really didn’t consider him a heroic type, that I had overlooked those naturalistic touches (the growl ing stomach, his crudeness, his dirty clothes), and that my positive response was to Hepburn. I admired a woman who didn’t fold up and give up. In the story, she conceives of a plan to sink an enemy ship, and she is determined that they will do it to­gether. And Ayn pointed this out to me: that I was responding to the abstraction of determination and heroism, and overlooking some of the unsavory concretes. It was selective awareness, on my part. I remember very clearly one thing she said: that this is an example of some one seeing past the bad directorial touches in the movie, see ing past the things that undercut the characters of both Hepburn and Bogart. She was sympathetic about my desire to see some thing heroic in human behavior, but she pointed out what I had failed to see in the movie—or, more exactly, the aspects I dismissed or glossed over in my appraisal and, consequently, in my response.

 (Ironically, Peikoff tells a similar story, with different results, where Rand says to him "What is the matter with you??? Are you crazy!" I'd love to know what that movie was!)

 This is all interesting in some of the arguments I've archived here about Romanticism in music, and a good reminder, as well. Rand approaches this topic in her essay "Bootleg Romanticism." I address it elsewhere in a piece called "Heroism in Music: Rock versus Pop=Sacrificial Heroes." Peikoff is right to talk about the "definite features" in Romantic literature, but it's still questionable, if Rand is to be believed, to define those features in music, without a "conceptual music vocabulary." Which leads us to the NEXT podcast:

 Episode 59, 4.27.09:

Questioner: "Is it possible to play and enjoy different pieces of music from different eras based on different senses of life? (i.e., Baroque, to Romantic.)
 Peikoff: "Absolutely, yes! A philosophy cannot deny you the right to enjoy any work of art if it's not one of these modern, non-objective...music, because that is not art, that is nihilism. But there's no reason why, particularly in the case of music... we don't even have an objective vocabulary to say what one piece means as against another and what sense of life it conveys. You can ask yourself do you like each period with the same intensity, with the same personal intimacy. If you like one more than another, then you're showing a direction of your sense of life. But maybe you hear the same thing in both; no one can criticize you for that at our present state of knowledge. It is your prerogative in any art if you interpret it objectively...and of course, music, we can't do that yet...but if you interpret it objectively, to respond to it, what you should be able to do is say why you respond to it. Now, if you respond to it because it represents the destruction of life, then what's wrong is not your response but that that is a motivating premise that you hold, which will have all kinds of manifestions." 
 Peikoff then brings up the example of Anna Karenina, which Rand called, the "most evil novel ever written." Peikoff agrees, yet admired the technical virtue of the writing while not supporting the theme. 

 I think my cutting of the "Gordion knot" (in theory) puts me at odds, technically speaking, with Peikoff re the conceptual vocabulary. But that is, to me, merely technical: Peikoff's views above are a far cry from the supposed Objectivist-esthetic purges of the past, and if some people would like to bring back those purges, they are clearly not coming from the ARI side of things. Always a good sign.

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